First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on September 28th, 2020 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/the-bravest-thing-you-can-do-is-ask-for-help
“Pick up the pen and be brave.” Five years ago, these words came in my heart during prayer. The Lord asked me to let go of the stigma and shame of having a mental illness.
I had been carrying it around for so long, it was time to surrender and to write about it.
I clung to the safety of anonymity and the label – bipolar disorder – that I lived with. I was hiding in my pain. I thought everyone who knew me would think mental illness is a weakness, not a sickness. My fears of people finding out reared in my head like ugly cartoon monsters. It was hard to shut them out. I trusted only a few people with my story for a long time.
When I opened up to friends about my story, and they didn’t run away, I knew I was not alone. For years, my identity was in having a disability. I began to see that I am not my illness. I have an illness. Language is important to live the truth of who you are.
I am a beloved daughter of God.
This realization frees me from the monsters of shame, fear, and anger to live in abundance.
On a recent workday, I went for a walk outside to recharge. I brought a picnic lunch with me and settled in at a wooden table in a garden outside of the Healthy Minds Centre. As I sat down, I noticed faint green writing in front of me. Written on the table were the words, “It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay, healing takes time.”
I smiled. It was what I needed at that moment. I was tense and stressed and worried. The message jumped out at me even though the words were faded from the sun and rain.
I read once that “the bravest thing you can do is ask for help.” It takes humility to reach out. I turn to family and friends when I am lonely, afraid, or unable to cope. “Don’t you think the things people are most ashamed of are the things they can’t help?” wrote C.S. Lewis in Till We Have Faces.
When I spend time in prayer with Jesus, I’m made aware of my wholeness. The Lord is the ultimate physician. “It is the Lord … who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” (Ps 103, 3-4).
He gives medicine and psychiatrists, counsellors and therapists, to bring us healing. We can’t do life alone. God, who is a communion of persons, made us to need each other.
So I began to write, and write, and write. I started to journal and write poems and short prose. I worked on writing a couple of books (these are still unpublished works). I started to write for The B.C. Catholic from the encouragement of my friends and the movement of the Holy Spirit. I delight in writing. Discovering the joy of writing and being vulnerable brings me such comfort and connection. As my favourite high school English teacher would say, “It’s cathartic.”
My journals keep filling up. I keep Post-it notes and loose papers with ideas, musings, and quotes. My room is full of books – a small library. My reading list is always long. I spend many an evening curled up with a cup of tea and a good book. I am always looking to improve the craft of writing. I am learning from great writers like Austen, Lewis, and Tolkien.
Finding my identity in Christ, my life has become a beautiful unfolding tale. Reflecting on it provides me with hope because the Lord has gifted me with good things and people. I am grateful for the unveiling of who I am; I look forward to who I will become. I no longer wear masks to hide the fact that I have bipolar disorder (although I wear a mask now due to COVID-19).
I’m unashamed and do not carry stigma from having a mental illness. I like the lyrics from the country song I Got a Truck by Devin Dawson, who sings “’Cause I got a song, I got a story to tell, I got a reason for living.”
And then, “I got a dream and a hope and a prayer … I got the drive and the grit and the spirit.”
We all have a story to share. There is room for all our stories. And we can be brave in sharing them because our hope is in the Lord.
Lisa Rumpel’s podcast, The Resilient Catholic: Shining light on your journey to flourish with Mental Health, is available on popular streaming services. It is updated every other Wednesday.