The Storm inside my Brain

Good Monday Morning.

As I contemplated what to write about this week, this photo came up in my Facebook memories.

My niece Rachel created this drawing in an art class when she was a teenager. When I saw it, I asked if I could have a copy. She gave me the original.

(Warning: This is a long and emotional post.)

This artwork is a picture of what it feels like in my brain when I am battling depression and anxiety. I read a book once, “There’s a storm inside my brain.” Someone who has never experienced it themselves cannot fully understand.

Having navigated through the challenges the past 11 years have brought, since I lost my husband in a tragic work accident, I now live in a place of mental stability. But it’s been hard-won.

Sometimes, circumstances come up that set me back emotionally. Then the battle rages and I struggle.

I’ve been very candid about my journey out of depression and my bouts of anxiety. I feel that by being open and sharing how I have worked through it, that someone else might be helped. Maybe it won’t take them 8 years of counseling to work through their problems, and they will find healing quicker because of what I’ve shared about my own struggles.

Today I’m sharing another part of my journey.

My daughter was born in March 1993. At my yearly physical in October 1993, I cried in my PA’s office. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I believe now that I suffered from undiagnosed postpartum depression that never went away.

The next year was a blur as we lost my husband’s dad and my mom had health problems. I was overwhelmed with having two young kids. I took shots for birth control that made me gain weight and I was overall unhealthy.

In October 1994, I went back to the PA for my yearly checkup. I cried again. She said I was depressed and put me on Zoloft. She put me on three pills a day and recommended counseling. I found a Christian counselor but it was an hour from my house and I couldn’t make the appointments with two small children. The counselor said part of my problem was living in an old trailer with dark walls and I needed light.

In January 1995, I saw a medical doctor for for a routine appointment. He said I was on a high dose of Zoloft. Instead of cutting back the dose, I went against medical advice and cut it out.

Part of the reason for stopping my medication was that I’d asked for prayer for healing. The minister prayed that I would be delivered from the spirit of depression. I wrongly felt that if it were a spirit of depression, then when he prayed for me, I was healed. The pastor didn’t know I was on medication and may never have suggested I quit taking it, but I will never know, because that’s what I did.

We bought a doublewide that let lots of light in and I was good emotionally for a couple of years, before the pattern started all over again. Depression filtered through my life until I had more bad days per month than good.

During those years, I struggled to maintain the house and tried a variety of different jobs, unsuccessfully. I had health issues due to the weight gain and poor diet and lack of exercise.

In 2003, my life crash came crashing down. After a few traumatic weeks of slipping slowly, I suddenly spiraled into a state where my sense of reality was altered. Fortunately, I was committed to a mental hospital before I hurt myself or caused anyone else to get hurt.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

I was immediately put on medication and attended therapy sessions. When I was released a few days later, I didn’t feel confident about going home. However, I had the support of my husband, parents, in-laws and siblings. Together they formed a support network, helping with the kids and house and taking me to my appointments.

I started seeing a counselor who gave me very practical things to work on. Over the next few months, I worked with her as the medication began to take effect and work in my brain. A gain of 40 pounds in 9 months caused more physical health problems and a change in medication helped control that issue.

I vividly remember every detail of the virtual nightmare that caused me to be hospitalized. While it was a horrible experience for myself, my husband and my kids, it was a necessity to bring me to a point where I could find help.

Like I mentioned, that was in 2003. I began a many-years-long struggle to overcome the depression and anxiety that had marked my life up to that point. I had ups and downs, which is common with bipolar. I never quit going to the psychiatrist. I worked with a variety of counselors, getting some help here and there.

The psychiatrist tried different medications and several times a combination worked. Then I would think I was feeling better and drop one, only to have problems a few weeks or months later. Eventually, I learned to take the medications as prescribed, and found a sense of normalcy.

When my husband passed away suddenly in 2010, I thought I would fall apart. But somehow, by the grace of God and my network of support, I managed to carry on with life and take care of my kids.

But I was stuck in grief that turned into depression. I didn’t know how to change or move forward.

In 2013, God led me to the Christian counselor who literally changed my life. I’ve shared details about my journey through depression in previous blog posts, so I won’t go into that here.

I haven’t, however, admitted to the bipolar diagnosis prior to now to anyone besides family and a few friends.

I hope that you, as my faithful readers, will be understanding.

Maybe you have someone in your life that you can relate this to.

Or maybe some of you struggle with the chemical imbalance.

I freely admit that I am taking a blend of medications that keep me from spiraling again into mania or falling into depression. I don’t even want to think about where I would be today if I didn’t have the support of my siblings and aunts (My parents passed away in 2004 and 2005) who listened to my problems and took me to appointments. Or without the medication prescribed by the psychiatrist I’ve been going to since 2003, and in recent years, the Christian counselor.

I’ve heard that people with bipolar disorder often self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. As a teen, I did try a sip of beer one time and spit it into the sink. I also tried a couple of sips of a mixed drink one time and though it didn’t taste bad, the person I was with wouldn’t allow me more than two sips, as I was a minor. I’ll always be thankful for that.

Those few sips were the extent of my trying alcohol. Through God’s provision, I went away to a Christian college and stayed in the dorms. God protected me from getting into situations where my faith would be compromised. As a result of the Bible teaching and Christian fellowship, my faith became grounded.

I admit that in 2013, I was tempted to turn to alcohol when I faced the third anniversary of my husband’s death. I abstained from drinking. Instead, I ate a cake labeled, “Death by Chocolate” that raised my blood sugar. Shortly after that anniversary date, God led me to the Christian counselor who has changed my life through the way she shares God’s truth with me.

I now know that depression is not a spirit that can be prayed out of someone. I don’t know what the Biblical reference is for that belief. I do know that depression and bipolar disorder are chemical imbalances in the brain.

I read somewhere that a person can be predisposed to bipolar disorder and never experience it in life. But another person who is predisposed might have enough stresses in life to bring it out. That’s what happened to me. Many different problems outside my control collided and caused me to slip over the edge of reality and I suffered a mental breakdown.

Where was God in all of this?

Why didn’t He heal me?

Why did He allow me to break down in the first place?

Why did He allow all of those things into my life that caused the breakdown?

I can’t begin to answer all of those questions.

For me, the answers don’t matter.

I believe:

God is good all the time.

He created a perfect world. When sin entered into the world through the fall of Adam and Eve, it created problems in every area of life. Sickness and disease, even mental illness, are a result of the fallen world.

A Christian can have mental illness. It isn’t a spiritual problem. It isn’t a sin. It isn’t a condition that can be changed through prayer alone. If it were, I would not have dealt with it over and over again in my life.

However, I am a walking example of how God has brought healing into my life. With time, medication, a strong support system, a wise medical team and counseling that is retraining my brain to think positively about God and myself, I live most of my days with my mind at rest from the storms of bipolar.

That doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I haven’t had a full-blown mania episode since that first one in 2003, although certain times of the year or circumstances might cause me to spiral a little. That’s where my support system, a tweak of my medication and additional counseling pull me back from the brink.

I don’t know what the future holds, what the challenges are that I will yet have to face. I do trust God with my future, however.

Phillipians 1:4-6 says:

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

A common saying when I was growing up was, “God’s not finished with me yet.”

I’m so thankful that He isn’t done renewing my mind with the truth of His word. Every time I rise to and defeat a challenge, my faith in God, and my confidence in myself, get stronger. He is a perfect God, and He has a plan for my future.

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