The Bipolar Express: Finding God on the Emotion Locomotive
- Wednesday, March 09, 2005
About two months ago, I slowly came to the realization that I was getting sick again.
At first I wasn't sure what was wrong. I felt very tired, lethargic, and generally sad. My body hurt, too; I ached like a man in his eighties, and I haven't even turned fifty yet. My sleep was fitful, and I would wake exhausted. The work waiting for me each day, once igniting in me a deep passion, now felt burdensome and futile. Everyone around me commented on how awful I looked. "You really seem burned out," they'd say sympathetically. "Are you getting enough rest?"
My wife also noticed. "You really should go see your doctor," she said, more than once. Generally, I only go to doctors when I'm feeling the cold breath of the Grim Reaper on my neck. And, finally, this feeling had overtaken me. "I'll go," I mumbled.
My doctor knows me pretty well. Though I hadn't been to see him for nearly three years, he and I are kindred spirits of a sort, both of us recovering from various addictions. Between the two of us, we share a compulsion-driven rap sheet half a mile long, including abuse of just about every substance and behavior imaginable.
Knowing this about me, he had always been very careful about what type of drugs he prescribed; basically, he never gave me anything fun. He knew my history: Alcoholic, drug addict, and suffering from bipolar disease. He knew my mother had died from a combination of all these things many years ago, and he had helped me early on in my recovery to surrender to some of the biophysical realities of who and what I am. I hated it then, and though I took the recommended bipolar medications for a time, I swore all along I would beat the awful thing, beat it completely and get off the meds. Once I had accrued a few years of sobriety, I finally felt healthier and happier than I had for most of my life. I would get well! I would finally be cured!
Eventually, I decided I had accomplished this feat. I had not taken any bipolar medicine in over twelve years. By God's great grace, in addition to having my songwriting career restored, I had also become an addiction counselor, and was now helping others like me find wholeness and freedom from their bondage. By George... I was cured!
An Old, Familiar Fear
This is, of course, the greatest and most tenacious desire of every addict - to finally have the freedom, as my counseling guru Mike O'Neil puts it, to "sit in the normal section." We hold fast to this illusion, unable to accept fully the truth that we will never "graduate" from this class. But the truth is... we are what we are. Even though miraculous freedom comes, the chains no longer hold us, and the darkness no longer consumes and destroys, maintenance is required. As with any disease, God can offer us healing. But He usually expects us to take our medicine, too.
And so, I'm sitting in Dr. Lee's office, half bent from the enormous weight I've been carrying for months, and he is looking at me over the top of his glasses.
"What do you think?" he asks.
"I don't know," I say, and I'm completely serious. "You're the doctor. I ache all over. I can't sleep."
"Do you feel afraid?" he asks after a pause, and I know right away where he's going. It seems as if I'm watching a movie I've seen before - Dr. Lee is saying the same thing he's said to me before, and I'm watching his mouth move. Everything slows...I'm sitting on the edge of the table, my heart is thumping inside my chest, and it is the only sound in the room. I sense an old, faintly familiar sadness creeping across my soul.
"It's not that," I say. "This is in my body."
"Yes. Your brain affects your body. But do you feel afraid?"
"I feel..." and I'm searching for something, some word. "I feel... guilty," I half-whisper. A pause. Then: "And yes. I feel afraid. All the time." My spirit is sinking.
"It's your bipolar disease," he said. And then, with a quizzical, half-laughing look in his eyes, he says: "Are you surprised?"
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