Religion Science

Why I am going to hell #3: I’m ~bipolar

June 27, 2010

The second semester of my freshman year of college was definitely one of the hardest times in my life. In October of 2007, on my first date with my first boyfriend, I ended up having a screaming, semi-physical fight with my parents in the street in front of my friend’s house that ended in them cutting off communication with me. A few months later, before another friend came to visit, a sudden wave of sadness hit me that ended in me crying for three hours straight and staying up the rest of the night trying to stave the emotions off. When my boyfriend came to visit me, before he left I clutched at him and begged him not to leave and ended up hurting myself when he did.

Between these times, I spent all of my money to the point of begging people for more money and accepting more loans to pay for my dorm room. I started going to counseling for suicidal thoughts.

And then, in March of 2008, I was finally diagnosed. After getting back together with my boyfriend, I woke up the next day consumed with the idea of killing myself. I ended up putting myself in the hospital, where they immediately tried to feed me (I hadn’t touched food for five days). Instead, I fell asleep for thirteen hours. When I woke up, I had boundless energy. I jumped from wall to wall and practically screamed when I spoke, even when I was right in front of another person.

“Have you ever heard of Bipolar Disorder?” my social worker asked me.

“Oh-yeah-that-would-make-sense-yeah-okay-maybe-I’m-that-wow-I’m-that-okay-cool,” I said in one breath. It was quite the revelation. I actually felt relief for the first day, knowing that, because there was a diagnosis, there had to be treatment.

About a month later, I realized why so many people with Bipolar Disorder kill themselves: nobody wants to live out of control of themselves. Nobody wants to be unpredictable even unto themselves. Nobody wants to deal with the idea that, for the rest of your life, there will be times when you feel so helpless about your situation that the only way out seems to be to end it all.

But, according to many Christian friends and people I have spoken to, the problem isn’t that there is a chemical imbalance in my brain that needs to be treated with a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy, as doctors would tell me. The problem is that I am afflicted by demons, or that I have been disobedient to God, or that I just do not trust God with my entire life, and if I did then I would be miraculously healed. They’ve heard of a person who knew a person who said that their sister was Bipolar but was healed through prayer.

That’s amazing for that person. I don’t have such faith that I can be “healed,” ever.

For the purpose of this post, I decided to do some research on what different people are saying about BP and the Bible. The first responses come from GotQuestions.org, a website where people ask questions and “experts” answer them according to what the Bible says.

  • “A sinful lifestyle can be one cause of depression or anxiety. In the case of a true believer in Christ, the person needs to realize that God is waiting for him to confess his sins, repent of them, and return to Him. Doing so will result in the spiritual, mental, and emotional healing a person seeks. Demonic influence is another potential cause of mental illness (2 Corinthians 4:4). A Christian can be influenced and/or oppressed by demons to the point of mental illness.”
    “Should a Christian see a Psychologist/Psychiatrist?”
  • “It is not sinful to see a psychiatrist. Doing so does not show lack of faith in God, although we should always go to God first for healing and direction.  … God often uses Christian psychologists and therapists to bring healing to His children. Seeing a trained Christian counselor or psychiatrist, however, is definitely preferable to a secular therapist who will give advice from a worldly viewpoint instead of a biblical one.”
    – “Should a Christian see a Psychologist/Psychiatrist?
  • “The Bible records individuals with inflated self-importance such as Goliath, Samson, King Herod, Nebuchadnezzar, and Pharaoh. The Bible typified this as a result of pride. … It seems that many of the warriors were extreme risk takers (David, Jonathan etc). Many of the religious leaders were obsessed with destroying Jesus. King Saul was obsessed with destroying David. These seem to be descriptions of individuals who could qualify as those experiencing ‘manic episodes.'”
    “What does the Bible say about being bipolar / manic depression?”
  • “Others who showed highs and lows include the following: David (Psalms); King Saul (episodes of usurping the authority of the prophet – 1 Samuel 13 and 15 then deep depression in chapter 16); Peter, as he was willing to step out on the water at one time, then act irrationally with fear at the trial of Jesus.”
    – “What does the Bible say about being bipolar / manic depression?”
  • “Psychology considers bipolar to be a disorder of the brain. Without debating the accuracy of that statement, one should still conclude that regardless of the affliction that might be upon the physical brain, there are certain responsibilities placed upon an individual to choose what things will be the focus of attention. Therefore, a believer should be concerned about the expectations and instructions that God has about depressive responses. Bringing the mind into obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), renewing thinking (Romans 12:2Ephesians 4:23Colossians 3:15), meditating on proper things (Philippians 4:8), and adjusting the focus of thoughts (Matthew 6:33Colossians 3:1) are God’s gift to overcoming depressive episodes.”
    – “What does the Bible say about being bipolar / manic depression?”

The first thing I have to say is that I truly believe that GotQuestions.org is a very well-meaning organization that truly focuses on trying to find Biblical answers to every question. And it’s no wonder; when I was little, my mother told me “you can find the answer to any question if you look in the Bible.”

But these descriptions of the disorder and trying to apply these symptoms to people who clearly had no mental disorder really makes the author of these articles look like a dog trying to give a speech.

Thankfully, somebody has already said everything that needs to be said about this topic: About.com user Ileana kicks ass while explaining why God would be pro-medication. To summarize:

Although there are Christians who are against any kind of medicines, a lot of Christians think its fine to take meds for ‘physical’ problems, but not for ‘psychological’ problems. Well, physically there’s proof of brain damage from manias. Apparently there’s also research indicating that depressions cause brain shrinkage. Also MRIs clearly show variations in brain functioning between those who are normal and those with depression. When a person is depressed, the brain colors are all kinds of blues. When a person is manic, the brain lights up with reds and yellows. These are physical manifestations of what some people call a purely emotional problem. …

Not taking meds means, quite literally, that you cannot follow Christ as closely as you would be able to otherwise. Does it make sense to you to choose a path that would lead you away from God? How in the world would that be pleasing to Him?

Reading these posts reminds me of the God that I have experienced through my emotions, the God who loves me and cares for me and made me perfect, Bipolar Disorder and all. I would like very much to find this God again, or perhaps an even better God that I’ve never known before. Maybe it will happen.

P.S. I am a bad person, but this made me laugh. I would love for somebody to try and give me this pamphlet.

P.P.S. Just so everybody is clear- I am very, very medicated, and also very, very counseled.

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3 Comments

  • Reply Sook! June 29, 2010 at 2:38 am

    I apologize if I’m getting tiresome, dear, =)

    But The Pharisees also claimed that mental or physical illness was a manifestation of divine displeasure – remember the story of the paralytic?
    Jesus said to him, “Your sins are forgiven.” Pharisees were all like “WTF BLASPHEMY FFFFUUUU” Jesus replied “which is easier to say, ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘get up and walk?’ but to shut you up, here you go – Get up, take your pallet, and go home!”

    Sickness (or indeed any kind of suffering) is not necessarily a benchmark for divine disfavor; to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, some of God’s “favorites” (see the Screwtape Letters) have gone through longer and deeper periods of suffering.

    • Reply Elizabeth Anne June 29, 2010 at 8:52 am

      Exactly. For this particular post, however, I decided to focus less on what actual Scripture says, because, honestly, it would be near impossible to condemn somebody with a mental illness using scriptural reference because mental illness is a Scriptural anachronism. Instead, I thought I would focus on the human aspect of the answers.

  • Reply Eliza February 16, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Galileo responded to those Bible quotes centuries ago. Scripture teaches us what we need to be spiritually sound, but it hasn’t taught me to cook dinner, how to fix my body when it’s broken, or whether we live in a heliocentric universe (see Galileo).
    To me, faith means action, like going to a doctor and trusting that what they tell me to do is going to fix me. I don’t think God wants us to passively sit around waiting for a miracle when there is help out there. So good for you for being medicated and responsible.
    Just my two cents.

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