He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
If you met me now for the first time, it would be hard to explain to you how I was ever a mental patient. Yeah; a real, live mental patient. When I was twenty-one, a senior in college, I lost my mind. Literally. In a matter of months, my marriage, academic career, family, morality, and reputation dissolved in a quagmire of madness. I landed in a Tacoma ER, covered in barf and red wine, mascara dripping down my cheeks. I drank charcoal. I waited for my estranged husband to drive five hours across the state to check me out of the ER and take responsibility for me. I woke up the next morning and understood that if I was left alone to my own devices I would fight to the death for my death. I knew whatever this beast was within me, it had to die. It couldn’t keep using me to hurt the people I loved. I was better off dead than living as a continual, disgusting haunt of my former self.
So we checked me in to the mental health unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital. I met with a nurse and answered her intake questionnaire. After several minutes of answering her questions, she looked at me: “Oh, honey! You’re Bipolar. As Bipolar as they come.” The doctor I consulted with the next morning in rounds confirmed the nurse’s diagnosis. They started me on a course of lithium. My life has never been the same.
I honestly can’t say for sure how I got here, looking back at that scared little girl acclimating to a drug, acclimating to sanity. I can relate the steps of my very slow recovery, of everything I think that has helped me rise out of the pit my life had become. I feel guilty because I hear of others like me who don’t get to pretend so easily as I do that they are “normal.” I feel guilty because I am alive, and that somehow I live this beautiful life. And so, I have kept very silent.
There is so much to lose with “outing” myself like this. Being diagnosed with a severe case of Bipolar 1 Disorder or Schizophrenia is not the same as being diagnosed with Cancer or even HIV. Mental Illness diagnoses are the only illnesses that morph into adjectives. “Crazy,” “bipolar,” are cultural labels we put on anyone we deem erratic. No one gets labeled “Cancerous” or “Aidsy.” Crazy sticks. Like crazy.
I am doing this–not for myself–but for the mother and educator that walked up to me at the PNWA Conference and whispered in my ear, “I’m Bipolar 2–you know, the kind Catherine Zeta Jones is?–but no one knows. I’m afraid I’d lose my job.” I’m doing this because everywhere I go, if I am honest and real enough to own my deepest shames, people whisper diagnosis and struggles in my ear. And I am doing this because we have to start looking at mental illness like we look at every other illness: there are causes (some known, some not), and there are treatments. There are circumstances that exacerbate these illnesses, and there are ways to deal with those circumstances.
Mental illness is not the result (in my case and in the case of everyone I have ever met) of people craving depravity to the extent that God gives them over to a “reprobate mind” (Romans 1:21). Mental illness is not spiritual sickness, although nothing has broken my spirit as this illness has. Mental illness does not happen because you are weak. Mental illness is not a choice.
There is much to discuss. I have discovered that talk therapy, diet, supplements, and exercise can take a girl who couldn’t tell her right from her left after being put on lithium and turn her into a college graduate, Religion teacher, stable mother, loving wife. I have also discovered that the ONLY WAY to survive this terrible affliction has been for me to fall on my knees and surrender and beg for help from the God I have screamed at and blamed for allowing this illness into my life. I have learned that, ultimately, sane or crazy, alive or dead, He holds my life in the palm of His hand. He is the only judge I need to worry about, He is my home, He is my Strength. He has saved me from the pit.
So, please: if you know someone who is struggling, let them know I’m going to be talking about my struggles every Tuesday. I’m going to talk about how this has affected my marriage, my children, my relationships with family and friends. I’m going to talk about what diet and supplements have helped me, what I have learned along the way about finding the “right” doctors, what I have read that has helped me. I’m going to talk a lot about how this illness destroyed my sense of self, and how I found a new self and a new worth. I’m going to talk about shame, which nearly destroyed me, and how I discovered a life in Christ that redeemed my shame and turned it into something beautiful.
I’m all in.