life:filtered

…learning to live a life filtered by the truth of the gospel.

this beautiful thing August 2, 2016

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 5:00 am
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This beautiful thing happened last week. Beautiful as a sunrise, bursting with color and lighting up the sky. But just as a sunrise only happens after the dark of night, so too with this beautiful thing. I’m getting ahead of myself though. Let me go back.

At the beginning of our story, I am a ship without an anchor, drifting alone at sea. And then a storm arose and hell cut loose. It’s hard to tell this story because I won’t go into a lot of details about the storm. But suffice it to say that this storm raged violently. And I raged with it.

It started with a Monday morning therapy session two weeks ago, processing some junk and dragging it out kicking and screaming. Junk that hadn’t seen the light of day in decades. And my broken self would have been glad to leave that junk in the dark, buried beneath the surface of my consciousness. But out it came. Therapy is good for that. I had opened Pandora’s box and nothing was going back in. What came out of that box was ugly. And I got ugly with it. It triggered me and whether it triggered a mixed episode, a full on hypomanic episode or an ugly reaction to the ugliness, it was ugly. Get it? I was a mess of anger and rage. I hurt people that I love. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t see past the red hot anger. I spiraled out of control and finally crashed to the bottom of the pit. This wasn’t like the pit of depression with its suffocating ocean of thick darkness. This burned. Like raging hot coals heaped on my head until I thought they would burn right through me. And who can walk on burning coals?

But here’s where it gets good. I have these friends and what they do is point me to the truth. From the one who understands exactly where I’m coming from to the one who tells it like it is and the ones who turn my eyes straight to Jesus, these friends surrounded me. They bore my burdens, carrying them as if they were their own. And I began to see the Lord’s hand moving. Slowly, surely moving. Randy said, you’ve done this before and the Lord brought you through it. He’ll do it again. And Renee, God chose you, he loves you. Find all the times the Lord says he is your shield and protector.

I desperately wanted these things to be true.

And so I started to believe them. I found verses like Psalm 3:3—“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head.” And Psalm 28:7—“The Lord is my strength and my shield…” But it was Psalm 18 that stood out. “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:1-3) I held these verses close to my chest as I fell asleep last Sunday night.

I woke the next morning to a text from Julie. The first three verses of Psalm 18. Awe. It seems like a small thing, inconsequential and maybe even coincidental. But I know it’s not. God did that just for me. He has nothing to prove, yet he chose to prove himself anyway. So that I would know how much he loves me. So that I would know he is with me. And so I fell back into him, trusting that he would catch me. “Come to me” and “rest” (Matthew 11:28-30). I started to think of it as a retreat; a falling back into him and allowing him to advance and defeat this for me. I fell straight into his secure grip, into his safe arms. I had doubted that he would catch me. Why am I so slow to remember who he is? Slow to trust who he is?

Nothing has changed yet everything has changed. Pandora’s box is still wide open. Those things that triggered me are still there. I am still fragile. Still reeling from the work I’ve done and the work I’ll continue to do in therapy. But, I don’t have to do it alone. He is here, with these people he has given me walking along side me as well. And he has given me peace and calm as only a gentle, kind Father could. 

And so I write all of this because I want to show off my God. I want you to see him for who he is, in all his glory. In all his goodness and mercy. I want you to stand in awe as I have. To know that he is alive and well.

This beautiful thing.


©stephanie g. pepper


 

Who am I? Who I am. April 19, 2016

Filed under: seriousness,Uncategorized — Stephanie @ 4:00 am
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Who am I? Whenever think about that question, I usually respond in bullet points. I am a wife, a mother, a writer, a reader, a Christ follower…and the list goes on. But who am I? Where is my identity? I know what the answer is, but it is so hard to believe. I am a child of God. A redeemed daughter of the Father, saved by grace alone and called good. Why is that so hard to believe? Because I don’t think I’m worthy to be called these things. In my eyes, I am a miserable wretch, undeserving of grace, of anything good. But that isn’t true. My true identity no more rests in those lies than it does in the fact that I have brown hair or am 5’4” tall.

On a women’s retreat recently, I was consumed by anxiety and wrought with fear. Fear of being inadequate. Anxious about the social aspect of the weekend—making friends, finding a place to sit for meals. I realized that for all my bravado, for all the times I proudly said “I have bipolar” instead of “I am bipolar,” for all the times I put on the persona of a confident woman, I was still allowing my illnesses and weaknesses to define me. I was identifying as being bipolar, being anxious and being inadequate. They were my identity. Even realizing this during a conversation did not allay my fears or calm my anxious heart. I continued to categorize myself in terms of my faults, my weaknesses, my illness, not allowing God to have the final say in who I was. And they consumed my heart as I allowed these thoughts to reign.

So what is identity? The dictionary defines identity as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” And being is defined as “the most important or basic part of a person’s mind or self.” At its core, identity is how we are defined. It is fact. And while there are many facts about me, it is in the facts that are me that my identity is found. It is in these facts of being that we find our true self.

What’s the difference in facts about me verses facts that are me? A fact about me is that I have brown eyes. I am not brown eyes though. I could have colored contact lenses and a casual observer might think that I have blue or green eyes. I have brown hair but someday it will turn gray. A fact that is me is that I am a child of the King. I am his beloved daughter. Those facts define me to the core of my being. They are who I am. It is the most basic part of my true self. It is who he has made me to be.

How, then, do I live out of the reality of who he says I am, who he has called me to be instead of letting “about” facts take the place of “are” facts? It’s a heart change. One wrought by years of beating down a path in your heart to make the truths personal and real. It’s allowing his words to penetrate deep down and take root in your soul until your heart finally believes the truth of who you are.

While other things may be descriptors of my person-hood, they are not definers of my soul. One word separates the two—have. I have brown eyes, I have anxiety, I have bipolar. But I am a child of God. My identity is found only in who he says I am. And he says I am loved, honored and precious.


©stephanie g. pepper

 

The Great Depression, 2012 April 13, 2016

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 3:13 pm
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In February of 2012, Super Bowl Sunday, I fell into the worst depression of my life. The Great Depression. There is pain so raw that you become numb. Darkness so deep that it’s blinding. I was drowning in an ocean of darkness. Always clawing at the waves, fighting against the undertow, reaching the surface only to gasp and find my burning lungs filling with thick, black water before being pulled under again.

By Monday, worn down by months of this blinding darkness and pain, I simply gave up. I quit. All I could think about was death. I wanted to be dead. Actually, I didn’t really want to be dead, I just didn’t want to live in the darkness and pain anymore. The light had been almost completely extinguished, barely the flicker of a distant match in a cave, and I couldn’t see my way to the light. So, wanting the pain to be over, I walked further down the path than I’d ever dared:  I considered the end. I am not proud of the fact that I fantasized about suicide. It is a shame that runs deep, but it is the truth. I did not make a plan. I had no pills at the ready, the knives stayed in the block, I did not fill the bathtub. But the longing was there, rooted deep inside. As Kathryn Green-McCreight writes in her book Darkness Is My Only Companion, “It [suicidal energy] is not wanting to hurt the self. It is simply wanting not to hurt.

Having traveled so far down that dark road, I called a friend, but she didn’t answer. It was by grace that she called me back at arguably the worst time. I told her where I was, what I was contemplating. And Heather, she didn’t panic. She kept me on the phone, talking with me for forty-five minutes. Praying for me in the car rider line as she waited for her children at school. Until Brian got home, she talked. Just hearing another voice was enough to pull me away from the precarious ledge I was standing on. After we hung up, she called friend, who called another friend, and soon my little network was praying.

I told Brian. Saying the words out loud somehow gave them less power and the urge to die was fading. The pain was still there, the darkness still suffocating, the waters still raging, but I could breathe just a little bit.

I spent the next day in bed, alternately crying and sleeping. Brian stayed home from work to watch me. I saw my doctor that afternoon. Unable to look him in the eye, he bent down and met my eyes, not letting my shame take me any further down the road than I already was. This was serious and did I need to be in the hospital? I was adamant that I didn’t need to be hospitalized. I was scared, though in all honestly, I probably should have been someplace safe. I was embarrassed and ashamed at the thought, though, and he accepted my pleas that I not be in a psychiatric hospital. I was sent home with a prescription for Zoloft and five sleeping pills. The sleeping pills he gave to Brian, not trusting me with a medication that could be used for ill purposes.

During The Great Depression, I all but lost my faith. Questioning God, asking why, but getting no answer. I lay in the mire with Job. I cried in the night; I cried in the day. I especially cried when surrounded by his people in church. When confronted with the life-giving words of Scripture, I cried, longing to believe the truth being presented. I ached with my need for God and for that Light that shines in the darkness.

The days turned into weeks, turned into months, still dark but growing a little lighter day by day as the anti-depressant kicked in. It took more than three months for me to recover from The Great Depression.  Unfortunately, in May, I rebounded and flipped into mania, although I did not know at the time that mania was the cause of my euphoria. I had not yet been diagnosed with bipolar and simply thought I was feeling great after the long months of depression. I had beat it, I thought. I had beat back depression and run into the light. And the light was so bright that, again, I was blinded.

©stephanie g. pepper

 

Jesus, bipolar and me January 29, 2015

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 4:25 pm
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I have Jesus and I have bipolar.

So now it’s time to talk about how Jesus comes into bipolar disorder. What he does in that chaos. We all have our own messes and mine just happens to be bipolar, among many others that I have.

When I first got diagnosed, I was relieved. Finally I had an answer to my questions—why I got so depressed so easily, why sometimes I flipped into a raging machine (the manias aren’t always that pretty). So my first prayer after walking out of my psych nurse’s office was one of profound thanksgiving. Thank you that I have an answer now. Thank you that the right meds will fix this. The next thing I thought about was my identity. How it wasn’t bound up in any diagnosis, but bound instead to the identity that is mine in Christ. That I was the same person I was when I walked out of the office as when I walked into the office. I have had to remind myself of that many times. That only Jesus defines me. But though it has taken more than a year, I am stable and can reflect on how he has carried me down this road.

When I’m in a depressive or manic episode, Jesus feels like he’s not even there. To say he feels a million miles away is an understatement. But, that I’ve gotten through the episodes is proof to me that he is there. That he’s not distant or absent as I feel it, but that he’s right there. My pastor is fond of saying that we’re always right where we’re supposed to be and that Jesus is right in the middle of the mess with us. That’s a hard word when you’re in the middle of the storm.

What does Jesus do in my life? The one wracked with bipolar? He buoys me up in those times when I’m crippled by depression. Those times I can’t see anything but the storm. The waves crashing over and around. I lose sight of him. Every time. When I’m a raging mess, he calms with his hand, staying me just long enough that the danger passes. Either way, I’ve lost sight of him. But he’s never lost sight of me.

Those are the times I lean on the faith of others, I reach out and borrow their faith, praying that it’s enough when I can’t see through the spray. I let the worship of his people wash over me. Seeing their faith, knowing that they still have faith is enough to quiet my fears. I’ve said before, many times, that the prayers of his people have pulled me through the worst times of my life. I could name all those saints here, but I’d forget someone so I’d better not.

I can’t say I’m always faithful to find him in the storms, but thank God he’s always found me. Because in the end, there’s always Jesus.

 

being stable January 18, 2015

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 2:43 pm
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After a lifetime of ups and downs, riding a roller coaster I never bought a ticket for, I can finally say it: I am stable.

I woke up one morning and realized that I felt good. Not the good that comes from mania, but normal good. I felt normal emotions with ordinary highs and lows. Over time, I realized that the “normal” was sticking around. And that makes me really happy. Because after so long being either in mania or depression, mostly depression, I feel like a human being. No deep darkness, no painful emptiness. No sleepless nights and raging mania. It’s a profound relief that I’m not sure I can describe. It’s like getting off that roller coaster when you hate roller coasters. Like finally crawling into bed after a long day. Like finally holding that baby you’ve carried for nine months. Relief where you close your eyes and sigh because whatever it is, it’s finally over.

It’s a combination of medications and therapy (huge shout-out to my psych nurse and therapist!). It’s striving every day for normalcy. Taking meds every day, going to therapy twice a month. Doing things that make me healthy.

And writing is a therapist prescribed part of my treatment.

So here I am writing. Once again stepping out and shedding light into the darkness. Opening myself up to judgment because of my illness. But I’ve found some things out in the last few months. One, that people are way more supportive than I ever thought. Two, that my mental illness does not define me. Three, that there is Light in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. God has answered my prayer, and the prayers of many others, for rest from the disease I carry.

 

telling you December 13, 2013

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 6:00 am
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It’s taken me a while to write this post. Months really. It’s a hard one for me to write because it means being really vulnerable. Opening myself up to judgment. But I have dig deep and say it anyway because they say that a thing loses its power in the light. So here it goes.

I have bipolar disorder.

And that’s a really scary thing for me because of the stigma that still surrounds mental illness and one like bipolar in particular. But it’s a relief too. To finally have an explanation for living the life I have lived.



So first, the facts:

I was diagnosed in August after 14 years of unsuccessful treatment for major depression.

I first experienced symptoms of the disorder at 22 while in college.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by “recurring episodes of mania and depression that can last from one day to months. This mental illness causes unusual and dramatic shifts in mood, energy and the ability to think clearly. Cycles of high (manic) and low (depressive) moods may follow an irregular pattern that differs from the typical ups ands downs experienced by most people.” (NAMI.org)

Bipolar is NOT what you see on TV shows and read about in most books. Most people can live relatively normal lives (once they get on and stay on the right medications).

Bipolar is also not a character flaw, but a chemical imbalance in the brain.

I am not alone.



So why have I chosen to push back the curtain of darkness and let in the light? Because I’m tired. Tired of hiding, tired of living in the shadows not able to say what I need to say. Tired of not being who I am because I’m afraid of what people will think. This won’t ever go away. Sure the symptoms may lessen and I’ll have fewer episodes when my psych nurse and I find the right meds and I learn good coping skills. But this is here to stay. And the reality is, I have to embrace it. I have to open up this part of me and choose to be vulnerable to whatever people might say or think or do. I am afraid. Afraid that people may push me away or think I’m dangerous or crazy. But this is a part of me. Of how God made me, how he fearfully and wonderfully made me. And it’s not a mistake. I think I have this disorder because maybe someday, I’ll walk down this road with someone else, because I’m not the only one.

I can’t be.