When bipolar disorder seems too tough to navigate alone, faith can help provide lasting support.
by Susan Johnson
Living with bipolar disorder is like a perpetual roller coaster. It’s too hard a journey to make alone.
You “Gotta Have Faith, Faith, Faith!”
George Michael sang it best in his ’80s song “Faith.” Looking back on the past 20 years as a woman living with bipolar disorder, I realize what has kept me going—my deep-rooted faith.
I was baptized as a baby and grew up Catholic. Beginning in preschool I learned about Christ and His endless love for me, and I felt His love early on. At the time, my parents didn’t realize what a gift they had given me, a gift I would need the rest of my life.
Growing up we went to church Saturday nights, rain or shine. Afterwards, we would go out to dinner, which helped when I didn’t want to go.
I attended Catholic school for the first few years of elementary school. I didn’t have the fire and brimstone experience that many other people had. I learned the Church’s teachings and began to understand what being a Catholic meant. The Golden Rule says it all.
In high school I was actively involved in our church’s youth group. It was a strong, safe place to embrace my faith. My wonderful group of friends had the same morals I had. I have fun memories from those years.
It was my junior year when things began to get rocky. One summer I experienced my first case of the blues. I felt like I was alone on a forgotten island. I could not snap out of it. My parents quickly identified that I was depressed. I was unhappy and sleeping excessively. Both bipolar and depression run in our family. My parents took me to my first psychologist, and I was able to beat the depression. Having faith helped me during this time.
My first manic high was on a cruise ship at age 19. I swear God was sitting in the same room. “This is incredible,” I thought. I didn’t want that experience to end.
My college years were a real tumultuous ride. I often experienced mixed mania. One minute I had faith, the next I was crying. It was exhausting having both feelings at the same time. I was taking Lithium then, but was unable to stabilize.
The highs were typical especially during the summer months. The lows were hell. I experienced them during the Iowa winters. I couldn’t get out of bed. I wanted to die because I felt that was easier than living.
We had a new church very close to my house. There I found solace in my faith. I attended religious studies and volunteered with the youth group. One of the neatest experiences I had was a women’s retreat. Women shared their testimonies in the midst of tragedies. I realized I was not the only one struggling. I went to confession where I asked God for forgiveness for some of the poor choices I had made. It was like a weight was lifted off me.
Recently I wrote a book titled Some Dreams Are Worth Keeping. It took years, but during that time I was amazed at how God worked in my life. I understood clearly how He kept me out of harm so many times. He protected me as I experienced promiscuity resulting from bipolar. God never left me and, at the lowest times, carried me. He gave me a mom and dad who supported me through it all. He sent me a therapist who helped me though those college years. God gave me a best friend who stood by me. Because of God, I graduated college.
I couldn’t have traveled this journey alone. I believe without my faith, I would not be alive. I don’t believe you have to be Catholic to have faith. Perhaps another religion suits you better. I do believe the journey is easier when you put your faith in a Higher Being. So if you are struggling, know there is something to cling to in faith and the belief that that things will get better. I have experienced it in my life, and I know you can, too.
Susan Johnson was diagnosed bipolar 1 in 1995. She graduated from Drake University with a B.A. in Sociology. She is the author of “Some Dreams Are Worth Keeping” A Memoir of My Bipolar Journey. She is an inspirational speaker. Her true passion in life is helping break the stigma of living with a mental illness and bring those living with one hope. She currently works with special education students as an Instructional Assistant for a school district in Nevada. She is proud to be a Christian. She enjoys hiking, baking, traveling, yoga, spending time with her Goddaughter and trips to Cancun. She makes her home in fabulous Las Vegas with her husband Gary and Siberian cat Angel-Ann. Visit her website.
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