Holding On with Shaley Hoogendoorn

Shaley HoogendoornPodcast, Podcast Season 1

Episode Description:

So often we wrestle with deep-seated questions of “Why me? What’s wrong with me? What am I being punished for? What did I do wrong?” The answer is nothing.

Millions of Canadians—one in five, in fact—experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. And it’s not their fault. It’s just another part of existence that brings both suffering and insight; challenge and care, depending on the day.

I absolutely loved this conversation with mental health advocate, mother, podcaster, and writer, Shaley Hoogendoorn, who continues to share her story of living with bipolar 2 in as many ways as she can, to as many audiences as are out there. And she took me through her process of diagnosis, wrestling, and acceptance. She is a witty, powerful, fiercely intelligent woman of faith and action, with firsthand experience of what life can be like once you learn to accept all of who you are, in all its wild and wonderful complexity.

You can also find Shaley’s blog post about stigmatizing language, “Words Matter”, on The Sanctuary Blog.

Running time: 49:10

Release date: October 8, 2021

About Shaley Hoogendoorn:

Shaley is a speaker, vlogger, and mental health advocate who aims to dismantle the stigma around mental health and create a safe community for those that struggle. She lives with bipolar 2, and is passionate about educating and empowering others about mental health disorders. She talks to other women about living with mental illnesses at SheLoves Magazine in a monthly segment named “Sisters in Mental Illness.” Shaley is also an elementary school teacher and an event planner. You can connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.

More from Shaley:

Dangerous Women

This is Bipolar Podcast

Crisis Resources:

For your quick reference, here are nationwide emergency numbers and crisis lines:

  • Canada: 911, Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566
  • British Columbia: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
  • United States: 911, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • United Kingdom: 999/112, Samaritans: 116 123
  • New Zealand: 111, 1737, Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800-543-354
  • Australia: 000, Lifeline: 13 11 14 


CRESST (Community Residential Short Stay and Treatment Program)

The Sanctuary Podcast is intended for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or mental health advice. If you feel you may need medical or mental health advice, please consult a qualified healthcare professional. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, please tell someone or, if you are in Canada, call 1-800-SUICIDE for immediate help.


Shaley: I absolutely believe in miracles, being a woman of faith, but what am I supposed to do if I’m not healed and how can I believe that it’s not my fault?

Sarah: One of the most powerful and healing things anyone has ever said to me on my own journey with mental health, is simply “it’s not your fault”. The woman on the phone who said those words to me in my deep distress was right. But so often I wrestle with deep-seated questions of “Why me? What’s wrong with me? What am I being punished for? What did I do wrong?”

The answer is nothing.

Like millions of others who experience a mental health issue in their lifetime—one in five Canadians, in fact—I have an ongoing mental health diagnosis. And it’s not my fault. It’s just another part of my existence that brings both suffering and insight; challenge and care, depending on the day. 

I absolutely loved this conversation with mental health advocate, mother, podcaster, and writer, Shaley Hoogendoorn, who continues to share her story of living with bipolar 2 in as many ways as she can, to as many audiences as are out there. And she took me through her process of diagnosis, wrestling, and acceptance. She is a witty, powerful, fiercely intelligent woman of faith and action, with firsthand experience of what life can be like once you learn to accept all of who you are, in all its wild and wonderful complexity.

Sarah: So Shaley, where do you want to start? I mean, there’s so much that you’re doing, you have such a rich and varied story—what do you want to talk about first?

Shaley: I guess maybe introduce my story. So I have known probably since around high school that I have very, very big feelings and I feel things very deeply. And I always knew, just talking to friends and having a very relaxed family that is not like me at all, that I was somewhat—what I got termed as—a drama queen. And I think that I experienced probably my first depression in high school, and into my twenties—and especially when things get hard in university—I would lapse into really, really deep depression and deep sadness. It was interesting because I was numb, but yet I was carrying grief at the same time; I was still feeling, but yet numbed to who I really am.

And then we started noticing that it was a pattern. So it would be literally from October until May and then I would call it “the switch”, and then colour came back and the world came alive, and, in fact , I had a lot of ideas and a lot of things I wanted to do. And I knew, I had this panicky feeling that I had to do it before October because I thought that that was the actual me—which, I am quite high energy regularly—so for years and years and years we thought that I had depression. And so, what would come with the next stage—the May to September—would be excitement, and I would be all over the place and talk rapidly. But what I didn’t realize was the crippling anxiety that came with it, because I don’t have social anxiety—I’m an Enneagram seven and I think I’m ninety-eight percent extrovert on all the tests. And so I didn’t present as, I didn’t quite fit into the boxes in mental health. And so whenever I would go for help, it would actually be just during the depressive episodes. They would say you have depression, so I would take depression medication and it wouldn’t work. 

Fast forward a lot of years, having babies and doing all those things with your emotions all over the place. In fact, what we now know as a hypomanic episode—I wouldn’t sleep ever when the baby slept, and I would stay up all night and rearrange my kitchen or I would make a new family chart of our entire life, and those kinds of things. And, oh you know, this isn’t average, or I don’t see this happening in others’ lives. And I guess it all came to a head when I was given a certain medication for anxiety, and as the anxiety ramped up we upped the medication, and what we didn’t know is that it caused me to rapid cycle.

Sarah: Okay, so we’re talking about bipolar here?

Shaley: Yes, we are. So then that is how I got my diagnosis. I started rapid cycling, and rapid cycling to the point where I was sleeping maybe two hours a night—with children, young children three and five. And the one night, I couldn’t calm down and I couldn’t sleep and I literally felt like if I don’t sleep tonight, I will die. I can’t do this. I felt physically like my body wouldn’t work anymore and that if I couldn’t just get the sleep I needed… I couldn’t be up by myself in the night, in the dark anymore. Because things don’t seem real in the night. You have all these ideas, but you can’t talk it out so they don’t seem as bizarre as they actually are. And you’re alone with them, so you have no one to help you sort it out. So I woke up my husband and I said, if I don’t go to sleep tonight, perhaps I might die. So I think maybe we should go to emerg, and I need a medication to help me sleep. That’s it. And you know, I felt like that evening I was pleading with God. Like, please, I know you can heal people. I don’t even need to be healed—can I just sleep? And I just felt really strongly that I needed to fight for my health that night as much as I could. And so, doctors weren’t listening—no, there’s no way you could have bipolar. I’m like, but I fall into all the symptoms. Well no, you wouldn’t have a degree, or you wouldn’t have this; you wouldn’t be able to get it together to have the type of life you have. 

And so I went to emerg that night and they gave me sed medication; however, you can’t really ask without having intense interviews. Apparently they don’t just give it out. So we went through it all—they separated me from my husband, in case there was anything there. And I just told them I need to get better, please don’t just send me home and not talk to me again. I need observation, I need something. And so I went home and I slept, and then we went back the next day and I talked to someone. We talked about all the things, and they asked the dreaded question—which needs to be asked—are you a harm to yourself or others? Could you be? And it was no, and it was no with my husband. And so they’re like, well you know you can’t stay here. Because I honestly at that point wanted to be admitted. I didn’t see how we could really figure it out until they watched me. I just didn’t think they were going to see it or listen. And so at that time, you’re kind of on the ward but you’re not. Before you get into it—I vaguely remember—I was in a room with my husband and there was cameras, and it was very bizarre. And I was just agitated and I was almost saying, please can I stay?  They didn’t let me stay, so I kind of felt like a failure at that. But they did find this place that’s not a part of the hospital, but it’s called CRESST. I’ll see if I can remember what it stands for because I just think of it as the toothpaste place, but it’s Community Residential—I don’t know the E, but—Short Stay program. And so you can go, and I read about it and they have one of the best psychiatrists, and so I went. Packed up my stuff and I went and I stayed there about a week. 

Mostly I went, one, because I heard of the psychiatrist and I knew maybe we could finally get down to it, and also because I had to wean off the meds and put on new meds  and there was this two percent chance that you could get this terrible rash, and I didn’t want to go through that in front of my children. And so I went there and we came up with a diagnosis of bipolar 2 which, basically, the difference is that you don’t get the full blown mania—you get hypomania. So it’s just kind of like a muted mania, and according to my files—which I for some reason demanded I needed a copy of, all the notes—I was on my way to psychosis but not quite there.

So that’s kind of my diagnosis story, yeah.

Sarah: I’m just letting that sink in. What I pick up from that is that you fought for yourself. And also it sounds like life was full and hard, especially with little kids.

Shaley: Yes.

Sarah: So can you tell me a little bit more about that? What kind of support you needed, or that you were getting? And then maybe how you found your voice in terms of advocating, because a lot of people aren’t able to do that.

Shaley: Absolutely, so I was a stay-at-home mom. I was the organizer of our home life, which I like to put it. And so, I always, always, always wanted to have littles; I really loved my job of taking care of the kids, and so I poured everything into that. We had to keep busy. I probably overscheduled myself. We were in a small townhouse and also I was like the stay-at-home mom that didn’t want to stay at home, so I went to Strong Start, and I went to every daytime women’s thing at the church. I even went to like a Tuesday morning, and I actually didn’t really enjoy or want to read any of the specific books or Bible studies they were doing, but there was childcare. 

Sarah: Yeah.  

Shaley: So I went for the coffee and childcare, I have to admit.

Sarah: Don’t we all? I have signed up for so many things where I’m like, I don’t care what you’re going to teach me, I don’t even care if I agree with it, but there’s free childcare and you’re going to give me snacks? I’m there.

Shaley: Done. Right? Done. Yeah and so, luckily, I had a beautiful community. And in fact, I went to Strong Start and then I realized it seemed more about how well you played with your kids with the toys, and not so much connecting with the moms. So, I actually—with some friends—started a different group at our church; it was called Moms on a Mission, and eventually called Flourish. And it was focused on the mom, because we met in the nursery of our church and it was a community program and we had older women come and make us lattes, and it was all about the women talking and connecting and trying to just be real while they kids played. And once a month we would have actual childcare, and we would just do something; whether it was jewelry making or someone would come in and talk to us about this. A lot of it was hands-on stuff so that we could create something for ourselves that didn’t have to do with the kids, like not a kid craft. We would make bath salts, or we would do things like that, or we’d have speakers come in. 

So yeah, I created that group. And just to tell you what state I was in, or what type of person I was, I gave birth to my second daughter on Saturday and I held one of the events on the following Wednesday. Because that’s how I rolled. And giving birth and then right after I would be very, very high; so it was almost a little bit—then they called it postpartum anxiety, which I didn’t understand because I thought I was supposed to be sad or angry—but I was just really, ridiculously high on everything. And so yeah, luckily I do have a strong community. Being an extrovert I have and had friends, and friends that were going through similar things. I have a super rad, supportive husband. None of our family lived here, so that was hard. We didn’t have a lot of relief that way with childcare or help, but I had community and there were a couple of people that I could be completely honest with, so that was good. 

And the finding my voice part, I think had I only had depression, I don’t know if I would have found my voice myself. Having hypomania, one of the actual beautiful parts of it is that you cannot not say what you’re thinking; like I actually feel it’s physically painful to not say what I’m thinking. I feel like that would hurt more, or there would be more consequences to that than saying the hard things or than saying the wild things or whatever. And so honestly, I think that actually helped and I think I wanted to get help more than ever for my kids.

Sarah: Yeah. 

Shaley: Because even though I gave them everything and they didn’t really experience much of it—I mean, they were so young they didn’t know, and I was the type that I could get out of bed.

Sarah: Yeah.

Shaley: And I kept going. I didn’t enjoy anything, and I wanted to go to sleep until “the switch”, I called it, but I think that’s probably why they call it high functioning—which I don’t even like the name, because it makes it sound like there’s a hierarchy, like I’m high functioning. It doesn’t make a difference, you’re still suffering. It’s less noticeable, that’s all. 

Sarah: Yeah, or it’s harder to access support, like you were talking about the doctors not believing you.

Shaley: Yeah.  

Sarah: Or saying you were fine.

Shaley: Yeah, right. Because I’d come in and I’d—of course I looked like the Google doctor, right—I’d be like look, there’s this and my husband agrees. And they would be like well, you have your degree, and you’re taking care of your children, and you’re running a group, and you’re doing this; I really think you wouldn’t be able to do that if you were this, this, and this. And I was like alright. And so, especially bipolar, I mean, I didn’t know a lot about it except for the really terrible representation we have in media and such. 

Sarah: Yeah, it’s hard when there’s stereotypes out there and most of them are dramatized and very extreme. 

Shaley: Yeah, I think it’s really damaging to only see that. I think we’re a bit coming to grips with depression and anxiety and it’s more, when we’re talking about it that way, and I think people are opening up and understanding it a little bit, I think. But the other diagnoses like bipolar, schizophrenia, those types of things, I feel like they carry this extra weight. And it even took me a few more years after my diagnosis to claim the word. I was almost stigmatizing myself. I didn’t want to be considered in that group, and so I didn’t say the big “B” word until I spoke at an event and I just threw it out there. And, yeah, I haven’t gone back.

Sarah: So how have things changed since that experience of being in hospital, going to CRESST for a week, and getting your diagnosis? How has your life shifted?

Shaley: So definitely we got the right medication, really. It probably took several months afterwards, because you could only go up by a certain dose, and this specific mood stabilizer you have to be at quite a high dose. And so that took a while, so those six months were probably really hard. I was really relieved, but really terrified and really angry as well.

Sarah: Why were you angry and afraid?

Shaley: I was—well, I was angry. I think it was a combination because I was angry—the huge shadow side of hypomania is the anger side, so my anxiety isn’t totally fear based, it doesn’t look like that. It looks like I’m just so, like people can’t keep up. They’re not understanding, they don’t understand this. I have this huge sense of urgency, and that things will be catastrophic if they aren’t done immediately, and people don’t work at my pace. And so I think coming down from that and experiencing that anxiety, but also just feeling so misunderstood, and so like, what is it going to be like now? And this has been a huge life experience, and I’m all about connecting and sharing stories, and honesty, and vulnerability, and how am I going to share this, and how’s it going to go over? And also, am I going to lose leadership roles in the church? When I go back to work, are they going to let me teach? All those things. And at one point, I was like, even though I was still doing an amazing job, if people find out are they going to take away my kids? Are they not going to want to hang out with me or my children? Those kinds of things. So I think that, and switching off the medication, weaning off, going back on. And part of me was like, do I want this because the high part, the anxiety, was worth it for me to get the high and the creativity? And who am I without that? And those attributes of my, what I thought was my personality, are they fake? Am I even going to be able to be that person that I actually, really, half of it love? And so I was just all around confused, chemicals, messed up, and dealing with a surprising—yet not surprising—diagnosis.

Sarah: So did you lose friends? Did you lose leadership roles? Let’s talk about that.

Shaley: Yes and no. I think I pushed some people away. Especially—I didn’t grow up in the Church, so I don’t have a churchy-church story—I hung out with a lot of people that had a specific stereotypical story, which was beautiful for them; grew up in a Christian home, never strayed, did all the right things, did it in order, got married, all those things. And so I already felt like I didn’t completely fit in this made up ideal Christian woman in the first place. And I already knew people knew, because I’d talked at these groups I went to about being sad. And so I think that I didn’t give some people a chance, because I didn’t want to hear… yeah. I just, I knew that my heart would just break, so I kind of pulled back a bit. I did feel quite alone because I needed to, I wanted to, find a bit of community that was experiencing similar things, but yet I didn’t want that either. And there was one woman who lived in my complex, went to my church, that dealt with an eating disorder and severe depression and I felt like I could talk to her. But the others, yeah. When I did talk, they’d say some of the things that hurt and scared me the most, despite their best intentions.

Sarah: What kinds of things would you have hoped to hear when you were in the midst of that medication change?

Shaley: I think just listening, honestly. Just letting me share and not giving me platitudes, or giving me advice. I was given different advice like write out prayers, what un—I want to say diagnosed, but that’s not the word—what hidden sin do you have in your life that is causing this? I felt like a lot of people thought it was my fault, so maybe just seeing that, one, it wasn’t my fault, and maybe even telling me that and reassuring me that you’re loved anyways. And I think it would have meant a lot to me, and I think that’s why I clung to certain friendships where they did struggle or had struggled. Just learning about it, learning about it to try to—caring enough to understand. Not just it’s going to be okay, or here’s a really beautiful Bible verse and such, and just talking a lot about healing. I’ve been dealing with it so long. I absolutely believe in miracles, being a woman of faith, but what am I supposed to do if I’m not healed, and how can I believe that it’s not my fault?

Sarah: Those are big questions that a lot of people work through, either when they’re dealing with a mental health crisis in family members, or in themselves. When I got my diagnosis it took me—I filled my prescription after holding onto the piece of paper for about three months, and then it took me another six months to actually fill it, and then another three months to actually take it.

Shaley: Wow. 

Sarah: And I work in mental health.   

Shaley: Wow, yeah.

Sarah: So that kind of stigmatizing, it happens within us and around us.

Shaley: Yes.

Sarah: And, like you, I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t want to lose the social contracts and the standing I had in my community. But here we are.

Shaley: Yes.

Sarah: You run an online magazine called She Loves.

Shaley: I am a part of the leadership team, yeah.  

Sarah: You do something called Messy Beauty.

Shaley: Yes. 

Sarah: And you mentioned that you do some public speaking.

Shaley: Yes.

Sarah: How did you get here? 

Shaley: Well, I’ve always loved speaking in front of groups, and I’m very justice oriented, social justice oriented, so I would talk about those things. And I think that when I finally claimed, you know, I wanted to take back the power that the word bipolar had over me, I think then I started sharing publicly about that. So the public speaking part I always liked, but I pictured myself talking about like, more human trafficking or different issues like that. If I’m completely honest, things that made me, wasn’t my most vulnerable thing and made me look better, because I cared about these things and was going to be a voice with and for people that struggled.

And it was actually through She Loves that I found my voice. She Loves has been around for quite a long time, and I had met some of the women at a conference; specifically, Idelette. She is the Editor-in-Chief, the Founder, and I just adored her. We just clicked and for years we talked about meeting up or working together, and I told my husband—when I started reading the magazine, when I was home alone with the kids—that I’m going to work with them some day. I just know I’m drawn to this, it’s different, it’s women of faith. But in like complete, they talk about hard things, and social justice, and women telling their stories, because basically it put out a post or an article—it was when blogging was huge—of different women sharing, vulnerably sharing, their stories. And so, eventually we met and because I do event planning through Messy Beauty and other things, I really wanted to do a fundraiser with them for a cause they cared about. And once I got connected with that, and seeing other women claiming their voices—we were actually planning an event, and it was called Pause and Present. And the idea behind it that we came up with, was pausing around Christmas and being present for ourselves and for others that maybe aren’t feeling all the things that are considered Christmassy feelings. And as we were planning it, I was like, wait a minute. Basically, I’m planning this because of my story—why wouldn’t I tell it? And so I did, and I haven’t gone back. And then through their encouragement, I wrote my first piece. I wrote a letter to my mind, which actually—because I have to be different, I guess but—writing a letter to your mind from your mind, is not easy. So I did that, and then that was a beautiful thing and I had so many people reach out. And I wanted to do more, but I felt a lot of writing made me anxious and I overedited, and that kind of thing, and I was like, can I just talk? And so they were like, well we’ve never had vlogging before, but you can, absolutely. Because I felt like I wasn’t words-y enough with my words, but if you could see me in person then you could see that I’m okay, but I’m not okay, and I’m okay with not being okay.

And so I think also that’s what I needed. If I could have seen someone being real, and talking about it in it. I find in the Christian community we talk a lot about it after, or we do events about it, about different things in mental health or touch on mental health, but we wrap it up in a bow. Or we talk so much about healing, and I would just leave those kinds of events, like, bawling because I’m not. What’s wrong with me, right? And will I ever have a story wrapped up in a bow? And is that my goal? And if that’s my goal, I’m not going to get better. And there’s this myth of being completely better, and until I started understanding that this is a part of me and I can’t separate it, and I don’t know if I’m going to be healed. How do I live out my best life with this?

Sarah: How do you? How have you been handling that lately?

Shaley: Yeah, well it depends on the day but I just try to do the next best right thing for me or for my family, and I just say yes despite my fear, especially in this arena. Like, who plans to work and speak in and talk about what used to be—used to be—your shame story, right? I don’t know anybody that’s like, their life plan. But honestly as terrifying, and sometimes I overanalyze after, it’s actually healing and gives me a little bit of energy speaking about it. So back to your question, I feel like I’m all over the place. But it turns out that my personality is still to do all the things, but in moderation. And I sleep now, thank you medication.

Sarah: Oh, thank God.   

Shaley: Right? Biggest thing for me and for, I mean, I’m sure most mental illnesses, but bipolar especially. But I don’t take on all the projects; I’ve kind of found the balance of what is enough with event planning and things like that; it’s feast or famine, right? Like, full on or full off, but I’m doing those things. And then my career is as a teacher, so I do that. But I don’t do anything—one specific thing—or have to be in one specific place, full-time. I think that that really helps me. I think when I feel constrained or if I feel like I have to be doing something every single day that’s the same, I don’t do well. So, luckily, I’m privileged that I can do that and I can go to work when I want, and not work when I want. And so finding my own rhythms and doing things that makes my heart and mind come alive. And just the She Loves community, and we have a membership community called The Dangerous Women, and just talking to those women. They’re the most real and authentic women. I didn’t know we could talk like this about our real thoughts, especially to—I mean some are, some aren’t—but to women of faith. I didn’t know that I could be brutally honest about the shadow side.

So I think all those things; finding my right balance, not being constrained, and I always just try to do things the way I thought they were supposed to. Like, you are supposed to go to work these hours, and you’re a productive member of society if you are doing this, and you should be volunteering in your church this way, and I realized that that isn’t true and there isn’t a stereotypical right way to do things. There’s a right way for me.

Sarah: Just thinking about storytelling, you mentioned earlier that when you started to think about telling your story you got some platitudes and that, but how have you reconciled your own journey of faith with your diagnosis? Because we tell ourselves stories about who we were, who we are, and who we want to be.

Shaley: Yeah, I think that’s definitely a work in progress. I think that I go through stages; I’ll share how I’ve come to the good places, but I do want to recognize that there are dark moments, and there are begging moments, and there are “why me?” bitter moments. But I think every time I’ve thought maybe I’m abandoning this faith, and this was given to me on purpose, and all of those things, I just couldn’t do it. I was drawn to love, and I don’t think that, yeah, I just couldn’t walk away from the Jesus factor. I knew there was a different way to see him, and I knew there was a different way to meet him, and I think I met him even more—as cheesy as it sounds—at CRESST, because it was the first time I was in a community where we were all broken. We were all broken, and honestly when we showed up for our group stuff, basically it was like a celebration. Like, you made it through, bravo, good for you. And so, I pictured Jesus doing that too. Bravo. You have hard things, and I know, and I’m there in the hard things. And once I didn’t think of him as a fixer, I think I was able to more connect. And again, connecting with women that asked hard questions. And as soon as I could say the doubts, or if I was prone to wander, or things like that, as soon as I could speak those aloud, I felt a tremendous closeness with God. I felt like he was like hey, I’m big enough for this, right, like stop pretending. And I could say, hey, I don’t actually think that same way, or I might not even think that same theological way as you, and I found a kind of people to talk like that about. I found that very freeing, because I felt like there was always—like I said earlier, I didn’t grow up in a Christian home—and I felt like there was like this secret, or this door I couldn’t unlock about being the good Christian woman, and I felt like God was just whispering, “You are good. Exactly how you are, you are good.” 

And so even when I still struggle—I don’t experience much of the depression at all, but I do experience some hypomania and anxiety, and even in that—I have to hold onto that I was made good. And I think as soon as I stopped living in the—everybody experiences it a different way—but I think that I experienced and maybe hung around with, or there was Bible studies or things like that, that just focused on how bad we are, and how fallen. And there is shadow sides and there’s truth to that, but I lived in that for too long.  I lived in the “I have to be working hard to do all the right things so that I’m not bad”, and just because I would have really hard, dark thoughts, and I was like, oh, I must be evil, maybe I wasn’t really. Do you know how many times I did the whole “accept Jesus into my heart”, because I wasn’t sure he was there? Like, a lot of times, okay? A lot of times, and in the middle of the night a lot. And I think I’m still working on that, and when it’s not too painful I’m trying to see where Jesus was in all those times that I couldn’t, didn’t feel like I had access.

Sarah: So what would you say to someone who maybe is not able to sleep right now, and thinks that if they don’t get a good night’s sleep they’re going to die? Maybe a mom with small kids, who’s just realizing that their struggle might be bigger than they know how to handle.

Shaley: I think the number one thing that I would say is hold on. I would just say hold on. Hold on, and if you can’t hope, find someone to hope for you. And I think that I would say I see you, and I’m sorry that it’s so painful and dark, and just hold onto hope or find someone to hope for you. And same with if you can’t find your voice; find someone to fight for you until you can fight for yourself, depending on how deep you are into something. And there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop being loved—if you’re in a place of faith by God, but also by people that are committed to understanding you. And so, hold on. 

I wouldn’t say it’s going to get better, or I wouldn’t say those things, I would just say hold on, and I wish that I could sit and hold your hand in the dark with you. And I hope there’s someone you know that can do that, and I would hope that that was enough that they would… yeah. I hope they are seen for who they really are, and it’s not your fault.

It’s not your fault. It is not your fault and hold on. 

Sarah: We might as well end on a hopeful note here. Can you tell me about some of the gifts of having bipolar?

Shaley: Yeah, I can. It took me a while to come to terms with that, but I think that it helps me want to be a fierce advocate for others. I just think these stories need to be told. I want to smash stigma in all the ways that I can by sharing through the things that I’m doing with Messy Beauty and saying yes to things like being on podcasts and such. 

I think another gift it has given me is I have a lot of super creative ideas. And the cool thing about the hypomanic side, or that kind of side of me, is that to some people the ideas might seem impossible, or they seem too big to do, but I think because of that I feel a lot of urgency to do things, and like they really need to be done; that I don’t give up until it’s done. Which can be good and bad, but if I believe it can be done, and I believe and want to be a champion to other women, and that those big things can be done, because I think we think differently. And I think because we feel so deeply about things; I think we’re not overdramatic, I think we just point to things, point society to things that are painful and wrong and dark, that maybe we do need to be looking at. And I think if I didn’t feel deep sadness, or deep joy, or those things, I wouldn’t understand the opposite feeling; I wouldn’t be able to find deep joy within episodes and I wouldn’t understand deep joy if I hadn’t had deep sadness, and I wouldn’t understand peace if I didn’t have debilitating anger. So basically, my creativity and my ability to see and create space for brokenness. 

Messy. Find the beauty in the mess, that’s what I’m trying to do.  

Sarah: Yeah. And just quickly, where do you see churches making space for this messy beauty, this gift?

Shaley: Yeah, I think, well a couple of practical things that I think we could do is first, start with language that we use in the Church. I think also just being very careful how we talk about faith versus fear. I think that there’s a lot of shame when you think you can’t have both, and I think clinical anxiety is a lot different than being fearful. And so I think looking at how we talk about things with language. I think trying to create spaces where we just sit, and not fix or give advice, trying to create spaces like that. Maybe our groups don’t always have to be doing a book, or doing a study, or having an expert storytelling in the church; not wrapping everything in a bow, and telling stories that aren’t just about healing. 

And I think just making space for the hard things. And honestly, just on a note—and this definitely has to do with Sanctuary—is having training, because people are more likely to go to a pastor or leader in a church than the stigmatized therapist. And if you don’t know about mental health, then you’re not equipped and you can be doing a lot, a lot of damage. We know you can start off—I mean, there’s some pastors in some churches that are like twenty years old, and not to say that you can’t know a lot—but I think there should be training for all leaders. And also offer that kind of training and exposure to different stories for everyone in the Church, as well. And we know that there’s one in five, and they are sitting in the pews right now. Why are we not talking about this more?

I think that it would be beautiful and I think we can get there. And I think Jesus talked about hard things, really hard things, and he felt things I think that, yeah. I think we need to look at that side, and then I think also it will draw other people to the hope and love, if we can be real and show our brokenness. 

I think the Church should be the most messiest, and that will make it the most beautiful. 

Sarah: Thank you, Shaley.

Shaley: Yes, of course.

Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries exists to equip the Church to support mental health and wellbeing. May this podcast encourage you to create safe space for your own story and for the stories of others, as well as create change in communities that stigmatize those living with mental health challenges.

The Sanctuary Course is a small group resource designed to help initiate and guide conversations about mental health and faith. It is a starting point, creating a base of shared knowledge from which churches can explore the next steps. Perhaps most importantly, through the simple act of talking openly about mental health, the course helps churches begin to create safe spaces for all of us to share our mental health stories and receive support in community.

Each theme in the course is explored from a psychological, social, and theological perspective, and each session is accompanied by a compelling film focused on an individual’s story—a person of faith who has journeyed through mental health challenges. You can learn more about The Sanctuary Course and Sanctuary’s other resources at sanctuarymentalhealth.org. 

I’m your host Sarah Kift, and I’m thankful for the people who help make this episode happen. Music by the artist Crash by Car by archive.org and all funding and support by the team at Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries. This podcast is released under a creative commons attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives 4.0 licence. Don’t change it or sell it, but please share it all you like.