Friday, July 22, 2016

On Vulnerability, Shame and Bipolar Disorder



Soon after I came out of the hospital in Hungary, March 2015, I felt the Lord nudging me to share the whole of my story including my journey with bipolar disorder. 

I was terrified. 

But as I have walked the year and a half since, including a surprise hospital stay in May, I have seen the Lord take away layer upon layer of both fear and shame. Jesus is saying, 'No more!' 'No more will these define your life. I am doing something altogether new.' 

It is this new story full of past days but with an eye toward hope and redemption that I will be writing here. I would love for you to join me in the journey.

I lay in my bed in the behavioral care center (aka 'mental ward'). My roommate, Sarah*, and I begin talking. She is of Jewish descent and also has bipolar disorder.

I asked her earlier, in the common room, if she would be willing to share her story with me. She said bluntly 'I don't want to share my story. I hate it.'

As we speak later, I hear her desperation. We have both been diagnosed in February of 2015. Since that time she has been frustrating doctor after doctor in search of the perfect recipe of medicine to make her whole.

At some point I break in and say, 'what you need, what we all need is hope; to know this isn't the end.'

Then I said, 'I am a Christian, and we share some Scriptures.' 

'We share a lot', she says. 

So I begin to speak of the angst-ridden cries of the psalms along with their jubilation and worship. The prophets like Elijah who at one moment defeat 500 false prophets and the next flee in fear. There is nothing new under the sun and nothing surprises God, especially the wild ways of bipolar disorder.

Then I ask her, 'Do you believe you can be made whole? Do you believe there is hope? Do you believe Messiah is real and is coming?'

She says she wants to believe and later tells me she has been thinking about what I said. I pray for her a lot, that she will find the hope of Messiah in her Scriptures and be ready for His coming. And too, that she would know hope and wholeness are real.

And I wonder how much of her desperation to be fixed is because the shame of mental illness is still so present in this world. For any one of us who are diagnosed, there is the intense desire to cast it aside. Often this results in people stopping their medicine with many heart-wrenching results. 

And I get it. It's like we want to prove the world wrong, that voice which is saying we are so broken, we can only live a 'less-than' life.

This conversation with Sarah highlights the need for other voices in this world to speak hope over the shame of mental illness. (and over the other places of misplaced shame)




I have known nothing more vulnerable than being in a mental ward. So far I have spent three weeks in two in two different countries and languages. All the while is the great distress of going somewhere I do not want to go. Dealing with a label I do not want to have. Taking medicine I do not want to take. (But I WILL take it and listen to my doctors, of this I want to be clear)

I have taken great comfort in the words of Hebrews 5, how though he was a Son, Jesus learned humility by the things he suffered. How could I expect anything less in my own life?

So I am learning to accept how the fallen realities of this world, like bipolar disorder, have touched me. This I seek to do without losing who I am; without losing hope. At the same time I scorn, or cast off, as Jesus did, the many layers of shame having bipolar could and would produce.

It takes courage to call things what they are. This isn't something I was ready to do here, on this anyone-can-read blog, until recently, after my second surprise hospital stay. But conversations like the one I had with Sarah are why I am talking about it all in the clear light of day.

Because we all need hope. We need to know we are not alone in our vulnerability and shame. For me it is bipolar disorder, for you it may be past abuse, or sin, a chronic illness or a dysfunctional family of origin that has left you so deeply broken. Regardless, to be human is to be vulnerable to layer upon layer of shame.

Because of this, we all need to know Messiah is coming and has come! He is making all things new. Alpha and Omega. First and Last. Faithful and True. The One who wipes all tears. The Living One.

And yes, he has despised shame so fully, he has uprooted its fallen, hateful power at its roots and says 'no more!' To your label, too, that thin thing that has placed shame on you, and become so much more than it is, he is saying, 'no more!' 

I hope you join me as I keep sharing vulnerably and trusting Jesus to bless and encourage us all.

A necessary caveat: Often, if I share with someone about having bipolar disorder, they feel the need to share about someone they know who also has bipolar disorder. Sometimes these are triumphant stories, very often they are not. While I cannot doubt the heart, I ask, for me and others, that you simply listen if you have the privilege to hear. And more, share your own vulnerable place, your label, that has nearly undone you. I would love to hear about that. Because I need to know I am not alone. I need to know my label is one whose shame, or stigma, can be removed in community. And you are the one who can help me.

*Name changed to protect identity


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