To be honest, I don’t think I can top my last post. I couldn’t be more honest than I was in that post. And sometimes, honesty has to be tactful. I don’t want to embarrass anyone other than myself with these, so this story will be told largely through other people’s words and art. It’s not for me to give away the secrets of others. I can only give away my own, if I choose.
Edit: This was scheduled to be posted on April 1st at 7am but the post never showed up so now I have to re-write it. Guess that makes me an April Fool for trusting technology…
Before I say anything else, can I just wish all my readers a happy, glorious Easter? Regardless of whether or not you’re reading this on Easter morning when I’m posting it, or years later. If you’re a Christian, every day should be Easter for you. Christ is alive, doncha know? ❤
This will be a three-part series. I mentioned in a post about a month ago that I would explain what all has been going on in my life, so this is it. In part 1, I’ll explain what happened over Christmas/New Years, in Part 2 I’ll explain how I got hospitalized, and in part 3 I’ll discuss my plans moving forward. This has easily been the most traumatic year of my life so far, but it’s also been the most freeing and validating. I’m a little nervous to see what the upcoming weeks will bring, but I’m also excited. What I’ve experienced in the past 5 months has been nothing short of miraculous on many levels.
Don’t ever tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humour. He does.
Overachieving is not always a good thing. Especially if you are trying to overachieve in something God didn’t make you to do.
“If you are what God made you to be, you will set the world ablaze.” ~ St Catherine of Siena.
As many of you already know, my real name is Catherine. I have many patron saints, all of whom used to intimidate me half to death. St. Catherine of Siena had direct conversations with God the Father. St. Catherine of Genoa got to visit purgatory in-person on multiple occasions. St. Catherine of Alexandria got gang-raped and killed for refusing to obey her human father. I was always partial to St. Catherine of Sweden. All she did was talk her fiance into taking a vow of virginity so they could live together chastely like Mary and Joseph (Jesus’ parents).
I think the thing that always terrified me more than anything else, though, was that nearly all my patron saints were nuns. Now, I myself am not called to be a nun. Trust me. I asked God. He told me so. But a few years back I had a priest jokingly tell me that God had told him that I would become a nun someday. I wish he hadn’t said that, because it put me into a lot of spiritual turmoil for a very long time. The thing is, everyone is called to be a saint, but not everyone is called to religious vows. Marriage is an equal calling to the priesthood or religious life. It isn’t inferior. It’s harder. That’s why St. Paul recommends to people that they stay single. It’s easier to be saintly when you aren’t living with another human being and trying to raise children. But who ever said Christianity was supposed to be easy? Certainly not Jesus…
My two favourite saints of all time (next to my mother Mary of course), are St Therese of Lisieux and St Joan of Arc. I will probably do posts about each of them at some point. On the surface, they don’t seem to have much in common. St. Therese knew God was calling her to be a nun at a young age and so she moved heaven and earth to enter a nunnery at age 15, despite everyone (except her dad) trying to stop her. And she succeeded. Eventually she died of tuberculosis at age 24, but not before writing a beautiful story about the art of trusting God (click here for the free audiobook).
St. Joan of Arc began receiving visions of angels and saints when she was a young teen and God raised her up to become the youngest Commander and Chief of France in history (she was 17 years old, and had had no prior training in anything because she was a poor peasant girl). She led France’s armies to victory against the English over and over again despite overwhelming odds and placed a crown on the head of the rightful king, just as she’d promised she would. She was rewarded for her service by being abandoned to her enemies in the hour of her greatest need and burned to death by the Church that she so dearly loved and valiantly served at the age of 19. Mark Twain wrote a fantastic book about her that you can find the free audio recording of here.
What did these two young women have in common? They trusted God completely and were willing to risk everything for him, even their own lives and reputations. So if you’re a Christian, let me ask you something:
What have you risked for God today?
I’ve already risked everything I have for him: my life, my loved ones, my reputation. I’ve been physically slapped across the face, hand-cuffed twice, drugged against my will and shipped off to a mental hospital in a straight-jacket in the back of an ambulance, all because nobody was willing to believe my repeated, calm, ruthlessly rational explanations that I was fine and didn’t need this sort of treatment. That I wasn’t planning to hurt myself or anyone else. That I didn’t need taking care-of. That I wasn’t crazy. That the only label you can truly slap on me from the time I was a small kid is that I’m a goody-two-shoes.
Yes. Kasani Zanetti was at a psych ward this year. Does that make me crazy? I don’t know. You’ll have to decide for yourself. What I do know is that I was terrified the first two days that I was there because it was a mixed-gender ward and I was afraid of the other patients (the last time I was in a psych ward at age 16, I was too innocently naive to be scared of the other patients).
Then I began to realize something.
There wasn’t anything different between me and the other patients, except that they had a whole host of life-problems I didn’t have.
I didn’t meet a bunch of crazy people. I met an anxious, homesick single mother who was ashamed to be attending group therapy at a mental hospital while her own mother looked after her baby boy at home. I met a pregnant mother, no older than myself, with a physically abusive husband at home taking care of their two other young children. I met a young, overweight native man in a wheelchair because he’d lost his temper and kicked something so hard it broke his leg. I met a teenage girl who wants to become a singer/songwriter, who joked about Monty Python and was brave enough to admit in group therapy that she was there voluntarily because she was struggling with self-harm.
And those are just the patients. Don’t even get me started on the staff.
I went to a mental hospital, and guess what? I met a bunch of fellow human beings who had various labels stuck to them but their real problems weren’t “mental” problems. They were “life” problems. And the doctors still tried to screw me over and act like they knew better than me. Fortunately, I’ve done my research and am smarter than anyone ever gives me credit for.
Yes, I can take care of myself. No, I don’t need medications to do it.
Christmas was an immensely powerful time for me. I had a re-conversion experience in which I gave my life to God completely, again. I was surrounded by friends and family and overwhelmed by the beautiful, generous gifts I received from them.
My dear friend Penelope down in the U.S made me these posters and mailed them to me.
The above picture is of my two original characters, Muir and Althea, sprites from my fantasy novel that I’m currently working on. Muir was originally Penelope’s character, Mordred, from her authorian fantasy that she’s working on, but we thought he would make a cute pairing with my main character. So then I loaned her my main character in return and she named her Anya. (See below picture)
I had already been working on a Mordred-inspired piano composition last fall but the immense gratitude I felt for all the gifts, combined with inspiration from the bible (See Mary’s canticle in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke) helped me finish this composition early in 2018.
Penelope and I are teaming up as artists and pooling our resources (our fan-bases) so we can launch out into the great not-so-unknown and become published authors. Penelope already has an online business doing commissions, so if you ever need any art done, please, please check her out. She is fantastic, and you can find her Patreon page here: P.J. Manley’s Patreon Page.
As for me. I will continue writing blog posts, making YouTube videos, and living my life. I refuse to let other people tell me what to do any longer. I will take respectful advice but I won’t necessarily follow it unless I agree with it. If you’re interested in my Patreon page you can find it here.
Has it really been two months since my last post? Time sure flies. I just got back from a 10 day trip to Kansas to visit a close friend and attend a writers’ workshop. I’d intended to get a post written up before I left, but clearly that didn’t happen. And now, in the aftermath of a very exciting, blessed trip during which I didn’t get nearly as much sleep as I should have, I am experiencing what is likely the start of a mixed or depressive episode. Which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
An excellent time to write a post on suffering, yes?
What a perfect opportunity to sit back and analyze whether my belief that it’s possible to suffer depression joyfully is at all accurate.
I may be repeating myself, but having a proper definition of the word “joy” is required for this belief to make any sense at all. And pondering that definition led me to a question:
Is it acceptable to conflate “joy” and “peace”?
One could argue that it’s possible to be at “peace” without being joyful. If you take “peace” to simply mean “freedom from disturbance” or “tranquility,” and nothing more, then apathy can fill the shoes of peace just as easily as joy could. An apathetic person feels no disturbance or anxiety. They don’t care enough about anything to be anything but tranquil. But I don’t think anyone in a rational state of mind would conclude that apathetic peace is in anyway comparable to joyful peace. It certainly isn’t preferable. Anyone who has ever reached the point of depression where they’ve lost all ability to care about anything in life, knows that the absence of cares does not equal peace. Of course, if you’ve been suffering through a firestorm of self-hatred and you suddenly drop to a level where you don’t even care enough to hate yourself anymore, it can certainly feel peaceful in comparison. Cool water can feel hot to someone dying of hypothermia. But no ordinary person would choose a cold bath over a warm one to ward off a chill. And even the severely depressed person will reach a point where the numbness of apathy becomes a smothering prison that they would do anything to break free from.
True peace is inherently joyful. I’m not quite sure whether you’re peaceful because you’re joyful or you’re joyful because you’re peaceful. But both are simultaneously present and neither would be possible in the absence of the other. True peace requires joy. True joy requires peace. And I don’t mean external peace. A look at the lives of any of the saints demonstrates that it’s possible to be a very peace-filled person in the most turbulent of external situations.
So when I say it’s possible to be joyful in the midst of depression, I believe what I’m really saying is that it’s possible to be at peace. Because to me, peace is just a calm, gentle form of joy. And I can reaffirm with great confidence that yes, it is possible to be at peace while depressed. I’m not saying it’s easy to reach that head space. I’m certainly not saying I automatically feel that way when my bipolar symptoms rear their head. I’m tempted to say “I have to work at it” in order to reach that place. But really, that isn’t true at all. To be honest, whenever I “work” at being a peaceful person, I usually wind up even more anxious and mentally disturbed than when I started. You can’t will yourself into peacefulness. It works about as well as willing yourself into happiness. If you achieve anything it all, it’s temporary, and the experience is a tense one.
So how does one achieve peace? It’s actually startlingly simple. The plain, uncomplicated truth is that you will never have peace if you make it a goal in and of itself. Why? Because true peace is simply a side effect. It’s the result of something else. And that something else is trust.
This year has been a year of trust for me. At the end of last year I read an article about picking a word to focus on in the new year. I sat down and prayed about it. And the first word that came to mind was trust. At the time I thought it was weird, because it struck me as something more applicable to my mother, who struggles with anxiety. But this has been a year of realizations for me about the importance of trust in one’s spiritual life—and a real eye-opener as to how mistrustful I really am. When it comes right down to it, the fastest way to become a joyful person is to trust in God. I mean really trust in God. If you aren’t joyful, you don’t trust God. It’s as simple as that. Last year, I thought I trusted God. But now I can see I was deluding myself. Because I’ve gotten a few tastes of what trust actually feels like this year and the peace and the joy that springs from it is like nothing I’ve never experienced before.
If you want to suffer joyfully, you must be at peace. If you want to be at peace, you have to trust in God. If you want to develop true, childlike trust in God…you have to get to know him. You have to develop a relationship with him.
In the next post we’ll take a look at the process of doing precisely that, and we’ll discuss some tangible steps to take.
“O afflicted one, storm-battered and unconsoled,I lay your pavements in carnelians,your foundations in sapphires; I will make your battlements of rubies,your gates of jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.” ~ Isaiah 54:11-12
As per usual this post is rather late in coming. Mentally formulating blog posts tends to take me a while. But I think I’ve finally figured out how to tackle this next one, so here goes!
The question I proposed to answer at the end of my last post was “what happens when you say ‘thy will be done’ to God, and truly mean it?” To put it simply, you become a very peace-filled person. You become joyful. But how? And why? After all, God’s will inevitably contains suffering of some sort. But the joy comes when you understand that the amount of good God brings out of your suffering far outweighs the suffering itself. I can attest to that from personal experience. But even so, I still struggle with that prayer when anxiety looms in my mind about one thing or another. I know that God will take care of everything in the best way possible, but the niggling little thought still sometimes surfaces… what if I don’t like the results of his plan?
The thing is, God wants us to be happy, and he knows what will make us truly happy in the long run far better than we do. Sometimes reaching the place where we will be truly happy involves going through some rough, uncomfortable places. Or some downright miserable places. And since we usually can’t see the destination that God has in mind for us, we’re left clinging to our faith in the dark, struggling to believe what God tells us through the prophet Jeremiah: For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. ~ Jeremiah 29:11
This may sound rather grim, as if accepting God’s will means just gritting our teeth and bearing what comes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn’t be that way. God’s will should bring joy to our lives, even when it contains suffering. The saints understood this better than anyone. Saints like Therese of Lisieux actively wished for suffering because they found joy in suffering for God. If we aren’t joyful in our sufferings it’s because we haven’t truly surrendered to the will of God and embraced it with our whole heart. The question then becomes, how are we supposed to do that?
First of all, we have to trust God. And unless we have a deep, personal relationship with God, that isn’t likely to happen. You can’t truly trust a person you don’t have a relationship with. And forming a deep relationship means spending a significant amount of time with the person in question. So if we want a relationship with God, we need to spend time with him in prayer and reading. Perhaps we can make “how to deepen your relationship with God” one of the topics of the following posts. I think it’s something well worth looking into. Also, we need to pray for the grace to trust him. We need to cry out to him with the words of the father of the epileptic boy in the Gospel of Mark: I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24).
Secondly, we need to have a clear understanding of the nature of the joy we’re talking about. The joy you experience while suffering is not usually a giddy, delightful feeling that makes you feel warm and fuzzy and tingly and excited. Especially not when you’re depressed. It’s more intellectual than physical. It brings calmness and peace, and also a sense of immense satisfaction. When you’re incapacitated by mental illness, or some other form of suffering, you tend to feel useless. But when you’ve embraced God’s will and accepted the suffering in order to offer it up to him for a good purpose, suddenly that sense of uselessness vanishes. You realize that God is accomplishing something important with what you’re going through, and even if you never personally see what that ‘something’ is, you are satisfied. Because it’s not going to waste.
To close off this post, I’d like to leave you with a quote from one of St. Josemaria Escriva’s homilies called “Towards Holiness.” In reference to suffering he says:
This is the way Jesus fashions the souls of those he loves, while at the same time never failing to give them inner calm and joy … and he impresses on them a living conviction that they will only find comfort when they make up their minds to do without it. – Friends of God, pg 465
When we decide to embrace our suffering, it suddenly becomes a far less traumatizing thing, and we can find peace and joy in the midst of it. The difficult part is getting to the point where we trust God enough to say “thy will be done” and mean it. We’ll discuss that further in Part 3 of this series.
He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful. ~ Corinthians 1:8
So back at the beginning of May I posted about my decision to start weening off of my medications. I’m happy to say I’ve been completely off of my antidepressant bupropion (better known as Wellbutrin) since August 15th. All that’s left is to start slowing coming off my mood stabilizer lamotrigine (better known as Lamictal). I’d intended to write several posts throughout the summer commenting on my progress coming off the antidepressant, but things didn’t go quite the way I’d planned them out. In fact, they still aren’t.
My plan for the summer was that I would come off of my antidepressant, experience some possibly moderate to severe depressive symptoms throughout the process and get through them with God’s grace, and then be back to normal by the time the semester started in September.
This lovely plan of mine should (rightly) provoke incredulous laughter from my fellow bipolar sufferers. Really? You planned out exactly what sort of episodes you would have, and for how long, and expected the universe to cooperate with that?
Well, it never hurts to think positively, right? Although, I was actually thinking rather negatively since I expected the summer to be hellish. In fact, it wasn’t. Coming off of bupropion was far, far easier than I expected. The worst I experienced was a week or two here and there of mild-to-moderate depression. Nothing more. (I tapered quite slowly, mind you, especially towards the end.) It was almost a let down after how hard I’d worked to brace myself for the worst.
But of course, when my plans don’t work out, it’s usually a complete and total bomb on every side. This is no exception. The rest of my plan was to hit the semester running and make my way through it relatively symptom free as I came off my mood stabilizer (which both I and my mother assumed would be easy peasy compared to the antidepressant).
Haaaah. Hahaha. Ha.
Yeah, no, that’s not quite the way it’s working out.
It seems that lamotrigine is a much harder drug for me to come off of than bupropion was (for whatever reason). Granted, I almost always have some symptoms in the fall. Season changes are a trigger for me. But I’d assumed from everything I’d heard that I could come off of this drug without any trouble over the course of a couple weeks. In fact, my psychiatrist had said back in April that I could stop it cold-turkey without any problems (and that at the same time I could stop my antidepressant cold turkey. Needless to say, I didn’t listen to her). So I decided to drop from 250mg right down to 200mg.
Well. That didn’t go over well. Much to my surprise, I almost couldn’t get out of bed the next morning. So I decided to bump back up to 225mg. Ever since that drop I’ve been experiencing mixed episode symptoms to a greater or lesser degree. They were quite dramatic in the week following the drop, and then eased off since then and have been fluctuating between hardly there or unpleasantly intense, depending on how much sleep I get. I’m fairly certain much of what I’m experiencing now is due to the season change and my body adjusting to my new sleep schedule. But the symptoms I experienced in the week after my initial drop were far more severe than any of the withdrawal effects I experienced from the antidepressant. Maybe its a coincidence and I would have experienced those symptoms if I hadn’t changed my meds. Its possible, but I’m certainly not going to count on that. I’ll be tapering this drug much slower than my last one, and have resigned myself to a rougher semester than I’ve had for a while.
I’m not going to lie. My initial response to God about this unplanned development was a whiny one. Why couldn’t I have just gotten all of the really difficult symptoms out of the way in the summer? I could have afforded to be incapacitated then! I’d been prepared for that. I’d been all ready and eager to shoulder that cross. I hadn’t signed on for this cross. The cross of wading through my university courses while battling symptoms. That hadn’t been part of my plan!
The response I received was quite simple: crosses aren’t something we get to choose. Jesus didn’t go to His father with a plan all worked out about which cross he was ready to carry. He took what His father gave him–and it certainly wasn’t a cross he wanted. He asked to have it taken away if possible, but he also bowed to His father’s will. And His father gave him all of the grace necessary to bear it. He sent an angel to him to strengthen him in his Agony, sent Simon of Cyrene to help Him carry the cross, and sent both His mother and Veronica to encourage Him on the road.
He does no less for us, and He also expects no less. He may not let us choose our cross, but he will always, without fail, give us the grace necessary to bear it, so long as we go to him for our strength and don’t try to do it all by ourselves.
This whole experience has also served as a gentle reminder that I need to stop making life plans and assuming they will work the way I expect, even if I think I’ve made them with Him in mind. Really, you’d think I’d have figured that out by now.
As a parting thought, here’s a lovely something I stumbled across on Pinterest:
Crosses serve a purpose, even if we can’t see it in the moment.