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Wednesday, January 31, 2024

God and mental illness: Why won't He heal my mind?

Obviously the notion entered my mind that maybe this could be an installment of the Being Bipolar series (which there may be much more material for coming soon).  But Being Bipolar is more about the disease itself, and is intended to be a resource for those looking for insight and information from someone who lives with that condition.

What I'm sharing now, on the other hand, has less to do with that aspect of my life than it does with others.  Although mental illness is certainly the precipitant.

It was twenty-four years ago this month that the symptoms of manic depression, or bipolar disorder, first began to manifest themselves in me.  At first it was wildly intoxicating, all the boundless energy and creativity that came seemingly out of nowhere.  I was still looking for a job post-college and failing in that but other opportunities were coming to the fore (like my time at Star Wars website TheForce.net, which gets a bit of interesting light shined upon it in the book I'm currently writing).  Long story short, I was bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm and optimism and sheer drive.  That those seemed to be peppered with moments of despair - like the horrible night that winter when I stripped off all my clothes and tried to freeze myself to death during a snowstorm with temperatures in the single digits - were inconsequential to how inflamed my uttermost being had become.

By early spring however, it was increasingly obvious that something was very, very wrong with me.

That was almost a quarter century ago.  But it seems like only yesterday.  In one way or another bipolar disorder has been in the background of everything that I have attempted or somehow accomplished despite the condition.  It has factored into my relationships (one of which ended in divorce), in my career history, in my choice to leave my old hometown... there has not been a single aspect not impacted by manic depression.

And all along, there has been one question that has been most on my mind: Why did God let this happen to me?

Two and a half decades later, I'm no closer to understanding the reason than I ever was.  But there has been a modicum of comfort to be drawn from scripture.  Second Corinthians 12:9 has the apostle Paul sharing with us that God told him "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'"  Or as my Uncle Nub once told me: "Maybe God let you have it because He knew you could take it."

The verse continues: "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me."  Which dovetails well, I think, with Romans 8:28, a verse that a colleague quoted to me yesterday:

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

It has taken many years to come to this place, where I am no longer angry at God for allowing mental illness - something that at various times I have described as a "hell" - to strike me.  I better understand now that this is still a fallen world, and not all the medication and counseling remotely possible is going to change that.  I believe that God is the master Healer, and that there is no disease which is not without His power to alleviate.

But even so, disease happens.  It can occur within anyone, with all its nefarious varieties.  I suppose that I should consider myself blessed.  In two months I turn fifty and at my last medical examination the doctor told me that I've the health of someone in his early thirties.  Obviously God has let my physical well-being be good.  That is more than a lot of guys in my demographics get to have.  The only real physical malady I have is anemia, something that prevents me from being a blood donor anymore.  Perhaps sooner than later we'll get to the bottom of what's causing it, because I hate being out of the running with my friends who contribute blood.  But I digress...

With time has come understanding, and I hope a little wisdom.  And it has also brought with it an appreciation for my condition.  Had the economy not taken such a turn downward I might still be enjoying a career as a full-time peer support specialist with the state's department of mental health.  That is a job you literally must be crazy to have, I often tell those who don't know what peer support entails.  I was someone who made use of experiences and intensive training toward helping other people, who also have mental illness, and letting them have a chance at full and meaningful lives.  It was the most personally rewarding work that I have ever done and I would be doing it forever if that had been possible.  I got to be of assistance to a lot of good people.  Some of whom I still keep in touch with, just letting them know I still care about them.

Some people who God has placed in my path at times, have been close to giving it all up.  Have gotten too close to the line separating want-to-live from I-want-to-die.  I've been there too, more times than I can possibly count.  And ironically I got to be the one who convinced them that their lives are worth living.  I got to be someone who saw how precious their existences are, when they could not see it themselves.

It's possible that a lot of people wouldn't be with us still today, had it not been for God letting me have a mental illness that put me in their place first.  But I don't say that to boast.  God can be glorified in even our worst weaknesses.  If some are still alive today, that's His doing and not mine.  I'm just the instrument He chose to use.

And I can and will be thankful for that honor.

I guess the catalyst for this post is that, recently, I did something rather foolhardy and potentially very dangerous.  I attempted to move out of the way of God from healing me.  Or in other words: I tried to be made whole by faith only.

And so it is that I went a few days without my medication.

There wasn't any one agency that led me to attempt such a thing.  At various times across the decades I've earnestly wondered if my faith in God was not enough: that maybe He would heal me if only I had more trust in Him.

I went off the meds and instead I threw myself into prayer and fasting.  I turned toward immersing myself in scripture.  I asked for prayers from others: something which has become a regular occurrence for me and indeed I do not believe that I would be here today were it not for prayers from people dear to me.  I covet prayer now.  Which is another irony, since once upon a time I would have likely laughed at such a notion.

I tried relying entirely on having faith in God, that He would deliver my mind from the torment of mental illness.

And in the end, He did not do that.

After two days being without the meds my thoughts began racing out of control, again.  But I tried to endure.  Sought to increase my faith.  I want to think that my faith in Him is strong enough that it weathered the torture without ceasing to trust Him completely.

I went as far as could be tolerated before going back on the meds.  Blessed relief arrived a few hours later.

So, once again, God did not heal me from bipolar disorder.

Or, maybe He did.  Maybe He still is.

We are told that Luke, the writer of the eponymous gospel as well as the Book of Acts, was a physician.  Doubtless he of all people understood the wondrous qualities of human health and self-care.  I don't know what medications were available circa 60 A.D., apart from a form of aspirin known to the ancient Greeks.  But Luke was in all likelihood well versed in their array and uses.  God gave Luke a capable mind and adept hands to be a healer.  Perhaps God was not dealing out divine intervention toward the healing of those in Luke's care, but He certainly was the ultimate Author of betterment and recuperation.

I have to believe that God gave us a beautiful thing in medical science.  Something that can not so much replace God's place in healing as it does complement it.  In the employ of those dedicated and devoted to the healing arts, medicine is by its very existence a miracle of God.  In its purest form medicine is a thing wholly given over to the betterment of life.

I can't possibly contend that medical science is something God would not want us to make the most of, if it means having better and more purposeful life.

What about when medical science fails?  I have friends who in recent weeks have each lost a loved one to disease.  Is that a judgment against medicine when it could not prevent their respective passing?  No, it is not.  As I said before, it is a fallen world.  Injury and illness have been a part of that imperfection for a very long time and barring God's intervention that doesn't look to change anytime soon.  Nothing is guaranteed.  We can only trust in God and His will, that things are going to work out for the best in the end.  And that's the absolutely best answer that I can give.  But I've seen His will work out well before.  I have to believe that His will, will manifest itself as something that gives Him the glory and proves to be of benefit to us.  God operates on a vaster scale of time than we can comprehend.  And even the failures of the best of our schemes will serve to honor Him, in the end.

Personally, I believe that this lifetime isn't all that we get.  There is more past that.  What form that takes is up to the person living it.  God knows who are His.  For the one who loves God, this life and its afflictions are not the end.  There is something better waiting for us still.  I dream of having a mind that isn't plagued by mania or depression or sometimes both at once.  That is coming, in the fullness of His time.  And that is a great comfort.

I'm not going to willingly go off the medications again.  I've tried trusting God to take my condition away from me.  For whatever reason, He has not done that.  But He has provided knowledge and wisdom and tools that can make the condition much more better manageable than it would be without those things.  Here I am on the cusp of fifty, and with each passing day I feel more like what it is to not have a mind turned against itself.  I feel younger today than I ever have, and it's because of what God has provided many scientists, researchers, and engineers with over the course of the centuries and especially the past several decades.

But of course, it never hurts to pray too.


Solomon Grundy said...

Another great post Chris. I am glad that you have come to be in the place you are with God. More than you know, you are a light in this dark world.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I've been reading Knight Shift for a long time now and it is so beautiful seeing how far you have come. You have always been a good person an an _amazing_ writer. Your faith in Christ has grown so beautifully and you have a way of expressing it that can't be imitated. I will be praying that you just keep getting better and stronger in your faith AND your mind. God is doing amazing things with you, I have no doubt about that.


Pete said...

Hey Chris: Johnny Robertson is still using your pics! What, that was like 2009 you took him on. I can't believe he's still breathing threats against the real kingdom of God. Some people don't know when to give it up. I found his YouTube channel and for giggles looked at the stills. It seems he's run out of fresh material so he rehashes video from 15 years ago. Don't doubt your work you alerted churches and he and his gang aren't harassing them anymore. Thanks for doing that and glad to see you are still posting!!

Chris Knight said...

He's still around?

People like Robertson are really very pitiful. They will never know the true joy of Christ. They almost literally crawl over prairie, lake, desert, and ocean to find even one convert, who they make "twice a son of hell" than they were before.

I was against legalism when I posted about Robertson and his cult. Time and wisdom with it has made me even more against it.

We heed God because we WANT to, not because we HAVE to. God did not make us automatons when we were given salvation.

It's very tragic that some people can't or won't see that.