During Living Room days I learned to be a good listener for people in trouble. But I myself also needed friends to whom I could complain about the many emotional problems I struggled with. And there were many.

I have often grieved at how I must have come across to supportive friends when I complained to them. I know I leaned far too much on them.

On December 19, 2006, I  wrote:

Several days ago I noticed myself dumping all my feelings on my friends. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t lie easily. When someone asks me how I am, I let them know—sometimes in great detail. Not a good idea. But later I realized what I was doing. I also realized that analyzing my feelings only made me feel worse. I was dwelling within.

At Living Room we had some very interesting discussion. One thing that had the most impact on me was when someone said how she feels best during depression when she can get away from thinking about herself. When she tries to reach out and show an interest in other people’s lives, it’s easier to forget her own misery. There is something powerful in the act of giving—and that does not only mean giving things, but giving our attention to other people and their stories.

When we’re depressed it’s natural to be self-consumed with the misery we feel. In fact people who suffer from almost any illness are in danger of becoming self-absorbed. It’s natural for that to happen.

Interestingly, it’s not only a depressed mood that will make us self-absorbed. The same holds true in the elevated moods of people with bipolar disorder. When I’m that way I’ll talk my friends’ heads off about all the “wonderful” projects I’m engaged in. I totally forget that they have lives too. I forget to ask how they are doing. I’m so full of myself.

But, when I consciously try, and succeed, to ask my friends about themselves—how they’re feeling and what they’re doing–something happens that makes me feel better about myself. I’ve come to appreciate having people trust me enough to tell me their troubles. I like the sense of connectedness it gives us. It feels good to forget about myself.

It’s hard, but I must try constantly, to be more other-centered. The payoff is huge. I feel stronger. I feel healthier emotionally. I don’t feel so much of a victim. It’s then that I can become a supporter.

Looking back at my Living Room years, I’m amazed at how there were two completely different sides to me. One was a good supporter, a person who knew how to help troubled individuals. And then there was the other me who required a great amount of support from friends—more than anyone should have to give to another.

For nine years, I led a support group, always trying to assure them of God’s great love for them. Telling them to trust him, to rely on him for their needs. Telling them to believe in prayer. And yet, in my emotional battles, I too often found myself going to my friends first before talking to my heavenly Father.

I wrote to God daily—often several times in a day—telling him what I was thinking, talking to him about my feelings. I pleaded for the strength I needed to do what I felt he had called me to do. And yes, I complained to him as well. I needed both—people and God. There was never enough to fill my needs—never enough to heal the insecurity that I was later to learn was at the bottom of it all.

I was a child. And my best friends were like father and mother to me—individuals who fed me with the kind of love children need.

The friends I made after Living Room were a wonderful support for me, but I never felt that I needed to cling to them. I never feared that they would leave me. Over the years, in the midst of the trials and sufferings that became part of my life, I fought hard to overcome the injustices I saw around me—especially the injustice of how the world looks upon people with illnesses like mine. You see, I had come to know what it was like to be a stigmatized person.

Jesus became more important to me than he had ever been before. I had come into fellowship with him—identifying with him in my pain. (1 Corinthians 1:9) He stayed with me throughout those years, and I stayed with him. He helped me make sense of the pain I felt. I came to appreciate him better than I could have if life had always been good. I was better able to understand the sufferings of others.

And with that understanding I was better able to serve their needs. Better able to answer God’s call on my life. Better able to comfort and encourage those who lived with mental health difficulties. And I found that almost everyone experiences such difficulties at various times of their life.

The love that God had given me to share touched those who were reading my words—words that weren’t mine alone, but his.

Today I try to help followers of Christ understand why people with mental health challenges suffer the way they do. I encourage them to look at Jesus as he’s portrayed in the gospels and to give the kind of care he did to those the world was rejecting. I encourage them to love others, as God loves them.