I have Jesus and I have bipolar.
So now it’s time to talk about how Jesus comes into bipolar disorder. What he does in that chaos. We all have our own messes and mine just happens to be bipolar, among many others that I have.
When I first got diagnosed, I was relieved. Finally I had an answer to my questions—why I got so depressed so easily, why sometimes I flipped into a raging machine (the manias aren’t always that pretty). So my first prayer after walking out of my psych nurse’s office was one of profound thanksgiving. Thank you that I have an answer now. Thank you that the right meds will fix this. The next thing I thought about was my identity. How it wasn’t bound up in any diagnosis, but bound instead to the identity that is mine in Christ. That I was the same person I was when I walked out of the office as when I walked into the office. I have had to remind myself of that many times. That only Jesus defines me. But though it has taken more than a year, I am stable and can reflect on how he has carried me down this road.
When I’m in a depressive or manic episode, Jesus feels like he’s not even there. To say he feels a million miles away is an understatement. But, that I’ve gotten through the episodes is proof to me that he is there. That he’s not distant or absent as I feel it, but that he’s right there. My pastor is fond of saying that we’re always right where we’re supposed to be and that Jesus is right in the middle of the mess with us. That’s a hard word when you’re in the middle of the storm.
What does Jesus do in my life? The one wracked with bipolar? He buoys me up in those times when I’m crippled by depression. Those times I can’t see anything but the storm. The waves crashing over and around. I lose sight of him. Every time. When I’m a raging mess, he calms with his hand, staying me just long enough that the danger passes. Either way, I’ve lost sight of him. But he’s never lost sight of me.
Those are the times I lean on the faith of others, I reach out and borrow their faith, praying that it’s enough when I can’t see through the spray. I let the worship of his people wash over me. Seeing their faith, knowing that they still have faith is enough to quiet my fears. I’ve said before, many times, that the prayers of his people have pulled me through the worst times of my life. I could name all those saints here, but I’d forget someone so I’d better not.
I can’t say I’m always faithful to find him in the storms, but thank God he’s always found me. Because in the end, there’s always Jesus.
Jesus, bipolar and me January 29, 2015
I have Jesus and I have bipolar.
indifference January 24, 2015
I’ve been writing a lot about my mental illness recently. So much that maybe I’ve lost focus. For a blog about filtering life through the gospel, I haven’t been doing so much of that. And that’s because I am feeling indifferent towards God. Even hostile at times, sitting in church with my arms crossed defiantly. Not because I’m angry. Not because I’m hurting. Not because of anything other than something inside me. Like most everything else in my life, it just is. And I’ve been struggling to break out of this place like so many times I’ve struggled to break out of a depression. But sometimes I just don’t care.
There, I said it. Sometimes I don’t care.
It’s not that I don’t care about God, I do. It’s just that I don’t care about doing the things that would draw me closer to him. It’s something in my soul that is dragging me down.
So I quit reading my Bible, quit praying. I still go to church, out of obligation or habit. Maybe both. But I don’t feel it. I still sing the songs and bow my head. But I’m a thousand miles away. I don’t feel it. I know feelings are indicators in a life of faith but can’t be relied on as truth. I can’t rely on an experience of God every time I step through the doors of the church or open the Bible. But his name, it’s rarely on my lips anymore. I seldom have a thought that is directly about him.
Why do we walk through these times of apathy? Of being so out of tune with God that we move to the place where we don’t care? Of stumbling along out of step with him? It feels horrible. Until the numbness sets in. Then I feel nothing. I lose my motivation to change where I am and can only hope it doesn’t take a crisis to get me back in harmony with him.
But the truth is, I’m pretty comfortable where I am. Comfortable writing instead of reading the Bible. Comfortable watching Law and Order: SVU instead of praying. More likely to sleep than get up and spend a little time with the Lord. I make excuses for reasons I can’t do it. My kids beat me up every morning. There’s no time alone. I can’t leave my little one alone to read or pray. I’m too busy, too plugged in, too tired. Excuses. Every single one.
Except for times like these, when the comfort irks a little more. When it gets a little under my skin to not care. When I hear a song that calls me home. When my heart skips a little to think of Him. The Holy Spirit poking at me just a little.
So somewhere, buried deep in my being, the desire is still there.
Is that enough?
I hope so because right now, it’s all I’ve got.
what next? January 22, 2015
I’m stable. What’s next? Do I sit around waiting for the bottom to fall out from under me? Waiting until mania or depression takes hold of me again? Do I live in fear of that happening? Or do I embrace where I am? Do I dwell on what might happen tomorrow? Or do I take the risk and start living out of this new reality? It’s fear versus life. Light versus dark.
It’s a hard call. I’m a pessimist by nature, always seeing the glass as half empty. Worrying about what could happen. It’s winter, I could get depressed in a minute, there’s a precedent for that. Or will I flip? Head into the fury of mania?
But what if I choose to take the risk of living in this new reality? What happens if I just hang on to the good I’ve got in the moment, unconcerned about what comes next? It’s naïve to think that my illness won’t come back. And so just in case, I’ve got to be prepared. I can make good choices and plan for what might come at the same time. It’s walking a tightrope. Fall off on one side and I’m in a place of not being ready for the depression and mania. Fall off on the other side and I’ve got my eyes so trained on the thought of being in depression or mania again that I can’t see the good in today. It’s not worrying about tomorrow while still being prepared. I can’t pretend that bipolarity won’t come back, that I’ll always be in remission from my illness. But what if I take the risk of letting go of my worry? It’s a chance I’ve got to take. Wear a lifejacket and dive right in the water of living.
So what do I do?
Plan for emergencies but live in the present. Like having a box of extra supplies in severe weather. Blankets in the car in case of breakdowns. I plan for the crises, without taking my eyes off of the good that is here today.
Do the good things like read and write instead of making bad choices. When I make the poor choices, I sit on the couch and stare into my phone instead of reading or writing or doing something else constructive. I’m acting like I’m already in an episode.
So I wrote myself a letter for the time when I find myself off balance again. It’s folded down in my journal and labeled “for emergencies only.” A letter to remind me what life can be like. A letter to guide me when all I see is darkness. A letter to calm me in the rage of hypomania.
I gathered friends who know my story, who love me anyway. Who told me that I’m not allowed to do this alone. Who have walked by me in depression. Who’ve prayed for me and with me.
A friend once told me that no matter where I am, in mania or depression, I have a map. That map guides me through the valleys and the peaks. Tells me which way to turn, what landmarks to look for.
I’ve traveled this path many times before. And every time I walk it, I break the trail a little more. I’ve started to recognize the terrain. I know the fallen trees I’ve got to climb over, the places where the forest canopy opens up and the sunlight filters through. And I don’t trip near as much as I did the last time I walked it.
It’s still a hard road to travel.
But for now, I’m swimming in the water of life.
being stable January 18, 2015
After a lifetime of ups and downs, riding a roller coaster I never bought a ticket for, I can finally say it: I am stable.
I woke up one morning and realized that I felt good. Not the good that comes from mania, but normal good. I felt normal emotions with ordinary highs and lows. Over time, I realized that the “normal” was sticking around. And that makes me really happy. Because after so long being either in mania or depression, mostly depression, I feel like a human being. No deep darkness, no painful emptiness. No sleepless nights and raging mania. It’s a profound relief that I’m not sure I can describe. It’s like getting off that roller coaster when you hate roller coasters. Like finally crawling into bed after a long day. Like finally holding that baby you’ve carried for nine months. Relief where you close your eyes and sigh because whatever it is, it’s finally over.
It’s a combination of medications and therapy (huge shout-out to my psych nurse and therapist!). It’s striving every day for normalcy. Taking meds every day, going to therapy twice a month. Doing things that make me healthy.
And writing is a therapist prescribed part of my treatment.
So here I am writing. Once again stepping out and shedding light into the darkness. Opening myself up to judgment because of my illness. But I’ve found some things out in the last few months. One, that people are way more supportive than I ever thought. Two, that my mental illness does not define me. Three, that there is Light in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. God has answered my prayer, and the prayers of many others, for rest from the disease I carry.