Exiting the Emotion Locomotive: God Can Heal All Our Wounds
- Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Bipolar disorder is the third most common mood disorder after major depression and dysthymic disorder (morbid depression and anxiety with accompanying obsession). It affects about 1 percent of adults during their lifetime. Studies have indicated that bipolar depression is genetically inherited, occurring more commonly within families.
Symptoms typically begin during adolescence or early adulthood, and continue to recur throughout life, with both men and women equally likely to suffer. Without effective intervention, bipolar illness leads to suicide in nearly 20 percent of cases.
There are treatment options. But because bipolar disorder is often not recognized by the patient, relatives, friends, or even some physicians, people with bipolar disorder may suffer needlessly for years... perhaps for their entire lives. Depression is not fully recognized by most health care insurance providers; most will pay only 50 percent of treatment costs for outpatient care, as well as limiting the number of visits.
I have come to believe that, at least to some extent, I have been experiencing this bipolar train ride for all of my life; I lived in a perceived world of surreal highs and devastating lows. Very early on, this created for me a feeling of separation from others and from the world, a phenomenon I would later try to numb with drugs and alcohol.
This is, in fact, very common; an estimated 60 percent of all people with bipolar disorder have drug or alcohol dependence. It is my belief that fellowship-oriented substance abuse recovery groups are inhabited by an inordinate number of those who suffer not only from their very real addictions, but also varying levels of bipolar disease.
Sadly, shame also plays a factor with many of us who don't want others to know about our secret suffering. Where does this irrational shame come from? My recently published book, Prodigal Song: A Memoir, tells the story of my own battle with addiction and depression. Early in the book, I write about the confusion and fear surrounding the progression of my mother's own deterioration, lost in her private prison of fear and drugs.
I won't try to explain what happened to our mother. I more often than not see only dusty, empty rooms when I go in search for her back there, to that place of my past where my mind sometimes wanders but rarely lingers. I believe in words like psychosis and bipolar disease and schizophrenia, and I believe in chemical imbalances and "bad wiring" of the brain. I can spout lots of technical jargon and use psychoanalytical language to describe some things science can understand and some things it does not. I'm supposed to have some understanding of neurotransmitters and receptor molecules, but all that cannot completely explain how people sometimes become lost to themselves and lost to the rest of us.
And I believe in unseen darkness and demons, too, and I'm not at all sure where one set of beliefs leaves off and the other takes up. All I know for sure is that God exists, that there is a world beyond what we can see and touch and feel, and that within that world evil exists, too. And I believe that for some of us in obvious ways and probably all of us in more subtle ways the disease thrives and makes its home in more than just our flesh, and medicine alone rarely cures us.
And maybe the details don't matter as much as we think. Because for whatever reason and perhaps for no reason at all, our mother became ill. Her life changed, and ours with it. I'm not sure when it started or how quickly it worsened. It was, in a way, like the slow closing of a morning glory at dusk. She began to lose her light, and we all watched her fold into a darkness that would eventually cause her to wither and never open again...
Not understanding my mother's condition, and lost in the surrounding shame and fear of watching her decline into her private emptiness, my family hid rather than helped. Ultimately, the dark cloud would overwhelm my mother, and she committed suicide.
I suppose a part of me has always dreaded this same sort of fate, for many years recklessly trying to fulfill this false destiny with the most destructive of behaviors, and twice attempting to take my own life. But then... then something happened. I discovered that at the source of my aching emptiness there lay a soul dying of loneliness. And, crying out to the God I had spent my whole life running away from, I discovered He had been there all along.
Returning to the Flock
Why are we so afraid to open ourselves to others, to uncover our wounds and let them see, let them touch? Why do we so often succumb to this shame that keeps us in bondage? I believe it is because we allow the shame to isolate us, to cut us off from others and therefore perpetuate the illusion of our being alone. Only by culling us from the flock, so to speak, can the enemy kill us.
And so, the lies draw us deeper into the deception of self-loathing. Christ - and those who truly share His nature - wait to welcome us Home. But lost in this darkest of places, on this seemingly unstoppable train barreling down the mountain, we simply have trouble believing we can ever jump to the safety of His arms.
How do we abandon ourselves to such trust? We must learn to reach out.
First, we need to seek professional help. The new generation of psychotropic drugs is far less dangerous and much more effective than those drugs used in my mother's time. We look for doctors who understand the multiplicity of this disease dynamic. These professionals, if they fully understand that drugs alone are not the ultimate answer, can give those suffering from depression a fighting chance, a helping hand out of the pit, thus enabling them to do the physical, emotional, and spiritual work necessary for long term recovery. Ultimately, we who battle this thing can re-engage with the world, with life... with Christ.
Then, we need a support system, a fellowship, a safe place for connecting with those who have lived some part of their lives suffering from the pain of similar wounds. We move beyond our comfort zone and, one day at a time, seek the healing face of Christ, often in the faces of strangers who are seeking their own recovery. This is a biblically sound principal, yet one sometimes looked down on by those in the Christian church.
These days, some of the people I work with both inside and outside the church walls have trouble with the whole "recovering" thing, as if true healing is somehow less miraculous when performed as a process rather than an event. But to me, nothing could be more beautiful or meaningful than a God who is willing to meet me on my knees every morning, and to walk with me one step at a time, this friend Jesus who seeks intimacy rather than waving a magic wand. And, by connecting with others suffering from similar hurts, we open ourselves to His deeply relational - and uniquely beautiful - healing.
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