One of my readers recently  contacted me with a heart-wrenching life story. As much as I wanted her words to be unique to this one family, I was trapped by just how much they applied to me and so many other persons with bipolar disorder:

“… my husband was diagnosed with bipolar four years ago, and was on medication. However, he decided to stop last summer (unbeknownst to anyone) and then, in the midst of a manic phase, left me and our family in November. He still professes Christ, but has filed for divorce and has accumulated $40,000 in debt. I have struggled with trusting him and anything he says, as you can imagine. Yet here, I see you are a man of faith, and some of the same issues have taken place in your life. As it stands now, this is in God’s hands. God has been good to me through this (isn’t he always?) and I know He is sovereign, but you have opened my eyes to more understanding. My husband also says now that he is not bipolar, but that diagnosis was a godsend to me when he first received it, because it explained so much. May God bless you in this new ministry,  M.”

Yes, I can relate to this story. All too well. Bipolar can manifest itself in many ways. Some refuse to accept the diagnosis, launching a downward cycle that is dangerously detrimental to themselves and others, especially those closest to them. Bipolar can result in massive overspending and debt. It may also lead to sexual promiscuity, in various forms (such as adultery, prostitution, and pornography). Not all persons with bipolar experience all these symptoms, but all are prone to them. Somewhat like an alcoholic born with a predisposition to excessive drunkenness.

But this post is not about just a universal (we) person with bipolar; it’s about a specific (I) one.

This is about how I failed my own family and how, by the grace of God, I have been freed by the forgiveness God through Jesus Christ to do better.

… better than when I was so driven by a research project about faithful fathering that I left my wife and new-born child on the streets of San Francisco.

… better than the time my wife’s grandfather died and I thought I was too busy to go to the funeral with them. In those days without cell phones, I didn’t find out until the middle of the night that they were way-laid in Chicago in a snowstorm.

… better than when I emotionally crashed on Christmas Day and didn’t get out of bed until the next day.

… better than the time I took my daughter to a high school play for her tenth birthday and left to talk to town leaders during intermission. She said it was okay. It wasn’t. It still isn’t.

I bear many regrets in my 20+ years of battling bipolar. When I am stuck in a depressive mode, my mind replays them. I sometimes think this is how it will be when we present ourselves “before the judgment seat of God.” It’s more than being evaluated by a third party. It is the awful, awe-filled personal review of our sinful ways. Not why we were not more like others on an objective scale of sinfulness; but why we were not more like the person God created us to be.

This is what it feels like when I am depressed. It’s more than just guilt over what I’ve done. It’s shame over who I am.

Some think when such shame envelopes us, we just forget about it, pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps and keep moving forward with blind optimism. Embrace the positive. Reject negativity.

But it’s more than that. Much more. “Forgiving yourself,” as some tell you, is a pitiful endeavor. We are much too weak to grant self-pardon for our wrongs. Instead, a much better approach is to receive, embrace, cling to the forgiveness of Christ Jesus, which frees us to lead not just better lives, but the best, the truest, the most abundant lives that God provides.

And forgiveness flows in many streams. Some spouses of persons with bipolar blame themselves for not holding it all together when times got tough, citing the “for better or for worse” clause of their marriage vows?

And what about the children who replay countless scenes in their heads of the times they were “acting out” right before dad (or mom) had an episode?

Or the parent who scours their memory to see what they did wrong in their parenting to cause such a dreadful condition?

I know a great deal of what it is like to live with a serious mental illness. Yet, I find myself impotent in offering substantive hope for someone who cares for a loved one with the diagnosis. I think M. says it best:

“As it stands now, this is in God’s hands. God has been good to me through this (isn’t he always?) and I know He is sovereign…”