(June 9, 2007)

Studies have been done about the benefits of faith to our health, including our mental health. Most of them have found that religious people have a greater ability to cope than people without a faith. One of the top researchers in this field is Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University Medical Center. Dr. Koenig has a number of books out on the subject.

The reason I bring this up now is because yesterday a friend asked me, “What does your belief in God mean to you and your ability to cope with bipolar disorder?” When I started listing for her what my faith meant to me, I found I couldn’t stop. Once more – as always happens when I take the time to stop and think – I was overwhelmed with how far I have come since I first began believing in God nineteen years ago. My life has become rich and full of purpose. I was transformed and I continue to be transformed. It is an exciting journey.

I want to share here some of the things I’m doing that I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be doing if I hadn’t been studying the Bible, learning about Jesus, spending time in prayer, and belonging to a community of friends who share my beliefs. When I became a follower of Christ:

  1. I learned to fear less and trust more.
  2. I gained the courage to speak openly about my disorder by writing about it, realizing that it’s only by talking about mental illness that we can reduce the stigma. This is what God would want for the world.
  3. I learned that I don’t have to be ashamed of having a mental illness. I am God’s child.
  4. I sensed God’s love for me and learned to share that love with others.
  5. I gained the support of wonderful friends who love me with a godly love, no matter what I go through or what I do or say.
  6. I discovered a purpose that is greater than me, work that I find exciting and of significant value.
  7. I discovered gifts I never knew I had. I became a leader and activist. (not bad for someone who has for so many years been afraid to speak up)
  8. I learned to persevere and never give up hope.
  9. I learned that when I help others, I become strong. I am no longer a victim.
  10. I learned that I can, in a very special way, understand those who struggle like me. Listening to other people’s problems connects us. A meaningful bond develops. There is richness in that.
  11. I learned that God made us to be creative – in his image. When I have the urge to make something happen I try to obey. What an exciting life that creativity has brought me!
  12. Though depression is still a hellish experience, I have come to look on it as something to use. By trying out different coping techniques and writing about them, I can make good come out of bad. I’ve learned that each episode helps me learn more about life. The Bible talks about trials as a “refining fire.” We become better – stronger. Being reminded of what depression is once in a while helps me have compassion for others who go through it.
  13. Though I often feel too small to carry out the work I’ve taken on, I now realize it’s okay to be small. I better realize how big God is, and how I need to allow him to work through me. I only have to be his hands; he will do the rest.
  14. I learned to appreciate the way the great potter molded me, one step at a time. And I know he’s not through with me yet.

I am grateful for all God has given me. I like who he made me to be – bipolar and all. Life is good.