I pushed my laptop aside and curled back swelling with nausea, stomach creaking like a rusty hinge while my head swirled. All of my plans to sit down and write this post and others vanished, and I was once again constrained by the limits of my body. I take pills every night to treat bipolar disorder. I take more pills to treat a myriad of chronic health issues. And still, there are days when my mind and body betray me.
Those days are hard. It’s difficult to believe I’m not somehow failing when I crawl back to my bed and forgive myself once again for the undone things.
It’s hard to think of life as a gift, especially on the days I’m stuck in bed while life carries on without me. But it is. Or at least it is when I choose to see the simple things that make life beautiful and worthwhile. Call it therapy or self-preservation, I call it small grace, but really it’s nothing more than paying attention to my life.
So many people are frayed at the edges, going through the motions casting their margins out further and further. We let our extremities go dead, it almost takes crisis or burnout to bring feeling back.
With bipolar, I had nothing but feelings or the hollow they left in their absence. Paying attention to the rhythms and seasons and cycles is the story of my life. Maybe in that way, it taught me to be more attentive to the ways we live into rhythms and seasons less and instead push and stretch our capacity to bound through them. We call that success.
I feel pressure to work hard, play hard, and find meaning in my days while doing what’s needed done.
With bipolar disorder, I’ve learned balancing it all is more fable than fact. It seems a tidy lesson to learn, a fantasy where duty and diligence are rewarded with a happy ending and laziness and sloth are a sure way to end up as a grim lesson paraded out for wide-eyed children. For me, self-care could be mistaken for laziness by others. I do less than I might seem capable of. I never know when the bad days will come so I apply my no’s more liberally. If anything I’ve cinched in my boundaries so the seams aren’t constantly at risk of tearing and leaving me bare.
My own lack of capacity has taught me mindfulness in ways my capable and busy self somehow missed in scores of to-do lists and days blocked off on my calendar like hash marks counting down my sentence. Endless productivity as a lifestyle spends our lives with less return than what we invested. We seldom break even.
We live in a society where quantifiable output is packaged and sold to us from the time we first learned to sharpen our number two pencils and measure ourselves with fully filled in bubbles and right answers. We love to show evidence of our hard work, of our worth. We love to measure up. Until we don’t anymore.
Suffering from mental illness taught me my measurements were skewed. The scales were always stacked against me because there is no measure for rest. No one applauds when you take care of yourself by doing less. How do I tally the sufficient reasons to live this one cherished life if productivity isn’t everything, if I always fall short?
Why do we think rest means a full stop only after we’ve hit a wall? Rest means awakening to beauty and life. It means taking it all in. It means paying more attention, not less.
How do I weigh the breeze on my skin under a cold, broad moon or the warmth of a summer sun on kid’s tanned limbs while they scribble chalk drawings on pavement like canvas? How much value lives in the simple pleasures of good wine or peonies in bloom or the burst of a ripe strawberry plucked straight from it’s curly vine? How do I appraise the bubble of laughter from kids at play or the wind whipping my frenzied hair with the window rolled all the way down on a day filled with pine-spotted highways and fields of wildflowers? How do I value the swish of hips when that good song comes on or that first sip of fresh brewed coffee on a brutal morning? What is my life worth when I can’t do it all?
When we think rest is nothing more than a good long nap or a spa day, we tack it onto the end of our commitments like a child’s treat awarded for getting all the checks on their chore list. We need an excuse to earn rest and carry our exhaustion and busyness like a completed chart full of gold stars.
Society makes rest a privilege instead of a necessity. Only when it was all done did I justify my resting. I needed to be sick to get well.
My capacity has shrunk, but mental illness helped me untangle myself from the clutter of doing it all. I pay attention moment by moment, and in that I try to find both rest and beauty on the most wearying of days. Marilynne Robinson says, “There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”
Endless productivity as a lifestyle spends our lives with less return than what we invested. We seldom break even. -@aliajoyH: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
You have such a gift in your writing, Alia, thank you for sharing it with us. The frayed image really hit home with me. Always stretching, getting thinner, never quite giving what is expected in any aspect of life. You’ve found a way in reinforce your seams though, to stop the tearing, and that needs to be applauded. Through writing this, you will help others see just how important rest is to leading a full life. Thank you.
Alia Joy says
Thank you, Gillian. Rest is such a hard thing to manage and capture in today’s world and the pace set around us. I don’t always get this right but I’m trying.
Darlean Tipke-Kane says
You are a GIFT to women!!!!!! Spendid writing, Alia Joy, grateful for your words!!!!!
Alia Joy says
Awww, thank you!
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
“There is no measure for rest.” This is so true in our constantly straining to produce more society. As an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) who suffers from mental illness, I often feel false guilt about my limited capacity. Life wears me out more. My threshold is lower. Most others can run circles around me. Rest for me is a necessity and not a luxury. But, really that’s how God designed rest to be…necessary. Why else would He have devoted one seventh of His entire Creation to Sabbath rest? The blessing to the curse of mental illness is that it does force me to slow down and take in the small simple beauty – a hummingbird at our flowering hibiscus, children’s laughter as they rake up and jump in the leaves next door, the velveteen ears of my beagle as he lays his head in my lap. These simple gifts, most of the world misses in their attempt to do more and go faster. It also sends me running into the arms of my Heavenly Father. My faith is beyond deep because of my illness. Not a fun way to untangle from the clutter of it all, but a way, nonetheless. Thank you for writing bravely on a topic most would rather sweep under the rug of apathy.
Alia Joy says
Thanks Bev. You’re right, it’s not a fun way but it’s the way God’s used in my life.
Susan Garrett says
As one who has dealt with serious depression, I thank you for breaking through the myth that we should all do it all. I had a wonderful counselor who told me, “God loves you just as much when you are curled into a ball on your bed as he does when you are up and active. It was such a new wonder for me. The seemingly trivial saying that we are human beings, not human doings. Your message is SO lacking in orr Christian world today. Jesus loves us– no unless we are…
Beth Williams says
Today’s society demands more doing, going, rushing around. In the end it really doesn’t accomplish much. Children are rushed from this activity to the next. No one takes time to sit & communicate with each other. What does all that rushing striving achieve. Oh sure you might have a big bank account, nice house & cars. What will your children remember about all that? Bonnie Gray has two good books out “Finding Spiritual Whitespace” in which she touts the idea of putting margin in your life. Setting boundaries & saying no more often. “Whispers of Rest: 40 Days of God’s Love to Revitalize Your Soul” here she touts different ways to get back in touch with God. One thing mentioned is breath prayers. Just breathe in & say Jesus then breathe out & say help me. It both calms you & allows you to talk with God anytime. If we dwell on it Jesus was constantly taking rest periods even in the midst of all He was doing. He felt the need to get away & be alone with God. If He needed to then how much more do we need this? Lysa Terkeurst has a book out “Your Best Yes”. One quote from that is “saying yes all the time won’t make you wonder woman. It will make you a worn out woman”. We have to choose our yes & nos. Our bodies desperately need rest-God commanded that we take a Sabbath rest each week. One day when we don’t do much. He knew we would be in better health because of it. Go ahead & take a rest. Enjoy time with the children. Before long they will be grown & gone. All the “stuff” we’ve provided won’t mean a thing. What they remember most is the time spent playing & being with mom & dad.
Gilian is right, you do have a gift in writing, Alia. You have more – that post took courage.
Adrienne Maples says
This goes so deep…. it convicts me in the hardest places. I will stew on this for days. Amen and Amen. I need to read this weekly as a reminder that my busyness does not define me, control me, or establish my worth. Thank you for your words that cut to the truth in such a beautiful and convicting way.
Alia Joy says
God is so gracious and kind to bring the words we need to convict and comfort us. I’m so glad these words spoke to you. Grace and peace to you, Adrienne.
Brenda M Russell says
Hello Alia, you are very brave to remind us that observing pretty flowers is a good thing. We don’t need a reason to enjoy the sun setting or welcoming us every morning. God’s gift of life is so precious.
Why are we ashamed of being still or being quiet on any given day? I waited until I was I’ll, more than one type of sickness before I started to think, I can just say, “no thank you”. Please start each day with a thank you Lord prayer.
Only 1 life to give, only what we do for Christ will last.
Be encouraged and empowered to take time out for your self.
Brenda Bourcier says
When I awoke this morning I felt compelled to read this…God is Good!
I really appreciate your willingness to share your life with us in complete openness so that we can get a glimpse into your experiences. I’m sorry life’s been so difficult for you … but I’m thankful for the fact that inspiration for Hope was born from this! You are so gifted and your transparency is so helpful to those who’ve never had any health issues but need to know how to relate and pray for others. My son was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease had to drop out of college this semester. He’s finding out who are his real friends. It’s difficult when we have expectations for ourselves and cannot carry them out. He’s an extremely gifted guitar player and on 2-3 praise bands, so being limited effects others as well. I’m so thankful that he is reading Gods Word daily, because with out this he would not be able to make it !
I’m going to have him read what you’ve written as an encouraging word from a friend that even if life looks different from what you expected… God can bring beauty from ashes! As a second year student he’s young…his life has already touched so many because in spite of his pain he continued to take time for others. Feeding a homeless man on the corner…. listening and praying for those in need.
His professors and peers see something different in my son and it’s Jesus!
I’m sad he’s in pain and very ill. But the things that remain are precious to behold and the blessings of brokenness is a mystery from our Lord. Thanks sooo much for opening up your heart to us! You are a true friend because you have given to us not what was easy, but raw and difficult. We hope to hear more from you in the future!
Job 23:10 “For he knows the way that I take…and when he has tested me I will come forth as Gold!” Blessings to you Alia Joy
I’ve struggled with fibromyalgia for 30 years and up until now haven’t been able to be at peace with my life; in the fact I wish I could do more. I will not allow My limitations to define me any longer. I appreciate your words more than you can know. Thanks sooo much for sharing this morning. BB
May the Lord cover you with his wings when you need rest and lift you high when you need Him to carry you. Selah
Alia Joy says
Brenda, chronic illness is so hard for someone so young. I know exactly how isolating and discouraging that can feel. I didn’t truly understand what God’s strength in our weakness looked like until I was as weak as one could be. Desperate for God. There’s a gift in that. In my book, I write a lot about weakness and my pain has been a brutal teacher, but the presence of God in the midst of that is a mysterious blessing indeed. Hoping your son finds peace and God’s presence feels near as he hurts and heals and hurts some more.
I was so excited to see a post from you because you are so gifted as a writer. You get right to the heart with your honesty and courage. The idea of rest has always been so foreign to me—I’m the one who keeps going until I hit a wall, then tell myself it’s okay. The days I have left on this earth, I want to be meaningful. Thank you for sharing on the beauty and importance of rest.
Alia Joy says
Oh thank you, Brenda, you’re so kind.
Bi polar grandma says
Thank you for helping me to understand one of my grandchildren ( who has been diagnosed with bi-polar). God bless you for answering some of my why’s.
Alia Joy says
I”m so glad it spoke to you. I have a book, Glorious Weakness, that might give you additional insight into life with bipolar. While it’s not completely focused on mental illness, a lot of readers have told me they find it insightful and helped them gain needed perspective on what it’s like to struggle with mental illness, especially bipolar.
Glenda Merkley says
Such gifted writing and it hits home as I have bipolar depression and no one has ever said it so elegantly, the feeling of not being enough. Thank you so much!
Alia Joy says
I’m so glad this resonates with you. You are enough in Christ. Beloved one.
Thank you so much for sharing Alia! ❤️❤️
Thank you so much for this! I needed this reminder that my worth is not in what I do and it’s crucial to value the rest as much or more than the accomplishments.
Abbott Liz says
Raw, vulnerable, eloquent… so touching and much needed! Thank you for this.
Thank God for your words! I feel I can rest & not be ashamed.
This is the best, most beautiful, honest and true thing I have read in a long time! Thank you for the reminder of the need to redefine “rest”… I agree with you on every point you’ve made and fully appreciate you sharing your thoughts here.
Alia Joy says
Thanks, April! I’m glad it was encouraging to you.
Grateful Grandma says
Alia, thank you dear sister for sharing so much with us and for giving all of us encouragement. I am not bipolar, but I too have a web that hinders me. I am sometimes tangled up from my own weaknesses, fears, unbelief, past experiences, habits, false beliefs, sins, and my old human nature. Raised by a father who did not realize his own self-worth, I was taught I had to always DO MORE, and that I was not ever really enough. “TRY HARDER and DO MORE” was my life. I am so thankful I finally discovered that the God who created me, the only true God, Holy and Righteous, saw me, JUST AS I AM, as his priceless treasure, valuable enough to give the VERY BEST he could give to make me fully his. And the only thing I have to do is to BELIEVE it! Praise God my web is now TORN, and I live each moment by trusting Jesus who is my life. Colossians 1:22 (NLT) says “He has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.”
Love and blessings!
Alia Joy says
You have infinite worth and are beloved just as you are. It’s a great joy to know this is true. Grace and peace to you.
Susi Mitchell says
Thank you. Blessings Alia Joy.
I, much like Brenda, feel that I was meant to read your beautiful post today. My mom, who will be 90 in a few months, is bipolar. There was a very real stigma attached to almost any form of mental illness in her day. And we had no idea she suffered from a disorder. We just thought she was very high-strung at times and would collapse from the strain of raising 4 kids as a military spouse. Later, when we did suspect she might be helped with treatment, she adamantly refused to seek help from a doctor. I did not understand her as I do now and it made me a bit angry. What she most needed was proper treatment and compassion. What she got was a family who did not have a clue how to deal with her. Dealing with severe depression for many years, I and several of my siblings finally do understand. It is difficult to imagine how she coped with life without any assistance, but we learned a valuable lesson as adults. We judged her. Had she suffered from a “socially acceptable” condition such as MS, we would have been far more sympathetic. We look at mental health so differently now. Thank you for sharing your story and I pray others will truly listen and become more compassionate.
Alia Joy says
Oh Patty, that is so hard. I get a lot of emails from loved ones who grew up with family members suffering with undiagnosed or untreated mental illness and it takes such a toll on everybody. There is often resentment and hurt on both sides. So much misunderstanding. And like you mentioned, the stigma of those days was severe. While we still have a ways to go with dismantling stigma, it is getting better as more people are honest about it. I’m always so encouraged when people read my work and email me to tell me they have a better insight into what their loved one might be struggling through. Compassion and empathy are a balm to the hurting.
Heather P. says
Thank you for sharing, Alia. I don’t struggle with a mental illness but I understand trying to do “enough” in a world that measures success by always staying busy. I have limits to how much I am able to do, because I am an introvert and a highly sensitive person, so talking, interacting with others, dealing with lots of lights and noises all wear me out. I used to think something was wrong with me, I needed to do more, etc. But growing up, and growing closer to God, has turned those views upside down! I don’t care for competing in the rat race, and I now know that it is the little things that matter the most, not having the busiest calendar. In light of eternity, all the worldly stuff seems to fall away.
I’m glad you too are learning that slowing down and appreciating the simple things are what it’s all about. And even if others try to tell us to rest, we are hardest on ourselves, aren’t we? Don’t be so hard on yourself, God designed you just the way you are, and you are inspiring others exactly like He made you to! Thank you.
Alia Joy says
Thanks, Heather. I’m also an introvert and burn out or get overwhelmed quickly. I agree, it’s hard sometimes, especially in ministry and church, to see how what we have to offer to the body is important and needed even if it’s in small quantities or done quietly.
Carrie D says
Oh my goodness! This is so perfect! Needed to hear this!
Tiffany N says
Thank you for sharing this vulnerable spot and reminding us of what is true.
Chelsea R says
Holy truth bombs! Wow girl, this rocked my world this morning. THANK YOU for these words. A few of them are now written in spaces where I pray they continue to shape my view of rest and how I connect productivity to my worth. <3