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.”
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.
A few years back, I interviewed for a 20-hour job at a mental health nonprofit. The part-time, benefit-free position offered a paycheck comparable to what a hospital in the same city paid its part-time switchboard operators, but since everyone seemed to consider me overqualified to run a switchboard, I kept applying for positions in line with my experience.
I made it to the second interview and found the team quite concerned about whether I would be able to consistently represent their views about mental health at all times, in all places. Even though I was being considered for a part-time role outside the community where I lived.
This wasn’t the first time that an organization expected my paycheck to buy round-the-clock commitment. I started my career in news media at a time when they were expected to be politically “impartial” and so prohibited staff from any public engagement in causes. I later worked for a large civil engineering company that was often the presenting consultant at local meetings. I therefore could only participate as a citizen in public hearings when I agreed with the view the firm propounded.
In the case of the engineering firm, the paycheck was big enough to buy almost anything. In the case of the news operation, the honor of the profession (at that time) allowed me to walk proud even under constraints on my citizenship.
But the idea that I should never express a view about mental illness different from that of my part-time employer in exchange for less than $15,000 a year — I found that staggering. I didn’t think it would be a problem to present their program to potential funders, but it would definitely be a problem to limit myself to their perspectives during the remaining 7,696 hours per year.
Actor Wentworth Miller, who you may know from Prison Break or Legends of Tomorrow, self-comforted with food during a bleak period of suicidality … and people made fun of his weight gain. Read about his survivor mindset on CNN.
Ironically, you can read in Maxim that many men mimic Wentworth Miller’s lean on-screen look by using a new category of unapproved drugs with unknown long-term effects … suggesting that we may be risking a new way to “die young and beautiful.”
People often avoid seeking treatment for mental health conditions because they fear repercussions should their conditions become known. You can call those repercussions “stigma,” as most do, or “discrimination,” as I prefer — either way, people who need help avoid it because they are afraid of losing things important to them.
Who is Most Afraid of Mental Health Discrimination?
The April 30 issue of Hope and Harmony Headlines from bp.com reported that Psychological Medicine published a review of 144 studies on mental health “stigma” (discrimination) in January 2015. The review found five specific people groups most likely to avoid treatment for fear of disclosure: Continue reading →
Why are we in such a rush to “diagnose” and “treat” our eccentrics?
I may be crazy, but it seems to me that the more we focus on “mental illness,” the less we accept people who are different.
People who, just two generations ago, would have been treated graciously as the family eccentric are now being treated aggressively as persons with complex mental health disorders. When our “mental illnesses” fail to respond readily to standard treatments, we are subjected to what is, in essence, live subject experimentation without informed consent. Would anyone in their right mind agree to the treatment I experienced? Over five years, I took more than 20 different medicines in various combinations of two to five drugs which would, at various times … Continue reading →