I was surprised. And angry. Angry that this old nemesis that had been slinking along behind me all this time had actually dared to show his ugly face again. And, at least a little bit, I felt something like a vague shame, an old shame, one shoved deep inside over the years but never fully hidden. Those of us who have this thing understand what I'm saying. It's a part of it all, somehow.

Runaway Train

For those who might have heard the term but never really understood its meaning, I'll give the simplest of explanations. Bipolar disease (sometimes referred to as manic-depressive illness) is a mood disorder, which means that the symptoms are disturbances or abnormalities of mood. It is characterized by "cycling" - the affected person is caught on a runaway train of vacillating emotional highs and lows. The high cycles - characterized by over-the-top exuberance, irritability, hyperactivity, and a decreased resistance to inappropriate and/or compulsive behaviors - are known as "manic episodes."

The low cycles manifest as clinical depression: dangerous levels of lethargy, sadness, and hopelessness. Then, there are periods of more normal mood in between . There are all sorts of technical classifications and terminology regarding levels of severity, and wide variances regarding cycling patterns. We won't go into all that in this limited space. But as with many kinds of emotional illness, there is a great deal of confusion and misconception regarding the true nature of the disease. I thought it important to encourage those who may suffer to reach out from within the prison of their shame for the healing that is available.
It's necessary to point out that what I am describing is not at all the same thing as normal mood-states of happiness and sadness. Symptoms of manic-depressive illness can be severe and life threatening. While individuals from across the population spectrum can be affected, I believe an inordinate number of artists, musicians and writers have suffered from various forms of this illness.

This has served in many ways to trivialize the destructive reality of bipolar disorder, being somehow regarded as beneficial for artistic creativity. Just this past December, Crystal Cathedral's Co-Minister of Music, Johnnie Carl, became a victim of his disease when he took his own life - on the church campus, no less. The loss was tragic.

But I was touched as I read a quote by Linda Carl, Johnnie's wife of 27 years, as she emotionally expressed her gratitude for the long support of Dr. Robert Schuller and his wife Arvella:  "I just want to thank you... for allowing him to be a part of this church and to work here, because I don't feel there are too many other places that would have accepted him, given the episodes that he had with his bipolar illness." Even in the midst of this confusing and often misunderstood disease, Johnnie Carl had been surrounded by friends willing to help. His wife understood this. "And he and I... truly appreciate the gift that you've given both of us."

Many of us love someone who suffers from this illness, and feel confused and helpless. In Part 2 of this article, we will explore in more detail the biophysical, genetic, and spiritual aspects of bipolar disorder. We'll also discuss what to do about it.

Have courage. You are not alone.

Jim Robinson is a successful songwriter, musician, speaker, author, and recovery counselor. A graduate of Christ Center School of Counseling and Addiction Studies, Robinson is founder of ProdigalSong, a Christian ministry utilizing music, speaking, counseling and teaching to convey healing for the broken spirit. For information about his ministry, music, or his book, also called Prodigal Song, visit www.ProdigalSong.com or contact Jim via e-mail: prodigalsong@juno.com