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Thursday, January 06, 2011

BEING BIPOLAR, Part 1: The Tale of the Two Chris Knights

ADVISORY: What you are about to read contains lots of unpleasant information. I can't apologize for any misconceptions that will soon be shattered about Yours Truly. This is, to the best of my understanding, the honest truth and 100% accurate. If you're okay with seeing the dark side of mental illness in un-embellished detail, then read on. If not, there's plenty of other material on The Knight Shift to enjoy. But I wouldn't be writing about this at all if I didn't believe with all of my heart that I need to do this, regardless of what others might think of me. That said, I do hope you will press ahead...

A week and a half ago was the most very wonderful Christmas of my entire life.

It wasn't completely "perfect". One or two details were lacking that would have been the ideal "cherry on top". But the snowfall made it the first legitimate White Christmas here in almost half a century. My family was together. A number of friends visited my house in the days preceding the holiday. I got to deep-fry a lot of turkey.

The gifts were nice (and Dad even loved the Darth Vader spatula that I gave him)...

But best of all, and what most made it the finest holiday season that I have yet to have: it was the first Christmas of my life that I was able to experience and enjoy without the constant need of struggling to keep my own mind in check.

I hadn't even known... indeed I could not possibly have known until the latter half of 2010... just how much strength and energy and sheer focus I had been expending, ever since childhood, to keep myself from being overwhelmed by a mental illness that I wasn't aware of until recent years.

Most of the time, I was successful at doing that. And then there were times when I see that I wasn't.

I wish that I could report that those times were few and far between. But there were just enough of them that there came irreparable damage done to many of those things that I have held as most sacred. Things like friendships, career opportunities... and yes, my marriage.

Even the times when I could manage my mind well: those occasions too, were long bouts of constantly having to patrol my own thinking process. Forced to persistently beware and be aware that my thoughts and emotions could run amok in ways that I knew in my heart, I would never want to happen.

And all this time, all of the years of my life until now, I thought that this was how normal people existed. I really did come to believe that everyone else went through the same thing and "had it together" in a way that I could never seem to figure out how to do. I had no way of knowing that there was an entirely different, inestimably better manner of living.

I had been in the back of a dark cave for so long, watching a very complex and intricate shadow play cast on the walls by the world outside... and sincerely believing the shadows were life as everyone else knew it. I had no reason to even begin to grasp that what my condition had imposed upon me wasn't the way that people are meant to be at all. That my perception of the world was only a well-formed shade of what was truly possible.

And then, in these past several months, I was able to come out of it finally. And I could practically feel the chains and the shackles that had bound my mind for so long, falling away at last. I had been held back by more than I ever realized. It has taken a very long time and a lot of work, a lot of struggle, a lot of prayer, and a lot of patience to get to a place where I could experience that liberty of mind.

And today... I am free. For the first time, fully free to be the Chris Knight that God made me to be.

So now I am endeavoring to use what God has brought me through, to help others who also are suffering similar affliction.

I recently revealed on this blog to the public for the very first time that I have bipolar disorder. That I was diagnosed with it several years ago. I've been well aware for more than ten years about my severe depression. The bipolar however wasn't diagnosed until quite some time after that.

Since first revealing my condition, my disclosure has been the subject of a report by Bob Buckley of WGHP Fox 8. That was two weeks ago. Dozens of e-mails have come in since from people who've said that watching the story either helped them understand bipolar as they couldn't before, and more than a few from individuals who have bipolar who said they were thankful that this story did get produced because "this is what's needed to be said". I've even been approached in public by some who caught the report either from when it was broadcast or by watching it on the Fox 8 website. A few days ago I was at the Target store off New Garden Road in Greensboro when a woman came up to me and asked if I was the Chris Knight from the bipolar story. When I told her I was she said "Thank God that someone is doing this because someone's needed to do this for a long time."

It's a funny thing about life spent trying to serve God: you never know what direction He is going to spin you toward. Did I ever see myself as an "advocate for people with bipolar disorder"? Heck no! I still don't. I'm... only Chris Knight. Nothing particularly special, mind you. And as one friend told me last week, and I hope others will take this to heart as well: I am NOT a "mentally ill person".

What I am is a person who happens to have a mental illness. I can be defined by my condition, or I can choose to define it and what it will do to my life. I have chosen to make this a component of my life as opposed to that which will establish my life. Where once it was a weakness, I can and do now choose to make it a thing from which to draw strength.

And it would be the acme of selfishness on my part if I didn't use what I have gained through my own ordeal, and what God has taught me from the experience, to help those who are enduring the same affliction in some way or another...

The Me That I Never Chose To Be

What did bipolar disorder bring about in Robert Christopher Knight?

It made me to be a person that I was never meant to be, never chose to be, and had I been able to enjoy control over my mind for most of my life, a person who would never have existed at all.

Because of bipolar disorder (and the associated depression)...

- I have lost no less than three jobs because of violent outbursts on my part.

- I was charged in court with communicating threats in 2003 and very nearly served a jail sentence for it.

- I have been in numerous physical fights, for reasons which I can no longer remember. If there even was a reason at all for any of them.

- I have been handcuffed by law enforcement officers and taken to a psychiatric hospital against my will for observation and evaluation. Three times.

- I have contemplated suicide.

- In spite of everything that I believed myself incapable of doing and against every virtue that I have striven to hold true to, I did collect what can only be called material for pornographic use.

- I have driven off in the dead of night, without telling my loved ones where I was going. Because I didn't know where I was going either.

- I have screamed curses at God.

- I once slapped my mother.

- I have screamed obscenities at my wife and even called her a "bitch" (one thing that my condition made me do that I will never forgive myself for).

- I once threatened to leave my wife on the side of a highway in the middle of the night.

- At times I have not left my place of dwelling for a week or more, such was my mental incapacitation.

- There were other times when I was so obsessed with finishing a project that I forgot the safety and comfort of those closest to me.

- I reacted abusively to stimuli that were extraordinarily mundane (such as the shattering of a glass on a kitchen floor).

- I have made life a living hell too many times for the people that I have loved most.

- I did something to a friend that I had for a very long time, that brings me too much genuine shame and agony to even think about (much less write about it).

- I did many other terrible things that I still don't understand and probably may never even know about fully.

The Me That Is True

What you've just read is the ugliest list that I've ever compiled in my life. And that it is a list about my own life...

The things that bipolar drove me to do, the person that I became in moments of weakness because of my condition: none of those are what I am at all proud about having done.

But neither will I ever be ashamed to talk about them. I have no reason to be ashamed for them to be known.

I can say that in confidence because I do know - and God knows and understands even better than I possibly could - that those were not what the real Chris Knight is about or even capable of doing at all.

The real Chris Knight, the true Chris Knight, is someone who has done some pretty wonderful and amazing things in his life already, despite what he has had to endure. Such as...

- I worked and paid for my own way to visit friends in Europe at an especially young age.

- I have written the scripts for, produced and directed a number of original movies, and am working on a new one.

- I have run for public office. And came pretty close to winning a seat in the election.

- I have been asked to consider running for office again, by people who are widely respected and known for the strength of their character.

- I created a television commercial that has been broadcast around the world because of its clever (and entertaining) approach to a serious issue.

- I have served as treasurer for a statewide political campaign.

- I have read through the entire Bible. Twice.

- I have presented what has been called a "very original" and "insightful" historical thesis at a national research conference.

- I am an active participant in community theater, and have been a cast member in productions of The King and I, Children of Eden, Oliver Twist and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever among others.

- I have earned the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest and most difficult rank to attain as a Boy Scout.

- I have written one nonfiction book, am working on another, and have written a children's book that I hope to find a publisher for.

- Recently I have discovered that I have a talent for painting and am working to develop that talent further.

- I am learning how to make knives, including blades of Damascus steel.

- I have been a published writer for most of my life.

- For seven years I have maintained this blog while enjoying watching its readership grow (and I hope to continue finding new things to blog about for many years to come).

- I am a friend to a lot of people, each of whom I thank God for putting into my life.

- I have been called "loyal", "dependable", "trustworthy", "hard-working", "the most creative person I know", someone who "takes your relationship with God seriously", and "a person with a good heart" by those who know me.

- I have not once been drunk in my entire life. Neither have I ever used illegal drugs. I've never even smoked a cigarette.

- I made what has come to be widely-cited legal history by fighting against a wrongful copyright claim.

- I am probably the first person in history to address a school board meeting while wearing a full Jedi Knight costume (and later that night the board rescinded the policy that we were there to contest).

- Something that I wrote stopped a person who read it from going through with committing suicide. A person who has since been blessed with marriage and two beautiful children.

- My parents have told me that they are proud to have me as their son.

- I am writing poetry again for the first time in a long time.

- I am currently writing my first stage play.

- I have been called someone "who fights for what's right no matter how unpopular it is."

- I have been called "truer than a brother" by my closest friends.

- For six years I was a devoted husband who sincerely did his best to serve his wife, and was fiercely loyal and utterly faithful to her. I saved myself for marriage, waiting to give the gift of myself to my wife.

- Most important of all, I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I have been for more than fourteen years now, and ever since choosing to follow Him I have done my absolute best to serve God with all the talents and abilities that He has blessed me with. Not because I feel like I have to, but because I earnestly desire to serve Him with all of my heart, all of my strength, and now – finally – with all of my mind.

Going From Here...

Two sets of characteristics that could not be more wildly different from each other than night and day. One the defining aspects of a monster, the other those of a person trying to contribute as best he can from an active and productive life.

One of those was a Chris Knight that came about from my own mind turning against me. A Chris Knight that was the product of a mental illness... a medical illness... that could not have been prevented and that I was helpless to stop.

That was a false Chris Knight. A Chris Knight that thankfully, I don't ever see will be coming back again... but neither am I able to forget the lessons that the real me has had to learn from him.

Nor will I ever be able to claim that I am "cured" of bipolar disorder. This is something that has no cure. For the rest of my life I will have to take medication and be in counseling of some kind or another to keep this managed and under control.

But you wanna know something? I'm thankful for that, and not in the perverse way that some readers of this blog have come to expect either.

I am better today than I was a week ago, and I'm not as good today as I will be a week from now. That kind of self-improvement only comes from work and commitment and self-discipline. Bipolar could have destroyed me. Now, it stands to be something that, thanks to God and a lot of people who have been helping me through this, will be what I can gain strength and purpose from.

For seven years this blog has wound up having to take on corporate multimedia giants, larcenous elected officials, twisted cults out to destroy the right to worship in peace, and more. Now, I am being led to use it to take on something else: my own mental illness.

And as much effort and determination as I had toward the pursuit of all those other things, I now commit myself toward honestly and sincerely examining my own condition and weakness. With even more effort and determination.

Bipolar disorder can ravage my mind. It has led to the destruction of much that I have held dear. It has caused a lot of people that I care about to suffer. It has brought to an end so many hopes and dreams that I have had.

But, it can not touch my soul.

And mine is the soul of a good person.

Not a "perfect" person. There has been only One perfect Person in the history of this world. The One Whom I owe every good thing in my life... and that includes delivering me from the very worst of mental illness so that I can, at last, have life full and abundant.

However much mental illness has held me back, I have been able to still pull off some pretty interesting feats and have plenty of great adventures. And that was with bipolar and depression. What might happen now that I don't have those holding me back?

I don't know... but I'm eager to find out!

And if I can help others going through the same to have a better life, then that'll make it all the more worth doing this.

I have spent a lot of time lately crying out to God. Telling Him that I can't understand why He would allow me to have this condition when it has cost me so much, in ways that I thought ran completely contrary to His nature as I have come to understand Him. The apostle Paul cried out to God about a "thorn" in his flesh. I have had to cry out to Him about something that, in my opinion, has been far worse: a thorn in my mind.

God's answer to me has been the same as what He gave to Paul: "My grace is sufficient".

I don't know why God has let some of the things happen to me because of this. As I said in the Fox 8 interview I would have been happier with God, if He had to allow me to be stricken with anything, if instead He let me be hit with cancer or muscular dystrophy or some other condition that people for the most part do understand and appreciate. There is still too much stigma about having a mental illness: as if those suffering from it are "crazy" or "insane" or "just plain nuts" or whatever.

Maybe that's why God allowed me to have this. So that in some small way, I can do what I can to prove otherwise.

If so, well... I intend to play this thing to the hilt.

This is the first of what will be an ongoing series of The Knight Shift examining bipolar disorder, from the perspective of someone (namely me) who must live and deal with it. In future installments I'm planning on attempting to describe what exactly a bipolar "episode" is like, some meditation upon mental illness and how it effects one's conscience, an essay on the responsibilities of those with mental illness (ooh-boy, that one is gonna be interesting). And - there's no real way to avoid this - the effect of bipolar on a marriage: something I've felt obliged to talk about since finding that more than 90% of those with bipolar who are married end up divorced. Those are just some of the facets of bipolar and other mental illness that, Lord willing, I will be delving into from the perspective of one living with it.

All I can do is honestly and candidly share my own experiences and observations with whoever might happen upon this humble - and humbling - effort to examine not only a mental illness, but my own life.

And maybe... just maybe... other people will get to have the best Christmas of their lives just shy of twelve months from now, too.

If so, then I will absolutely thank God that He chose to use me to help them have that.


bmovies said...

If its any consolation, the Robert Christopher Knight I know is a kind, wonderful, decent, terrific and beautiful human being and friend whom I love. :-)

"- I reacted abusively to stimuli that were extraordinarily mundane (such as the shattering of a glass on a kitchen floor)."

Now thats familiar. Sounds just like my mother.

Jenna St. Hilaire said...

Brave post.

Parts of your list of wrongdoings sound like the stories that go around when someone's on a bad mix of medications. Mind-altering chemical imbalances really do happen.

It does me good to hear that you had the best Christmas of your life, that you're getting some experience of life outside the immediate power of depression. May God bless and preserve and strengthen your mental freedom, brother.

Si said...

Living with these things is one hell of a cross to bear, especially if you can't find a way to forgive yourself.

This is a real cartharsis of the soul, you have your readers respect and admiration.

Brian Fesperman said...

You are an incredibly brave person! I would imagine that others with bipolar have and continue to hide this affliction, simply because of the aforementioned negative stigmas attached.

You, on the other hand, have the strength of soul, and strength of MIND to not only face this head on, but also share it for as much of a benefit to others as to yourself.

We may not have been close friends, but friends, nonetheless, and that is a friendship I am proud of. That said, I am proud of you!

Hang tough and remember that you have friends near and far that will support you in whatever ways they can.
Great job!

Anonymous said...

A friend sent me this post today because she knew that I've had bipolar for most of my life. I wish somebody had written this 20 years ago because it would have saved me and my family much pain. Thank you for being so courageous about writing on this Chris!

Anonymous said...

Very personal and moving. I look forward to more in this series.

Leslie said...


Your identity is with Christ, not your mental illness. You are honoring God and He will honor you. That is promised to us in Scripture. And any Christian woman would be proud to have a man like you in their life. I pray that God will bless my own daughter with a man with your faith and integrity.

Praying for you my brother in Christ!

Leslie, in Wisconsin

Kyle said...

Chris there's nothing to be ashamed about having a mental illness. Its the ones who look down on and abandon those with mental illness who should be ashamed of themselves. It is an incredibly courageous thing that you are doing in coming out and talking about your suffering and losses from depression and bipolar. My prayer is that this will be a message read and listened to by the people who most need to hear it.

Eric P said...

A fellow Eagle Scout. I didn't know. I bet you're an OA brother too right? (:

Shelly said...

This post is everything that every writer and every blogger should aspire for.

"Something that I wrote stopped a person who read it from going through with committing suicide. A person who has since been blessed with marriage and two beautiful children."

The next time you despair Chris, remember this. Three people are alive today because of you making the most of the ability God gifted you with.

I'm glad to know this about you. But I'm sure you didn't write it to boast about it.

Anonymous said...

Chris reading this brought tears to my eyes. I didn't know all the things you have gone through in your life. You have always been a good person to me and you are doing a great thing by telling others about your dark passage and how God brought you through it. Remember we are weak but He is strong! And I know He will honor you greatly as you honor Him.

~a friend from Elon

Chris Knight said...

Eric P: Yep! I took the Ordeal when I was 13 years old. I made Brotherhood the following year. Sad to say though that I haven't made Vigil (Lord willing that will happen someday but I need to get more involved with OA stuff). I did go to two NOACs though: one in Colorado and then one two years later at University of Indiana.

But I'm telling you here and now: I've never been the same since undertaking my Ordeal. People said I was quiet and contemplative before but those 24 hours of not talking... changed me. In a good way :-)

Chris Knight said...

Shelly, in any other circumstance I would never, ever have written about that. Because, well... it does seem too much like boasting, when it's something that doesn't need boasting about at all.

But when one has also just confessed that he has contemplated suicide, such as in an essay contrasting the real me versus the me that bipolar brought about, that honestly did become the most powerful thing to set against that negative.

Erica Jones said...

Dear Chris:

John 3:30

We must decrease so that He will increase.

That is the great secret of joy in Christ.

And you brother are living it with your life and your testimony.

I would ask that you restate in your series that no mental illness is sin or judgment from God. It is something that I have encountered in my own life in many members of my family. It is disease and one that needs medical treatment and giving over to God just like any other disease.

Thank you for writing about this! God bless.

Chris Knight said...

Erica: it won't be the next one, but the subject of bipolar/any mental illness, what it can make a person do and what is not... along with what is... that person's responsibility, will be the subject of an upcoming installment in the series.

In some ways, it's the one that I think will be the most interesting of what's planned thus far.

Will E-Am said...

What an extraordinary posting. It would not be surprising if a book and a movie sprang from this blog.

Marc said...

"It would not be surprising if a book and a movie sprang from this blog"

Now who can we get to play me in the movie?

Chris Knight said...

Marc: I see either Philip Seymour Hoffman (that was the second thing that came to mind) or yourself in a special cameo appearance (and that was the first :-)

Gillian said...

Reading over the 'good' list for the 3rd time. Chris most people I know would be glad to have done just two or three of those things! You have lived a remarkable life already. Helping people with bipolar by talking about your own is POWERFUL and brave! I'll be checking your site to read more =)

Silverbeast said...

This is the only blog that I know of that I could read something like this.

When will part 2 be published?

Praying for you Chris!

Chris Knight said...

Part 2 is being written (and rewritten) right now. It'll likely get posted early next week.

And I've also got a teeny bit of Part 3 written already.

Part 2 is going to be fairly clinical. Talking about what bipolar disorder is as a disease, what it was like for me to go through the worst of it, etc. Many folks are gonna find Part 2 to be pretty boring.

Part 3 will probably make up for that though...

Ashley M said...

Chris, my friend, my brother;

I am honored and humbled by your post: I am honored to have known you for as long as I have, to have seen your faith in Christ grow since we met in BSU at Elon, to have shared one of your "true me" events (NCUR in Rochester was fun!), and to have been your friend through it all.

I am humbled just in general: you are sharing such a deep personal part of yourself to the world, as I am sure God has placed this on your heart to do, and have revealed so much...I wonder if I have that strength (and then I think, not my strength, but Thine, oh Lord.) I praise God for you. Keep following that path that God has given to you...keep shining light through the darkness in this world...keep being you, the true you.

Love in Christ