Finding Silence in a Run-On Brain


Even when there’s no noise, there’s no silence for me.

I’m not one of those people whose brain is always running down the list of what’s next, what needs to be done, whose post needs to be liked, how to fit in all the many people and tasks that a day requires.

I have a brain that multitasks. All the time.

I’m typing this post while I’m listening (inside my head) to one of the songs from this morning’s worship set and (outside my house) to the cars passing by. My mother used to wonder how I could watch afterschool TV while doing my homework while (intermittently) crocheting granny squares. “I guess I just have an eight-track brain,” I told her.

My brain becomes more quiet when I have a task outside myself that engages more of its channels. The best is physical activity with a purpose. Gardening, for example. When I garden, one brain channel is deciding what needs to be pruned or raked or cut down or weeded, one channel is directing my hands and feet and maybe my huffing lungs (if the job requires heavy hauling, as the best jobs do). Another brain channel is measuring the project’s current status against some anticipated outcome: beds clear for winter, rose bushes free of strangling vines, lilac shrubs in beautiful bloom because I’ve taken down with a handsaw the five 20-foot maples that overshadowed them.

Work — hard, physical work — is where I find silence. With all my channels fully occupied in the task, there’s no place for my brain to run. It can focus on what it is doing and nothing more. Silence.

I suspect that others with a bipolar diagnosis have discovered the same thing. Silence doesn’t come with a meditation discipline. Thoughts that seem to run in four or five separate channels simultaneously can’t be quieted by trying to become quiet — or even by trying to follow the standard instruction and simply letting the thoughts pass. A brain built for radical multitasking keeps running on all five or eight cyclinders until it’s exhausted. That exhaustion can begin a serious downward slide. Other choices are essential.

Gardening works. Dancing works. Trying to play the piano — even just practicing scales — works. Playing music requires me to read the lesson book, to move my hands ways that are not easy for me, to keep track of each finger’s correct position in relation to the scale, to hear what is right and what is misplayed.

I don’t find silence in quiet. I find silence in big occupations — occupations big enough to require all the channels I can play at once and far enough outside me to make any of the yammering internal channels become irrelevant.

I am happy with the silence I find. I hope you find the kind of silence that suits you.

This post is part of the Five Minute Friday linkup: this week’s prompt is Silence.


Shania Twain: You have to feel the pain

You recover from a fall at your own pace.It’s been 15 years since we’ve heard from country star Shania Twain, who finally has a new album out. Turns out she’s spent the last decade and a half doing hard stuff, including bringing a marriage to an end and digging herself out of the emotional void that divorce typically creates.

In an interview with Alison Abbey, she says she chose to let herself experience the devastation of divorce:

“When you leave a long-term relationship, everything you know, everyone you know, and all of the dreams that you were building for your future — that’s all just gone …

“I gave up on fighting the way I was feeling … The more you ignore it and try to pretend that it’s not happening, the longer it takes you.”

It’s hard to let yourself experience that much pain! Especially at a time when the medical profession’s diagnostic bible, the DSM-V, says that 2 weeks is the outer window for behaving as if something terrible has happened. After a couple of weeks, employers start to urge a call to the EAP and friends start to say we need to see a counseling professional. And then the counseling professional tells us that we’ve been sad for more than 2 weeks so we have a “clinical depression” which requires weekly professional counsel and probably medication to get us back to “normal.”

I like Twain’s approach better. Big losses make big hurts. Big hurts force big changes. And when you’ve had a big hurt, my job as a Christian isn’t to push you away to a professional — it’s to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom 12:15). God is the healer, and He’s got lots more than two weeks to hang out and  do the work.

It’s only recently, by the way, that clinical professionals have insisted on  treating major loss as major depression. Philip Hickey’s article on the recent history of this diagnostic trend is excellent, although very long.




Dorothea Dix Built Inclusive Communities for Mentally Well & Ill


Dorothea Dix Oval Frame

Maine’s Dorothea Dix created inclusive communities for the mentally ill in the 19th c.

As Dix Hill becomes Raleigh’s Central Park, we must stop to remember that this was once a place where mentally healthy and mentally ill lived together in community, much like the vaunted and admired communities of L’Arche.


The communities of L’Arche have always intrigued and humbled us. In these homes where able-minded and learning-disabled share life together, the intellectually challenged “least of these” are treated as peer – even teacher – to their “normal” housemates, including philosopher Jean Vanier, who founded the first household.

The nearest L’Arche is 150 miles away, but in Wake County we can still listen to the men and women who lived together on Dix Hill. Continue reading

Inspiration or Encouragement?

Not feeling so inspired lately. Slogging through things. Which is what I usually do at this time of year. It’s marked on my calendar: “Low.” Repeats. Early June to early August. Then, without a break, “High” pops in. That’s when I might (as I recall once from my teen-aged self) go to the library and check out a stack of self-improvement books so tall that I can barely wedge them between my outstretched arms and my upstretched chin, imagining that in the two weeks before they fall due, I will accomplish significant self-renewal.

When I’m low, I can’t hope for inspiration. All I can hope for is to actually follow through on responsibilities. And I’m grateful for people who pop into my office to remind me that I’ve promised them something soon … leaving me enough time to scramble it together in decent order.

When I’m low, you are my inspiration — what you expect of me, what you know I can do, what you believe I can achieve on our behalf.

When I’m high, you take a back seat to my own excessive energy and imagination. When I’m high, I barely see you.

God told us to “Encourage one another daily” (Heb. 3:13). Thank you for encouragement during the half a year I desperately need it,

In response to the Five Minute Friday Link Up “Inspire”

PS: And this is how little “inspiration” can matter … In the last 2 weeks, I have written and rewritten (on the encouragement of a writer friend nearby) an article that will be published in the August Redbud Post — my first time in that publication — and created from scratch (on the encouragement of a generation younger colleague) a radically different employment ad for our agency that is sparking both applications and social shares. For me, inspiration can be overrated, at least compared to the encouragement offered by people who trust me to do well.



You Don’t Need to Die Today

I don’t know who you are. Today you’ve been reading posts I wrote about friends who died by suicide and ways to stay alive when you want to die by suicide and the few, very inadequate church ministries that exist to help people with mental health issues.

Whoever you are, whatever is driving you, you don’t need to die today.

You can call one of the hotlines that I keep programmed into my phone just in case — the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline connects with a network of trained volunteers all over the country. Call 1-800-273-8255. f you don’t want to use your voice, you can text someone at

If you don’t want to use your voice, you can text someone at crisistextline — Text 741741 to chat with someone who really understands.

Do whatever it takes. Because sometime in the next weeks or months, someone will be relieved that you did. You matter. Even to a blogger like me who can never know you, but can tell you’re looking for help.

I’m praying for you right now.

Bipolar View: Steady is as Steady Does

Sure, sometimes you wake up on the wrong side of the bed.

You probably can’t imagine what it feels like to wake up not knowing that there is a world beyond the thick blackness of the blankets pulled up over your eyes.

And some days you’re excited. It’s the first day of a vacation trip. It’s Christmas morning.

You probably can’t imagine waking up five or six times that enthusiastic, without any reason at all.

Having bipolar disorder means that steady is as steady does. Because the feelings are almost random.

When blackness enfolds, I \write down a list of tasks — even tasks as mundane as “wash the dishes” — and work through them. Otherwise nothing happens. At all.


When enthusiasm overwhelms, I have to choose to write down a list of tasks — especially tasks as mundane as “wash the dishes.” Because otherwise I’ll enthuse in 10 or 12 or 20 different directions, almost simultaneously. At the end of the burst, I’ll find myself surrounded by a clutter of unfinished projects and the clutter of an untended life.

I stay steady by trying to focus on what I need to do. And I stay steady by remembering that the way I feel today is not likely to be the way I feel in three or four weeks.


Female surfboarder

Not me!

I ride my feelings like surf: the enthusiasm powers forward movement; the blackness cannot be allowed to fuel anything bleaker than anticipation. Happily, God has promised a future that is extraordinarily bright, and allows that I live this life in the brilliance of God’s presence, even when God is invisible through the envolding darkness.

Steady is as steady does. No one is more steady than God.

Today’s  Five Minute Friday writing prompt is “Steady.”