[Part A was written in 2015] I’ve been wanting to talk about Bipolar for a while now because I get irritated when people casually use the word Bipolar to describe any fluctuation they see.
“The stock market is bipolar.” “The weather is bipolar.” “That woman who can’t decide what purse to buy or whether to buy it is bipolar.” Bipolar is pretty real to me and I don’t think it should be trivialized.
A history of bipolar
When I was diagnosed 3 years ago, it was a long time coming. I had my first episode at age 16, over 20 years ago. I had been rapid cycling for years but didn’t know there was anything wrong with it.
After all, didn’t everybody bake 3600 cookies for Christmas or can 20 dozen jars of jam in a two week period? Alternately, didn’t everyone lay on the couch for weeks at a time, seemingly too lazy to feed the kids and give them a bath?
Does mental illness happen to Christians?
When I first found out, I was stunned. The events leading up to the diagnosis required a trip to the ER, a report to and a visit from Family And Children’s Services; terrifying events. I felt so much shame and guilt. I sincerely believed mental illness didn’t happen to Christians.
There must be something wrong with my faith. I didn’t believe enough. Didn’t trust enough. I was convinced I could pray it away. I became rigid and legalistic, hoping the structure and rules would bring this awful disease under control.
Barely hanging on
I had started to work at a medical lab only 4 months before my diagnosis. I’m not sure how I held onto the job but I guess I just faked it until I couldn’t anymore. In four years, I’ve only worked about a year and a half, the rest of the time being on sick leave.
Very few people at work knew, it was a dark secret. I was scared of the stigma attached to mental illness and I worried that I would be found out. I went back to work after taking 9 months off.
The doctors at St Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton worked with me intensively. They literally saved my life. I’m so grateful to the team there and to my mom, who moved in with us for 2 months to keep me from harming myself and the kids. I’ve been stable since and I thank God every day for it.
I’ve learned over the last while that mental illness is just that. Illness. It has nothing to do with how strong or weak my faith is. Nothing to do with how hard I work, how controlled I am or how disciplined my life is. Bipolar is a real, medical problem that can be managed with medication and therapy.
I still go off the rails sometimes but I have a great support team in place: friends, family and doctors that can see the subtle changes and help me get a handle on them before I make a big mess.
I still do foolish things, like buying that new iMac a month ago when my old one was still in great condition but hey, at least it wasn’t a cruise again like last year!
The power of friends
It’s been a year and a half since I wrote those words above. Looking back, I don’t think I’ve had a darker time in my life than those days. Hard times are when your friendships are most tested.
It’s easy to be friends when things are going well and hanging out and having a great time socially is fun. It’s another thing completely when your friend is a downer to be around and is very needy, sucking the very life out of what is left of the relationship.
The need for the church to step up
I think that’s where the church needs to step in. While I was grateful for all the ladies that posted “praying” at the few updates I gave on Facebook, it was the prayers-with-feet as I call them, that made the difference.
One friend brought pizza faithfully. My kids were thrilled! One friend sent handwritten notes to show she cared. Another dragged me out of the house a few times a week for coffee. And I do mean dragged.
It was so maddening because she was so insistent but it was exactly what I needed! I am truly grateful.
Offering support when needed
My closest friends gave Mom their phone numbers so she could call them if she had had enough and needed a break from taking care of me and my 2 special needs kids. We are called to carry each other’s burdens and walk alongside our sisters (and brothers) in need.
Dear Christian we are each gifted with different abilities. The Lord has blessed some of us with the gift of hospitality- showing up with food, taking the kids for a few hours, cleaning the house.
I just wanted to share this with you because I think we benefit from sharing each other’s stories. They make us stronger to face our own struggles. They give us encouragement to keep going on.