When I was 26, I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression. Four years ago, at 39, I was then diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I've spent my adult life struggling with these illnesses. Routine bouts of burning rage, and debilitating sadness; chronic migraines, and tempting suicidal ideations....tucked neatly into the daily realities of work, family, marriage....wrestling with these demons can make the most "normal" of times painfully abnormal.
Every day is filled with Loss for me. Managing Bipolar means I can't always be around others, at work or with loved ones, let alone deal constructively with my own everyday stresses and strains. The simplest tasks- waking up in the morning, interacting with others, just making time to eat a meal- feel like climbing a mountain to me. In these Bipolar times, much of what I could take for granted unconsciously in my earlier years now takes bench-pressing energy to process. I miss the days when This Life was easier to live. This Loss I feel is constant and crushing.
One of the most constructive ways I've found to cope with Bipolar is to visualize it: hold it up in front of me, like a ball in my hand. I've discovered that by recognizing and naming my demons (yes, channeling Mark 5 here, friends....), I end up not only managing my illnesses better. I celebrate them, too, because they are also gifts from God. I don't always like this, let alone understand it well, and sometimes I just tell God to f--- off because of these plagues She's saddled me with. But overall, they, too, are to be celebrated, like any other gift that God brings into my life. For some insane reason, this has come to make sense to me.
Why in the world would I celebrate such Loss? Well, let me tell you a story....
Jesus came into the world to show us our oneness with God, and God's oneness with all of creation. He challenged the powers that be so strongly that they killed him for it. His life is the message- that any gain in this life is usually accompanied by Loss; that the gift of Life is always shadowed by Death. The Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to honor emptiness instead of fulness, defeat instead of victory. Jesus in the desert is that penultimate Lenten image (cf. Mark 1:12-13//Matthew 4:1-11//Luke 4:1-13) so that we will understand where God really is, and what God really honors. I sometimes wish it wasn't this way, but I've learned over my long and heavy life that in order to gain anything, we have to experience such great Loss. If we ever want to understand and celebrate the things we gain with the God present in all creation, the God already at the center of our lives, we also have to understand and celebrate God's very presence and blessing in the Loss in our lives. Jesus' story mirrors our own in this Way, of Loss leading to Life.
Lent is about celebrating this Loss, holding it up in front of us, like a ball in our hands. By putting Loss front and center, and recognizing that it, too, for some insane reason, is a gift from God, like anything else in our lives....that it, too, is part of the Disciple's Journey....that it, too, leads to New Life with God....well, that is the Lenten Journey for me.