Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress. (Psalm 107:4-6)
I was fifteen years old when I first noticed a strange symptom that could have signaled my bipolar disorder. I was taking an Algebra test for which I was well prepared. I knew exactly how to solve the equations, yet there was a convicting “voice” inside me telling me I was stupid, that I was only fooling the world pretending to be a good student, and that I should just give up. The voice was so powerful, I had to ask to be excused for a drink to clear my mind. The voice then subsided somewhat, and I was able to score well on the test. But the experience is one I would never forget; one I would revisit in therapy many times as I explored the origin of the “voices” that have hounded me at various points throughout my life.
It took over fifteen more years of wandering in the desert waste of drug use (and abuse), mis-diagnosis, relational conflicts, and emotional crises before I was properly diagnosed. It then took another fifteen years to find the right chemical balance, treatment regiment, and spiritual discipline, to realize a period of “maintenance remission” – and I’ve only been able to experience this without the stress of a job (being on disability) and daily responsibilities as a husband and father (being separated from my family).
Thank God, though, I’ve not been alone in this desert waste. I have met many other wanderers (people wrestling with mental illness and other struggles). Just last week a man at church invited me to his home where a small group meets regularly for food, fellowship, Bible study and prayer. I shared some about my illness and this book project. He was eager that I meet a friend of his who had come to the group, yet was currently battling mental health issues and pulling away from the church. Later, I was asked to pray for this man and his family and for church members to have the wisdom and courage to reach out to them.
The delight in the disorder of bipolar is often found as we reach out to each other, as we connect with those who have similar struggles, as we share the faith and hope that keeps us going from day to day.