As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

John 9:1-3

Last week I was invited to speak at a Baptist seniors’ residence about my faith and how it had affected my life with bipolar disorder. It had been many years since I’d been given a chance to tell my story–years since I had last spoken on how God could work in a life with mental illness.
But witnessing in this way gave me a joy I had almost forgotten.

One question the interviewer asked me was whether mental illness had brought any positives, or even a gift to my life.

With great certainty, I responded with a “yes.” For me, having a mental illness was a gift from God.

Many years earlier, as I read the story about the blind man in the scripture above and how the disciples responded to him. I was intrigued by what Jesus said about God’s works being revealed through the blind man. And I wondered, Is this the same as the reason I have bipolar disorder? Has God’s work been revealed in me in a similar way?

Because, yes, God has led me down a long road of trying to make a difference in the lives of people with mental health issues. I would probably not have done that if I were healthy and took life for granted. Although the bipolar disorder I’ve lived with for so many years has made life hard, I’ve often thought of it as a gift of sorts as well.

Through my disability I came to understand the needs of others who suffer in this way. I came to have compassion for them. I realized I needed to respond to God’s call to work for the benefit of people like me—people who are so often misunderstood and rejected.

Because I knew what it was to experience such an illness, I was able to speak and write about it in the first person. And because God had given me the courage to speak openly without shame, I was able to reduce the shame others were experiencing.

According to the chaplain, one elderly lady was particularly inspired when I said, “I wasn’t ashamed. There is nothing to be ashamed of, ” and by my seeing my journey as a gift from God.  She raised her fist saying: “that was powerful”.

God is good. Through my disorder, he gave me a reason for living.