“How are you doing?” … “When are you headed back?”… “Why did you come home?”
These are hard questions for me. Most of the time I don’t know how to answer them without lying. People don’t want to know the real answer. Believe me, they really really don’t. Maybe the nice version, but not the whole, heavy version.
So here it is, “I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I couldn’t concentrate or follow through on tasks. Every day I feel like a failure. I see what others are able to accomplish and I can’t grasp why my concentration is so bad. I feel completely disconnected to the people around me, to the things I should feel excited and passionate about. Often, it is painful to be around people. I think about death more than life. A few weeks ago I wrote a “goodbye” letter and was planning how to end my life because I felt no release and believed that I could never live a “normal” life”
These words are hard to accept and to write down. I don’t like saying them out loud and I REALLY don’t like the thought of posting this publicly.
Disclaimer: I understand how troubling the last line must be for many to read. For any concerned: Regarding the professional, mental health support I am receiving. My therapist and psychiatrist both know about the “goodbye” letter I wrote a few weeks ago. We have taken all necessary precautions in what I will do if I experience this level of suicidal thinking again. I have since been working through being as transparent and real in therapy as possible. I prayed about whether or not to include that part, as the original post did not include it. I felt that I would be hiding a part of this story that God could use to reach and help others. I believe in sharing it, I am able to take its power AWAY. I am thankful I am no longer in that place and pray I will be able to use that as a way to love folks fighting a similar battle.
Because I am a human and self preservation is real. Because I know after writing what I just did I run the risk of many people looking at me differently. Because I want to maintain the small amount of dignity I believe that I have left. And until three weeks ago, I wasn’t even real with my therapists or psychiatrist about how bad it is.
Because I graduated magna cum laude from undergrad. Because I am a co-founder of a successful NGO in Uganda. Because I am a Social Worker and I am supposed to be able to serve and help others. Because I should not need so much support and help myself.
But I am writing this at the beginning of a new journey. I am writing this in a season that has been dark and very hard to navigate. I write this as I finally take ownership over my diagnosis, not excusing it away or allowing myself to accept the shame our culture might encourage us to feel.
I am hoping this post will help create understanding. I am hoping this will challenge you in your own shame. I am praying that if you have been guilty of shaming others walking this painful road, even without knowing it, you would be challenged to love better and move toward understanding and support.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at age 17. The diagnosis was re-confirmed at age 24, along with MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) just this past November. Until now, I would often find myself saying, “I am diagnosed Bipolar but I don’t really think the diagnosis is true. I think I struggle with depression mostly. It comes and goes”.
Why did I do this?
Because people with Bipolar Disorder are crazy. People with Bipolar can not manage normal lives. Because my Father’s undiagnosed Bipolar ripped apart my family.
The first two are lies I am that I am continuously trying to challenge. These are lies that society will tell us. We will often allow these lies to breed shame and embarrassment around this Disorder. But these lies, along with the reality of what my Father’s undiagnosed and untreated Bipolar Disorder did to my family have really kept me from owning my own Diagnosis. Taking ownership does not mean letting it become your identity, but instead, realizing it is part of who you are and adjusting your life and needs accordingly.
I believe that starting conversations around mental health and in this case, Bipolar Disorder, can really help us move forward individually and as a community of people who want see mental health care and support improve.
Now, why have just now taken ownership of it? Why am I choosing to post about this publicly? Am I not scared people will judge me or use this against me? Don’t I think people will look at me or treat me differently?
Yes, I am terrified. I am fearful of all of those things I just mentioned because I have already experienced it. I am terrified of becoming my Father, someone who was passionate and loved well for so much of his life, but who was tormented by Bipolar and did not ever believe there was anything abnormal or wrong with his thinking.
But here are the truths I am allowing myself to believe instead:
We let mental health disorders have so much power when we sweep them under the rug and pretend that they aren’t there. Those of us with diagnosed and undiagnosed Bipolar (or other mental health Disorders) need to acknowledge our abnormal thinking and work toward interventions that work. We can not do it on our own and pretending it is not there does not help us or the people around us who are affected by our ill-managed mental health.
We take so much power away from how God works in and through our lives when we sugarcoat. When we make ourselves seem more “together”. When we present our past or current circumstances as better than they were or are. We are not really allowing others to see the full extent of what God’s redemption has looked like in our story.
My God created me this way. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God knew that I would inherit this Disorder. He knew I would be fighting this battle. It was not a mistake. I am his Beloved and He did not intend this to breed shame but to allow me to serve in capacities I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
My God is near. He is with me in the darkest places. The only place I feel peace, the only time I feel okay, is when I think about resting in my Father’s arms. He is good, He is present, He is near even when I don’t believe He is.
So I will end by declaring this:
I will not allow my Bipolar Disorder to consume my life. I will work toward healing and will choose things that bring goodness into my life. I will acknowledge that my brain does not always function properly and that I may always need the support of medication, mental health professionals and constant accountability and support from the people closest to me. I will choose to seek God. I will remind myself that His grace and mercy covers me fully and that it does not exclude my Bi-Polar Disorder.
He loves us through the messiest and most broken places in our lives.