Hope in Mental Illness
“And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
“He (God) has led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light…He has set me in dark places…He has made my chain heavy…He has turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: He has made me desolate.” (Jeremiah in Lamentation 3: 2,6,7,11) BUT, Jeremiah also gave this hope: “The LORD is my portion-therefore will I hope in Him…It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:24,26)
What brings a person to a season of being mentally ill or having a mental diagnosis or label? I’m sure that this is different for every person, and I’m not even sure that I can precisely lay my finger on my own causes. But I do have some hints at my own backstory.
Four long years! That’s a long time to deal with anything, let alone a battle with mania and psychoses. From June of 2006 until March of 2010, I was in the fight of my life, and my family was in this war with me. I believe I have at least four main contributors, and maybe a few smaller factors.
First, I believe that there are obvious cases in my family history. My father’s mother battled mania and depression after a late thirty’s pregnancy. Her condition was worsened by diabetes and other physical ailments. Dependency on alcohol was also obvious on both sides of my family. Was the alcohol used to mask depression? Very likely.
Second, I think that loss and grief played a role in my acute years of suffering. In February of 2002, my little sister lost her three-year battle with ovarian cancer. Tracey was my oldest and dearest friend. The lack of her faithful, steady friendship was felt deeply. And although I thought that I had properly grieved her death, I don’t think that I was prepared for the empty spot that her death created in my life.
Thirdly, I believe that trauma played a part in leading me to the lack of stability in my mind. For years we lived with the daily threat of violence and turmoil in the Congo where we served as missionaries. (A small side-note: in Congo, my husband and I regularly took Larium/mephloquin as a profilactic anti-malarial. After years of study with our own American military, many experts believe that this medicine can contribute to symptoms of PTSD). Our last term was served in the small Kinshasa suburb of Maluku, north of the city and on the Congo River. Our compound where we rented was surrounded by ex-rebel soldiers who were there as security for their leader who had been converted from a rebel commander to a vice-president during a reconciliation government compromise. The daily reminder by their RPG’s and AK-47’s nagged at the back of my mind incessantly. Constant fear raises cortisol levels and knocks the body’s system off balance.
Finally, I believe that hormones comprised one facet of my story. I was forty-one when we returned from the field in January of 2006. We were brought home early to participate in our church’s missions conference but were quickly forgotten once the meeting was over. Our whole family was living in a friend’s basement room while we were waiting for a rental to be repaired. During those months, I ran out of Synthroid and a prescription to refill it. I stopped using it for a month. I found myself in a rapid-cycle mania and depression. Manic one day and depressed the next. This continued all summer, and it laid the foundation for the next four years.
Only three psychotic breaks, and my second time of landing in the psych ward of a hospital stopped it in 2010. I truly felt, as well as my husband and children, that I was bemoaning my fate as Jeremiah did in Lamentations chapter three. I believed that God was against me. That He was pulling me apart by pieces and leading me into darkness but never into light. After all hope seemed hopeless, I wound up one last time in the behavioral unit of a Niagara Falls hospital. There something different happened. I was placed on just the right combination of medicines. For me the trick was Abilify and Lamictal. Within twenty-four hours, I was me again. My husband was surprised at the quick change.
I really believe, looking back, that God was with me at each stage in my four-year journey through mania and psychoses. My diagnosis of being bipolar, likely prompted by PTSD and hormonal fluctuations, was not really me, but it was an integral part of who I became. I walked a long mile in the shoes of mental illness. Never alone. I always had Jesus as a Companion and His Word as a guide. For me, the healing was not one miracle, but many that joined together to make me Chrisann again. The right medicines, my relationship with Jesus, my love of His written Word, meditating, journaling, conversations with family and friends, and encouraging music.
I’m still on medicines ten years later; a very reduced dosage that enables me to think and write and create. But I’m me. I hoped and quietly waited four long years for the salvation of the LORD, and I can say ten years past, that I am not sorry about my journey. It has opened doors and hearts that I never would have been able to enter otherwise. MY heart and mind are now kept by the peace of God.