(June 15, 2007)

I think there’s an unfortunate misunderstanding of what mental illness is. In my opinion keeping “physical” and “mental” illnesses as separate entities is a mistake. I believe that mental illness is just as much a physical problem as heart disease, asthma, or diabetes. In mental illness the organ that’s affected is the brain. Physiological malfunction of this organ affects a person’s thinking, emotions, and behavior. This occurs through no fault of the person who is ill. I feel the time must come that mental illness be no longer put in a separate category. It IS just another illness.

Can faith conquer depression? Faith will help us cope, as it does with other illnesses. But once a person has a disease like bipolar, depression and mania are inevitable, no matter how much faith he has. We can cling to Scripture all we want and it will often help, but the depression and negative thinking and feeling that comes with it cannot be avoided. Neither can our highs with the elated feelings be avoided. It’s the nature of the disease.

I can enthusiastically say my life changed when I came to know Jesus. It’s quite amazing where God has brought me and I’m very grateful. I wouldn’t be doing as well as I am now if it weren’t for Jesus in my life. The church I belong to has been very supportive. Through my friends there, I’ve come to understand how great God’s love is. The knowledge and assurance of that love does much to keep me well, secure, and with less fear than I would otherwise have. Sharing that love with others has taken me out of the victim role and made me strong.

Yet I still get hopelessly depressed at times. It just happens. I went through two months of it only a while ago. I struggled, I prayed, and friends prayed with me. But it had to run its course.

But I don’t feel that experiencing these moods is all bad. The suffering is misery – yes. But going through this suffering is what helps me understand others who suffer. I know a language that those who have it easy cannot understand. This language helps me connect with many people. If I didn’t go through depression once in a while I might forget. I might lose the ability to have compassion.

I’m not sorry that God made me the way he did – bipolar and all. I know he did it for a reason. He has given me work to do that I can do precisely because I have this disease. And I love this work. Facilitating Living Room, the faith-based support group for people with mood disorders, is pure joy. I like to refer to the way I feel after meetings as “holy joy.” There’s nothing else like it. Hard to believe, I know, but true.