Reprinted from "Women" issue of Vsions Journal, 2004, 2(4), p. 27
I was diagnosed as bipolar almost 18 years ago after waking from a coma, the result of head injury from a head-on car crash. I may have been genetically predisposed to this mental illness. Or perhaps I had always been bipolar. I don't know – and it doesn't matter. But I would like to share my experience of how fluctuating moods affect my relationships with family and friends – and with God.
When I experience depression, my Christian faith becomes so challenged that it is almost non-existent. I experience this 'low end' of the illness two or three times a year. In those dark times, I stop wanting to go to church with my husband or to be involved in groups with church friends. I have no desire to pray. I no longer believe, and in my heart and mind, I even feel the tendency to mock those who do believe.
I'm not proud to admit these things; I feel quite ashamed. Some might say this is a satanic attack, and perhaps that is one explanation. But I prefer to blame these illogical changes of belief and behaviour on my "illness."
The opposite happens when I 'escalate' or 'swing high': I become more religious or spiritual. One Sunday last year I shared this phenomenon with a church group that was taking a course on 'mental illness.' The course was facilitated by a man who has a lot of professional experience working with folks who have mental health challenges. As I tried to explain to the group my experience of overwhelming joy to be back in church singing during worship, I became emotional, overwhelmed, and confused. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and my chest felt like it was going to burst.
Was I just experiencing a tremendous mood swing? I don't think mood swings affect one so quickly. The leader comforted me by saying how very glad God must be when I return. I realized that God was simply filling me up with his presence that Sunday.
God was telling me in a powerful way that He is with me always. God's love and knowledge of us is so great! How can I not know this all of the time? I am loved unconditionally, and God understands my condition. God knows each one of our unique situations. He loves and cares for us equally. I often sense God's love for me through another person. God has so many ways to let us know that He is with us. I don't always see all the ways.
I have been 'somewhat escalated' the last couple of months. And, yes, I do feel more spiritually minded right now. I am able to contemplate creatively about life without becoming manic or foolish.
Thank heaven for prescription medication and a good psychiatrist! I take my medications faithfully, because it helps me. The meds don't make this illness go away, but they do diminish the effects. I feel that I am 'managing' my illness; it is not managing me!
My thinking is clearer, and I am able to view my relationships with others in a more positive, rational manner. I don't know why, but I find myself reflecting on so many things: the apparent effects of my illness on my six children, on my ex-spouses (I divorced my first husband 25 years ago and re-married four years later), and certainly on my own experiences. I don't pretend to assume that my analysis is completely correct. We can only ever see through our own glasses, can't we? But this time, in my elevated state, something special happened deep inside me. My perspective on my life and my relationships with others is different. I feel less torn and more whole because I have been able to look beyond myself. I have been able to examine the events of my life from the point of view of others, and not just my own.
Could all this be God working a new thing in me? I don't know. Perhaps God has an easier time doing His work in me now. I think God can work His will in a person, in spite of that person having a mental illness.
For now, I feel more mentally healthy than I've felt in a long, long time. Healing is so good. I guess I'm "on the road again"!
About the author
Linda is a 'mental health consumer.' A mother and stepmother to six adult children, a grandmother, and a wife to her retired husband – Linda also works as a care aide to seniors and is an active community volunteer. She has served on the CMHA North Vancouver and BC Division boards over the past 15 years