Faith & Bipolar Disorder: A Blessing, Or A Curse?
Faith can help ease the frustration of recovery.
By Michael K.
As a young Christian man growing up in the United Kingdom during the 1970s, I struggled with terrifying thoughts, feelings, and symptoms I couldn’t understand. I was often misunderstood by believing friends and by employers who lacked any knowledge or understanding of psychological disorders.
When I summoned up the courage to talk about what I was experiencing, I was told to pray and read my Bible more often, and that I needed more faith and trust in God.
While these things have helped, I now know I also needed medication and counseling. However, I didn’t get that kind of help until after I had a nervous breakdown following a season of stress.
For years afterward, I would ask myself: Is this disorder a bane or a blessing?
Even the most healthy person has good days and bad days. On my good days, I can awaken with the thrill of the lark, scamper around with seemingly boundless energy, and scale tall buildings with one mighty leap. Everything is possible! However, I wonder if it will last. Will I continue to see the sun shine? Will I get through the day while burning off so much nervous energy? Will I crash and need to be hospitalized?
On my bad days, I can barely open my eyelids, my mind is a fog, and I can hardly move because my limbs won’t take me where I want to go. Will the darkness I am experiencing ever end? It seems like that phase of the disorder goes on and on. Nothing is doable.
My psychotherapist often reminds me that bipolar disorder is like the elevator in a tall building. Some people ride all the way to the top of the Sears Tower, a few may have offices midway up, while still others seemingly cannot get out of the basement.
I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that the two extremes frighten me.
My father, a philosophical man, used to say, “Moderation in all things.” That’s a good byword for dealing with this disorder. If we are realistic, those of us with bipolar know that neither extreme is healthy—that we need, and should seek, what I like to call “the middle ground.”
When I summoned up the courage to talk about what I was experiencing, I was told to pray and read my Bible more often
Many people who have friends or relatives with bipolar may be tempted toward pity, frustration, or even anger or disgust. Many of us who have the illness may at times feel the same way about ourselves.
As a Christian believer, I know that my Heavenly Father loves me just the way I am but loves me too much to let me stay that way. He wants me to grow and develop. I do not know why He allowed me to have this illness. And, quite frankly, I have given up asking.
The apostle Paul was said to have a “thorn in the flesh.” Biblical scholars have long debated what that thorn might have been. But this man who was blinded by the sight of God on the road to Damascus saw another thing.
“When I am weak then I am strong,” Paul discovers. This verse from scripture tells me that the disorder I have been granted to live with is far from a curse. It is, in fact, a blessing in disguise.
Like Paul, I have discovered strength from outside myself upon which to draw. I have this illness for a reason: It has made me a more compassionate person.
What’s more, I know that “this too shall pass.” When I’m no longer on this Earth, any suffering I have experienced will pass, and bipolar disorder will become a mere blip on the radar screen of my life.
Printed as “On My Mind: Bane or Blessing?” Spring 2009