Finding meaning in a life with bipolar disorder
by Marja Bergen
Mental illness is not all bad. I have lived with bipolar disorder for over forty years and have found it has many benefits. I couldn’t imagine living without it and am not at all unhappy with my life. In many ways, I value what this illness has made possible for me.
With effective medication to keep symptoms under control, people with bipolar disorder can live a close-to-normal life. Yes, moods will fluctuate and cause occasional problems, and treatment will need adjustment. Suffering will always be part of my life. But I accept the way God, the Great Potter, made me. I am rich on many levels.
Like many people with this disorder, I am very creative. I receive a lot of pleasure from photography and using my imagination. The deep emotions I experience, although painful, are a source of richness; I feel completely human. My frequent hard times have helped me appreciate the good times and I make the most of them. Spiritually, I’m stronger for having had to deal with great trials. The fires I’ve passed through have refined me.
Most of all, I appreciate the compassion I am able to have for others who suffer from depression and other mental health issues. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1: 4 hold true for me. I praise God “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.” God has shown me his love, and I want to pass that love on to others.
Over the past few years, I’ve been fortunate to be part of a church community that has supported me and helped me grow spiritually. With the Christ-like love they have shown me, I have come to understand how great God’s love is. In turn, I now help others through a support group and one-on-one, in person and through my blog. I feel fulfilled. The language of suffering I’ve learned helps me connect with people in trouble. I am able to understand them in a way many others could not.
I feel a bit like Patch Adams in the Robyn Williams film. While Patch is a patient in a psychiatric hospital, he discovers his ability to connect with people. He learns to understand his severely disturbed roommate to see the person behind the illness and helps him through his problems. Not only does this delight Patch, it makes him a well man.
Patch eagerly tells his doctor he is well and needs to leave the hospital. I connected to another human being, he said. I want to do more of that. I want to learn about people. I want to help them with their troubles. I want to really listen to people. Connecting with other people gave Patch joy. It gives me joy, too. When God places you in this role a role he made for you joy happens. Walking with people through some of their toughest times is rewarding and a privilege.
Bipolar disorder will always be with me, and I suffer many high and low moods. But, I don’t feel I’m a victim of the disease. God has helped me find a way to make my illness work for me instead of against me.
‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11) God has a plan for each of us. Though we might have a severe illness such as bipolar disorder, God has work for us to do. Eventually, we can use what God has given us even the bad and turn it into something good.
Marja Bergen is the author of Riding the Roller Coaster: Living with Mood Disorders (Northstone, 1999) and a new book for Christians about living successfully with bipolar disorder (to appear). She is the founder of Living Room, a faith-based Mood Disorders Association of BC support group. Her blog, marjabergen.blogspot.com, deals with mental health and faith issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is published on the website of CanadianChristianity.com
This article is reproduced here with the permission of Marja when I wrote to her. Thank God for her kindness:
Hi Nancie and Sandy. Thank you both for your good wishes.
And welcome to my site, Nancie. It’s good to meet you. I had a look at your blog and can see you are a kindred spirit. I’d be happy for you to post my articles from Canadian Christianity on your blog. There are several there, and you’re welcome to use any of them.
This blog is about Marja’s living with bipolar disorder and about how her Christian faith has helped her cope and develop a life that is full and satisfying. It deals with some of the frustrations and anger she feels about the injustice and damaging effect of stigma.