These days life has been busy and exciting for me and my daughter, as we prepare to welcome our husband/Daddy back home for the first time in 4.5 years. As I ponder on what the future holds, I’ve been reflecting on the past, and doing some soul searching. I’ve had to take stock of several things that we did in the past that, knowing what I know now, we should probably do differently. This has required me to reevaluate what I thought I knew about bipolar disorder, and set about to arming myself with new information.
Most people operate under the assumption that, if a person with bipolar disorder has an episode or a break, it’s because they’ve stopped taking their medication. This is a myth.
Compliance can be an issue. However, sometimes you can be doing everything exactly right, and still struggle. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the meds stop working, or need to be tweaked. I have high blood pressure. I take medication. For a while, I was able to get away with a certain dosage. But one day, my numbers increased and did not go down with monitoring. So, I had to add another medication to my regimen. Instead of beating myself up and wondering what in the world I must have done “wrong” to cause my blood pressure to go up, I took the pill and ran with it. Guess what! Now I’m back to normal again. It’s not fun, but if I don’t want to end up like my brother, who passed away from complications of untreated hypertension, I have to take that medicine. I can watch my diet, exercise, lose some weight…but given my risk factors, it *may* be something I’ll just have to do for the rest of my life. It’s no different for someone with depression, anxiety, bipolar, or whatever. And I don’t understand why we as a society (or as a church!) can’t seem to wrap our minds around that, and see medication for a “mental illness” as somehow inferior or a weakness, or even demonic.
I’m preaching to myself here…but I digress…
When my husband left in August 2011, he was actually ON medication. He had been on meds consistently, at that point, for 4 years. Earlier in 2011, he began to experience some changes in his behavior and moods…which I personally believe was triggered by some unresolved trauma, which is a whole other issue, and a whole other blog post! Anyway, at that time, he was agreeable to go to the hospital to get checked out, at which time a decision was made to switch his medication. All of this was done “decently and in order”. We did everything right. As the year progressed, and we monitored the way my husband was responding to the new medication, it was becoming evident that something wasn’t quite right. But before we had the chance to get to the root of the issues, both psychological and pharmaceutical, he was gone.
But it’s not because he wasn’t taking his medication.
Nor was it because he was just being stubborn and “not taking responsibility” for his illness.
One of the hardest things to deal with, and one of the worst symptoms of the type of bipolar disorder that my husband has, is what is called “lack of insight” into his illness. In other words, when he’s sick, he has no idea he is sick, so if he thinks he’s not sick, then why would he get help?
I’m not talking about denial. Denial is when you lie to yourself, or try to run from the truth. “Lack of insight” into one’s illness is something totally different. I recently learned that this had a medical name and diagnosis: anosognosia, or “impaired awareness of illness”. In 16 years of marriage, and as much as I like to Google and research and dig and find answers, I had never heard of this term until literally last week. Can I just tell you that reading this page has changed my life????!!! It has put into perspective SO many things! Wow!
So now that I am armed with this new information, and now that my husband’s journey has led him to an entirely different course of medications and a whole new lease on his life, one of the biggest things I intend to do myself, and encourage him to do, is to take advantage of this season of wellness to be proactive; to arm and equip ourselves so that we never go through this again.
My friends, I don’t ever want to see my husband so sick, that he ups and leaves his family for 4.5 years. And I know for a fact that my husband does not ever want to get so sick that he finds himself in the position he’s been in these past 4.5 years. Along with his new meds, he’s found some new motivation, let me tell you!
So I suppose one of my hopes, as we move forward, is just that…to continue to move forward, and not go backwards, or deviate from what now feels like a good, solid path.
As a believer, when wrestling with issues of mental health, it can be oh so difficult to find the balance between what the medical field tells us, what the psychologists say, and what the Bible or the preachers say. I have to be honest in saying that in my years of experience in dealing with these issues, the least educated, compassionate, and informed people are those in some of the churches and fellow believers I’ve encountered. It is the sad, sorry truth. I fully believe that we are complex beings and that we are made up of body, soul (mind, will, emotions), and spirit. I believe there is a spiritual realm where darkness exists, and I also believe that the “demons” people use to describe issues metaphorically, can and often are, literal demons, like from the pits of hell. I believe Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and it is in Him we live, move, and have our being. I also believe that we live in a realm of deep brokenness, and we desperately need Him to fill in the gaps. I believe in the gift of medication that regulates my blood pressure, and keeps countless people healthy in mind and body. I believe that nothing of this earth…medication, counseling, what have you…can touch the spirit. I also believe that the spiritual reality is the higher reality. It’s deep, complicated, and wonderful!
Probably the hardest challenge for me in walking this journey has been trying to find the balance between spirit, soul, and body. I think that all this time, I’ve maybe tried to lump things into an “all or nothing” category…maybe he needs this pill, or this prayer, or this diet, or this demon needs to be cast out, or he just needs to deal with THIS issue…and THEN he’ll finally be well.
I’m coming to a place, though, where I’m finding that, not just with bipolar disorder but really with anything…there needs to be a more holistic approach to wellness, health, wholeness, peace, and joy. And all of these elements that address body, soul, and spirit, can actually work TOGETHER rather than compete with each other. Does that make sense?
So…that means, we need a whole TEAM of folks. Go to the preacher to feed your spirit. Go to the psychiatrist to get your pills. Go to the psychologist to talk about root issues. The preacher doesn’t have answers to deal with bipolar disorder, that’s not what he’s trained for, so don’t even bother seeking his advice on that subject, (unless he has personal experience with it). But if you need to understand a Bible passage, or get prayer for some deliverance or direction, then he’s perfect. The psychiatrist isn’t going to do anything for your spirituality. It’s not his job to address the spirit. He’s going to prescribe the pills that best fit your symptoms. Let him do his job. The psychologist cannot do anything about your meds, but maybe he can help with some “stinking thinking” and coping mechanisms. Round it out with a good dose of family and friendship, activities to enjoy, and some purpose...and you’ve given yourselfat least a fighting chance at success.
Along our journey, at some point we’ve had all of this in place…but like I said, I think the biggest mistake that we made…and maybe it was mostly me, I can’t speak for my husband…was thinking that ONE of them had “the magic pill/prayer/insight” that would be sort of a cure all or a boost into the wonderful world of health. It was all out of balance. The fact is, they all have something to offer…they all have a piece to make up a whole.
There’s that word again! Wholeness. That’s the goal, and my #1 hope. In fact, I’d take it further and call it “wholeness with a twist”, like the Japanese and their kintsugi. My prayer is that as the Lord puts my family back together again, we can end up becoming something even more beautiful than what we started out as.