Choosing an attitude of hope can carry us to the next day

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on July 13, 2021 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/choosing-an-attitude-of-hope-can-carry-us-to-the-next-day

“It took many years to have the courage to share my story even to new friends. In prayer, I kept hearing Jesus tell me not to be afraid.” (Briana Tozour/Unsplash)

Splashing my toes and stretching my arms past my head, I smiled and breathed in the warm summer air. With each throw of the frisbee and swimming to catch it, stress washed away in the spray. Not even the pesky Canadian geese trying to eat our cherries bothered me.

Surrounded by dark green trees, boats bobbing on the water, and sea gulls soaring over the docks, I felt a deep peace. But our external environment alone cannot bring us interior freedom. It is our thoughts that make us feel at ease.

Sheer delight can make me forget I have a diagnosis of a chronic mental illness. Floating on my back in Cultus Lake on a weekend getaway, I felt free to be.

An attitude of hope can help us appreciate living each day as a gift.

Viktor Frankl’s classic memoir of surviving a concentration camp, Man’s Search for Meaning, observes that some of those who held on to hope to be free one day in the future lived to see it come to pass. Others said they would be free at Christmas, but when it never came to be, they gave up and died.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

I used to think and speak to myself with hurtful words. My self-worth was my diagnosis and how people treated me.

Bipolar disorder was a glaring label. I thought it would limit everything about my life and future. What could I ever be good at if I suffered with suicidal thoughts and felt numb from medicine?

The depression, weight gain, loss of friends, and dropping out of college pained me. I am a dreamer, and this experience was like a nightmare.

It must have been the day I got the diagnosis when I decided to find a way to become whole again. In the hospital, I complied with the nurses and calmed patients who were trying to escape the locked ward. I even entertained them with origami soccer ball games I made up. On walks every day to get exercise, I learned to hope again. I began to look at the diagnosis as something to solve.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves,” Frankl writes.

I wanted to step out of the shadows and into the light. “Here I am. It’s Lisa!”

My delight is in the warmth of friendship. I had not seen my dear friend for a year. It was extra special to finally catch up in person. Staying at her home for the weekend and spending quality time at the lake is a blessing I will cherish.

My friends never look at me as “less than” or “troubled.” They love me for who I am – completely, illness and all. I have received healing and learned to love who I am and who I am created to be.

I am blessed to offer up any mental suffering. It can be for my loved ones, souls in purgatory, and the whole wide world. It is a passive mortification that I can offer to the Lord in prayer.

I see now, having lived with bipolar disorder for more than a decade, that what is painful can also lead to refining.

“So that the genuineness of your faith – being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pt 1:7).

It took many years to have the courage to share my story even to new friends. In prayer, I kept hearing Jesus tell me not to be afraid.

“Be brave!”

I hold on to my only hope, my dearest friend, Jesus. And I do not have to produce, perform, prove, or please to be worthy.

His love called me out of the shadows. And he encourages me to take time to jump in the lake and swim. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

Lisa Rumpel’s podcast, The Will to Thrive: Stories of Resilience, is available on popular streaming services.


With bipolar disorder comes gifts and crosses

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on August 31, 2020 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/with-bipolar-disorder-come-gifts-and-crosses

At times I can have boundless energy. Then a few days later, I want to crawl into a ball of blankets and just sip coffee.

I woke up in a foul mood. My weekend sleep was interrupted by noise. My afternoon plans were cancelled. I had a heated and tearful conversation with my brother. A low mood settled on me at lunch. My day was crashing down like my internet connection. 

After crying a bit in my room, I joined my sister and her boyfriend on their route to the beach. My spirits kept sinking like a shipwreck. I needed to do something fast. As we were walking, a Wendy’s sign popped out to me. In an instant, I craved a Frosty. I quickly parted and lined up for a chocolate dessert. Tucking the icy treat in my book bag, I walked the rest of the way to a park near the ocean. 

Not wanting full sun, I looked around for shade. Many people had the same goal. I walked around thinking I was going to have to bake in the hot sun. To my delight, I spotted a tiny pine tree in the middle of the dried grass. I spread out my blanket and wiped sweat from the back of my neck. The tree sheltered my face as I dug into my Frosty with a spoon. 

Only a part of it had melted in the unusual heat. The light chocolate flavour glided down my throat, and I relished the moment. As soon as I had eaten the treat, I felt sleepy and lay down resting in the shade. Pine needles brushed my hair, and the heat felt like a soft blanket on my skin. I dozed to the sound of seagulls calling and bike wheels whizzing by me. Peace washed over me as I rested. I felt like a battery recharging in the afternoon sun. 

Bipolar disorder has offered me the opportunity to gain new skills in navigating the ups and downs. Being a woman, I already experience natural changes in energy, mood, and behaviour throughout the month; bipolar disorder brings an additional challenge. At times I can have boundless energy feeding it into multiple projects and loads of social time. But then a few days later, I want to crawl into a ball of blankets and just sip coffee, away from it all. It is humbling and draining.

Part of the reason it is hard is because of the expectations I place on myself. I always expect my performance to be amazing, and when it isn’t, I want to escape. I want to leave sadness behind me. But even nature has seasons. 

Now, I see the sadness was signalling to me. 

You matter. Take the time to do your creative work. You are worth it. Let the pen hit the paper and twirl. 

Just being alive is enough. There is nothing you need to prove. Don’t give up. 

I resonate with Talia Kruse, https://taliakruse.com/ a Catholic mental health coach who says, “The Lord gave me gifts, and the Lord has given me crosses – but both are to be offered up for his glory. He gave me the gift of being driven, and motivated, but he also gave me this cross of bipolar disorder which in many ways disrupts these gifts. Why would he give me such contradicting attributes? Only he knows – perhaps for my humility, perhaps for me to realize that not all things are easy. Whatever the case is, he knows and is faithful.”

Every up and down with bipolar disorder I learn something new about the faithfulness of God. He doesn’t give up on me. “With him, I do not feel alone, or useless or abandoned, but involved in a plan of salvation that one day will lead to paradise” – John Paul I Address, Sept. 20, 1978

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.


Language lets us describe joy, but also sadness

First published in the BC Catholic on July 3rd, 2019 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/language-lets-us-describe-joy-but-also-sadness

A visit to Jesus in the tabernacle is an opportunity to talk to him as a friend

Sun rays dappling the sidewalk. Evening bird calls. Summer months promise us fun and relaxation. And they definitely can be filled with both. But when you have a mood disorder, happy feelings don’t always fill your brain. I remember feeling a darkness seeping into my thoughts one summer night. My mood dropped like a speeding roller coaster.

Instead of reacting with self-compassion, I berated myself for feeling depressed. “Don’t be silly! It’s sunny! Don’t feel this way! You are so weak. Why are you feeling depressed again? You’re supposed to be having fun.”

But then I picked myself up and headed out for a walk. Hope-filled music in my earbuds. I didn’t know why I was crying. I hoped no one saw the tears falling beneath my sunglasses. I kept walking. Fading light. Chalk drawings and lush flower beds. Dancing shadows on pavement. Using all my senses I focused on the present moment.

Feeling low can be isolating, so it’s the most important time to reach out. With years of experiencing changing moods, I’m more aware of the signs and symptoms of the mental illness I manage. Calling a friend or family member is on the top of my list, as is prayer.

Adjusting the dose of my medication with the help of my doctor is good too. Getting eight hours of sleep, eating healthy food, and exercising are essential. Sleep restores the serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin acts like a messenger to our brain cells. It helps to regulate our moods including anxiety and happiness. Even athletes recognize the importance of sleep. At 10 hours they have peak performance. Eight to nine hours of sleep and they are doing very well.

For me, self-care is not optional. It is something I always do. I pray to the Lord, praising and lamenting. Opening my heart with all its emotion to him who is our powerful healer. At a recent talk in Vancouver, John Swinton, a Scottish theologian, spoke about how the third book of Psalms (Psalms 73–89) is lament. “God has given us a language to describe sadness, joy.” He shares that Scripture “encompasses all of our emotions.”

On summer nights when I struggle with depression, “Darkness is my only companion.” Psalm 88, among many others, speaks of sadness. Holding fast to God’s unchanging love for me, I pray as I can. Sometimes it is through listening to worship songs that I praise him. Often it is by walking in nature. The shape of the red-tinged clouds at sunset. Scents from jasmine blossoms. And making rhubarb sauce with orange zest.

For a meaningful connection with God, I imagine visiting a lonely closed church to find Jesus present in a tabernacle and talk to him as a friend. He is with me in my darkness. He reminds me that I matter. And he delights in me. So too, you matter. You are a delight! Jesus is so close to you. The Lord’s redemptive love wraps us in safety and heals our brokenness.

Summer nights may not always be brimming with fun. But we can slow down and relax, knowing that Jesus loves us. And that, as John Swinton says, “Jesus promised a life of fullness for everyone.”