Beyond Blue

Speaking of angels, I received a care package from my guardian angel today (the woman I met on a train–see next post). For Christmas my angel gave to me: $90 to get a massage (since she apparently reads this blog and in an earlier post I vented about the arrogant massage therapist who told me he could decrease my need for meds), a copy of “God Thinks You’re Wonderful!” by Max Lucado, a greeting card that says “I love you” (on the front) “Despite what my mood swings say” (on the inside), and a 2007 calendar of angels–an angel quote for every day of the new year. Here are some I especially like:

“If you walk in love, you walk with angels.”
–Kathryn Schein

“There is an old saying that before a baby is born, God kisses its soul. And as its guardian angel bears it earthward to its little body, he sings. Is there, in my subconscious self, still a dim memory of that kiss, a faint echo of that song?”
–Prayer at a Greek Christening

“Acknowledge miracles in your life. Angels are God’s miracle workers.”
–Jayne Howard Feldman

“We should get to know the angels now if we wish to spend eternity with them.”
–Pope Pius XII

“The angels remind us that we are not only worthy, but infinitely capable of creating that which we long for. Peace, love, and happiness are always available to us. We are worthy of love, kindness, and respect simple because we exist. This comes with being human.”
–Ambika Wauters

“Where this is goodness, there is an angel.”
–Suzanne Siegel Zenkel

I met my guardian angel on a train from New York City to Baltimore, a train I had to sneak onto because of an Amtrak strike.

With people standing in the bathroom, in the café car, and in the aisles, I searched for some open space. A woman in her 50s with platinum hair and a gentle face moved her bags from the seat next to her and said to me, “You can sit here.”

It was the first chance to think about my manic day: throwing 25 book ideas at my agent, telling inappropriate jokes to a colleague, and scribbling furious notes about random thoughts. Suddenly, a gorgeous woman seated in front of me got up to leave. She didn’t look a day older than 25, so when I heard her mention her adult children living in New York, I said to my train partner, “Genes. Some people get all the good ones.”

“Ha,” she replied, “And I got mental illness.”

“Me too,” I said.

“I’m manic depressive,” she said.

“Me too,” I responded.

We spent the entire three hours taking about diagnoses, medications, psychiatrists, and therapists. I told her that although I had been recently diagnosed as bipolar I didn’t like the idea of taking a mood stabilizer.

It turned out Angel Ann was the first sane, articulate bipolar person I’d met. But I forgot to get her number.

Life is mysterious, though, because don’t you know that in my rush to get off the train, I left my cell phone on my seat. When I realized I had lost it, I used our home phone to dial its number. My angel answered, and she gave me her phone number.

As my depression worsened, I carried her number in my pocket everywhere I went. Sometimes I phoned her daily to hear a nugget of wisdom. “It won’t always be like this,” she said, and I believed her because, unlike other friends, she had been there. A woman of strength and determination, she stuck her tongue out at her diagnosis, and went on living her life. I wanted to be like that. Like my angel. I still do.

Because it has been two months since my last posts, here’s a refresher on why I’m writing this blog:

Some people are born with smooth lines; others have jagged edges. Some find contentment in a cup of tea, others stay restless their entire lives. Guess which one I am? “We would never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world,” Hellen Keller said. Not that I wouldn’t exchange my anxiety and depression for a calm disposition in a heartbeat. But I realize that although my “colorful” nature was conceived and matured in pain, it taught me to rely on faith, friendship, and humor to get me through those dark nights of the soul. All of those things are what I hope to share in this blog.

I am alive today because of words spoken or written to me by fellow depressives: “This will pass;” “One hour at a time;” “One foot in front of another.” These weren’t Hallmark card slogans, they were simple directions from a life-saving network that continues to empower me today. I hope this blog will be a comfortable place where we can pitch the unfair stigma of mental illness, expose our real selves, and lend each other an empathetic ear. As a card-carrying depressive, I invite you to come take a seat in this healing circle of colorful folks who have grown to love and accept their jagged edges.

There is a reason violet follows blue in a rainbow. At the heart of depression’s “blues” is a time of waiting–symbolized by the color purple during Advent, the liturgical season preceding Christmas. It’s appropriate, then, that Beliefnet is launching a blog about depression and anxiety at a time when Christians around the world are preparing to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

In my dark night of depression, all I could do was wait. Wait to feel better. To feel anything. In my silent night, I simply stayed put–did not walk to the storage closet in our garage to end my life with 20 bottles of old presciptions I had stashed away. I waited, like Mary, to get to the other side of birth–the more pleasant side, where you had something to show for all your cursing.

“The dark night helps us become who we are created to be: lovers of God and one another,” wrote Gerald G. May in his book, “The Dark Night of the Soul.”

How I wish that weren’t so.

Yet no one stays blue forever. Blue always turns to purple–to the place where you can’t stand it any longer and start memorizing novenas to all the saints (like St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes). And lighting candles in dark places (like bedroom closets), stating your intentions (to be happy again, or at least not miserable anymore), and then preparing for something (besides your credit card bill) to change. And it does, eventually. Because all holy nights end in a miracle of love.