Bipolar disorder can interrupt the life you had planned and leave you feeling hopeless, but hope is always there if you look for it.
Trigger Warning: If matters of faith trigger you easily, then you will want to skip reading this or at least replaces the references to faith within this post with those things that work best for you.
Hopelessness is serious. Every day people fall into the hopeless hole of hopelessness due to their struggle with a mental health issue. It begins to knock at the door of one’s heart when you feel and believe that you have no future. It happens so easily, and it can take root all too fast. Each time we face one of life’s interruptions, which change our perceived future, hopelessness can settle in and live rent free in our hearts and minds.
Over 20 years ago I faced a life-altering interruption. At the time I was pastoring one of the fastest growing churches in my denomination, when I experienced a painful manic episode and I was asked to resign. It was earth-shattering. My position and the church had become my identity. and without them I was devastated to the point of complete hopelessness. I lost my future. Hopelessness set in. And the deep dark hole of depression became a familiar and shameful place of guilt; months and months of severe depression followed.
For years prior to this interruption I had felt as though I had a monster inside of me that I had to manage. The more stress I experienced with pastoring a growing church, the more impossible it was to control the monster within me. More times than not, the monster was controlling me. So, when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I found out that the monster had a name. And strangely enough, a small ray of hope began to break through the hopelessness what had swallowed me whole.
Why would there be a small ray of hope following my diagnosis?
Usually people see the diagnosis of bipolar disorder as the difficult thing to accept. Well, for me, the people around me helped me to see that the diagnosis and treatment of my bipolar disorder were a way back to having a future. It was the idea that the bipolar could be treated and I could have a future that poked a small pinhole of hope into the darkness of hopelessness. It was not an easy journey, but it was more than worth it. With that small pinhole of hope, I could see a way forward. I began to grieve what I had lost but also to embrace a new and different future; believing that I could live well in spite of having bipolar disorder.
Shane J. Lopez, PhD, the author of Making Hope Happen, did extensive research on hope for over 14 years. His research supports what I experienced. When I thought I had no future, hopelessness set in and took over. And when I could see the way to a future, hope began to grow. The clearer the future became for me, the more hope I felt.
Interestingly enough, hope can be borrowed, shared and it can be caught! Think about it, if you hang around a lot of hopeless friends, you will begin to feel hopeless. And if you hang out with people who are filled with hope you will begin to feel hopeful.
So, I have a question for you: How is your hope tank doing?
Do you feel like you can see a way forward? If not, do you potentially need to let go of the future as you thought it would be—grieve it and let it go? Do you need to embrace a new potential future? There’s no doubt that doing this is a process. It is not like switching a light switch on. But, it is a choice.
Hope is truly a choice. For me, as a Christian, hope is not only a choice, but it is sure and certain. Paul reminds us that no matter what are circumstances might be there is a future because the Lord will work all things out together for our good. (Romans 8:28) So, I certainly may not “feel” hopeful, but I choose to believe that there is a future. It may not have been the future as I thought it would be, but it is a future.
So, again, I ask: how is your hope tank? Is your hope tank empty? Does being a caregiver suck the hope right out of you? Do you see a way forward into the future? Are you strong enough to make the choice of hope?
If not, I have some hope you can borrow.
See, I know because of the storms I’ve been through in my life. God is at work in all things. He is with you, has not left you and won’t leave you. He is FOR you and your entire family and He has a plan. It may not be the life you and I planned prior to bipolar showing up, but in spite of us having bipolar disorder He has a plan!
Everything may not be “good” right now, but all is well because of Him. He has heard every single one of your tears as a liquid prayer. Look for that little tiny bit of light coming through the pinhole, poking through the hopelessness you might be feeling. Choose hope. Choose it minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day and your feelings will begin to catch up. There is a future and joy is included in it.
Brad Hoefs is the founder of Fresh Hope, a national network of faith-based peer support groups for those who have mental health challenges and also for their loved ones. He is a certified Intentional Peer Specialist, and also serves on the State of Nebraska Advisory Committee on Mental Health. Brad was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I in 1995. One of Brad’s passions is to empower peers to live a full and rich life in spite of a mental health challenge. Brad’s blog is “Living Well!” He is the author of Fresh Hope: Living Well in Spite of a Mental Health Diagnosis. He has a B.A. in Communications and a Masters of Divinity. Brad has been married to his wife, Donna, since 1979. They have two adult married children and love being grandparents to the grandkids! He is the pastor of Community of Grace in Elkhorn, Nebraska. He also helped start a website called What I Did to Recover that encourages and empowers those who have a mental health diagnosis to live well in spite of their mental health struggles.
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