Birthing My Book: Bringing Delight in Disorder to Life

Having conceived and nurtured a memoir for almost a year, only to have it soundly rejected, it felt much like a miscarriage. I went a year without writing a word. It was only when I enrolled in an intensive discipleship training program that I again started to bring words to life, or, more accurately, let the Word come to life by cultivating the soil of stories.

Still, I wasn’t ready to come back to my memoir. It was too personal, too painful, too raw. Instead, I moved onto fiction – drafting a trilogy of short stories – “Life,” “Liberty,” and “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  More than the quality of the narrative (which is still quite unfinished), the discipline of daily writing as I created characters, developed dialogue, and polished plot, gave me increasing confidence that I had a “way with words.”

Then a very tragic thing happened. A young man I had never met committed suicide. He was playing family board games one minute and the next he was in his room shooting himself. The young man’s name was Matthew, son of Rick Warren renowned pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the best-selling Purpose-Driven Life.

My initial reaction was to take to my bed. I didn’t get up for three days. I read what people within the church and outside of it were saying. Some of it trying to be nice and compassion. Some of it downright ugly and mean. Nearly all of it lacking a clear Biblical understanding of mental illness that would drive a person to suicide.

I decided I needed to re-write my memoir. I also knew I couldn’t do it alone. I shared the idea with Leanne Sype, a blogging friend and editor, to whom I had pitched my trilogy. Very soon, she became as passionate about the project as I did. With Leanne’s help, I worked through a second draft, and a third (and in some cases fourth and fifth). With Leanne’s guidance, I pitched it to an agent and went to a writer’s conference to see about pursuing conventional publishing.

We prayed for a clear sign and got it almost immediately. A resounding no. Undeterred, Leanne encouraged me to pursue self-publishing, helped me navigate around some shark-invested waters of vanity publishers. She introduced me to graphic artist Nicole Miller who also has a heart for the Lord and a distinct eye for graphic design. Soon, we had a book cover. Nicole then moved on to a video for our indiegogo campaign where we exceeded our goal.

Along came another young faithful servant, Christina Tarabochia, who took the text and shaped it into various formats uploaded at Smashwords (and soon, for Amazon and Barnes & Noble). Christina helped explain some of the technical aspects of getting our book in the hands of the readers and has been an invaluable resource.

Now that we have a downloadable e-book (soon to be in print), we are only entering another season of the larger “Delight in Disorder” mission. Over the past few days I have been contacted mental health and church leaders from across the country to help us spread the word — to bridge the distance between faith and mental illness. I’ve already received two speaking invitations and am building some very fruitful relationships.

Much has been done — Facebook author page, Twitter account (indy_tony), media kit, business card design, e-mail and phone contact) and much remains to be done (website upgrade, speaking engagements, reviews). I have no idea where God will lead now that the book has been birthed. I only pray I’ll do my part to be a faithful stewardship of the Word calling me to share divine delight in the disorder of the world.

Write your favorite scripture on a canvas for your dorm room. It fills up wall space and it will be a good encouragement.

Birthing My Book: Cultivating the Soil

The years 2009-2011 are pretty much a blur for me. I was on a high dose of psychotropics. I was still recuperating from the effects of E.C.T.. I was dealing with deep depression due in large part to a lack of purpose since going on disability.

After my first attempt to write a spiritual memoir was rejected by publishers, I stuffed it in a dresser drawer and quit writing altogether. I tried some gardening, wheeling aging veterans to worship, painting dairy barns, cleaning furnaces — anything to be somewhat productive and stay out of the pit.

Nothing helped. At least not much. In December of 2010 I enrolled in a partial hospitalization treatment program and was introduced to a relatively new therapeutic approach that was proving successful among bipolar patients. It was called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

I was less than impressed.  I found DBT to be a rather basic blend of pop psychology and generic eastern philosophy.  While I benefited from the support of group therapy and met many compassionate caregivers, I left the program feeling it had fallen short, eager for something more in-depth and, if possible, rooted in my own Christian tradition.

Thanks to the advocacy of a family minister, we discovered a program called Shepherd’s Fold. Originally designed as a re-integration program for prisoners adjusting back to family life, it had become more a discipleship center where men could study deeply the Scriptures, receive Christian counsel, and develop work and personal habits that might carry over for them to become better husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers in Christ.

I enrolled at Shepherd’s Fold in September of 2011 and immediately began to adopt the schedule, the tasks, and habits they had carefully designed to promote spiritual well-being. While I struggled with the structure, and my pace at work and in chores was particularly slow, I found my overall mental health improved. Most importantly, I was able to read and reflect on God’s Word for hours each day.

I began to write again.  My letters home to my wife were often 30 pages and up (and sometimes I wrote 2 or 3 a week). I began a correspondence with a former colleague in ministry who sent me his sermons and I would respond with lengthy replies. In addition to daily journal entries from Scripture readings, I did a number of research papers on issues with which I had been dealing. After eight months in treatment, I was asked to write a “spiritual autobiography” and I filled over 125 hand-written pages. My writer’s voice was returning.

Sadly, my time at Shepherd’s Fold came to an end in August, 2012 as I left the program early.  God only knows the complete story of why it didn’t work out as we had hoped — to promote family reconciliation.  But it is clear that though the soil seemed barren, there was much cultivation.

Cultivating

“Crazy” by Gnarles Barkley (Violent Femmes cover) in Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack)

Gnarls Barkley‘s song “Crazy” (covered by The Violent Femmes) is third on my autobiographical Spotify playlist Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack).  The lyrics describe the familiar misery of going insane.

I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place.
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space

And when you’re out there
Without care,
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough
I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy
Does that make me crazy
Does that make me crazy
Possibly
And I hope that you are having the time of your life
But think twice, that’s my only advice

Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,
Ha ha ha bless your soul
You really think you’re in control

Well, I think you’re crazy
I think you’re crazy
I think you’re crazy
Just like me

My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb
And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them
Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun
And it’s no coincidence I’ve come
And I can die when I’m done

Maybe I’m crazy
Maybe you’re crazy
Maybe we’re crazy
Possibly

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 30, my doctors told me being a conditioned athlete through my teen years likely kept symptoms at bay. Then, I chose to self-medicate with drugs like alcohol, amphetamines, nicotine, and marijuana. It was like manufactured insanity, considered “cool” within the sub-culture of aspiring artists at college who took pride in their cock-sure craziness.

 

Coming Up From my Bipolar Basement

I’ve been lingering in the basement of my bipolar mind for some time, waiting for some storms to pass before rising to the surface. I’ve taken some risks. Due to a transition in prescription drug coverage and a financial shortfall, I tried to conserve on a couple of my medications to make them last through the end of the year (when the expensive one goes generic). I’m struggling to be productive in a new work environment.  I’ve veered from much creative writing to spend time promoting the indiegogo campaign for my mission. Not surprisingly – with fewer corrective chemicals in my blood, added external stressors, and less therapeutic releases, I’ve experienced a low-grade depression. To cope, I go into the basement.

Some people look negatively on those who escape to the basement.  They picture n’er-do-well not-so-young adults who still live in their parent’s basement, smoke weed, sleep away the day and watch television through the night. The basement becomes more a tomb than a womb.

For me, the basement of my bipolar mind is where I go when the warning sirens are sounding. I think.  I pray. I read and write, though not as much.  I stay connected to the world around me through social media. When the clouds lift and the “all clear” sounds, I take the steps upward one at a time.

As I write this, I’m noticing the sky is much clearer.

God has provided the resources for my medication for the remainder of the year and I am back on my prescribed dosages. My body chemistry is approaching equilibrium.

Thanks to the generous support of people around the world, we have exceeded our mission goal to publish Delight in Disorder.  Now, every dollar donated in the time remaining for the campaign will be used to promote the book on-line and provide seed money for a book tour. 

My responsibilities at work have shifted so I can better use my writing skills and my boss has shown a great deal of grace in accommodating my schedule to optimize my mental health.

I received an e-mail tonight which may be an indication that God is opening doors for me to discuss mental illness within faith communities throughout the state.

Yes, I believe the basement door has opened a crack and some light is shining in. It’s time for me to climb the steps.

Steps

Delight in the Works of the Lord

Praise the LORD!

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

Great are the works of the LORD,

studied by all who delight in them. (Psalm 111:1-2)

Praise is personal, but it is best expressed publicly. When people say. “Faith should be kept private,” I was to yell out, “How can I keep from singing?” If I hear a great song, see a marvelous movie, read a gripping novel, or encounter a compelling work of art, my gut reaction is to share the experience with others. How can I keep from praising?

Today I went to an extended family gathering. Not being a social butterfly, I typically observe others and wait to speak until I’m spoken to. I noticed the flow of conversation was about physical ailments – everything from excessive flatulence to herniated  discs to heart conditions.

In time, I was asked what I did. I talked about my memoir and mission to share hope with folks like me who have a mental illness as well as foster compassion within the faith community.

One woman seemed genuinely interested. (I was later told her ex-husband had bipolar disorder and had committed suicide.) She tried to engage others in a conversation about faith and mental illness but everyone uncomfortably looked down at their food. Very soon someone changed the subject to something more socially acceptable. Hemorrhoids, I think.

Mental disorders like mine can be intensely uncomfortable, even agonizingly painful at times, but there is delight to be found in the midst of the disorder. This delight flows from the Spirit of the Lord, who deeply desires that we share our delight “in the company of the upright, in the congregation.”

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Visit our mission site and help us reach our goal by 11/20!

The Buzz (prompted flash fiction)

om: Do you want to lift weights?

David: “Are you sure you want to do that before the game?”

Tom: “Yeah.  I’ve got energy to burn.”

Tom placed three circular 10-lb weights on either side of a barbell and began to curl.

Tom: Did you hear what Pam said to Jennifer in Algebra today?

David: What’s that?

Tom: She said she was going to break up with Tad.

David: Seriously?

Tom: Absolutely.  Now’s your big chance.

David: I don’t know.

Tom: What’s not to know? Strike while the iron is hot.

David: What does that even mean?

Tom sits down the barbell.

Tom: You got any french fries?

David: You’re not going to eat before the game, are you?

Tom: Just a snack. I’m hungry.

David:  You can check the freezer.

Tom grabs a bag of frozen fries out of the freezer, and sets the fryer knob to “high.”  He then starts galloping around the room.

David: What are you doing?

Tom:  I told you.  I have energy to burn.

David: You’re going to burn yourself out.

Tom: I can’t help it. I can’t sit still. Hey what was he lecturing on in biology today? I was busy writing a story.

David: The decomposition of the human body. What’s your story about?

Tom: Oh, I’m writing a parody of our class. It’s called, “No Biggy.”

Tom stops running.  The oil is bubbling.  He places a handful of fries in the burner. Stepping back, he tilts his head to the left.

Tom: Hey, what’s that sound?

David: What sound?

Tom:  That buzz.  Is there a bee in here?

David: I don’t hear anything.  Hey, Tom, why don’t you sit down?

Tom: I will. But where’s that damn bee?

David:  Tom!

Tom: What?

David: Sit down.

Tom: Okay.  First, where’s your salt?

David: You can check the cabinet above the stove.

Tom opens the cabinet drawer.  Spices come falling out. Tom jumps back.

Tom: What the hell?

David: Tom, let me get it.  You sit down.

Tom: You guys needs some organization.  Just give me just a second.

Tom starts to pull out the spices out of the cabinet.

David: What are you doing?

Tom: Just give me a minute. You’ll thank me later.

David:  Stop it, Tom. Sit down. Now.

Tom: Where is that damn bee!

Tom walks over near the fryer and leans over. There is a loud splash. Tom jerks his head back.

Tom: Son of a bitch!

David moves over and unplugs the fryer.  He grabs Tom by the shoulders. 

David: We’re going to the hospital.

Tom: No. It hurts. But it’s not that bad.

David: Something’s not right, Tom. You’ve got to see somebody.

Tom: I’ll be okay.  Just guide me to the sofa.

David: I don’t know.

Tom: Come on.  I’ll be fine.

David takes Tom by the arm and leads him to the sofa.  Tom takes a deep breath.

David: How you doing?

Tom: Perfect.  Couldn’t be better. Just. Could you do me one thing?

David: What’s that?

Tom: Would you kill that damn bee?

 

Honey Bee

from JLD Webfocus 

This story was sparked by a writing prompt from the IU-South Bend Creative Writing Club, with help from a random word generator from Text Fixer (serving over 37 1/2 people).

Reaching Out with “Delight in Disorder”

When I first conceived writing a spiritual memoir about my faith journey battling bipolar disorder, I had no idea where it would lead.  It took almost four years for the seed to really germinate.  In March of this year, after the suicide of Matthew Warren, I sensed a greater urgency that God was calling me to share the hope of Christ with my brothers and sisters who wrestle with mental illness and foster greater compassion among my brothers and sisters in the faith community towards those of us with “disordered minds.”

When God gives direction, He also paves the way for us to follow.  God guided me to Leanne Sype who first helped shape my disordered devotions into a marvelous house of meditations.  From March – July, Leanne helped me craft a second and third draft.  Once we felt we had a good working draft, Leanne helped me write a query and synopsis to see if a conventional publisher might pick us up. August and September was a “pruning season,” as God snipped away at branches that would not bear fruit.

In late September, after much thought and prayer, we came to the conviction that God was leading us toward self-publication and that the best path would be to recruit a team of gifted specialists to see that the final product was more “delightful” than “disordered.”  Lyn came on as a prayer captain. Nicole was brought in to design the cover and produce the video. Kevin has served as music consultant.

Friday night, I unleashed my Facebook Author Page, which already has 104 “likes.”

Sunday night, we unveiled our mission campaign on indiegogo – Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission which, as of this writing, has attracted 149 views, has 10 followers, and 5 funders for a total of $300 (towards a goal the $2,000 goal).

More than the numbers, however, God is reaching out through the mission campaign to share hope with those battling mental illness and promote compassion within the faith community.  Here are two testimonies that have already been shared –

 I just spent the morning getting to know a gal who is in the trenches of a heavy spiritual battle at this very moment. She’s fresh out of drug rehabilitation, looking at incarceration from past choices that she’s trying to clear up, and going to counseling with her non-medicated bipolar husband, all while FULLY knowing the Lord and clinging desperately to his promises and his will for her life… I was actually able to mention Delight in Disorder to her and share a little bit about the book and the mission. I showed her just the video on the campaign page and she started to cry. It’s already touching lives, my dear.

I appreciate what you’re doing with this ministry you’ve started. We have a son who has battled depression on and off since late elementary and sadly the church has sometimes been the last place we wanted to talk about it!  Keep up the good work—the church needs your message as much as the “disordered”!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

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For more information on our mission campaign, click on –

Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission

Motherhood, Music, Memories, and Other Musings: Mental Health Monday

For our round-up of readings about mental illness this week, I’ve decided to adhere to the time-honored principle for writers – “Show, don’t tell.”  Below are some of the best mental health postings around the blogosphere this week, with excerpts and links to read more.

Confusing Motherhood” (psychosisrus)

I can’t help but sit here in immense pain, wondering how the hell it got to this? I am stuck! I never really had the motherhood 101 course. No real mentors in this area. All fly by the seat of my pants – make it up as I go, bullshit. I guess I have been doing okay, I just want to be better. More effective. Will you say “That is just PROOF that you are a good mom. You always want to give more – be more for them.” Okay, I get this, to a degree. But here I am, stacking all my insufficiencies one on top of the other. I’m stacking my deck. No one else is! Why do I keep going back here? Why? Because I am so worn out, in pain, tired, frustrated, and COMPLETELY overwhelmed.

Daile’s Mix Tape – Waltz #2 (XO)” (kissmeoutofdesire)

 It is a simple song in terms of composition, not needing an orchestra of instruments and relying on a guitar and Smith’s husky voice. My heart breaks to listen to this song knowing that the musical genius who produced it, suffered from mental health and addiction issues and ended his life through self inflicted stab wounds – if that doesn’t tell you he was a tortured soul, I don’t know what would.

Faith and Sight” (The Consolations of Writing)

I.
“Am I okay?” the question asks itself.
The mind retreats within to make reply
And eyes forever dart towards the shelf
(The cupboard open, fruit left out to dry).
Unsettled souls put back the oil of joy
And rifle through supplies to find the seed.
The memory bank’s a plastic, moulding joy,
Responsive to the anxious way we knead,
New lies put in for truth, new fears for peace.
For we transform the past each time we check,
And, moulding former years, these years can’t cease.
There’ll always be new jokers in the deck,
New ways to stop ourselves from singing praise
And counting blessings in these blessed days.

Depression” (Le Chatelier’s Principle)

Because my grades were dropping, my parents started to put more pressure on me to pull myself together, and my friends started to wonder why I was pulling away from everyone, and finally, finally they got me to realise that something was wrong.  I went to see the school counsellor and she said she thought I might have depression.  I suppose I should have realised sooner, especially since my father had been going through pretty much the same thing, but it was still hard to accept this.  To realise that there was really something wrong.  That was kind of scary.  But it was also a relief to realise that I was not alone, that what I faced had a name.  And to realise that there was hope.

Triggers, Triggers, Everywhere” (Nodus Tollens)

I recently had to attend a family gathering, which thankfully was at my own house so I actually had a bit of a chance of getting away to my own space. As we all know, family gatherings are just full of questions such as:

“Are you losing weight?”

“Did you gain weight?”

“Why aren’t you eating?”

“Are you on a diet?”

“Why aren’t you in school?”

“What are you doing now?”

“Do you have a job?”

And etc etc etc.

Chaos Storm Thoughts” (Documenting Descent)

I feel like there are people keeping me in the unknown. There is a storm brewing in my minds full of egotistical delusional thought. Do I really think that I am important enough for people to conspire against?  People come and go, people hide, and when they are hidden, I can not help but think it is so they can strike against me. People disappear from the online world, people that once liked me in real life, but due to the tides of fate, may not hate me, but want nothing to do with me, even though I care enough to check up on them occasionally and smile with their happiness and jokes.  But one day they are just gone? without mention, rhyme or reason, they just… :poof: and it bothers me, I do not know why it strikes me so to my core. Perhaps it is due to my time in foster care, where people would come out of nowhere and side strike you, or perhaps I really do, in someway believe myself to be important enough to conspire against, I don’t know, all I know, is last year I didn’t feel like this, or well maybe it is better to say I didn’t feel this strongly. But it least I can count the number of people who really dislike me on my hands, so it is not over ten yet?

On Mental Issues and Joking About Them” (kojitmal)

It`s hard, when everything`s in your own head. It`s not like a broken arm where you have the cast. It`s not like crutches, or  a band aid, or even like the telltale signs of chemotherapy in case of cancer. These are at least somewhat more socially accepted. It`s okay to call in sick to work when you can`t get out of bed thanks to a flu. It`s not socially accepted to call in sick to work when you can`t get out of bed thanks to depression.

 

Support Mental Health Awareness

image from Angelica Cambridge

Share “Delight in Disorder” with the World

Having served in ministry with madness, I now have a mission.  And I can use your help.

Help me share Delight in Disorder with the world.

Delight in Disorder is a resource we have long needed. We all need to hear from people who have struggled with mental illness and have found, indeed, that nothing can separate us from God’s great and redeeming love. This book is honest about the experience of living with bipolar disorder, and it’s full of compassion toward the many people whose own moods betray them so treacherously. It’s also full of hope—not the cheap kind we use to varnish over the truth about ourselves and about this life we live. But the only kind of hope that can stand when everything else falls: hope in Christ and his grace.  Amy Simpson — Author, Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission

We are on a mission to share the hope of Christ with people who, like me, wrestle with mental illness.  Our mission is also to foster the compassion of Christ within the faith community towards those that have often been  like bruised reeds broken by false accusations and wrongful judgments.

To find out more about our mission and, as the Spirit leads, offer your support, go to our indiegogo site by clicking on the following link –

May you be blessed as you are a blessing,
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“Troubled Minds” Author Endorses “Delight in Disorder”

I’ve been on quite a roller-coaster ride as we move closer to the indiegogo campaign (very soon) and publication (March, 2014) of my spiritual memoir Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission.   Last night I was telling my sister I had been cycling emotionally as well as craving alcohol.  By God’s grace and with prayer from friends and family, I’ve managed to stay safe, clean, and sober.  Yet, I’ve been fretting over many things, fearing that all I and others are investing in the mission might come to naught.

This morning when I checked my in-box, I noticed there was a message from Amy Simpson.

In 2012, Intervarsity Press published Simpson’s book Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission in which she shares the story of her mother, who has schizophrenia and the Church failed to respond to her needs or the needs of the family.  Troubled Minds offers a ray of hope in the end, highlighting a few church ministries across the country where there is some openness to folks with mental illnesses, but largely Simpson’s voice is a prophetic one — the Church is called in Christ to do more.

After reading Troubled Minds, I was inspired to write to Ms. Simpson first to thank her for sharing her story.  She very thoughtfully responded.  I then boldly asked if she might read my manuscript and consider offering an endorsement.  She graciously accepted.

Today, I received her response, with the following endorsement attached –

Delight in Disorder is a resource we have long needed. We all need to hear from people who have struggled with mental illness and have found, indeed, that nothing can separate us from God’s great and redeeming love. This book is honest about the experience of living with bipolar disorder, and it’s full of compassion toward the many people whose own moods betray them so treacherously. It’s also full of hope—not the cheap kind we use to varnish over the truth about ourselves and about this life we live. But the only kind of hope that can stand when everything else falls: hope in Christ and his grace.  

Yes, it has been a roller-coaster ride.  A delightful one.  And it’s only just begun.

I thank you, Ms. Simpson.  And I praise God from whom all blessings flow.