Faith and Bipolar Disorder
Updated: Jul 8
Hi everybody, and thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I find this subject to be particularly important, and possibly the most significant part of my story.
Chapter five of my book is entitled: "The Crooked Lines That Led Me Back to Faith." How crooked they were. My life began with a strong Catholic upbringing. As a family, we went to church together every Sunday in the Byzantine Melkite Greek Catholic Church. It was rich in Middle Eastern culture and worship. I sang in the choir, from the time I was five years old, surrounded by my aunt, who was also my Godmother, and the director. My cousins, sister and father also sang, and we were surrounded by our extended church family. It was a treasured worship experience for me growing up, but that changed years later, in my late adolescence. With the onset of Bipolar Disorder, came a lot of religious conflicts. The disease really wreaked havoc on my faith life. I just felt so disconnected to God.
The first time I came home from college, visibly impaired and having just failed all of my classes, my parents were concerned and conflicted themselves. They could see something was wrong, but they were also in denial as to how serious it was. They had never in their lives heard the words Manic Depression or Bipolar Disorder. So, they did what any deeply religious family would do. They turned to God, something I could not do at the time. They prayed more, took me to church, lit candles and took me to our priest for a blessing. Don't get me wrong, it's not that those things were bad. Prayer is always a good thing. Unfortunately, I needed much more than that. I needed a doctor. I needed treatment. Those were two things to which none of us were looking forward, but that I eventually received.
I tried to go to church throughout this process, and for years, but it was painful. I was frequently in tears, asking God to heal me, but still fighting a terrible battle. For a long time I skipped organized religion all together. The disease told me God was not listening, so I stopped seeking Him. Intellectually, I still believed. With the upbringing I had, it would have been hard not to. Still, I was numb, and void of feeling the Holy Spirit.
The talk of treatment and medication is so controversial. So many in the church want to chalk mental illness up to a tool of the devil, or the result of sin, and nothing more. Many believe it's a spiritual malady that when corrected, would cause the disease to disappear. I cannot tell you how often I ran into this. Do I even have to express how painful it was to be told, "It's just you, you're not sick," "You don't need that medication,"
"you just need to get right with the Lord," and my personal favorite, "you're not bipolar, you just need to grow up!" (Though that last one did not actually come from anyone in the church, it was still so brutal and hurtful to hear).
Truth be told, my faith life did need to be returned to, and eventually it was. Not before my mental health got back on track though, and that took years. My music took me to several different faith expressions, and I found myself depressed and in tears throughout all of those services too, so it was not just a Catholic thing. Did the enemy love it? Sure, no doubt in my mind at all. Did he use and manipulate it? Again, no doubt in my mind. He is a cunning liar, but was I bipolar because I just needed to get right with the Lord? Nope. Not even close. I truly wish the whole body of Christ recognized this and ministered to that end. The church is so powerfully beautiful. I realize they cannot treat mental illness, but I hope and pray they do not discourage treatment. On the contrary, let's all pray that those afflicted are willing and open to receiving the proper help, AND minister to them with the Gospel. Together, both of those things can make a powerful impact.
My faith life is so rich now. I am in remission, not to say that my walk is perfect. I sometimes struggle to the tune of needing adjustments. Getting through Covid, and the other awful things I dealt with during the quarantines, would be a good example. I, like so many, struggled. Remission is not without struggles, but it sure makes life a whole lot easier. Because I was in such better health overall, I knew to turn to my faith, instead of run from it when the road got rocky.
In fact, my faith life was now on steroids. I sought out powerful ministries, I read my bible more than ever before, I found a new faith family that literally came out of nowhere...thanks God! Seeking out and embracing these things could not be done years prior, before I learned to be grateful, surrender, and stop allowing the disease to obscure my faith.
I do consider myself healed, because I am managed now. Treatment is working, and it didn't always. That's by the Grace of God, who kept me, most especially in those times I thought He wasn't listening. On the contrary, He held me even closer.
The big take away? Praise Him when it's good, and most especially when it's not. Seek Him when even when religion is letting you down. Especially then, because it's not just about religion, it's also about relationship.
Truth be told, God kept me far more often than I even realize. Only He knows all the people, places and things he protected me from. Glory to Him. He knows the truth.