Counting OnGrace

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hello. My Name Is Chantelle And I've Been Affected By Mental Illness.

I wrote the following blog in 2008.  I am reposting it because it is Mental Health Awareness Week and I'm almost ashamed to admit that I haven't been bringing very much awareness as I have in the past.  So many things have changed since I first "came out" (actually in 2007) as a Christian who suffers with Bipolar I Disorder & PTSD.  For now I will simply say that the Lord has been faithful and there is healing and peace to be found in the midst of the mental illness storm.

I remember years ago being very discouraged because when it came to finding books or other sources of information specifically regarding Christians who suffer from mental disease there was VERY little and it pains me to say that while it has improved some there is still much more to that needs to be done.

My story is just one of many.  Between the time of my diagnosis in 2007 and now I have sat with many Christians who have some form of mental illness and they refuse to talk about it because of the stigma STILL attached to it, especially when you are a Christian.

Hollywood seems to have caught on.  It's not unusual at all now to watch prime time television and see a story line that has a main character with mental illness (especially Bipolar Disorder or PTSD).  We have celebrities like Catherine Zeta Jones, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Carrie Fisher, Jane Pauley, and Demi Lavato who are willing to talk about it publicly and I applaud them for being willing to do so.  They have to deal with their own type of "backlash".  However, if we, in the Christian community are being honest with ourselves and each other, there is something that a Christian with mental illness will face IN MOST CASES, not in all, and that is harsh judgment from the very people, our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are supposed to uphold us with their prayers, love and support when something like mental illness comes knocking at our door.  Some will ignorantly think that it's just something we've done to bring it upon ourselves, or that we should just be able to pray it away, or that it's a demon.  In some cases that is true but in most it is not.  It is a physical, chemical, mental disease that, like cancer, has chosen us.  We've not chosen it.  No one who suffers from any kind of illness would welcome it.

I have many updates to share about what the Lord has done in my life personally but I don't feel it is the time or the place right now.  For today, I wanted to share with you where I was, where many who face mental illness are right now.  When I wrote this it was because no one else was talking about it in the Christian community.  I knew that if I just shared it maybe, just maybe, someone who was suffering in silence would know they were not alone.  I guess I'm just crazy enough not to care what anyone thinks of the fact that I am a Christian with mental illness.  If it means that someone is reading this and saying, "Me too.  I'm not alone."  That makes it worth it.

If you or someone you know and love suffer from any form of mental illness, please embrace them.  Love them.  Have compassion towards them.  Be patient with them.  Don't give up on them and don't try to "fix" them.  Assist them in finding them a good team of therapist and doctors.  Would you not do that for a friend, family, or loved one who came to you and said, "I have cancer."? Well.  It's no different. 

Coming Out Of The Closet:  My Life As A Bipolar Christian
©2008 Chantelle Henderson

"..But the disease thrives on shame, and shame thrives on silence, and I've been silent long enough." Quote from Author Terri Cheney's Book, MANIC: A Memoir

Psalm 73:21-26 (NLT)
21 Then I realized that my heart was bitter, And I was all torn up inside. 

22 I was so foolish and ignorant
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.

23 Yet I still belong to you; You hold my right hand.

24 You guide me with your counsel, Leading me to a glorious destiny.  

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.  

26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, But God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever.  

Let me just start off by saying that Heavenly Papa makes me laugh. He makes me smile. He keeps me on my toes, tickles me, and knows how to show me that I may have my own plans, but He will have His way. I say this because thus far I've taken two out of town, scenic, quaint, quiet trips to work on my book, and twice I've walked away with NOTHING. Ironically, today, sitting in the carpool line in a noisy, not-so-private place waiting for my youngest to come out is where I started writing this. That's funny to me! I kept asking Him why now, and He showed me clearly that I need to approach this whole book writing thing with baby steps. As soon as the blinders were removed I knew I had to blog about something that is very deep and personal something that up until now I've only discussed with a few friends in my inner circle, my sister, best friend, pastor, and family. It's something I've been ashamed of and have kept hidden for fear of what the world would have to say on the subject. I guess from the title you can gather what this blog is going to be about. Yes, I am Bipolar and I am a Christian.

Not too long ago I emailed friends and family requesting a response to one question. "If you could describe me in ONE word, what would it be?" Well, they knew me well enough to be totally free and comfortable in being honest in their responses. Some of these folks I've known all my life, others for years, some are just mere acquaintances. I felt comfortable enough to ask. I was actually asking the question for the book, not realizing they would also be used in this blog also. These are just some of the responses I received:
Affectionate, angry, blue, broken, charming, cute, crazy, controlling, depressed, desperate, disconnected, downhearted, advocate, bold, creative, erratic, extrovert, outspoken, euphoric, exceptional, exotic, excessive, extravagant, extreme, frustrating, fun, funny, hilarious, honest, hysterical, impulsive, intense, introvert, intense, aggressive, leader, passive, irrational, loud, loving, loyal, melancholy, miserable, moody, nutty, obnoxious, obsessive, oppressed, organized, passionate, optimistic, real, seductive, sincere, special, spiritual, spoiled, strange, transparent, trustworthy, inhibited, unbalanced, unglued, unique, weird, unreasonable, unsettled, unstable, uplifting, exhorter, uptight, wild, sarcastic, sassy, raw, unpredictable. Then of course, there were those who couldn't stick to the one word rule and did some doubles. They were self-destructive, passive aggressive, over the top, strong willed, life of the party.
Now..before you start calling me Sybil or want refer me to deliverance ministries to cast out demons, let me tell you a small portion of why there are so many qualities and personality traits that I received on the feedback that are totally contradictory. I have written 3 key blogs since May of last year that have laid the foundation for this very blog. They are: "Beautifully Broken" (05/14/07), "How Forgiveness Taught Me To Love" (01/16/08), and "What's Your Cancer" (02/29/08). This blog is about my unfolding and coming to terms with being bipolar.
If you reference my blog from 05/14/07, you will see that I was in an inpatient treatment facility for 3 days as a result of coming off some medication I was taking for fibromyalgia. What I did not reveal at that time was that while there I was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Now I'm not one big on titles (especially ones that can produce a negative and adverse reaction), but I thought that was a bit too much. My therapist and I laugh about it now, but I literally asked her on every visit if she was certain I was bipolar. I refused to believe that I was. That was just such a foreign concept to me at the time. The PTSD I totally understood; but the bipolar thing, I'd never even heard of before. I just knew that most of my life I've had seasons of severe depression and seasons of extreme highs accompanied by reckless behavior....again.....see the book for details. As I went back over my life I could plainly see that from the top to the bottom of the list, I could check off every symptom of Bipolar I Disorder.

For those of you that don't know what Bipolar disorder is, it's exactly what it says, two opposite poles. Here is an excellent explanation found in the following link:
"According to the definition outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), bipolar I disorder, considered the most severe form of this mental illness, is "characterized by one or more Manic or Mixed Episodes, usually accompanied by Major Depressive Episodes."
In a major manic episode the patient may become delusional and even suffer from hallucinations, which are symptoms of psychosis. If this occurs, the condition is called bipolar I with psychotic features. Only bipolar I disorder, by definition, can include such psychotic features. Bipolar I can seriously impair day-to-day functioning.
Other symptoms and characteristics of mania include:
  •  Grandiosity
  •  Decreased need for sleep
  •  Pressured speech
  •  Racing thoughts
  •  Distractibility
  •  Tendency to engage in behavior that could have serious consequences, such as spending recklessly or inappropriate sexual encounters
  •  Excess energy
Symptoms and characteristics of major depression include:
  •  Decreased energy
  •  Severe withdrawal from normal activities
  •  Weight loss or gain
  •  Despair
  •  Irritability
  •  Uncontrollable crying
  •  Thoughts of or attempts at suicide
by Kimberly Read

I know that may be a lot to take in, just as it was (and at times still is) for me. The most difficult part of all this is reconciling how a Christian woman, born again and filled with the Spirit of God, could have such a major chemical imbalance that it would cause me to have this disease. It wasn't until I bought several books (which I will reference at the end of this just in case you or a loved one has been diagnosed) and became educated on the disorder that I was finally able to understand it and what the best plan of action would be for me and my family.  I'm not going to go into a long Biblical Theological argument here. I will just say that my husband & I have chosen the best treatment for me at this time is to take medication to manage and stabilize my moods at the advice of my medical team of doctors until I am healed and delivered from the disease and the havoc it has caused in the past and can cause now if I don't take my meds and cast down thoughts and imaginations that are not of God. What I can tell you is that I have learned that like Paul's thorn in the flesh, I've asked Daddy to remove it so many times, and every time His response to me has been, "MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT IN YOUR WEAKNESS".
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor.12:9)
The highs are highs and the lows are lows. He's been with me in the valley and He's been with me on top of the mountain. I do depend on my faith, but I also accompany it by works. For that, at this time, it means routinely going to my therapist and psychiatrist, being consistent in taking my medications daily, and being honest with those around me when I am at either extreme or even feel like I'm about to be.
By the way, I no longer fight with my therapist on my diagnosis. After much research and prayer and counsel, it's undeniable that I've had it probably since my childhood. If I look at past (or even recent) behaviors it makes perfect sense. I have Bipolar I Disorder. (Save the responses about the power of the tongue, please. I do speak healing over the situation and I don't deny I have the disease, but I do deny its right to exist in my life. Until the healing manifest, I have to follow the Lord and what He's given me peace to do while waiting.)
So what's the bottom line? Why am I sharing this? I want to encourage Christians (or anyone reading this blog) that when you have, know and/or love someone who has been diagnosed with a mental disorder (a chemical imbalance of the brain) or any mental illness, it is to be treated no different than if that person came to you and said I have cancer or a tumor. We still need your prayers and support. We still need you to walk through the journey with us. And may you forsake your temptation to judge and try to figure out what we did that "opened the door to the enemy" to bring this into our life. I so wish I could go into more detail, but it would be in bits and pieces and probably would confuse you more than anything. 
I no longer want or choose to be silent. I may be hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4:8-9). Until this thorn in the flesh of mine is removed, I will continue to persevere knowing that He is my Daddy who loves me with an everlasting love.
Here are some great resources for you or someone you may know that will help you and them understand what bipolar disorder is and how you can manage it or be a help and support to someone who has it.  Don't just do nothing.....remember..."the disease thrives on shame".
The Holy Bible (Especially Psalms and Proverbs) by God
Bipolar Disorder for Dummies by Candida Fink and Joe Kraynak
*This was THE BEST book on educating me and my loved ones on the disorder ***2011 Update:  This has not changed.  This is still the best book I've read to date regarding Bipolar Disorder.***
Manic: A Memoir by Terri Cheney
*This is not a Christian book, but it is a great memoir that gives a clear picture of the life someone with bipolar disorder
Mood Swings by Paul Meier M.D., Stephen Arterburn, Frank Minirth M.D.
A Testimony Of God's Faithfulness To A Bipolar Christian: In The Pit by Nancy L. Hagerman
Who Switched Of My Brain?, Dr. Caroline Leaf
Here are some good links to articles also:

Also remember that laughter is GREAT medicine.  I found this picture and fell in love with it!  Hope it brings a smile to your face :-)