(Monday, September 18, 2006)

A few days ago my pastor invited me to talk at church about my support group. He wanted me to tell the congregation why I had decided to form the group. This would lead into his sermon on building authentic community.

I don’t usually get too nervous speaking at this church. The people are friendly and everything is very casual. But yesterday, for some reason, I felt a little more nervous than usual.

When my time came to speak, the pastor introduced the “Living Room”, the name we are giving the group. I started by telling everyone that I had lived with bipolar disorder for forty years and that I cope by taking medications, trusting in God, and with the support of good friends. I told them that I’m not always as good as I was yesterday – that I struggle often.

I quoted the beginning of 2 Corinthians: that “God, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort…comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” “One good thing about having a lot of troubles like I’ve had,” I said, “is that I’ve received a LOT of compassion from God. It’s helped me realize how real He is.”

Then I told them about the countless people who have depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders, how most of them are alone with their troubles, ashamed to share them with others. I told them how wrong I thought that was. Not only do they suffer from the symptoms of their disease, they are forced to feel ashamed. They should not have to suffer alone. They need to realize that there are others who share such troubles. There needs to be a place where they can share openly what’s in their hearts.

I told them about the secular support groups where people don’t feel comfortable talking about God. And I told them how, at the church’s Bible studies, people are often uncomfortable talking about their mental health issues. Living Room will be a place where they can talk freely about their faith AND their mental health.

The purpose of Living Room is for members to provide each other with love and support; to remind each other how great God’s love is; and to seek transformation in their lives.

I found it interesting to see which people talked to me afterwards and which looked at me, seemingly not knowing what to say. But one couple came up to me and very much wanted to join. They told me I was courageous.

When I began writing about my struggles with bipolar, I knew I would be giving up a lot. With the publication of “Riding the Roller Coaster” my life became, literally, an open book. It continues to be that. I guess it was a form of sacrifice. But I feel steely strong inside, wanting more than ever, to bust that ugly stigma that causes so much grief. So what if there are some people who think I’m odd? They don’t truly know me. I know I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. I have many friends and feel loved and that’s all I need. God gave me a purpose and this is what I’ll continue giving my life to.

Although my life is tough, it’s generally a happy one, probably because of the strong sense of purpose I have. I’m a very fortunate person.