Bipolar and Friends
My title sounds like a weird new clothing store for people who can’t make up their minds.
There’s a reason for my “Bipolar and…” titles. While I no longer actively struggle with symptoms of my disorder, it has colored every area of my life. Now that I’m symptom free, it’s like I get to see the before and after pictures of my life because it has been so dramatically different since my hysterectomy. Now I am actively able to participate in healthy relationships. This is not to say that I didn’t have relationships before, they just weren’t too way streets where I was able to give as much as I took.
Before I was diagnosed with Bipolar, I was the human equivalent of a black hole. Y’know the kind of friend I’m talking about. People would get too close to all of my drama and get sucked in and then wonder where they went. When I was on the suicidal Ferris wheel that was college, I had these friends who knew about my depression and kept trying to help me. What they didn’t know was that I had Bipolar and what they mistook as me getting “better” was actually me being manic. The resulting downswing into depression made them feel like they’d failed and they couldn’t deal with me or my depression anymore. There was one friend who stuck with me all the way through college. She even showed up once when I’d tried to take an overdose. She was my lifeline. We stayed friends for over 20 years until the co-dependent nature of our friendship no longer worked for me. As much as I loved her, I had to admit that our relationship wasn’t healthy and I let her go. Or rather, I let her let me go.
I am not an easy person to be friends with. I don’t think anybody with a mental illness is “easy” to be friends with, but it doesn’t mean that relationships are out of the question either. It just takes people who are willing to care even when they don’t understand. People who can look behind the mask because they aren’t afraid of what they’ll see. People who have issues of their own and have learned how to cope, because it takes another person who knows struggle to even vaguely understand what the struggle against mental illness can mean. Of course, any friendship could benefit from at least one of the participants being like this whether or not the other person struggles with a mental illness or just normal neurotic human behavior.
The other night a friend came over to talk with me. We were going to catch up because it’s been a while. The subject of my counseling came up and it was like the can of worms and the bandaid were both ripped open at the same time. I felt so much raw emotion. Tears hadn’t been on my agenda for the evening, but as I talked to her she drew me out the way that only a real friend can. She and I have always been able to just understand each other. Few of my friends really understand me. They like… some of them even love me… but few can claim to actually understand me. In talking to her I realized just how deep my fear of this counseling goes.
The book that I’d started reading to prepare for it was doing more than just “mashing” a few buttons. It was getting so deep under my skin that it hurt. I have hit an awful impasse: I do not believe the major premise of the book. In a nutshell? They insist that because of the commandment that tells us to “honor our mother and father” all of my drama stems from the fact that I have dishonored them by resenting things they did to me. Doesn’t matter what they might have done to me to create my sexual addiction or all my fears and other hangups. What matters most is my sinful response to whatever it is that they did or didn’t do. I sinned in my response to them, so what I’m experiencing now is a reaping of my own sin. My dad tried to kill me when I was a small child. Evidently it’s my fault that this messed me up. My sexual addiction is also my fault according to this author. The actions of other people don’t matter. It’s all on me.
Every time I have tried to get to the roots of my sexual addiction the bottom has fallen out of my world. I have fallen into depressions so deep I didn’t think there was an end. Actually, I did think there was an end. I thought the only way to end my free-fall into madness was to kill myself. It is by the grace of God that I am not dead. I used to beg God to free me of my Bipolar and from the sexual addiction. And the taunting voices that used to come back at me in my own mind were horrible:
“God’s not going to help you!”
“See! You prayed and he’s still not changing you!”
“He CAN change you… but WILL he??”
“What kind of Christian ARE you to struggle with this?”
“You can’t live the rest of your life like this. You might as well kill yourself.”
Even though I was surrounded by people every day as a teacher… very few people knew what I struggled with as far as the Bipolar. There were even fewer people who knew about the sexual addiction. I was rather close mouthed back then. Now I talk about it because my life depends on it. Silence was dangerous. How can people support me in prayer if they don’t really know what my needs are? This is not to say that I run around airing my business indiscriminately. Despite the fact that I’m pretty transparent in this blog, I’m pretty introverted around real live people. The few people that I let get close enough to me have earned my trust. I learned a LONG time ago that not everybody can be trusted with who I really am. People mean well, but well meaning people can ignorantly cause a lot of damage.
In the end, my friend helped me realize that I’m afraid that this counseling is going to mash a whole bunch of buttons and I’m going to nosedive into an endless pit of depression. Living alone has it’s benefits… and I love living alone, but what if I do spin-out because of this counseling? I could OD and nobody would even know for days. And before any of my friends reading this get all nervous: I am not suicidal and I do not want to die. But at this particular moment in time, I do not want to do this counseling either. How can God point me in the direction of something that seems so dangerous for my mental health? It wasn’t my idea to do the counseling, but I trust the person who suggested I do it. If I need to go through this counseling in order to be set free from my addiction, then no matter how many of my buttons are getting mashed, I have to do it. I didn’t think God would ever heal me of my Bipolar, but he used a hysterectomy to free me from overt symptoms. He might be planning to set me free now and maybe there is no need to fear depression. Besides, the biggest difference between now and every single one of those other times that I tried to get to the “roots” of my addiction and my depression, I was alone. I had friends… but I wouldn’t let them in. I didn’t want them to see the “real” me.
This time it could be different. The “real” me is tired of hiding from what people might think. I let this one friend in. It’s time to let others in. It’s also time to talk about this process because I know that I’m not the only Christian woman going through something like this. And if I don’t want to talk about it, they probably don’t either.
I was with another friend today. I haven’t known him long, but felt like I could let him in. I told him about the time I did the cardboard testimony at church. He was surprised that I could have gotten up and actually done that given my testimony. I could do it because I knew that nobody in my church would judge me. I knew that my friends there would love me no matter what messy past was scribbled on my sign. I know that my real friends are going to read this and pray. Tonight I post because I’m really thankful for the friends I’ve had. I’m thankful for the ones who were there before I was diagnosed. I’m thankful for the ones who were there when I struggled to deal with the meds and the side effects. I’m thankful for the ones I’ve had in the last five years when I began to see my need for deeper healing. But I’m most thankful for the friends that I have now, because they help the “real” me be me.