Sunday, January 31, 2016

Wherever You Go, There You Are, Even in the Middle East

Statue of Jesus and Peter on the Mount of Beatitudes, 
overlooking the Sea of Galilee

Last month I wrote a fairly tell all post about my decades-long struggle with Mental Illness and how I had just graduated from a hospital program that helped me find a new level of serenity. I was feeling calm and accomplished; so much so that I thought it would be a good idea to share it with the Internet.

Two weeks later I started a new job with a huge advertising agency. I had gone through four interviews (oddly enough, during my three weeks in the hospital at DayBridge). It was with an awesome boss, great benefits and opportunity, and an important-sounding "Strategic" job title (that even had "Manager" in it).

On the third day of my first week, I quit my brand new job in advertising.

I realized very quickly that the stress of the job was immediately threatening my newborn mental stability and so I had to shut it down, immediately. Just like I had to with grad school. But after I quit I immediately plunged back into depressed thinking so bad I could barely breathe. I wanted so badly to contact the nice people at Regions Hospital and tell them I had failed and could I please do another three week partial patient program with the soothing arts n' crafts Occupational Therapy? No, I was on my own again. The oh-so-familiar, concrete heavy, minute-by-minute Mental Agony was back. Again, Dammit.  

Herein lies the mental backdrop for my trip to the Middle East.

I went with my mom on a two-week trip to Israel, Palestine and Jordan with a group from my church. It was an incredible journey, and I struggled the entire time. I feel guilty even revealing this (and yet I am listening to that mysterious voice which tells me to do so) because it was such a privilege to be a part of this pilgrimage, regardless of my mental state.

Overlooking Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

When the trip began, I did a selfie of me and my mom on the airplane with a caption about us Off to the Middle East! and then, a day or two later, my mom asked me, "Are you going to post any photos of our trip so far? People might be wondering what we are doing." Ehhhh. Now, if I were Red, I'd be posting tons and tons of pictures with Instagram shares on my Facebook and tweets about food, life, art (well, actually no, I am bad about using Twitter) but when I am Blue, social media responsibility is agony.

On my iPhone, I have hundreds of photos of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jordan, churches, ancient ruins, landscapes, sunsets, palm trees, selfies of me and my mom...but it's like, how do you share this with others? Especially when you feel depressed? I forced myself to post a few pictures every few days, and that satisfied my self-imposed social media responsibility. 

My trip to the Holy Land with my mother is one of those life experiences that I will unpack for years and years to come. I think the savoring of it is only just beginning, and I'm not just referring the future enjoyment of wearing the 4 for $10 scarves. Perhaps that is a decent place to start. Shopping. One of the parts of going on any vacation is shopping. We buy souvenirs. It's what we do. 

Shops, shops, and more shops in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Jericho. You can purchase many things for only one dollar. Sadly, part of this is due to tourism being down 80% in the area.

When I am in a not-depressed mind state, I love buying stuff. But when I feel crummy, it is hard for me to be around any monetary transactions whatsoever. I am not totally sure why; perhaps I feel empty about acquiring things, perhaps I see through the novelty of buying things, or perhaps it is the reality of having no money (because of no job) to buy said things. 

"Barbies" in Jordan

There are many beautiful things to buy in the Middle East, including olive wood, jewelry, glass, scarves, ceramics, etc. I found comfort in watching my fellow travelers buy things because it helps the local economy and, also, it can be soothing to watch others buy when you do not. It is kind of like staying sober at a party. 

50% off olive wood Jesus.
This scene comforted me somehow.

Back in 2011 I had visited Israel to be with my best friend Dana who lives there. At the time I was right in the middle of the health disaster my dad was in, and I wrote a prayer praying that he would find a way to communicate with us. That same day, the Universe (or God, or, the Wall itself?) gave me an answer. It was an incredibly profound (almost terrifying, in a good way) experience.

Prayers tucked into the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem. I wasn't sure if it was sacrilegious or not to take this photo, because this is a very intimate experience with complete strangers.

My mom and I stood at the Western wall, our faces only a few feet away from the stones. We were flanked by women (when you go there, men and women are separated) who were praying, rocking front and back and crying. There were young women sobbing at the Wailing Wall. I thought about what their thoughts might be. Were they having a holy connection with God? Were they crying tears of sorrow or tears of joy?

I looked down at my wrinkled scrap of paper, my prayer for the Wall. I felt bad about what I wrote. 

I felt ashamed and disappointed in myself to be standing in such a holy place holding a slip of paper that was basically asking God/Universe/Wall to help me find self-acceptance because when I am on the depressed ("Blue") side of my Bipolar I pretty much feel like a complete failure with a faulty brain. After asking for self acceptance, underneath it I made a list of the things I think I need to find satisfaction in my life (Dear God, please help me have a family, a job, etc. etc.

I rolled up my prayer for personal serenity and carefully tucked it in the wall and walked away, feeling guilty that I had not written a prayer for an end to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or for World Peace.

Buffets for miles at our hotels. 
Also, this delightful orange-juice-making machine.

Meals were a time to get to know the other members of our pilgrimage group. They are wonderful people, and it was an honor to travel with them. One of the things I did early on was sort of announce to the group that I had sort of just quit my new job in advertising and was sort of seven to ten years behind where I want to be in my life and I sort of wanted to make this trip to the Holy Land a time of reflection and inspiration. I said it much better and much less dramatic/uncomfortable than that.

I'm not married and I don't have kids. But pretty much everyone else on this trip was (or once was) married, with kids and with grandkids. If you are 35 are you are not married and you do not have kids, and you feel angst about it, things can become a little eye of the storm if the majority of the conversations rest on stories about people's families. My luck was to have my mom with me, so we were a strong unit together and could make people laugh with mom/daughter material, which never gets old, especially if you live together. And I live with my mom. (But she always tells me to say that she lives with me.)

If you are not married and you do not have kids or grandkids, you can at least chat with others about your career. But what do you do if you do not have a career. You talk about what you think you might do next and how you vaguely know that you want to move away from the business/marketing/advertising world and do something to help people. But then when intelligent, caring, inquisitive minds ask the next obvious question, which is, who do you want to help and you get bogged down talking about how you like seniors and kids and dogs and non-profit causes in general (which ones? Oh, I don't know, all of them), the wind in your sails (which is a super tiny amount anyway) goes away.

Comforting camels at Petra.
I kind of want to be a camel (on my bad days).

Here is the thesis of the post. I have very little serenity. I am pretty much locked in my recurring, worrying thoughts 87% of the time. And, it's exhausting. I wanted to write this post because you really can't get more exotic than vacationing in the Middle East and look at how my brain even chose to misbehave there. But I think the compliment I will give myself is that, as always, 

I trudged on and, despite really struggling with my thoughts, I showed up for this pilgrimage the best that I could.

I will always keep trying. I will never give up. I am intimately aware of how my mind functions in all shades of Bipolar, and I am highly functioning in all of the colors...Blue, Red, Green (a new addition since DayBridge. I used to call neutral Purple, but whatever). When my mind feels alright I can recognize how trivial and self-defeating my worries are. I see the uselessness of comparing myself to others. And I remind myself that having a mood disorder does not make me all that different from people without a mental illness. I just have higher highs and lower lows (my dad always told me to expect that in life...) 

And so, we trudge on, carrying the same horrible/wonderful baggage, now back in the United States. 

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life... 34 do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:25-34
That is the first time I've referenced a Bible verse, ever. Right now it feels right.

Thank you for reading. 


  1. "I felt ashamed and disappointed in myself to be standing in such a holy place holding a slip of paper that was basically asking God/Universe/Wall to help me find self-acceptance"... I can't help but write and tell you Thank You for asking for exactly that above all else! It's perfect! Someone recently helped me see how if we all were gifted with self acceptance, then we'd also be able to trust each other, and then World Peace would practically fall into place! I think you are so smart to share your story and so smart to ask for self acceptance above all else. - Hannah

  2. Thank you Susan for your honesty in writing this blog. Coping with bipolar sure is a journey. I'm glad you were able to travel with your mom even though it was a difficult trip emotionally. Good for you for making that hard decision with your job. It is better to quit early rather than struggle later In a job situation that is full of stress that you don't need right now. I wish the best for you. I hope you'll be able to take some of those things that you learned in day treatment in terms of coping skills and utilize them. Being in treatment is a safe place to be and it is hard to be on the outside again. I know you have many friends and family who are your support network. Don't forget to access them. Keep writing, drawing, journaling, making or listening to music & posting!! 😊