Shannon Toller

Bye, Bye Bipolar Birdie

By Shannon Toller

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Finding Help and Hope

I’m in the painful process of lengthening my short fuse, while simultaneously putting out the constantly-burning brush fire in my heart and mind. It’s a delicate dance of putting out just enough heat to cook something but not so much that your dinner gets incinerated. It’s one of the hardest things I have ever had to overcome, but I know that when I do, Jesus will be meeting me on the other side. Yes, this might be a life-long battle with the darkness and the voices in my head, but I am not fighting these enemies alone. I have Jesus with me, behind me, and before me.

Writing well means writing about what you know. So, here it goes. Here’s what your resident faith blogger knows. I know that I have been an angry, anxiety-ridden bird for a while now.

I turn Hulk-green on a dime, and I yell at the top of my lungs for my kids to stop screaming in the house. I’m a work in progress, obviously. But, up until about a month or so ago, I was wondering why instead of getting better, I started getting worse. My fuse was non-existent. Self-control was nowhere in sight. My kids were crying, my husband was disappointed, my Spirit was shot. I was heading down a wrong-way road, headed nowhere good, at about 100 mph.

I saw a few Christian counselors, but thoughts and prayers only go so far when you are struggling with mental illness. I figured out, rather quickly, that I was going to need more than just a willing ear. I was going to need medical intervention, and I was most definitely going to need a diagnosis. I couldn’t just be “hormonal” or “crazy” for the rest of my life. I needed to know, without a shadow of a doubt, why I flew off the handle so quickly and why I succumbed to a puddle of tears afterward. I needed more concrete answers than “You’re just tired” or “Maybe you could just pray it away.”

After more than thirty years on this big, blue planet, I finally swallowed my pride and saw a psychiatrist. I was shaking like a leaf, sweating like a pig, and sick to my stomach. This must mean something is about to break through, I thought. Maybe I will finally find the “me” that has been hiding away for so long. I had this awful thought that maybe my psychiatrist would think I was nuts and wouldn’t prescribe me medicine or give me that dreaded diagnosis. Maybe he would look at me and think, “Okay, this girl is as normal as they come. Why is she here?”

But he didn’t. After thirty rotations around the Sun, I finally have the diagnosis. Bipolar 2 disorder.

Bipolar Christian

Yep, I’m full-on bipolar. The highs and the lows and the racetrack frequency of the two make complete sense now. The days when I would run on an hour of sleep and a handle of tequila, followed by the weeks of not leaving my bed or taking showers. The immense feelings of love and excitement when I would make a friend, followed by the soul-eating guilt that would envelop me when a text or call would go unanswered. The flirtatious girl who could get at least ten numbers a night at a club usually turned into an inebriated mess who couldn’t walk a straight line. The girlfriend who was so cool one minute, and a stage five clinger the next. The mother who could play Barbies and sing princess songs by day, and completely shatter little dreams and hearts by night.

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For the first time in my life, I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It doesn’t seem like a life sentence anymore. Jesus is on the parole board.

Satan and his schemers want you (and me) to hide in our pain and our anguish. Satan craves suicide, self-harm, and anything we can do to ourselves that he doesn’t have to waste precious resources on. 

The enemy cannot tell the truth: he can only lie. So, when you hear the voices in your head calling you worthless, stupid, damaged goods—feel free to shut that voice up with the power of Scripture. God calls you fearfully and wonderfully made, and He set you apart to carry out good works for His Kingdom. He wouldn’t have done that if you were worthless. 

The enemy cannot give, he can only steal. If you think you are getting a better bargain from the used-car salesman, Satan, you are sorely mistaken. The devil’s dealership only sells lemons and no warranties. He is a swindler and a snake. 

The enemy cannot spread life, he can only kill. Satan can’t promise you the goodness of God, but he can trick you into eating an apple that has magic God-powers. 

Satan is a manipulator. God is a masterpiece maker.

The biggest lie the enemy has told my generation is that you don’t need Jesus to get to heaven. Just do it on your own, Satan lies. You don’t need anyone but yourself, Satan manipulates. The world would be better off without you, Satan seeks to destroy you. But, take heart, sweet friend! If you were just a mediocre person, living a dull and mediocre life, then why are you causing such a ruckus in the heavenly realms? 

You were made for a reason, dear one. And it isn’t to hide under a rock until the bullets stop flying. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

And when the tough cannot take it one more day, they call a trusted professional who can help lift them by their shoulders. When the tough cannot take one more step, Jesus steps in to carry you the rest of the way. When you think you cannot make it one more day, Jesus reminds us that joy comes in the morning. You’ve got this, friend. He will never leave you, nor forsake you. And that includes in your mental illness. God is going to be glorified in this, and nothing you have gone through will be wasted in the Kingdom of Heaven.

So, friend, keep going. This world needs you.

Self Care: Selfish or Scriptural

By Shannon Toller

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It’s not a secret to anyone that knows me that I love a good self-help book. I like to paint my nails and put headphones in when the girls go to sleep. I cherish drinking a hot cup of coffee, and I may even like it when my taste buds get burned off with that first gulp. But, when it comes to the “self-care movement” of today, I feel like Sandra Bullock before she turns into Gracie Lou Freebush.

I’m all about a mani/pedi day with my girlfriends, followed by lunch and a movie. Except for the tiny baby hiccup that I just don’t have the time for that anymore. I am a stay at home mama to three girls under six, and it’s summertime to boot, so I am using all my God-given energy to figure out new ways to eat turkey sandwiches. I don’t have time (or money) to pay a sitter and take a “me day.” Quite honestly, I don’t even know if I would enjoy a day at the spa at this season of life; I wouldn’t be able to relax because I'd be too worried that the kids lit the house on fire. My head would be filled with more thoughts like, “I should have bought that baby-cam," instead of ideas of Namaste and chill. So instead of working myself into an anxiety spiral at a day spa, I find solace in my time with Jesus.

True Self Care

Jesus Christ and my relationship with Him is MY self-care.

I’m not sure if you knew this or not, but our Lord and Savior practiced self-care. Remember in the gospel of Mark when Jesus told his followers that there are two commandments to follow in their relationship with Him:

Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.
— Luke 10:27

Right here in Scripture, Jesus implores us to take care of our friends and neighbors the way we take care of ourselves. We wouldn’t offer our friends the bare minimum: the scraps of food we eat off our kids’ plates at dinner time, or the five-minute bathroom timeout we so desperately need in our mothering journey. We would roll out the red carpet for a friend who was celebrating and break out the tissues and chocolate for the friend who was grieving. We would break out the best china, the best cheese and crackers, and we would fill their cups. We would pray with them, cry with them, and laugh with them. We wouldn’t guilt them into doing “more” or “less.” We would simply be with them. Just like Jesus simply is with us.

Jesus practiced self-care when He took time away from the crowds and the congregations to spend quiet time with the Father. He never had a big prayer session in the middle of a marketplace. He went to the most secluded of places, simply so He could hear what His Father was speaking to him. He never tried to do it himself or put on a façade. When Jesus was scared and reluctant to be beaten, bloodied, and crucified on a rugged cross for our sins, he literally sweat blood. He was as human as is humanly possible, without all of that silly sin stuff.

Jesus never forsook the fellowship. He was always available to his friends and family, but He still knew when the time for prayer and solitude was on the horizon. Like Jesus, we need to remind ourselves that sometimes “self-care” isn’t a spa day: it’s the solitude of reflection and prayer. But in this world of “hustle this” and “hustle that” and “hustle until you’re dead,” being still and quiet and open to the movement of the Holy Spirit is the most counter-cultural thing you could do in 2019.

C.S. Lewis says it best: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

Redefining Self Care

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Spa days and comfy leggings and tubs of ice cream are fun and enjoyable. But when you are choosing them over Jesus, that’s when life starts to fall apart. When you focus too much on yourself and your “self-care,” you are neglecting one of the most important commandments in the Bible: Everyone should look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)

Yes, we need to take care of ourselves. Us mamas need to get a shower in more than once a week. We need to wear our hair down instead of defaulting to the “mom-bun.” But, if we are neglecting our families and friends for the sake of self-care, then I think we are all missing the point.

Being a young mama isn’t for the faint of heart, especially in 2019. We need to be kind to ourselves and extend that good, good grace God extends to us. We need to get sound sleep each day. Contrary to popular belief, I cannot run on coffee, and I’m betting you can’t either. We need healthy, nutritious diets to fuel our adventures in motherhood. We need to get out the stroller and take a walk with the kids. We need to play at the park and swing on the swing set. We need to dance in the kitchen with our husbands, and we most definitely need to make out with our husband in front of our children. They need to see love and stability, just as much, if not more than we do. We need to go to the doctor when we aren’t feeling well. We need to ask for help when we are drowning in sorrow and depression and laundry.

Most importantly, we need to rely on Jesus and our relationship with Him. Not just because He is our heavenly Father and our Savior, but because He is our friend. The friend who sacrificed himself for a punishment we so rightfully deserved is a prayer away. The Holy Spirit that rose Jesus from the grave lives in you. How’s that for “self-care” in your daily life?

The Bone-Dried Mama

By Shannon Toller (Guest Mom Blogger)

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I feel God calling me to talk to you about mommin' today. After all, I am a mommy blogger. I should be talkin' about mommin' on a regular basis. But, here I am, trying to spread the Gospel through my writing and my little mommy blog, and I am forgetting about the most important ministry in my life: the one I created myself.

Today, I need to remind myself that I am doing God's work. Because at this very moment, I'm juggling two crying (one colicky, one teething) babies. Derryn is at my grandma's for the day, because some days, juggling three kids makes me feel like the mad elephant in the circus. I get angry, and I yell. I turn Hulk-green and this Proverbs 31 mama turns into Tupac real quick. Motherhood has tested me and stretched me, in more ways than one. It has brought me some of my deepest and truest joys but has also dealt me some horrible awful along with it. I had PPD (Post-Partum Depression) with all of my ladies, and every time got worse and worse. Some days, I find myself asking God (sometimes cursing God), "why did You think I could do this? Why did You give me three girls who are carbon copies of me, and not all of those copies are good? Shouldn't you have fixed me before You made me a mama?"

The answer to that last question is where we are going to camp. NO, God didn't need to "fix me" prior to becoming a mama. And God didn't need to "fix you" before you became a mama. Fix is a relative term, anyway. Fix implies that something is broken. Fix implies that you need to make whatever it is that is broken, better. Maybe sometimes to "fix something" is to replace something; get a brand spankin' new version of something that is still working and still kicking. But, let what I am about to tell you sink in: apart from God, ALL OF US are broken, yet completely irreplaceable, in His eyes.

We will stumble and fall in this life. Jesus promises us this. But, we will stumble and fall a lot less with Jesus by our side. He will be there to carry us when we can't take another step. He will come alongside us and be our strength. He will shield us from the enemy and keep us safe in His arms. Apart from Him, we can do nothing, y'all. Absolutely nothing. But with Him, oh! Think of what we can do with Him. Think of all of the things He yearns to do with you!

Jesus longs to help you with the dishes. He wants us to sing songs of praise to Him while giving the kids bubble baths. He craves the laughter that we draw out when we get on the floor and play with our kiddos. He loves us and rejoices in what we rejoice in. And He created each of us, completely different from one another, yet alike in so many ways. I'm sure I'm not the only mama who hides in her bathroom. (Can I get an amen?!) I'm sure I'm not the only one who wonders if I'm doing a "good enough" job. I'm entirely sure that I am not the only mama in the world who goes for weeks on empty, while the rest of the household coasts on full. We pour into our husbands, into our babies, into our homes. Sometimes, most times for me, we are pouring from a bone-dry cup. How convenient that our Savior is Living Water. Are you thirsty? Come and drink and never thirst again, He says. Free refills from our Fearless Leader: can't beat that.

Mama, I see you. I see you in your struggle. I see you raising up little arrows in your quiver. I honor you and pray for you daily. Think back to that life-changing day when you locked eyes with your sweet babe for the first time. Think of how your heart grew exponentially in that moment. Give God the glory for your babies, and praise Him with your babies too. Help them to know Whose they are, and more importantly, let them see where you get your strength from. Fill their cups with the Living Water that overflows from your cup. Your work is not done in vain; Jesus sees you and He loves you.

I do, too.