Having just finished Year Two of Living Bipolar-ly, I was pleased to see that I had tapped into a full-on trend. First, in the fall of 2017, the young royals made a splash on World Mental Health day (and as we all know, the Duchess of Cambridge can do no wrong). Then, in April, when Mariah Carey revealed her struggle with the bipolar II disorder on the cover of People magazine, I felt like I had found my Spirit DIva. Didn’t you always sense that Mariah and I had something in common? I had suspected the condition had made me somewhat of a diva, and now I was proven correct. I wondered if I should lean in to the phenomenon by wearing revealing, skin-tight outfits, boas, and glitter. Then I thought, better not. The similarity probably ends with the illness, although, I still reserve the right to sing “All I Want for Christmas” at full volume each Christmas season.
Around the same time Mariah announced her news, I learned that my beloved doctor, who diagnosed me with the condition two years ago, after 30 (yes, you read that right) years of seeking help, lost his own battle with depression. Although, I had only known him two years and saw him only a few times a year, I was devastated at the loss of this connection. When I spoke to his brother-in-law, who was wrapping up the estate, I learned all of his patients were extremely hard-hit. Some reacted with anger at being left, some were confused, but all mourned his loss deeply. What was the magic?
It was his ability to connect with us and make us feel heard and acknowledged. The patients’ anger reminded me a lot of how we can perceive our relationship with God. We want to feel connected to Him, feel seen and understood. It is easy to feel abandoned by God and turn to anger. How ironic that the strong connection we can feel to a person can so quickly change to anger when we feel rejected or abandoned. I am sure there are many in the faith who have felt unheard or rejected by God. As with God, this anger can be the result of misunderstanding. Our doctor was not trying to do something to all of us, he was just trying to end his pain. The struggle was too much. Surely, this is something we can forgive.
I think that part of his genius (much of which was actual genius) was that he understood our struggles because he himself was going through the same thing. Learning more about his own life, I was amazed at the professionalism and compassion he showed me when I recounted all of my troubles to him. His sympathy was genuine, although his personal struggles were so much greater than mine. Had the situation been reversed, I probably would have shown me the door.
In an excellent article on suicide and the church published last year in Aleteia, Fr Robert Presutti, LC, of Divine Mercy University talked about the need for understanding of mental illness: “As followers of Christ and thoughtful men and women, we need to regard mental illness with the same mercy and compassion we have for any other human ailment. To the suffering already implied by their mental illness, we cannot add the additional suffering of misunderstanding, hardness of heart, or prideful superiority.” The call was for the Church to do more about mental illness. However, in the absence of official Church policy, many sufferers already know how powerful faith can be.
In my experience, faith is a strong arrow in your quiver against mental illness. The discipline of turning away The Crazy through Mass, prayer, the Rosary, Eucharistic Adoration, and confession, all helped me get through 30 years without diagnosis or medication. While medication is a necessity, my faith continues to be part of my treatment, helping take me outside of myself. The illness is a form of spiritual warfare. No one struggling with mental illness could doubt that demons are real. I wish I had shared my prescription with the doctor, but I never really discussed faith with him.
The last thing I had to face was picking up my chart. “This is going to be good,” I thought. I couldn’t wait to see the insightful notes the doctor has taken throughout my treatment. What vast self-knowledge would be revealed? Are you ready? Here goes: “anxious, tearful, logical, well-groomed,” and something I couldn’t decipher. That was about it. The rest was two years of medication adjustments and lab tests. I am convinced the word I couldn’t read probably holds the key to all my inner workings.
I may never know what my doctor thought of me but that is par for the course with biploar II.Your mind basically just plays tricks on you all day long, and you start to lose trust in your own perceptions of everyday interactions. For that reason, I agree with Mariah that this disease can be incredibly isolating. Finding connections becomes precious and losing them can be devastating. There is always hope, though. For me, that hope is faith. As Mariah says,” There is a light at the end of the tunnel… hopefully it’s not a freight train!”