Turn your eyes upon Jesus Part 1

Before I get into this week’s episode I wanted to just express that this particular one will be vulnerable for me. And may be triggering for others. I will be giving a deeper more in depth look at what I have experienced while living with mental illness and what led up to my diagnosis.

I am doing this because I have had many people that have questioned whether or not they themselves or possibly a friend or family member may need help.

It’s important to mention that some of the things that I discuss may be triggering or difficult for those that struggle with mental illness. So if that is you, you may want to either skip this episode, or come back to it later when you’re feeling up to it.

Also please remember that there is a new nation wide suicide and crisis hotline number “988” that you can call if you need help. If you or someone you know is suicidal or deeply depressed, please seek help from a medical professional, preferably a psychiatrist, who can help you assess your needs.

I am not a Dr. so I can’t speak to diagnosing someone. But I have lived with mental illness for most of my adult life. And probably even some before that. My parents always said that I was very moody, so who knows maybe that was an early sign.

I will be doing this in 2 parts, since it has ended up being a little longer than I wanted it be.

Anyway I just want to let you know that this will be a tender subject that affects 1 in every 5 adults in the U.S alone. So I don’t take it lightly.

As I have been reflecting this week on what to share, I have had two scriptures roll about in my mind. A couple of posts/episodes ago I talked about the scripture in Luke 10:27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

I then focused a little bit on the “yourself” part of that scripture. Which I feel is very important, and why I talked about it.

However this week I have been thinking a lot about the first part of that scripture: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; While reflecting on that scripture another thought kept coming to me. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus”. As I was pondering that thought I came across the scripture John 8 verse 12: I am the light of the world, he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.  

I haven’t talked about mental health in a while and for some reason I am feeling that I need to share a bit of my story again. There may be people that are new here that have not heard it and maybe I have’t fully shared it the way the Lord would have me do.

In a way that can maybe help others look to another source for help and guidance through the struggles you may be experiencing. That last scripture holds such great promise……he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.

What an amazing promise that is!

I was a young girl when I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I was sitting at a youth fireside.  My first one.  I had recently turned 12 and had entered the Young Women program.  I wasn’t sure what a  “fireside” was.  I think that maybe most people don’t. 

“Do I get to go sit by a fire and roast “moshmellows” and make s’mores?”,  I asked my mom.  That’s the way I use to pronounce Marshmallow… (ok maybe I still do)!

She laughed, of course, and told me no, but not to worry because it was better than bonfires and smores.  Well that was kind of hard to believe!  “What’s better than smores?”, I thought. 

She was right (Big surprise there, moms are almost ALWAYS right!).  I sat in that pew just a few rows from the front, on the right hand side of the chapel.  You know the one, right in front of the Sacrament table. 

I sat mesmerized by the wonderful speakers that spoke of the journey they’d had and the way the Lord had helped them to overcome especially difficult challenges.  I felt the spirit pierce my hungry soul, bearing witness to me of the truth of what they were saying.  

I was so touched that I wished in my little girl heart that when I grew up, I could be just like them!  I wanted to help others feel this special and incomparable feeling that I was experiencing.  I felt so warm, so loved, and so seen by the Lord.  And all I wanted to do was serve Him by bringing others closer to Him.  It left an impression on me that has spanned the years and I often think about that moment.

But I think that the reason that it stands out to me so much is because we all have stories of trials and affliction that we pass through in this lifetime. And I think that we are meant to share our stories so that others can be comforted in knowing that they are not alone, and that there is another source that they can turn to that can bring peace, comfort, and strength and joy to their soul in these difficult times.

So much was in store for that young girl of just twelve years old.  I think back and reflect on all that I’ve gone through in my 50 something years. Some experiences were bright and unimaginably beautiful.  And some were dark, dreary and heartbreaking.  But now I have so much wisdom and many stories I can share about the advantages of turning your eyes toward Jesus!

On many occasions I have cried out to the Lord in anguish, “Why me? Why this? Why now?” I don’t think I am so different from others in that respect. But maybe, just maybe there is a purpose to it all. Maybe that little girl’s need to serve, to help others feel what she had that day, can help you begin to see your  light, your purpose.  Thereby allowing you to fulfill your mission here on Earth while doing it in FULL color.  

Though my life hasn’t been a rainbow of color for the entirety, I have had many glimpses here and there of what living life in Full color can look like.  It is something that I strive for each and every day.  Some seasons are better than others.  And my life ebbs and flows, as does yours, with the constant difficulties and struggles of this life.  It was meant to be that way. For that is how we grow into the person that God sees us to be.  

My hope is that I can share with you a few of those glimpses, and what I have learned in the process.  So you will be more able to begin to see in yourself, the divinity that is there.  And the great potential you have to see more and more what living life in FULL color can be like. 

***************

Have you ever felt that you were walking in darkness?  Do you feel that way now?  Have you wondered how in the world you will ever find joy? Peace? Happiness?

I have.  For many years I walked in darkness.  At least it seemed dark to me.  Colorless, lifeless.  A fog that could not be budged or lifted.  It seemed that no matter what I did, the darkness or fog was always there… waiting.  Waiting to engulf me in misery and pain.  To fill me with despair. 

Each day I would wake up in the haze wondering what the day would be like today.  Wondering if I would ever see light again. I pleaded with the Lord to take the darkness from me.  To lift what I could not lift myself.  It seemed endless.  No light at the end of the tunnel.

Would it ever be possible that I could come out of this fog?  Would it ever be possible that I could live my life in color again?  And not just dull color.  I wanted FULL real, vibrant color. I wanted to enjoy my babies in all their splendor.  Runny noses, tantrums, bubble blowing, running, playing, and energy spent, beautiful children, that needed a mom who was fully present.  I wanted to LIVE!  I wanted to live my life in FULL COLOR.  I say Full Color because depression and mental illness can kind of feel, at times, like its dull and colorless. Like you are living out your days in a fog.

I think I have hesitated to talk about this in depth, because I worry that when I talk about how hard it was for me, my friends and family will hear “my life was bad”. And that is definitely not the case. I had a good and beautiful life full of a lot of happy moments. But after I had children the illness started to seep into my life and changed who I was in many ways.

Now, as I look back, it was but a short moment in the whole scope of things. A snap and the years have flown by.  I had a lot of growing to do in that snap of time. As you know, growth can be painful.  It can be long and dreary (and it was).  Change did not come overnight.  It rarely does. 

So what did change?  What happened that brought that light and color back into my life?

The truth is I changed.  I changed my habits. I searched for answers. I prayed and pleaded continually.  And I believed.  It took every single ounce of what I had.  But I did it.  I believed and had faith that things could change.  

The Lord had promised me that they could change.  

Pray always and be believing, and all things shall work together for thy good. That scripture. is found in (Doctrine and Covenants 90:24).

I believed with my whole heart, my whole soul, my whole strength, and my whole mind. 

 And He, my Savior, your Savior, the light of the world answered and said(Verse 28 of Luke Chapter 10) This do and thou shalt live!

Making Jesus Christ the center of our lives is a concept taught often by our modern prophets, seers, and revelators.  It is a simple concept.  But definitely not an easy one to accomplish. Especially when we are caught up in the rigorous difficulties of life here on Earth. 

I was around 29 years old when I had my first mental breakdown.  I did not have to be hospitalized at that time.  But looking back, knowing what I know now, it was definitely a psychotic break.

I had 4 young children between the ages of 6 and 10. And it was a very difficult and scary time in my life. I remember feeling like I was on top of the world one moment and then sinking into despair the next. And all the while just trying to hold it all together so that I could be the mom I needed to be for my littles. Of course they were pretty young at the time. And that first episode seemed to pass fairly quickly.

Looking back, I was able to hold things together pretty well. I stayed busy and had a great OB/GYN that had helped me tremendously with what I thought was depression. That’s certainly what it most often manifests as, in me.

But about 5 years later I experienced my first full on Manic Episode. I was taking on a lot at the time. I kind of had the “I can’t say no” syndrome. And so even though I had my hands very full, I would continue to pile more things on top causing an extreme amount of stress.

I had a very large event coming up for myself where I would be out of town for a week. My husband had a scout trip with my 2 sons. My oldest daughter had a dance camp and my youngest daughter was going to be staying away from home for the first time with the probability that she wouldn’t have much contact with us as parents because of the nature of our trips.

It was right around the disappearance of Elizabeth Smart (if you can recall that time). And we did not live far from that tragedy. My daughter was dealing with some anxiety because of that and then with us being out of reach, was really worried.

So my mama heart was pulled in so many directions. I wasn’t taking care of myself like I had learned to do to keep the depression under control. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t getting good sleep and the stress was taking it’s toll.

I remember that the night before I collapsed, I had asked for a priesthood blessing because I myself was experiencing some extreme anxiety. And although I still ended up having the manic episode, I feel that deep down I knew my focus was out of balance.

The following day we had big plans for the family. It was Saturday and we had planned on swimming and lunch with friends and then a fireworks concert downtown. I remember that day I was very “off”. Like I was just doing and saying things that didn’t quite make sense. I was super excited to take the kids to the concert, but I was so exhausted having not slept and just trying to make sure that everyone was getting the things they needed to ready for the trips that would happen the following week. Sometimes, we just need to say “no” even to the fun things, in order to preserve our sanity. Especially where our health is concerned.

Well, I don’t remember a whole lot about what happened that night. My brain and body had reached it’s max. I often explain it like a computer who has a number of windows open and soon it gets to the point that it just freezes up and you have to shut it down and reboot it. That’s kind of how a manic episode happens for me. I go and go and go, like the energizer bunny. Trying to do too much without sleep and good nutrition… basically running on empty for several days. And then my body just says,”that’s it! If you’re not gonna take care of yourself, then I’m gonna do it for you!” And it shuts down until I can get medical attention and have a “reboot”.

I have had three manic episodes in my lifetime. Enough to have learned what not to do. The crazy part is that once I move into that state, I have very little recollection of what is happening. I remember bits and pieces, like a puzzle that just doesn’t come together. And it usually takes several days of being heavily medicated to help me sleep and let my body begin to function efficiently again.

And then comes the tough part of trying to find a medication and recipe that puts my body back into a balanced mode.

With the first episode, I was in denial when I came out of it in the hospital. I didn’t want to believe that I had bipolar. Which I think is pretty typical with most people who face any mental illness diagnosis. No one wants to believe that they are broken. That their brain is not functioning the way it should. So not wanting to be medicated and fighting a diagnosis is fairly common.

Most people, in order to leave the hospital, have to agree to be seen by a psychiatrist or therapist. Unfortunately, they are very hard to get into (sometimes over 6 weeks waiting period). And the good ones who will really listen are hard to find. Most insurances do not cover psychiatric care. So that is another obstacle for those that suffer.

For several years after my first episode, I remained under the care of my GYN. With her limited ability to diagnose and treat the bipolar, and knowing my history, I was able to convince myself and her that what I had was nothing more than being over stressed and lack of sleep.

She agreed to put me on an as-needed medication to help me sleep. Which seemed to calm the symptoms for the time being. A few years after the incident, I started to notice feelings of depression coming on and asked her about a new drug that I had read about. She didn’t hesitate to put me on it. And I remained on that medication for almost 10 years before I would have my second and third episodes.

By this time, my kids were grown. I’m so thankful for that medication that allowed me to enjoy and participate in my children’s lives. I don’t know the reasons behind why it worked for so long. Other than the Lord was with me through that difficult time. I tried to focus on the joy in my life. President Russell M. Nelson mentioned in a talk in the October 2016 General Conference, which incidentally was right around the time I was becoming active in the church again (which I will talk more about in part 2), he said, “the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”.

I remember there were many times that I felt down and distant. But for the most part that medication seemed to work. And I tried really hard to focus on the joy in my life.

This is where I want to end Part 1 of my story. But I hope that just from what I’ve said that you will take a look at your own life. Whether or not you think you may have a mental illness, or you know of someone who might. Remember to be sensitive and give grace to both yourself and your loved one.

Although this may be, or already has been, a long road, there really can be a light at the end of the tunnel. But from what I’ve seen and experienced, no one gets there on their own. It takes a lot of love, understanding , support and grace. And in my case, a whole lot of Jesus!

In part 2 I will talk a bit more about my experience and what it took to accept the diagnosis and be able to move forward in my life. I think it’s fairly ironic that I’m talking about this as I’m nearing the 7th anniversary of those 2 second manic episodes that led me to the diagnosis and ultimately back to the gospel that I love so dearly. I hope you will stick around for that.

I will be referring to a talk by elder D. Todd Christoffersen called The refining fire of affliction. So if you’d like to read up or listen to that, you can find it here.

Thanks for listening/reading my friends. And I’ll be back again soon. Promise I won’t leave you hanging. Have a great week!

XO Wendy

Author: Wendy Bertagnolli

Welcome to the pointing toward hope blog! I'm so glad that you found me. In this blog I share thoughts about my personal journey of living with Bipolar. I love sharing things that I hope will help you and others in their journey. But I am not defined by Bipolar. I am so much more. I'm a wife, a sister, a daughter, a mother, a grandmother a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and so much more! I hope you'll join me on this journey of finding joy in daily living. Though we may suffer daily with various ailments or situations, joy is possible. It's not elusive. We can point our compass toward hope. We can choose to live!

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