Take a look at this. Is mental illness ever a gift?
My answer is a resounding no.
How can one even begin to describe depression? Depression robs me of everything. My ability to feel happiness, to function adequately, to interact with my husband. I become a soulless, dead creature. I no longer think I’m capable of succeeding in any area of my life, I want to run away from my life, avoid all responsibilities. I cannot find enjoyment in the activities I used to love. I become terrified of facing the world outside, my bed seems like the most appropriate place for me. I end up ceasing to function at work, unable to be with people at all, unable to concentrate on even a single email.
At my worst I fantasise about the ultimate way of avoiding life, to abruptly end my own. I am bombarded with images of myself covered in blood, of deliberately hurting myself, of jumping down a four-flight stairwell, leaping in front of a train, smashing my head off a pebbledash wall. Usually these images race around my mind against my will. I didn’t deliberately start dwelling on images of blood and death. I remember being incredibly scared when it first started happening, some nine months ago.
Anxiety is a real bitch too. Always the worst case scenario, always the what if. Always the heart pounding, racing, galloping. Always the hands shaking, the neck tensing, the palms sweating. Always the absolute conviction that the destruction of my life is imminent. Always the threat of breaking down into heaving sobs, rocking back and forth, desperately trying to keep the terror at bay. Always the image of a little girl hiding under a table.
And the flip-side? Well, for me, I am lucky. It is merely hypomania. It should be great. It is great. It feels wonderful. The world is brighter, cleaner, fresher. I remember feeling all the connections between living beings, creatures, plants, trees, earth. Everything becomes just that little bit more alive. I can do anything, I am awesome. I will graduate university with distinction, go on to become a fabulous research student, teach future generations of students, write profound, inspiring books. I will adopt a child, hubby and I will spend hours and weeks playing in the garden with a beautiful daughter, life full of joy and laughter. I feel laughter bubbling out of me. I am amazing with people, I charm everyone with my spectacular wit. I bounce with happiness.
And I completely forget reality.
This is the part that people love about Bipolar. The endless energy, the confidence, the inspiration. But what about when it tips? When I can’t control my irritation with how slow the rest of the world is, when other people stubbornly refuse to go along with my plans. When I can’t sit still, when my fingers type too fast for my keyboard and I can’t concentrate on my tasks at work. When my heart just refuses to slow down, when I trip up over my words, when I want to punch a wall and scream and shout.
Some people say that normal is boring. I wouldn’t know, for I have never experienced it. Perhaps it is. My moods have rarely been stable for longer than a couple of weeks at a time, and even when they are, anxiety is my constant companion. It is hard to know what I am truly passionate about, what I love, what I care about, as my emotions are forever in flux. My sense of self was for years in doubt. Was I an introvert or an extravert? Shy or confident? The answers would be different depending on who you spoke to. Do I love my job or hate it? Do I love my MA or hate it? Am I even capable of doing it? Of maintaining a consistent passion for something, without changing my mind and moving onto a new project?
Mood states (depressive or hypomanic) interfere with my perceptions of reality. I am a truly hideous creature, not worthy of the air I breathe. I am fabulous, witty, intelligent, bound to succeed at whatever I put my hand to. My faith in God is not exempt from these shifts in perception. I have felt extraordinarily close to the presence of God, close enough as though to touch him. And I have truly believed that he doesn’t exist, that even if he does exist he hates me, will strike me down one day. I struggle to believe he loves me. I struggle to believe my own belief, because it has shifted so frequently, because it could all be down to a simple chemical reaction mis-firing in my brain.
Please do not misunderstand me. I have learned a lot through having this illness. I have learned compassion. As more time elapses, I care more about people. I care so much it hurts. It is my goal in life to love with all my heart, to provide comfort, friendship, empathy to those in despair.
I believe that my faith will ultimately become stronger though this illness. I have learned much about God’s character, surprisingly often in the midst of my depressive episodes. When I started dwelling on death I was drawn to dwelling on heaven. Of course, I wished to depart there forthwith, but I will not hasten the time by my own hand. It brings me joy even in the depths of misery to reflect upon the new life that will be drawn from these ashes. That one day I will sing and dance in praise of God, in true delight. I do not believe I would have crept into these places of reflection were it not for being crippled, pulled down into my own darkness. Because there I could not rely on myself any longer, I had no strength left to fight. There the hand of my Lord could come down and lift me unto one almighty cuddle.
We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4
I am slowly finding this to be the case. But see what it says? We glory in our sufferings. I do not believe this to be a gift. It is suffering, pure and simple. If I could only will it, I would take away mental illness from this life, from those people who I care so much about. But I will use it to develop God’s love in me. And know that God is there through all the seasons of my soul, both up and down.