A flower may “recover” from a long drought or an insect infestation, but she doesn’t live “in recovery” thereafter: she just lives. Likewise, I just live with Type II Bipolar disorder.
“You can’t recover from a chronic health condition,” I say. “You live with it. You manage it. It’s like diabetes. If I had diabetes and lost enough weight to stop using insulin, no one would say I had ‘recovered’ from it. I would have just managed it really well.”
Crisistextline.org is a relatively new online service in the US that makes it possible for distressed people to seek help via chat, 24/7. Data aggregated from its more than 18,000 conversations per day — more than 141 million messages total since the service opened in August 2013 — also provide a staggering picture of how and when people experience such profound emotional distress that they will make contact with a stranger for support.
For those of us who believe that God and God’s church can be a source of great comfort and support, the data picture is, in itself, a source of emotional distress. It turns out that Sunday, our primary day of community celebration, is a very tough day in the world of crisis counselors. Sunday is the day of the week that the largest number of help-seekers to Crisistextline.org …
Pat Deegan, who has schizophrenia, owns a mental health consulting firm and teaches at Dartmouth medical school. She recently blogged about “being normal.” For us of faith, the crux comes when she describes what “recovery” from a “mental illness” should look like:
… recovery is not about becoming normal. The goal of recovery is to become the precious gift that we were born to become. …The goal of our recovery is to become the unique, never-to-be repeated gift that we are.
Pete Costas was still a Captain — that is to say, still relatively young in his career as a Salvation Army officer — the Sunday evening that a fidgety, distracted, and somewhat disheveled, young man walked in well after the service had started and seated himself at the center of the front row. Capt. Costas was just beginning his message when the man’s hand shot up in the air. He had a question.
Capt. Costas answered it and returned to his message. A few sentences later, the hand shot up again.
This time, after answering the question, Capt. Costas asked a favor. He pointed out the other people in the room and asked the young man if he thought he could hold his questions until the end so the others could hear the rest of the message. Afterward, the Captain said, the two of them could go together to his office and he’d answer all of the man’s questions.
The young man nodded his agreement and quickly sat on his hands.
Living with bipolar disorder shapes my life in ways that many people define as “broken.” It often makes me an outsider. It can generate thoughts and behaviors that make other people anxious if I allow them entry to my world. It makes me subject to both stigma and discrimination in both subtle and not so subtle forms.
Still, I would say that my condition adds value to my life and to the Body of Christ. It allows me to serve in places where others are afraid to go and challenges me to seek God in ways others feel uncompelled. Here are 7 ways I’ve noticed that mental illness helps me to know God.