Bipolar, struggling to be a Christian.
*all names changed*
Having Bipolar disorder is a nightmare, and I've had it pretty much forever. I remember going on a Church camp, aged about 10- and freaking out- I just couldn't sleep. At all. For the whole week- I think my mum had to come and fetch me a day early. And so began my mental health struggles. I had periods of insomnia that lasted for weeks. My GP prescribed me all sorts of sleeping tablets, but nothing worked. He even suggested alcohol! I can't remember if my mum tried that, but think it unlikely as my parents were tee-total at that time! When I couldn't sleep, I was manic in the night-times, depressed and lethargic in the day-times. I missed lots of school. I remember freaking out in one exam, and writing nothing, not a word. That was in Yr9, so it didn't matter to much- my O'level course started in Yr10. Luckily for me, my O'levels were marked purely on the end of Yr11 exams, no coursework involved.
So, I got through, despite periods of insomnia and depression, because in my 'up' phases I worked so hard, and could retain lots of information. I performed really well in all my exams, O levels, A levels, and even my BSc(hons) in Nursing Science. But it was so incredibly tough during my depressive times. I got behind in my work, and struggled like mad on my placements. I don't think I ever got any anti-depressants. I did get diagnosed with glandular fever at one time in my college years- that at least gave me a valid excuse for a while, for some of my late essays and absences from my placements. But, by the grace of God, and the skin of my teeth, I qualified. I have been a nurse for 20 years now, and I still have bad dreams about being a fraud, about not having completed or passed my degree.
I grew up in a wonderful Christian home. The youngest of 4, I was spoilt rotten by my older sisters, who were 8 and 10 when I was born. My brother, 4 years older than me, was not too impressed with my arrival, and we had a love/hate relationship, pretty normal really. (We're really close now). My dad was a Baptist Pastor, my mum was always incredibly busy- hospitality (our house was always full) secretarial work (my dad edited a magazine and wrote Christian books) and my mum also found time to run a playgroup in our home (for about 10 kids- before the days of strict regulations). Apparently, Mum brought me straight home from hospital, and all the kids crowded in to her bedroom, and she told them stories whilst feeding me!
So, I can't say I had any traumatic childhood experiences to affect my mental health. I did have a bereavement though, my best friend, Gillian, died when we were 8yrs old. I remember it all vividly. I remember her getting ill, and having to to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London (we lived in Sussex). I remember weeks of running into school, to see if she had got better yet. I shared a desk with her, and her place was always empty. I remember the morning, in my dad's study, when my mum and dad told me that Gillian had died, and would never be coming back. I didn't let anyone come and share my desk with me for the rest of that year.
I remember the funeral, even what the Vicar spoke about (something to do with a train journey, and how Gillian had got on the train here, and got off it in heaven). I remember the hymn we sang, 'Lord of all hopefulness', and I remember Gillian's mum, with her dark glasses, so we couldn't see she'd been crying. I remember worrying about whether Gillian was a Christian, and whether she'd be in heaven. I remember Mum telling me how Gillian had loved to sing 'The Lord's my Shepherd' and also have it sung to her, when she was too weak to sing anymore. So I was reassured that Gillian was ok, she'd be in heaven. Hell and death really freaked me out. I used to run flat out past graveyards because I was so terrified that the Lord might come again, and all the dead would come out of their graves! Seriously scary stuff. But overall, my childhood was happy- I was loved, well looked after, and I had lots of freedom- I just used to play out for days at a time- just going in for my meals.
So when I started with insomnia and depression, my mum and dad were baffled. I just had a few visits to the GP, but eventually each time I'd just get better, and so I just got on with things. The only medication I ever had was sleeping tablets, but they never worked, so I hardly took any. I do remember a particularly bad depressive episode, and can remember the trigger. Not knowing it, I was in a manic phase. I was acting totally out of character, I was 13 at the time. I wasn't allowed to go to discos, so I lied about where I was going. I went to a disco in the Village Hall. A boy called Mark started chatting me up. Friends warned me, don't go with him, he's 'randy' and he's 'pissed'. I had no idea what these words meant. More frighteningly, I had no clue about sex. My parents hadn't allowed me to go into sex-education classes, but hadn't given me any replacement advice. So I was a 13 yr old with absolutely no knowledge of sex. Scary really, since this Mark guy proceeded to kiss and cuddle me, and also put his hands down my jeans, and roughly feel inside me. All in a corner of the Village Hall, where everyone could see, and I got labelled as the school slut. If we had been alone, it would have been disastrous, I didn't know how to stop him. But in a way I didn't want to stop him-well the kissing bit was great anyway. I finally had a boy who liked me, I couldn't be that ugly after all. But when I went into school the next day, well I couldn't cope with all the gossip. I didn't sleep that night, I didn't sleep for weeks. I was changed for ever, and never really got over the shame of that.
When I was about 15, I properly became a Christian. I really wanted to accept Jesus into my heart, and genuinely submitted my life to Him. I got baptised at 16, and a few of my school-friends came to the service. I had a lovely Christian boyfriend, another, nicer Mark. We only ever kissed, and he was my first love. Very sweet, and I came to feel that I was attractive, and that I didn't have to worry about my appearance. Sadly, we moved up north after my O levels, and my relationship with Mark ended. I liked my new home though. After sleepy Sussex, the city was so exciting! I had the same ups and downs during my A levels however, I vividly recall slumping in front of the TV watching 'Blockbusters'- a quiz programme for lively, intelligent teenagers- and thinking that I was never going to be like them. I didn't bother working for my A levels as I didn't need them to do Nursing- I had been accepted on to the RGN programme at the London Hospital. I did well in my A levels, except for my Biology which I failed, you kind of need to revise for a Science exam! But that didn't matter, I was off to London anyway.
What a disaster! I hit the ground running- I was so excited- and then I didn't sleep- and then I became quite delusional. I called 999 one night, thinking I was having an asthma attack ( I didn't have asthma) and apparently I sounded so distressed they thought I'd been attacked. I spent the night in hospital. Oh, that happened another time as well- on a Beach Mission- I had a nosebleed, and sort of passed out, and just waited for someone to find me, and I got taken into hospital then too. This is really embarrassing, but I do believe that these hypochondriac over dramatic episodes were a symptom of maniacal delusions. There have been many other such episodes in my life- even just a couple of years ago- my husband called an ambulance for me in the night. So anyway, back to London- well it didn't work out. A few weeks, and my parents had to come and collect me. I had failed. I was devastated.
So I went back to college to retake my Biology A level. The following year I started on a degree course in Nursing. I hadn't been able to think of anything else I'd rather do. The degree course meant I got proper holidays, and it was in the days of grants, so money wasn't a problem. I struggled through college though. I started going out with the Pastor's son, Reuben- I was totally in love with him. I was sure we would get married, especially when we started sleeping together. This was a HUGE secret. By this time, my parents had moved to my town too, and my dad was also a Pastor in my church. So the two pastors' kids were sleeping together- scandalous! And then I had a pregnancy scare. It haunts me to this day that I took the morning after pill on one occasion, and when I had the pregnancy scare, that I just felt I would have to have an abortion if I was pregnant, the shame would have been too great. But I wasn't pregnant, and good thing too, as Reuben finished with me after a year of going out together. I was absolutely devastated. I was no longer a virgin, and I felt defiled. I quickly rebounded into another relationship, with Thom. We got married a year later. I didn't love him, but he was really nice to me. We didn't sleep together before our wedding, and he didn't know that I'd slept with Reuben(we were all in the same Church youth group). Twelve and a half years of marriage to Thom. Two kids, boy and girl. But Thom must have realised I never really loved him- I thought we were ok, because we were great friends, and had the kids- but he drifted away- from me, and from the Lord. He ended up having an affair with our next-door-neighbour, he is still with her, all these years later. I sold the house straight away- the shock pushed me into a manic phase. I had been diagnosed with bipolar a few years earlier (another reason for Thom's affair, I had had 3 hospital admissions). So I sold up, and downsized to a small ex-council house with the kids (then aged 4 and 7). The adrenaline, and lack of tablets, got me through those first few months after we split up. During this time though I am so ashamed to say that I had a drunken sexual encounter. I was manic, but that is no excuse, and I crashed down from mania into depression immediately. The depression lasted for ages, and once we'd moved house, I had a dreadful time. So depressed, I contemplated suicide- but knew I couldn't because of the kids. Wanted to be hospitalised, but knew I couldn't be, because of the kids. Phoned up social services and asked them to take the kids away. I can't remember how they responded, but suffice it to say that the kids remained with me, and pretty much survived on toast for a few weeks. My 7 yr old son looking after his 4 yr old sister. Where were my parents? Well my mum had started with alzheimers by this time, so my dad was looking after her. He did used to bring us food round sometimes- I think he used to get us our bread, bless him, cos I couldn't go out.
I came out of this depression, and was back on Lithium. But after a while, I came off Lithium, got manic again, and started being stupid again. Whenever the kids were with their dad for a night, I'd go out. I had one boyfriend for a while- I went over to stay at his house on two occasions. But the guilt was just too much. He wasn't a Christian, and I knew that we were not ever going to get married- so I finished with him. Not too long later, I started seeing a Christian man. I soon found out that he was married. Mind you, so was I. Separated, but still married. Anyhow, this man was a slime-ball. I mean, he was a worship leader at his Scottish Church, but when he was in England on business he used to sleep around. He went home at weekends to his wife, his sons, and his Church. I only slept with him once, (one time too many) and I knew that that was the end of our relationship, as he had made up his mind to give up his job in England, and move back to Scotland and try and reconcile with his wife. Talk about manic behaviour on my part, when he told me his decision, I got into my car and drove half way across the country to be with him, for the first and last time, to sleep with him. It was a Monday night, I had worked a shift that day, the kids always stayed with their dad on a Monday night. I was on a 8am start on the Tuesday morning, so I left his hotel at about 5am. Totally crazy, totally shameful. Depression followed soon after.
Back on lithium. Trying to get back on track with God too. I was still separated from my husband, who of course knew nothing, and still knows nothing, about my shameful behaviour. That summer (2006, kids now 6 and 9)- I really felt that God was asking me to be willing to reconcile with Thom. I had never wanted to. I hated him, I hated Emily (his girlfriend). I needed to deal with this hatred. At that time, Thom was 'on a break' from Emily. I asked him if he would consider 'Relate' again- we had tried it the year before, when he'd been on another 'break' from Emily. But Thom declined. Then at the end of September I met this guy called Zach. We were both volunteers together on a Charity celebration event. We got on really well, and he asked me for my phone number. The next day he texted me, asking me out. I said no. I said I was still married, and hoping for a reconciliation. Zach said ok, and wished me all the best. A few weeks later,Thom turned up on my doorstep, saying that once more he'd got back together with Emily. This time, he said, he was hoping it would be permanent- (and they are still together). He thought we should start divorce proceedings. I was devastated. I thought I'd be relieved, but I wasn't at all. I think God had brought me to a place where I could honestly say that I had wanted to restore my marriage. But it wasn't to be.
The very next day, I got a text from Zach. He said that he couldn't get me out of his head, and could we meet for a coffee, no strings attached. I texted straight back- 'I could use a friend right now'. We met up the next day after that. I totally expected just to meet for a coffee, and I had no inclination towards a relationship at all. But we just clicked. Spent all day together, in several coffee houses! 6 months later, my divorce had come through, and Zach and I got married. When I met Zach, I was on Lithium and Prozac. Soon into our relationship, I was on a natural 'high' and felt that I could manage without medication. What's more, Zach had been in a Church that promoted healing from depression, so he encouraged me to throw away my tablets. I just got more and more manic as the wedding approached. I was in over-drive. Just a week after our 3day honeymoon I collapsed into depression again. Poor Zach. A whole nightmare of a summer (2007).
So I'm back on meds going into 2008. Life is stressful as a 'blended' family- (don't you just love that term- makes it sound like we've all been thrown into a massive food processor). February 2008- my fortieth birthday. A family holiday to their home country with Zach and his sisters- a wonderful experience. I coped fine, I was on meds. But later on that year I must have come off meds again, will I never learn? And I started organising a trip for the 4 of us to go to South Africa (my parents' home country). We flew out to South Africa on April 1st, 2009. I was pretty manic by this time. I remember being relieved that I slept ok on the flight. But as soon as we got there, and we went first to our lovely friends' house- I disintegrated yet again. I just couldn't sleep. I couldn't manage social interaction. Here we were in paradise, beautiful surroundings, wonderful people, fabulous weather- and I was suicidal. After a week there, we had to take a 6hr coach journey down to my aunty and uncle. There I got to see a doctor, who got me back on lithium. But once I'm in a depression, it takes weeks to come out of it, lithium is only a stabiliser in the long term. The third part of our holiday was in Durban, in a beach hotel. Should have been amazing. Thankfully my incredible children still managed to enjoy themselves greatly, and were just brilliant on the whole journey back. That involved a return 6hr coach trip, an overnight hotel, then a refusal at the airport- our plane was over-booked. So, to a casino for another night and day (what can kids do at a casino- nothing!) and then back to the airport to try again for a place on the plane. Apparently Europe was 'full' that week- with it being end of Easter holidays!
Thankfully we got on the plane that next day. Some people had been trying for days. I was a total wreck by this time. When we got back I phoned in sick to my new job ( which I'd only started in two months earlier- the new job had been part of my manic phase). I stayed off sick for 6 months.
This 6 months was a transforming time for me. I joined a Bipolar support group. I started coming to terms with my Bipolar diagnosis. I had to admit to Occupational Health that I had lied on my health questionnaire. They were so understanding, and helped me to work out just what I could and couldn't manage. I got my hours reduced, and my shift pattern changed- I don't do nights now, or Early shifts following straight on from Late shifts. I've been back at work now for over a year and a half, and just had the odd day off. I've been on meds all this time too. I'm reducing my meds at the moment, with my GP's supervision. Before, I've always stopped meds abruptly, and each time I've been more unstable and more unwell. This time, I'm really gradually reducing, and if I feel at all wobbly, I increase my dose again for a while.
I know I have Bipolar. I've pretty much always had Bipolar, and I think I will always have it. But, until I had my son when I was 29, I'd never had any meds. I know life was difficult, and sometimes hellish, but I got by, without meds. So, now my life has settled down again, my kids are 14 and 11, and my husband is so supportive, I just want to get physically fit again. I'm about 5 stone overweight, and feel sluggish all of the time. I know that I might not be able to come off the meds, but I do want to try. I want to find a way of managing my Bipolar disorder, living with it.
How does my Bipolar impact me spiritually? Massively. As you can see, I have fallen into sin many a time, especially when disinhibited by my mania. I used to lead a Ladies' Bible Study. I continued to lead it right through one of these episodes. Absolutely horrendous, the guilt I felt at that time. But incredible too, the way that the Holy Spirit has ministered to me in my countless times of repentance. I almost know Psalm 51 off by heart! It is so dispiriting how I never, ever seem to learn, how repetitive are my failures. But each and every time, my God restores me, forgives me, lifts me up and puts me on the level path again. He fills me with joy and gratitude. I really do know what God means when He says to me- "when you are weak, then you are strong"- when I am manic I feel supremely confident, and I always end up flat on my face.
I have to accept my limitations, I am actually disabled by my Bipolar. But I also have to accept my responsibilities, I cannot use my Bipolar as an excuse for doing nothing for Jesus. God has a work for me to do, and the experiences of my poor mental health will probably be a big contribution to the work that God has planned for me. Nothing ever happens without reason. My favourite quotation is:-
MY GOD IS TOO WISE TO BE MISTAKEN, TOO GOOD TO BE UNKIND.
Update Sept 2014. Depression and uselessness. And yes, using my bipolar as an excuse for my uselessness. And this is despite being on lithium and prozac consistently for 2 years- yes I had another attempt at coming off meds in 2012. Another new job Dec 2012, followed by another breakdown and 5 months off work, and then had to leave that job. New job Dec 2013, only 22.5hrs/wk, just about holding on to this, but I feel so very depresssed and useless. Just want to give up. I still believe that God is wise and kind, just wish I wasn't so unwise and unable to pray and do God's work. So this is the real struggle of a bipolar Christian.