Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:5)
As one who is touched with bipolar depression, I write about spiritual darkness. Yet, as a believer, I see the light of Christ shining through this darkness. The following are from posts written over the course of the last 6 years. If I have done my job as a Christian who has bipolar, you will find hope to handle despair with the strong arm of faith.
April 9, 2013
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live…(Deuteronomy 30:19)
When I read the news of Matthew Warren’s suicide yesterday, I felt sick to my stomach. I thought back to my own history with mental illness (including my suicide attempt). I tried to reflect on my experience (“Purposeless-Driven Suicide”: Matthew Warren and Me“). Then, I felt emotionally and physically exhausted.
I laid across the bed for hours and prayed. Mostly in images and feelings. I was beyond words. I wanted to express gratitude to God for rescuing me from death, for giving me another chance. Though I am separated from my wife and family and without a job, I am thankful that I am alive. It is truly wonderful to wake up in the morning, eat a bowl of cheerios; drink a cup of hot coffee, to sit in my recliner; read; write; listen to music, and look out the window at a bright Spring day dawning.
When I finally got up, I grabbed something to eat, then joined the on-line conversation about Matthew’s death. It is encouraging to see Christians (and others) showing compassion toward the Warren family. I heard there was some truly ugly speculation about Matthew’s death, but I didn’t see much of that. Mainly, I found a Christ-like spirit of “mourning with those who mourn”.
Now it is a new day. These words of Joshua (above) keep ringing through my mind. They were first spoken just before the people Israel were to enter the Promised Land. After years of hardship in their wilderness wanderings, they had the prospect of more ease, luxuries, comfort. Yet, they also faced the danger of exploiting these resources, putting things about God – which is following a deadly path.
Joshua’s words are timeless. They speak to us just as clearly on bright mountaintops and in dark valleys. Whether you are riding on top of the world or languishing in the pit, hear this challenging hopeful message – “Life is worth living.” Choose life with God in Christ and you will experience abundant joy and peace that endures forever. More than this, you will influence the destiny of your children (and others) around you who see what you have and want it for themselves.
I’m writing this as much to myself as to anyone. Each day I must make choices that contribute to abundant life or lead to an agonizing death. I pray together we can be encouraged to “Choose life,” today and in the days to come.
September 14, 2013
It’s hit. I’m in a pit. After a reprieve of over two years, I’m mired in depression. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.
It was bound to come. Since being diagnosed with rapid-cycling Bipolar 1 almost two decades ago, I have journeyed past countless hypo-manic peaks and depressive lows, sometimes several times within the course of a single day. “What goes up, must come down.” — as they say. And, often, the higher you climb, the lower you go (and harder you crash).
So, I’ve crashed. The past week I’ve been spending most my time in bed, listening to the radio, staring at my computer screen, sleeping fitfully. Even my dreams have been riddled with regrets of the past and hopeless scenarios present and future.
This morning I arose at the ripe time of noon. My dad, God love him, eagerly greeted me with a plan.
Tony, how long has it been since you’ve seen John Prine?
Dad, thank you for the thought, but I saw a video of him the other night and it was painful to watch. His face is bloated. His fingers fumble over his guitar strings. His words are nearly intelligible. He looks like he can barely stand up.
Dad’s face was crestfallen. Okay then.
I went in the computer room to check my messages. My sister followed me in.
You need to change your thinking.
Just let me be depressed.
It’s okay to feel depressed. Just don’t be so negative. Replace your negative thoughts with positive ones.
Why don’t you replace your sugars and carbs with fruits and vegetables?
When I am drowning in depression and someone tries to save me, I often thrash out, threatening to sink us both. This is one reason I try to avoid people when I am in a deep sea of sorrow. Sometimes I need to just float on my back alone in my room, listening to the radio through the night to remind myself that the world still goes on without me until I can make it safely to shore.
But maybe my sister is right. Maybe I need to look on the sunny side.
I begin training for a new job on Monday. On Tuesday, I see a new therapist. My psychiatrist will be tweaking my medication to address my depressive symptoms. And, I have my second meeting with the pastor about becoming a member of the church.
Even when I don’t see the bright side, I need to at least not be such a gloomy Gus.
To quote John Prine who, even with bloated cheeks, remains the greatest song-writer who has ever lived.
I was sitting in the bathtub counting my toes,
when the radiator broke, water all froze.
I got stuck in the ice without my clothes,
naked as the eyes of a clown.
I was crying ice cubes hoping I’d croak,
when the sun come through the window, the ice all broke.
I stood up and laughed thought it was a joke
That’s the way that the world goes ’round.
Postscript: My Dad finally convinced me to accept tickets to a John Prine concert. He performed 10 new songs, played the hell out of his classics, and danced a jig to show that he has kicked cancer in the ass. Twice.
May 21, 2014
Listen to my words, O LORD; Know the whispered things I say.
Heed my crying out for help — God, my King, to You I pray.
Hear me in the morning, LORD, When I lift my voice on high,
Setting forth my plea to You, Looking out with watchful eye.
For the second day in a row, I have greeted the dawn with a sense of purpose and hope. It seems I’m climbing out (or more likely — being lifted out) of the pit into which I had fallen the past few weeks. Life seems more manageable now. Who knows how long this perspective will last, how many days or weeks the roller coaster ride will coast from its peak — but for now I’m going to lift my hands and enjoy the breeze, praising God I am securely fastened in.
June 27, 2015
Confined to bed
Consumed with pain
Despondent and depressed
Hiding behind a mind-numbing
A light shines
From the early morning dawn
through the brightness of noonday
To the glow of the dusk
Into the gleam of the night sky.
Following weeks of woe.
Delight runs deeper than despair.
April 15, 2017
Good Friday is only good because of what happens on Easter. Death is swallowed up in victory. Christ who died becomes Christ who is Risen so he can be Christ who comes again.
I’m not attending a Good Friday service this year. I planned to, but evidently God had other plans. On Wednesday afternoon, my brain tilted me into a “mixed state,” which is sort of all that I detest about depression mixed with all that I hate about mania. Despair. Agitation. Darkness. Blinding light. Lack of concentration. Hyper-sensitivity. All rolled up into one chaotic ball of jangled nerves. Mixed states are the most volatile for folks like me with bipolar. It is where most suicides occur.
Fortunately, I live where I live. Rochester, New York happens to be one of the most progressive cities on earth when it comes to mental health. Rather than go to a hospital emergency room that would be costly for my insurance, and even costlier on my psyche, I can go to Affinity Place, a respite/retreat house for persons with mental illness. Staffed by “peers” rather than “professionals,” it is a place where someone like me can come and receive a ministry of hospitality from those who may not have a professional degree, but they have an abundance of “lived experience.” They really do feel our pain.
Here at Affinity Place, we are guided our own care plans, ask for help where it is needed, stay and go as is best. We rest from a world making us crazier than we already are. There is no explicit religion espoused here, but I know the Holy Spirit prevails as we take stock of where we are, how we’ve gotten here, and where we are going. Or at least the next step.
As eager as I am to rejoin my faith community to celebrate Easter, I also know God has a plan for me here at Affinity Place. This Holy Week has been made more holy, this Good Friday is even better, and my new life will be even more abundant.
June 25, 2019
Last night around midnight a huge boulder was lifted off my chest. It was as if I had been stuck in a cave. I could see light streaming in, but the more I fought to get out, the tighter I was trapped. Then, suddenly, my lungs were filled with fresh air and I’ve been breathing steadily ever since.
I know what C.S. Lewis meant when he wrote:
We’re not doubting that God will do the best for us; we’re wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.