Mania, O Mania

I’m coming to terms with mania. Not judging myself, but noticing. For months I’ve been getting in touch with the depression side of being bipolar. When I accepted the depression, I was able to move on a bit by admitting to myself that I can live with this until it passes, though it’s rough. My God is it rough.

At the same time I’ve begun exploring the past, beginning with last summer, moving backwards to college years and seminary years. And I found mania. Phases of mania that have affected all the major decisions I’ve made, and even what I’ve experienced as faith.

Symbols I'm Pondering: Scared to Walk This Road

Deep breath. Don’t panic.

Who am I? It seems that somewhere underneath the mania that has influenced the decisions I made while feeling Good (i.e., manic) is someone I don’t know. Because all the decisions that I thought shaped me into who I am, I made while manic. What would I have done had I been clothed and in my right mind?

My past is not what I thought. I felt good and up and able to tackle problems during semesters, and then during busy times of ministry. This was mania, a time of increased energy, of euphoria, of knowing I could take on the world and succeed. I felt depressed in summers and breaks and vacations, when I wasn’t in the presence of ideas, and conversations and too much to do. I made major decisions when I was feeling good, i.e., when I was manic. I made most of my life’s decisions, even those made in prayer, during these manic phases. Were they good decisions, or right decisions?

In fits of mania and anxiety I decided about changing majors and a life direction and marriage and a sense of call to ministry and a sense of call to churches. Some decisions were adiaphora – things that don’t matter, don’t have cosmic significance for who I am as a person. Others do matter, or did matter. And during depression, in other fits of anxiety, I would question these important and unimportant decisions or maybe get some clarity and see some individual patterns in my life that were unhealthy – such as working too much, or taking advantage of my family.

My faith is not what I thought either. I’ve articulated to CPM’s, spiritual directors, other pastors, parishioners, friends and family a continuing sense of God’s presence that feels something like a shadow behind me whispering, nudging, comforting. That feeling in my center is what I’ve relied upon when making big decisions. I’m coming to terms with the fact that other people describe euphoria and grandiose thoughts with the same kinds of words that I use to describe God’s presence. A key part of my faith may in fact be a symptom of mania. Which could explain why being medicated has taken away my experience of God.

Lord, have mercy.

So, mania has had an impact on my entire life. How I’ve spent my life has been affected by mania. How I’ve experienced God has been affected by mania. Take out the mania, and what is underneath? Who am I without the mania, and especially without the same feeling of God’s presence? That’s the question of the  hour.

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6 responses to “Mania, O Mania

  1. Thanks for the honesty, Deb. I know you were struggling with this one. And not to be trite about your faith/lack of faith, or to throw a platitude at you, or lecture you, but from what I’ve seen of you, you have great faith. We sometimes forget that it is God who is always seeking us, and not just in one way or place in our lives, but always, everywhere, working in myriad ways to reach us.

    A friend of mine who went to art school and spent years of her young adult life making art realized in the midst of that life that something was off. She made amazing art, but she wasn’t happy. She made a conscious choice to take medication, though she no longer had a desire or need to make art in the ways she had previously. It wasn’t about happiness, but being able to enjoy her boyfriend, now husband, and other friends, to find fulfillment in everyday life beyond her art. She was telling me this as we stood in their house, where we were surrounded by items she and her husband have collected, curios and curiosities, some art, but all artfully chosen and displayed. Also, every time I ran into her she was telling me about the next phase in designing her yard and gardens, a passion that was recent, since buying their house. This passion led to going back to school and getting a degree in landscape architecture. And her yard is amazing. All of that creativity once expressed in desperate artistic drive wasn’t killed by the medication, but with the help of medication she was able to find a way to utilize it in other ways, without even being completely conscious of it.

    All of this to say, I want to support and encourage you as you feel separated from your faith. I can see it, and, in time, I believe that, like my friend, you will see it arise in new and different ways. Back at the beginning of this particular phase in your life, when you realized you might never be able to do ministry in the parish setting, you asked great, challenging questions about what your ministry would look like in the future. As we struggle with these questions together, I believe that whatever is coming will find you, and us all, just like it found my friend. One of the reasons she is a friend I always look forward to seeing is that though she would not describe herself as a person of faith, I saw and see great faith in her courage to be willing to get help and take risks in being forever changed. I see the same in you. Prayers and peace, friend.

    ~Megan

    • Thank you so much, Megan! This feels like an untenable position right now, even knowing that something will open up out of this. Thanks for having faith, and seeing faith, when I can’t.

  2. Deborah,

    My intention here is not to discount your feelings, but to offer another perspective. Perhaps, just perhaps, God used your mania to put you exactly where God wanted you to be. Maybe the mania was a gift to point you in the direction where you could do the most ministry, love the best, and be a beacon of hope for others.

    And, now, perhaps, the mania is not necessary any more. Perhaps there are other plans.

    I know that God has used my worst experiences to put me in places—places that appealed to me because of those experiences—and then used those same places to heal the pain in me. And while I’m not so sure about God’s direction, I’m clear about the way God redeemed those situations.

    And who are you? You haven’t changed, just because there’s a diagnosis with it. You’re still Deborah. You were Deborah then. My prayer for you is that you’ll embrace (if and when you can) who you were, who you are, and who you will be. Because God loves all of it.

    Lia

    • Thank you, Lia! What you said has been my hope and prayer, but I haven’t been able to find words for it. Thank you so much for articulating it so I can return to it over and over when my faith lags. I need to know that I’m the same, and the mania led me down some good paths that will have good consequences. I need to know these right now, even if they’re not true.

  3. I agree with Megan wholeheartedly. I think that God embraces the sum of who we are, and all of you is deeply loved by God. I experience faith in you and from you every time we meet. I believe that the cruelty of this disorder called bipolar is the disorder it creates in one’s thinking. God, greater than our thinking, and our response to God, will be around through it all. I pray that the growth that will come/is coming will be phoenix-like in power and beauty for you.

    • Thank you for being present in the midst of anguish, Jennifer, and for being who you are as a friend. And thanks for naming faith when I can’t see it – I need friends like you to help me find it again!

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