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.

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.”

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

Posts to Prevent Suicide

Tomorrow (September 10, 2013) is World Suicide Prevention Day.  Rather than simply support the greeting card industry, I encourage you to read these deeply personal posts from suicide survivors and, as you are led, leave encouraging, life-affirming comments.

To read more, click on the title –

Posts to Prevent Suicide: Mental Health Monday

For more information about suicide prevention, see “Suicide Prevention (SUPRE)” at the World Health Organization site.

Charatee Buzz - WORLD SUICIDE PREVENTION DAY - September 10, 2013 - Charity Gift Box™

Finding Life Within and Beyond the Clouds: Mental Health Monday

Happy Mental Health Monday!  This week, we offer a plethora of first-hand accounts of mental illness: depression, PTSD, psychosis, sexual abuse, substance abuse, and suicide.  We end with some comic relief about psychotropics.

To find Mental Health Monday posts, click on the title below —

“Life Within and Beyond the Clouds”

Blue above and below

“Blue above and below” from Adrasteia in Nightmares and Dreamscapes

Mental Health Monday: Coping, Helping, Hoping, Remembering, and Using Your Mommy Voice

The plane has landed.  After sitting for hours on the runway at Dulles, waiting for a storm to pass, we finally took to the air.  I landed in Indy about an hour ago and made it home in time to post the following round-up of mental health posts for the week I found worthy of your attention.
 
 
In Which Our Heroine Uses Her Mommy Voice” (Nova Terra) reveals a humorous episode of boundary-setting with a dirty old mental health consumer.

 

Looking back: Youth pastor’s death puts a light on depression.”  (So… there I was)  shares the tragic story of Michael Sanders – “a genuinely quiet, passionate person with a deep reflective faith” who succumbed to suicide.

 

Losing Hope”  (Vibrantly Bipolar) offers an encouraging Word and faith-filled prayer for those struggling through the chaos of mental illness.

 

Walking a fine line between being a helpful or overbearing spouse” (Loving Someone With Mental Illness) provides a first-hand reflection from someone eager to help a loved one with a mental illness, yet finding it a very delicate task.

 

I’m Not Using Food to Cope Anymore, Now What?” (Fearless Nutrition) suggests some strategies to re-direct your mind and body when you are tempted to respond in unhealthy ways.

 

Check these out and tell me what you think…

 

(image above  “Airplane” from Vanessa Seica in Images)

Escape from God: Sylvia Plath’s Journey Through Suicide

On the flight to New York this morning, I was able to read some more from Sylvia Plath’s journals, continuing through her junior year at Smith to her “nervous breakdown.”  I was struck by the transition as the light in this luminescent young woman gradually burns out.  Plath is aware of her changing perspective and sees it as a reflection on the nature of truth.

For a time I was lulled in the arms of a blind optimism with breasts full of champagne and nipples made of caviar.  I thought she was true, and that the true was the beautiful.  But the true is the ugly mixed up everywhere, like a peck of dirt scattered through your life.

Plath, like so many Modernists, doesn’t believe there is a God beyond this world.  Ironically, she continues to call on this God in whom she doesn’t believe, crying out for clarity, vision, and beauty.

God, let me think clearly and brightly; let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences…

She prays in vain, however.  So, she tries to will herself to believe.

Believe in some beneficent force beyond your own limited self.  God, god, god: where are you?  I want you, need you: the belief in you and love and mankind.  You must not seek escape like this.  You must think.

It is unclear to me whether Plath directs these last two sentences at God or herself.  Herself, I think.  She is the one desperately seeking escape – a “return to the womb” (as she expressed it earlier).  She is the one frantically trying to think, to come up with a reason to live.

There is a huge gap in Plath’s journals after these words.  The editor’s note indicates she attempted suicide.  After treatment, she returned to graduate from Smith.  She didn’t keep a journal her senior year.  Her next entries pick up during her post-graduate work.

These later entries reveal a more disjointed, jaded, perhaps resigned perspective.  God makes an appearance – only to note His absence.

God is on vacation with the pure transcendent sun and the searing heat that turns the flawed white body of our love to glass.

Plath went on to produce some masterpieces of poetry and literature (including The Bell Jar), and it is worth noting that she excelled academically even after being aggressively treated with electro-shock.  In her journals, however, she seems to lose (at least temporarily) the ability to engage in deep self-reflection spiritually, psychologically, and intellectually.  She also seems to lose even the glimmer of hope she once had for something (or Someone) eternal.

“SYLVIA PLATH” from T. Shahrizan T. Mustapha in Caricatures

Luxuriating in the Feel of Words: The Writing Life of Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath’s journals detail, among other things, her love affair with words.  She expresses great passion in her writing, yet also a grave sense that it does not yet measure up, that it is too self-absorbed.

What I have written here so far is rather poor, rather unsatisfactory.  It is the product of an unimaginative girl, preoccupied with herself, and continually splashing about in the shallow waters of her own narrow psyche.

Plath, from an early age has a keen sense of what makes for great literature, yet like Van Gogh copying the masters in his early work, she sees herself lacking originality.

Do I create? No, I reproduce.  I have no imagination. I am submerged in circling ego.  I listen, God knows why.  I say I am interested in people. Am I rationalizing?

At 19, she has much to learn, and she is aware of this.

Technically, I suppose the visual appearance and sound of words, taken alive, may be much like the mechanics of music… or the color and texture of a painting.  However, uneducated as I am in this field, I can only guess and experiment.

At times, the young Plath’s lack of wisdom causes her great frustration.  She desperately wants more time – an eternity – to learn all there is to know (in all realms of knowledge) so she can produce good writing.  Occasionally, though, she hits on poetic expressions that bring her great joy.  After writing a poem she entitled “Sonnet: To Spring”, she writes –

Luxuriating in the feel and music of the words.  I chose and rechose, singling out the color, the assonance, the dissonance and musical effects I wished – lulling myself by supple “I”s and blend long “a”s and “o”s.  God, I am happy – it’s the first thing I’ve written for a year that has tasted wholly good to my eyes, ears, and intellect.

Sylvia Plath would go on to write many poems, as well as the novel “The Bell Jar”, that would taste “wholly good” to the eyes, ears, and intellects of many people – in her own generation and for generations to come.  Yet, she would not find ultimate satisfaction in this.  Rather, she slipped into such despair that she opted to end her own life at the age of 30.

In many ways, this was an abrupt, tragic end to what was shaping up to be a brilliant literary career.  In other ways, it was the culmination of a struggle that lasted over a decade.   On November 3, 1951, Plath wrote in her journal –

God, if ever I have come close to waiting to commit suicide, it is now, with the groggy sleepless blood dragging through my veins, and the air thick and gray with rain and the damn little men across the street pounding in the roof with picks and axes and chisels, and the acrid hellish stench of tar.

Yet, it was not the unpleasantness around her that caused her the most trouble, but the unsettledness within.

I am afraid.  I am not solid, but hollow.  I feel behind my eyes a numb, paralyzed cavern, a pit of hell, a mimicking nothingness.  I never thought, I never wrote, I never suffered.  I want to kill myself, to escape from responsibility, to crawl back abjectly into the womb.

The Suicide of Sam Stone: Remembering All Our Fallen Soldiers

 John Prine’s song “Sam Stone” tells the story of a soldier who comes home from Vietnam, a wounded warrior.  Not only is he physically injured, he is also psychologically and spiritually consumed.

And the time that he served,  

Had shattered all his nerves,  

And left a little shrapnel in his knee.   

But the morphine eased the pain,  

And the grass grew round his brain,  

And gave him all the confidence he lacked,  

With a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back.

We then see the terrible impact of Sam’s wounds on his family as the chorus shifts from a third-person narrative to a plaintive first-person plea from the perspective of Sam’s child.

There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,  

Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose.  

Little pitchers have big ears,  

Don’t stop to count the years,  

Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.  

Mmm….

Sam’s addiction leaves him ill-equipped to face the demands as a worker and father.

Sam Stone’s welcome home  

Didn’t last too long.  

He went to work when he’d spent his last dime  

And Sammy took to stealing  

When he got that empty feeling  

For a hundred dollar habit without overtime.   

And the gold rolled through his veins  

Like a thousand railroad trains,

And eased his mind in the hours that he chose,  

While the kids ran around wearin’ other peoples’ clothes…

Ultimately, this wounded warrior chooses to end his struggle.

Sam Stone was alone  

When he popped his last balloon  

Climbing walls while sitting in a chair  

Well, he played his last request  

While the room smelled just like death  

With an overdose hovering in the air  

But life had lost its fun  

And there was nothing to be done  

But trade his house that he bought on the G. I. Bill  

For a flag draped casket on a local heroes’ hill.

On this Memorial Day, it is important we remember all those who have given up their lives in the service of our country.  Some died (and are dying) while fighting on a military battlefield.  Some died (and are dying) fighting the effects of war in the battlefield of their mind.  My prayer for each of them, as well as for those they’ve left behind is,

“God rest your soul.”

 

Veterans Suicide Help‎   (800) 273-8255

Caregivers of Wounded Warriors SparkTeam from Torrey Shannon in Caregiver Resources

April is the Cruelest Month: Walking Through the Waste Land

Wyndham Lewis ~ T.S. Eliot, 1938

April is the cruelest month,

breeding lilacs out of the dead land,

mixing memory and desire,

stirring dull roots with spring rain.   ―     T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Yesterday, I felt like I was wandering in the waste land.  Though the sun was shining and there was a cool breeze blowing, I couldn’t see it or feel it huddled beneath my sheets, praying for sense out of suicide, light in the darkness, life after death.

I thought of the Warren family.  I don’t know Rick or Kay Warren personally.  But, like many people, I know of their ministry and the positive impact their words and work has had on so many lives.  I can’t say I embrace their theology wholesale, but I greatly respect the depth of their faith and would not question their profound relationship with Christ.

And now, this.  The death of a child must be the greatest grief any parent must face.  Compounded with this grief is the threat to meaning and purpose, to hope and, yes, even faith, that strikes when a loved one chooses death over life.  Rick Warren expressed gratitude yesterday for the overwhelming support of people around the world expressed after Matthew’s death, but no amount of community support can alleviate the lonely journey Rick and Kay and their other children must now walk.

As I laid in the darkness, I thought of my own children and my wife.  Memories came flooding back – that night 5 years ago when I swallowed handfuls of psychotropic meds as a desperate measure to end my misery.  My family was little more than an afterthought in that moment.  I didn’t even compose a proper suicide note – just scribbled off a few perfunctory lines as if writing out a prescription.

Thanks to God’s amazing grace, the drugs that should have killed me didn’t.  Instead, they put me in an all-night stupor.  I kept stumbling to the bathroom, crashing into walls, unable to straighten up, leaving a mess my wife had to clean up.

Yesterday, I wandered through the waste land with mostly dead memories and only a hint of desire for something better.

Today, the sun came up (as it typically does).  It took me until noon to rise.  I ate lunch instead of breakfast.  I read some encouraging messages.  I reflected on God’s Word to “choose life, that you and your offspring might live.”  I felt grateful – not glad, exactly – but grateful to be alive.

They say rain is on its way.  Spring rain to enliven the dull roots dormant underground, hiding from the harsh winter.  Breeding lilacs will appear.

In May, I’ll travel home – to my children, and my wife (if only for the day).

It will be “a day that the Lord hath made”.  And we will “rejoice and be glad in it.”

(image above “Wyndham Lewis ~ T.S. Eliot, 1938” from Jude W. in art :: paintings I love)

A Life or Death Decision

Van Gogh

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live…”  (Deuteronomy 30:19, English Standard Version)

When I read the news of Matthew Warren’s suicide yesterday, I felt sick to my stomach.  I thought back to my own history with mental illness (including my suicide attempt).  I tried to reflect on my experience (“Purposeless-Driven Suicide”: Matthew Warren and Me“).  Then, I felt emotionally and physically exhausted.

I laid across the bed for hours and prayed.  Mostly in images and feelings.  I was beyond words.  I wanted to express gratitude to God for rescuing me from death, for giving me another chance.  Though I am separated from my wife and family and without a job, I am thankful that I am alive.  It is truly wonderful to wake up in the morning, to eat a bowl of cheerios and drink a cup of warm coffee, to sit in my recliner and read and write and listen to music, to look out the window at a bright Spring day dawning.

When I finally got up last night (around 7), I grabbed something to eat, then joined the on-line conversation about Matthew’s death.  It is both encouraging to see Christians (and others) showing compassion toward the Warren family.  I guess there was some truly ugly speculation about Matthew’s death, but I didn’t see much of that.  Mainly, I found a Christ-like spirit of “mourning with those who mourn”.

Now it is a new day.  I didn’t get up until noon (perhaps an emotional hang-over).  These words of Joshua (above) keep ringing through my mind.  They were first spoken just before the people Israel were to enter the Promised Land.  After years of hardship in their wilderness wanderings, they had the prospect of more ease, luxuries, comfort.  Yet, they also faced the danger of exploiting these resources, putting things about God – which is following a deadly path.

Joshua’s words are timeless.  They speak to us just as clearly on bright mountaintops and in dark valleys.  Whether you are riding on top of the world or languishing in the pit, hear this challenging hopeful message – “Life is worth living.”  Choose life with God in Christ and you will experience abundant joy and peace that endures forever.  More than this, you will influence the destiny of your children (and others) around you who see what you have and want it for themselves.

Understand, I’m writing this as much to myself as to anyone.  Each day I must make choices that contribute to abundant life or lead to an agonizing death.  I pray together we can be encouraged to “Choose life,” today and in the days to come.

image above “Van Gogh” from Dan Bunea – living abstract paintings via Renate Perdøhl in  Artwork I find inspiring