She is incomplete

This week I forego Mom Hacks because I would be phoning it in.  The mom who started that column seems to have packed a bag and left. 

March marks the 8th anniversary of my Father’s death, March 19th to be exact.  This a huge weight on my chest and when I think about it I can’t breathe.  It cannot, CANNOT have been 8 years since I last spoke to my Dad.

But it has. It’s been nearly 8 years since we chatted on old-school cell phones or shared a raspberry coffee cake after a long Sunday morning of delivering newspapers.

After his funeral I had no idea what grieving looked like for me so I focused on healing and survival. I napped a lot and threw all the funeral flowers off the balcony of my apartment to get rid of “that funeral home smell.”

I refused to drink alcohol, I didn’t want to rely on it to see me through, no matter what.  I feared dependency. I refused antidepressants and sleeping pills as well, there was something within me that needed to prove to myself that I could make it on blood sweat and tears alone, that God could heal even this au natural.

I talked about my loss, wrote about it and went to counseling for the first time in years, I knew I needed a guide for the grieving journey.

I distinctly remember a session of therapy a few months after my Father’s funeral that will forever haunt me. I sat across the room from my trusted therapist of 2 months and listened as she explained to me her opinion that I suffered from moderate bipolar disorder.  She suggested I see a psychiatrist and get on a lifelong med regimen to counteract my seasons of mania and depression. This come out of nowhere for me, I wasn’t even aware I was living in such a cycle, I thought I was just grieving.

I was beyond crushed, I was looking for help with grief, not a lifelong diagnosis.  

I left feeling betrayed and never went back. I knew she wasn’t seeing the real me, only the scattered pieces left after my Father’s abrupt exit. I needed was a guide for my grief, not a label or a bottle of pills.

Now, on my crappiest days, I wonder if she was right.  Am I “Bipolar?” Am I a mother and wife always cycling between one end or the other? Am I putting those I love on a constant roller coaster at the mercy of my emotions?

Should I have taken that diagnosis and embraced it?  It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d been handed one and it wouldn’t be the last, but I knew deep-down that I didn’t need a diagnosis THAT TIME.  I needed loving community, some time, and the healing and unpredictable hand of God.

I’d spent my life watching my mother try to fix every issue with pills and labels. I’d spent the first 18 years of my life at the mercy of whatever the medical community thought I needed to do or ingest or to be acceptable, at least that’s how it felt to me as a child.

By the time I was 25 the medical community had attempted to diagnose me with: ADD, ADHD, Bi-Polar Disorder, Depression and Anxiety. That I know of.

First I was put on antidepressants at the age of 3, because, apparently I wasn’t making friends well at preschool. Then I was given Ritalin and Impramine at the age of 6 for ADD because I couldn’t sit still in class.  After that they switched my label to ADHD and we tried Concerta.  At 15 I was an outcast at school, constantly teased after changing schools, so I was hospitalized and treated for depression again.

When I get the reigns of adulthood I walked way from all of it, I wanted to know: “Could I be okay without the pills?”  

What I realized is that pills can be a helpful piece of the puzzle, but for too long they were being sold to me as my only redemption.

I found that there is a happy medium and currently I’m taking medication for depression.  My primary physician believes that I will be on them for life as “preventative care” against the genetic depression that eventually cause my Mother’s suicide.  As for me I’m not sure but for now?  Yes please.

I’ve spent countless time recently reflecting on all the labels that the medical community places on our human struggles.

On the one hand I agree with them and find them helpful, they’re an umbrella under which we can seek care and information.  When your feelings of depression have a name, you know how to treat it, the same with ADHD or Bipolar Disorder.

On the other hand I think they are sometimes excessive, even oppressive, if we see them as a stamp or a label, a primary way to explain our struggles away.  Because we will never be able to fully label or medicate the pain of being human.  

I wish my therapist had abided by this truth when I went to her for help with my grief.

If you read the list of diagnoses I’ve received you’d get an awfully incomplete picture of who I am. They may have fit seasons of my life but I don’t believe that they fit me forever, at my core.  Even when they were apt, they only labeled a piece of my struggle, not the whole person.

A diagnosis, will always be an incomplete way to identify the struggling soul of a human being.

Perhaps I have depression which requires treatment, right now, but who knows what God can do, who can say what I will learn or become?  Who’s to say if it’s a forever struggle?

Perhaps I’m a woman, prone to depressive episodes because I feel life deeply, I’ve known great pain and great joy don’t know what to do with the depth of those two, very different feelings.

Perhaps I’m short on time and it’s causing anxiety to rise up as the creative juices find no outlet and my spirit yearns for space it cannot find.

Perhaps I have amazing gifts inside and tend to get a little hyperactive trying to get them all out in their proper timing.

Perhaps I’m just Leanne, living Leanne’s life on God’s hopelessly broken planet.  Doing my best to sift through my baggage and leave it behind all while attempting to bring glory to my Father God, my healer and joy-giver.

You may look and see depression and bipolar disorder, you may see ADHD and anxiety, but don’t try to pin me down, I am incomplete. God has started something he’s not remotely done with yet.

Incomplete

I have lessons to learn and things to figure out about the way I tick.  You may see an issue in need of labeling, but God?  He sees a plan, a purpose and a whole bunch of Holy Spirit power that you’re not taking into account.

I’ll use pills thoughtfully, as needed, but if I’m slow to tattoo your diagnosis all over me, forgive me, but I know that I’m incomplete.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephaniebutenhof Stephanie Butenhof

    Are there words to express how I feel while reading this? Surely. Can I find them? No. What I have come up with: I can relate. I understand some of where you’re coming from. It’s nice to feel okay to be incomplete – that God knows we’re imperfect, and he’s okay with that. I’m also sending prayers your way to help you through this month. Thanks for sharing, Leanne. <3

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      Thank you Stephanie, March is a heavy one for my heart to be sure, yet I know that this healing is a beautiful act of God.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    Proud of you for sharing this and for figuring out what you need.

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      Ah the figuring out what I need… worthwhile yet friggin hard work as it turns out.

  • Sandi

    Beautiful, Leanne.

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      Thank you Sandi!

  • http://twitter.com/life_edited Amanda Williams

    Brave and true. Proud of you and thankful for the reminder that God is still working in my mess, every day.

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      I think that’s where he’s at his best actually.

  • BrennaDA

    Love you. Proud of you.

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      Thanks friend, back at you on both accounts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/billy.norton.58 Billy Norton

    Hey friend! your words made me think of this…

    Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2 NIV)

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      I love the picture of wholeness in this Billy, thank you so much.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1300606231 Jenny M Smith

    Oh, Leanne. There are no words to express how deeply this touched me. Depression issues have been a part of my life since I became a teenager, including several misdiagnoses. I’m almost 34 now, and I have resolved that I may have to take an anti-depressant/anxiolytic for the rest of my life. And I’m okay with that if that is my lot. But your post reminded me that we’re all a work in progress, and that God is writing my story – not man or doctor, shrink or science! THANK YOU, my internet hero, for being bold and brave and living life out loud! You have blessed many with this post!!!

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      Jenny, you made me tear up at work with this comment. Thank you thank you.

  • L.H.

    Hi! I am a mental health social worker who stumbled upon your blog some time ago. I see so many individuals, myself included, struggle with the great “diagnosis debate.” Personally, I found some strange comfort in knowing that what I was experiencing was actually a legit “thing” that others also experience and we have some idea of how to treat. However, seeing a diagnosis as a “label” can also be stigmatizing and while there is comfort in knowing others have also felt this way, it also means that I require a title to be in this “not-normal” category. Something I was taught in my masters program that I found really profound is using “person-first language” with myself and my patients. This means being very conscious of how I talk to people and about people. Using person-first wording is making sure the person, the human being, is seen first. I do not work with depression, anxiety, bipolar, or psychosis. I work with people, with humans. Therefore, I do not say “my bipolar patient said…”, but rather, “my patient experiencing bipolar said…” or “so and so is experiencing depression” versus “so and so is depressed.” I would challenge you to see yourself as YOU, as Leanne first, and any of your diagnoses as part of your life experiences. YOU choose how you want to be defined, your diagnoses (legit or otherwise) do not. ” Leanne, experiencing depression” as opposed to “Leanne, the depressed.” It’s minor, but it’s powerful. Especially in areas where stigmas and assumptions can be high. Regardless of whether you do or don’t experience bipolar symptoms, you are still Leanne first and foremost. No one is “the depressed mom, the bipolar neighbor, the psychotic cashier”, they are people first. This can obviously be extended to other areas, and I include a helpful link below, but I have found this is really powerful in terms of my own personal self-esteem, as well as in my professional career. You are first and foremost Leanne, and you should never see yourself as diagnosis first. Thanks for sharing and willing to be vulnerable- I think you have powerful points to share!

    http://www.asha.org/publications/journals/submissions/person_first/

    • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

      Thank you so much, that wording is absolutely powerful and that is a helpful HELPFUL point you have. I won’t soon forget that.

  • Guest

    Hi! I am a mental health social worker who stumbled upon your blog
    some time ago. I see so many individuals, myself included, struggle
    with the great “diagnosis debate.” Personally, I found some strange
    comfort in knowing that what I was experiencing was actually a legit
    “thing” that others also experience and we have some idea of how to
    treat. However, seeing a diagnosis as a “label” can also be
    stigmatizing and while there is comfort in knowing others have also felt
    this way, it also means that I require a title to be in this
    “not-normal” category. Something I was taught in my masters program
    that I found really profound is using “person-first language” with
    myself and my patients. This means being very conscious of how I talk
    to people and about people. Using person-first wording is making sure
    the person, the human being, is seen first. I do not work with
    depression, anxiety, bipolar, or psychosis. I work with people, with
    humans. Therefore, I do not say “my bipolar patient said…”, but
    rather, “my patient experiencing bipolar said…” or “so and so is
    experiencing depression” versus “so and so is depressed.” I would
    challenge you to see yourself as YOU, as Leanne first, and any of your
    diagnoses as part of your life experiences. YOU choose how you want to
    be defined, your diagnoses (legit or otherwise) do not. ” Leanne,
    experiencing depression” as opposed to “Leanne, the depressed.” It’s
    minor, but it’s powerful. Especially in areas where stigmas and
    assumptions can be high. Regardless of whether you do or don’t
    experience bipolar symptoms, you are still Leanne first and foremost. No
    one is “the depressed mom, the bipolar neighbor, the psychotic
    cashier”, they are people first. This can obviously be extended to
    other areas, and I include a helpful link below, but I have found this
    is really powerful in terms of my own personal self-esteem, as well as
    in my professional career. You are first and foremost Leanne, and you
    should never see yourself as diagnosis first. Thanks for sharing and
    willing to be vulnerable- I think you have powerful points to share!

    http://www.asha.org/publications/journals/submissions/person_first/

    • L.H.

      Ahh! This keeps posting! So sorry!!!!

  • Guest

    (I apologize if this posts more than once… I have never commented on a blog and have no idea how this works) :)
    Hello! I am a mental health social worker who stumbled upon your blog some time ago. I see so many individuals, myself included, struggle with the great “diagnosis debate.” Personally, I found some strange comfort in knowing that what I was experiencing was actually a legit
    “thing” that others also experience and we have some idea of how to treat. However, seeing a diagnosis as a “label” can also be stigmatizing and while there is comfort in knowing others have also felt this way, it also means that I require a title to be in this “not-normal” category. Something I was taught in my masters program that I found really profound is using “person-first language” with myself and my patients. This means being very conscious of how I talk to people and about people. Using person-first wording is making sure the person, the human being, is seen first. I do not work with depression, anxiety, bipolar, or psychosis. I work with people, with humans. Therefore, I do not say “my bipolar patient said…”, but rather, “my patient experiencing bipolar said…” or “so and so is experiencing depression” versus “so and so is depressed.” I would challenge you to see yourself as YOU, as Leanne first, and any of your diagnoses as part of your life experiences. YOU choose how you want to be defined, your diagnoses (legit or otherwise) do not. ” Leanne, experiencing depression” as opposed to “Leanne, the depressed.” It’s minor, but it’s powerful. Especially in areas where stigmas and
    assumptions can be high. Regardless of whether you do or don’t experience bipolar symptoms, you are still Leanne first and foremost. No one is “the depressed mom, the bipolar neighbor, the psychotic cashier”, they are people first. This can obviously be extended to other areas, and I include a helpful link below, but I have found this is really powerful in terms of my own personal self-esteem, as well as in my professional career. You are first and foremost Leanne, and you should never see yourself as diagnosis first. Thanks for sharing and willing to be vulnerable- I think you have powerful points to share!

    http://www.asha.org/publications/journals/submissions/person_first/

  • http://twitter.com/Vaderalman Mark Allman

    Leanne,
    Once I thought I was complete but that pride along with me dancing to close to the edge did me in and I was incomplete for all to see. It hurts not being all that I want to be; that I should be. It is a struggle to live with regrets. So where do we go from here; continue to seek God and be open to He who molds the clay. The good clay and even the clay that is far from perfect. It is comforting to know that God is such that it is not so much the clay but the crafter that is important here.