Today's post was written by BH member, Melissa Parker.
“It's no different than a thyroid problem,” my psychiatrist assured me. “You don’t need to feel ashamed.”
What she said was true. Thyroid disorders can cause significant mood swings. And taking a tiny pill once a day can help regulate your body’s functions so you can live a normal life.
So it is essentially the same as a bipolar disorder.
Except that it’s not.
Because uttering the word thyroid doesn’t cause raised eyebrows or a sudden pause in conversation. And people don’t use it as a synonym for crazy when joking about how their boss was acting the other day.
I imagine it’s uncommon, too, for people with a thyroid disorder to be looked down upon for taking medicine for their condition.
I, however, have had many well-meaning people, mostly Christians, try to discourage me from just that. I've been told to pray more, to take more vitamins, to set aside time to work though any emotionally-taxing circumstances in my life, to “fake it til I make it,” and to “choose joy.”
And I don't fault them for that. I used to have the same thoughts about people who claimed to struggle with depression (all the while struggling with it myself). But I had tried all of those things for years, and still I just could not seem to snap out of my cycle of highs and lows.
Then the Lord led me to a gifted and God-loving psychiatrist who started me on some medicine-a mood stabilizer, to be exact. In just a short time, I noticed a huge difference. I could get out of bed in the morning. I could focus on exercising more, eating better, and sleeping better-all of which are crucial to keeping bipolar in balance. I could devote time and energy to processing hard circumstances instead of just collapsing under their weight, and I could think biblically and rationally about major decisions rather than simply basing them on my emotional state du jour.
After experiencing these changes firsthand, I came to realize that psychiatric medicines don't have to be considered a crutch. They can be an instrument of God’s grace, a tool used in His healing. I began to see my medicine as a gift, one for which I was incredibly grateful.
Except for when I had to go to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription. Or when church friends in the medical profession would come to my house and see the name of the drug on the bottle I'd accidentally left out. Or when, on mission trip applications, I had to list the medicines I was taking and why.
It was in moments like those that the questions and shame would start tightening their grip on me.
What if people found out I had a bipolar disorder? Would they think less of me or wonder if all of my genuine smiles and bursts of laughter were just an act or the result of some manic high? Would I still be able to lead a small group and deemed “emotionally stable” enough to head up our mission team?
Worst of all, would having bipolar hurt my witness? Would non-believers in my circle start to think that my Jesus wasn't enough? That the joy and peace of mind He gives aren't really real?
Those were the questions the devil wanted me to entertain. But none of them were grounded in Truth. I knew from Scripture and personal experience that God uses ALL things for good (Romans 8:28) and that He will maximize our greatest weaknesses for His greater glory (2 Corinthians 12:9). And so, by God's grace, I was eventually able to start entertaining this question instead: Lord, what do you want me to do with this?
He has answered, time and again, and I have gotten to see Him use my broken state in beautiful ways as a result.
Michele Cushatt, in her book Undone: A Story of Making Peace with an Unexpected Life, explained this reality perfectly: “Authenticity ministers far more than put-togetherness. And vulnerability builds a far stronger bond than perfection…Ministry —of the truest kind —isn’t about impressing unknown strangers with spotless presentations and a flawless life. It’s about exposing the hidden imperfections and giving others permission to do the same. Becoming a fellow struggler who delivers zero judgment but abundant grace.”
Having a bipolar disorder isn't something I ever would have chosen for myself. There are days - there are seasons - that are really, really hard. But it has been good for me. Good for my relationship with the Lord. Good for my ministry to and service of others.
It is a struggle, for sure. But now I can say that it is much more a gift.