One feature of the bipolar disorder illness I have is that my goals are high and when I don’t reach them, I plummet into a pit of depression. When I am manic, I think I can conquer the world and when I don’t, the world comes crashing down upon me. It’s a vicious cycle and I know of no sure way to prevent it. Spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible study, worship and fellowship, can temporarily temper the extreme highs and lows. Yet, try as I might to remain positive, too often I wind up sitting on the edge of the cliff with Jonah, the sun burning hot on my flesh, wallowing in waves of self-pity.
When I’m manic, I think I can conquer the world and when I don’t, the world comes crashing down upon me.
Mental illness is extremely self-centered. Some people find this very offensive, an attack on victims of a debilitating disease. Others fully agree, yet confuse self-centeredness with selfishness, the willful attempt to draw attention to ourselves. When I am trapped in the throes of an episode, the last thing I want is for people to notice. And victims of mental illness do not want special consideration. We want liberation from what keeps us trapped in our minds.
Today is New Year’s Eve. There were many special things I had hoped the day would look like. A time of fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ gathered within the sanctuary, receiving inspiration from God’s Word. I would have lunch with family, topping it off with the special cheesecake I made this week. Then, I would devote the afternoon to learning more about our podcast equipment. Finally, I would join family for board games, fun and frivolity. I would go to bed refreshed, looking forward to another day, and year, to delight in the One who delights in me.
This was my goal for the day. It seems modest, quite do-able for even the average Joe or Jane. On some days, I could enjoy such a day and more with my eyes closed. But this was not one of these days. On this day, as I got up to get ready for church, a force (power/principality) pushed me back into bed where I remained tossing and turning, crying out and panting, praying and weeping. When I next looked at the time, it was 4 pm. I felt miserable, worthless, defeated.
Within an hour now, the new year will begin. There is so much I hope to see happen this year:
- The development of our mental health podcast Revealing Voices.
- Regular participation in the life of my faith community.
- Growing love within my family, especially my children.
- Learning more about faith and mental illness.
- Continuing our Faithful Friends mental health group.
There are days I see that, with God’s help, all these things will come to pass, and much more. On those days, I am confident in myself, but even more importantly, more confident in my relationship with God who wants what is best for all of us. God does not want us to wallow in self-pity. Said better, God does not want us to be so trapped by demons within ourselves that we fail to enjoy all He has to offer us.
There are also other days when God seems far from me; prayers go unheard; strength escapes me. What do I do these days when the prospect of moving even an inch further up the mountain of my goals is replaced by the simple desire to summon the energy to go to the bathroom?
One amazing thing I have learned in my journey with mental illness is that while I can’t do what I want to do, even what others might think I should be able to do, even then God’s grace is sufficient. Even then. Especially then.
This week I was telling my Faithful Friends about the voices within and around me that were accusing me of failure, lack of self-worthy, persecuting me with the sense that I was doing more harm than good. These voices very loudly convince me that it would be better for me and others if I just stay in bed.
The next morning, as I was struggling to get up, the phone rang. I let it go to voice mail. After the message was left, I turned over, grabbed the phone, and played it back. “Tony, I just want you to know you are a good person. You have helped me and many more people with your book, our group, and other ways. Don’t listen to those voices, okay. You are a good man.”
… what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
So, what is my resolution for 2018? It’s not to accomplish great things, to win acclaim, to build a wealthy empire. My resolution is to act justly, love mercy, walk humbly. To show intentional kindness, like my friend here. It is to reach out to people who also hear voices of condemnation. People who have been hurt by broken relationships. People whose hopes have been persistently dashed, who wonder if maybe it would be better to just give up. Reach out with the good news that God’s love in Jesus Christ is not based on what we achieve, but on Whose we are.