Updated: May 18, 2018
You are loved and called by God. He has set you apart for this purpose. He has ordered your steps to this place. You are a daughter with a mission. You are here to take back what the enemy has stolen. This is a resurrection story - and only God has the power to resurrect death. Let him resurrect you like only he can. He has made you enough and has already won the victory for you.
In September, I wrote this prayer of affirmation on my mirror. Seminary is hard, and it’s even more difficult when you’re fighting against the reason that you’re at seminary in the first place. But this affirmation reminded me again and again that I have a mission. It took me a while to step into that, but here we are.
Most of y’all know that I’m at seminary because I really care about mental health and the church. But I leave out a key part of my story a lot:
About five years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At first, managing everything was really difficult – there weren’t a lot of people that I trusted, and there were even fewer people who understood what I was living through. Now, things are a lot different. I’ve learned more about my triggers and how to manage them. Even though I don’t think about it a lot, there are things that living with bipolar disorder makes it difficult to do.
Sometimes I can’t organize my papers well. Sometimes I can’t sit still because I have way too much energy. Most of the time, going to sleep is quite the task. These are some of the more minor things, but they affect me every day.
A lot of the symptoms aren’t the worst things in the world. My school has giant whiteboards where I can throw out a disorganized mess of a paper and then reorganize it. I can always find somewhere to walk around, and sleep can be managed. Honestly, most of the time these small things don’t make me feel like I have a disability.
But there is so much stigma that surrounds bipolar disorder. People think individuals with my diagnosis are violent, or more likely to hurt someone. People think we’re prone to say offensive things. At least once a week, someone stigmatizes bipolar disorder, medication or mental illness. Stigma is not just upsetting, it’s dangerous – it keeps people from seeking therapy or medication.
This year, I took a class about the theology of disability, and one of the things that kept sticking out to me was the idea of advocacy. In Resurrecting the Person, John Swinton addresses the stigma around patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and he argues that true liberation theology for people with severe mental illness has to come from within the community.
And when I read that I was convicted.
Because this is my community. These are my people, and I haven’t done enough. Having a mental illness often means hiding your diagnosis so that you won’t be stigmatized, and in that process, I have lost my voice.
For the past five years, I’ve always felt the need to hide a part of myself. I’ve always been terrified about what would happen if people found out. So, I always know where the nearest bathroom is in case I need to cry or shake it out. I try to make sure that if people bring up bipolar disorder, that I don’t say too much. And I definitely don’t say anything when people use generalizations to stigmatize people with bipolar.
It’s been so incredibly disempowering.
When you’re scared of your own brain because people tell you that you should be, you find the best coping strategies that you can. Learning to separate yourself from your mind is an exhausting task – one that I always thought was necessary. Until now. I’m not afraid of my brain anymore.
Learning to live with bipolar disorder means learning how to have a panic attack at 7:00 and be at work by 8:00. It means learning how to recognize when your brain is lying to you. It means learning how to take care of yourself.
It also means learning how to find support from your friends and your family. It means learning how to ask for help.
My hope is that we can learn together here. Sometimes, I’ll write about mental health, but sometimes I’ll write about glitter or ice cream because my life isn’t defined by my bipolar.
So this blog is for every person who lives with mental illness and feels completely alone. Hopefully, this blog helps you step into the light.