Oooh! You’re Bipolar?


Thomas Covenant walks down the street feeling the stares and witnessing mothers grabbing their children before he passes by. Is he a child abuser? A criminal of another sort? Perhaps, evil incarnate? Thomas is the lead character in Stephen R. Donaldson’s series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and he is a twentieth century leper. When I read the series many years ago I remember thinking, “People don’t react that way anymore. The world is not that archaic.” But, perhaps it is. Have we learned nothing from the Bible lessons about lepers?

The reaction to all kinds of emotional disorders and mental disesases can be interesting, especially in my line of work. While you would think that church folk would investigate before coming to conclusions, that is really a quite rare occurance – church folk are no less prone to believing myths than any other groups. I have found this out firsthand recently. I announced to my Committee on Ministry and my church that I had been diagnosed with Bipolar II disease and, after twenty years of misdiagnoses, I am now on a much lower regimen of pills than I previously took for depression. The reaction has been – well, shall we say, interesting.

Now, it seems, no-one had too much difficulty with my previous addictive behavior or my depressions as such, since they were known issues that were discussed before being called by the church. But being diagnosed Bipolar II, now that’s a different story. Perhaps people assume that a new diagnosis is the equivalent of a new “condition” that changes who I am.  Perhaps the reaction may be understandable, at least when we take into account that so little is known by the general public, with the exception of the few movies about famous Bipolar people. As an antidote to this ignorance of knowledge, I will offer some facts towards the end of this article.

Anyway, as I am sure you have figured out, I don’t keep secrets. I was advised by my medical professionals to keep my diagnosis “close to the chest, being a minister.” That seemed so incongruous to me as there is nothing quite so common in Christian lore as the wounded healer. Secrets have a way of coming up behind you and exposing themselves at the most infortuitous times, which is why I don’t like keeping them. I had forgotten, however, my friend and fellow pastor David’s frequent saying, “The church, as an army of prepared believers, is the only army which crucifies their wounded.” Harsh, perhaps, but unfortunately all too often true.  It may explain why some in my church have said they are concerned about my “mental health issues” since revealing I am “now” bipolar.

The fact is that I have been Bipolar II for 10 to 20 years, by the doctors’ estimation, but incorrectly medicated during that entire period. This left me susceptible to elevated and more severe mood swings, and potentially prone to erratic behavior. If there was anytime I was in danger of being reckless or too erratic, that was it. Despite that, I have functioned well as a business person running a multi-million dollar company and directly overseeing 200+ employees, a church administrator serving three different churches, and a pastor – although the jury is now out as to how I perform as a pastor. One of the primary differences between Bipolar II and Bipolar I is that, in the first, there is no mania or psychosis to deal with – just long periods of either elevated or depressed mood with little in the “normal” range. Many, my self included, learn to negotiate and navigate these periods, often times using the creativity and energy that comes with “hypomania” constructively.

On my new meds, I am considerably more stable and experience far fewer drastic mood swings than I can ever remember. My depression is all but gone, although it could return – it’s just less likely to be as intense as it has been in the past. I have gotten much 0f my creativity back – initiative and creativity tend to be the first rats to leave the ship during depressive episodes of any kind. Given the potentially difficult times that face the church ahead, I feel much better equipped to handle them than I can remember ever being. Even poorly medicated, as I have been in the past, I had little difficulty functioning through the different cycles.

Now, my level of functioning should be even better – as long as I take my meds. That is the critical condition. Just like other conditions that are physiological and result from a genetic predisposition, regulating meds is crucial. I see this as no different than taking my blood pressure cocktail and cholesterol lowering pills. It’s health maintenance and, just like BP and cholesterol, I know there are few “signs” or specific symptoms that signal an advancing problem. The only appropriate and healthy choice is to stay on a preventative regimen.

To help with the apparent lack of knowledge surrounding Bipolar II disease, I will share some facts that should be kept in mind:

It is not “manic depression” – that is only one form of Bipolar I.

Over 6 million Americans have Bipolar diesease – 2.6% of the population. It breaks down to approximately 1.6% having Bipolar I and 1.0% suffering Bipolar II. Even that classification is simplistic, as there is what’s called a Bipolar spectrum. Diagnoses have increased drastically, but that is a result of better diagnostics, not a huge increase in occurance. In years past, it has been misdiagnosed and mis-treated as either depression at the more minor end and schizophrenia at the severe end of the spectrum.

Many famous artistic, creative and scientific people have been Bipolar II (such as Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill, to name but two from the grand old age of psychological denial), whose day-to-day functioning was entirely manageable. Bipolar II is sometimes nicknamed the “creativity” illness.

Bipolar II is more easily manageable with meds than many other physiological disorders, once the appropriate regimen is determined. Even without meds, in between episodes of hypomania and depression, many people with bipolar II disease live normal lives. On meds, the incidents of both extremes are reduced and, sometimes, almost totally eliminated.

During a hypomanic episode, elevated mood can manifest itself as either euphoria (feeling “high”) or as irritability, but falls well short of manic or truly erratic. This is the time when many are highly energized and very creative.

Symptoms during improperly medicated hypomanic episodes include flying suddenly from one idea to the next; rapid, “pressured” speech; increased energy with hyperactivity, and decreased need for sleep. People experiencing hypomanic episodes are often quite pleasant to be around. They can often seem like the “life of the party” — making jokes, taking an intense interest in other people and activities, and infecting others with their positive mood. The danger is for the sufferer, as opposed to others, becuase the more elevated the hypomania the more severe the ensuing crash into depression.

Depressive episodes in improperly medicated bipolar II disease are similar to “regular” clinical depression, with depressed mood, loss of pleasure, low energy and activity, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and sometimes thoughts of suicide. Depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder can last longer than the hypomanic periods, generally spanning weeks, months, or sometimes even years.

I hope this helps some, at least, understand the nature of the disease and those who suffer from it. While it would be too optimistic to believe that no-one would treat me or anyone else with Bipolar II as a modern day leper, perhaps sharing this will decrease the incidence of grabbing children out of the way as we walk into a room.

An addendum to this article can be read here.

10 Responses to “Oooh! You’re Bipolar?”

  1. 1 bipolarchic
    March 8, 2009 at 12:14 AM

    I found this blog to be bang-on. I, too, am a Christian with Bipolar II Disorder. I know what it is to be treated as a 21st century leper–in particular by the church. When Job was going through his depression, his Christian friends were quick to criticize and judge him. He was so frustrated, as you know, that he called them “worthless physicians”.

    When it comes to the matter of my mental illness, I have been hurt more by my Christian friends, than by anyone else. I have been told that I don’t have enough faith–ie that I am to blame for my illness because of unbelief on my part. I’ve had people look at me with fixed, plastic smiles on their faces, and rhyme off that familiar verse, “Well, ‘all things work for the good of those who believe in Him and are called according to His purose.'” I suppose that the suggestion here is that if I’m God’s child, and I really love Him, my situation will be magically resolved.

    But hands-down, most hurtful of all, is the accusation that I am demon-possessed. I believe that Christians can be OPPRESSED by Satan, and that this can be manifest as a depression. The response to such a situation is prayer. However, we live in a fallen world, and as such, we have to contend with illness–even mental illness. Some depression is organic, plain and simple. This depression is best treated with medication. I am a child of God. I am inhabited by the Holy Spirit–not demons.

    I truly pray that attitudes such as these will change in the church.

  2. April 4, 2009 at 3:38 PM

    That 2.6% seems like a low number, but I would think that is the diagnosed statistic, there are probably many more that have not sought treatment, yet. The church needs to learn that so many creative marvelous people have been bipolar. Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, would have diagnosed manic depressive.
    I remember when I went for my cancer operation a group of Christians came to pray for me, and try to find the hidden sin in my life that made me sick. Whatever.
    If hidden sin led to physical illness i would have died long ago, fortunately my Savior is more loving than His bride. My church has a lot more than 3% bipolar, does that say something about me? I have always found normal boring. I have told many people that I am not bipolar, I am just wierd, so far no pill for that.

    • April 4, 2009 at 8:50 PM

      I, too, thought the percentage was low – especially for bipolar II. It is so frequently misdiagnosed, though, that who knows what the real numbers are.

      Amen on arguing against the sickness equals hidden sin stuff. It doesn’t take much to find a works righteousness attitude lurking underneath that. So many Christians find others objectionable just because they choose to sin differently than they do.

      My explanation of choice, since I hit fifty, is that I used to be wierd, now I am a curmudgeon and an eccentric.

      • April 7, 2009 at 1:41 AM

        As of this date I too will define my over 50 self as a curmudgeon and an eccentric, however I have no doubt my adult children will continue to call me weird.

  3. 5 Mad God Woman
    April 30, 2009 at 1:26 PM

    Found my way here from another blog and glad I did! Hello from another BPII/NOS minister who, being less brave and wise than you, never ‘came out’ to her former church. Thinkin’ I might come out to the next one, tho’. The “perfect pastor, perfect church” ministry didn’t work out so well.

  4. 6 MAT
    October 31, 2011 at 2:23 AM

    So were just the same, my leader told me just yesterday that I just need a complete faith in God to be healed, well i have faith now that I just finished my encounter, but at times I still feel emptiness with no reason, she said God’s treatment is better than people’s treatment,I just don’t understand her, will God come here to talk to me out of this horrible state? Oh I’m Catholic by the way, and our Christian leader just invited me to her church. She said if I had enough faith in God I won’t feel this way.

    • November 1, 2011 at 8:31 AM

      Mat, I really hate to say this but your Christian leader has a really simplistic and undeveloped theology. To say that you wouldn’t feel this way “if you had enough faith”, is to blame you for the physiological problem that you have. That is exactly the same as saying that Aunt Gertie got breast cancer because she didn’t have enough faith. It’s ludicrous! God created and creation is good. All creation, including modern medicine. Work with your doctors and find a Christian leader who will help you keep your faith intact while dealing with the issues in a sensible, mature, and modern, way.

  5. 8 Hannah
    February 12, 2012 at 10:55 PM

    I have just recently been diagnosed with Bipolar II and I’m now looking back over the last 5-10 years of my life wondering if my feelings, emotions and thoughts were “real” or if they were manifested in some way because of this new diagnosis.

    I too am Christian, have been for as long as I can remember. I have always had those moments when I feel very close to God, either while praying, listening to Christian music or a random thought popping into my head. I have felt the need to share the joy of Christ with others, to teach those seeking truth and to help people in need. I love children, as does my 13 year old daughter. I have wanted to participate in missions to work in orphanages but just haven’t had the chance to yet. I pray and feel God directing me, inspiring me, and moving me to do His work and will.

    In reading/researching about bipolar II I have noticed many people state that they have periods of time thinking or feeling that they are called to do God’s work or have a special purpose in life and that this is a sign or result of bipolar II. I am really struggling with believing that people who feel that God has called them to do His work are only feeling this way because of having bipolar II. Would this mean everyone in the Bible who heard the voice of God instructing them, really didn’t hear him they just imagined it because they were bipolar?

    How do you determine if it’s God speaking to you, directing you, answering your prayers, showing you a beautiful creation to touch your heart and put a smile on your face, asking you to help someone in need, giving you the desire to speak to someone and tell them God loves them, or if its your own bipolar mind working against you?

    And my second question would be, if it is my own mind, is that really a bad thing? Having a “mental illness” that makes me happy, gives me the desire to help others and teach others of Christ. Doesn’t sound bad at all! Honestly, I couldn’t imagine not living a life like this. I love that I have those Wow God moments where I feel Him moving and working in my life.

    I try to picture how Jesus lived. He walked the earth in his last few years caring not for Himself but only for others. Teaching, feeding, healing, comforting. I can only hope that some day these are words that might describe me.

    My best friend’s mother was always in and out of mental health hospitals when we were growing up. A few years ago she went off all of her medications saying that God had healed her. She’s an amazing artist, paints, creates, plays a few different instruments. She is whimsical and childlike. A complete joy to be around. She doesn’t work, lives on a very small ss disability benefit. She stocks her cabinets with food and then takes baskets to anyone in need. Holds weekly church services in her living room. Some how became an ordained minister although we really don’t know if it’s for real or if she just printed a name badge and gave herself a title. She does volunteer hospice services for those who are ill and passing. She holds weekly services for women in the local jail, teaching them about God and Christ. She truly believes she is here to do the work of God. She was never like this when she was on her medication. She is a completely different person but is out there doing amazing things. So is she bipolar? Or is she truly called by God to do His work like we read about in the Bible? Did God only call people to do His work all those years ago and now if someone hears God or feels him directing them to drop everything, follow His word and do His work, they are bipolar?

    Any thoughts or ideas on this would be greatly appreciated! When I told my therapist I, at times, feel like I want to sell off my belongings and move to South America to do mission work in orphanages she looked at me kind of oddly. But there are people running those orphanages. They are amazing people. Dedicating their lives to helping those children. I guess i just don’t see or understand why wanting to do something great and help others in need is looked upon as being part of an illness. While this wasn’t said to me directly, I almost feel like it’s being thought, “Oh you don’t want to go hold those motherless children and love them when no one else will; that’s just your bipolar talking.”

  6. 9 tracy james daughtry
    August 22, 2012 at 9:21 PM

    i experienced my first manic spell in 1989 @ age 18 and loved it. stayed up all night writing, drawing, cleaning my parents’ kitchen. fast forward to 2012 and i hate it. after going nuts and tearing up my home while my wife and our 4 beautiful children were @ wednesday night service. i self medicated since 89 w/ pot & beer. now i’m on lithium, but separated from my family. please pray for Yahoshua to reconcile us! and for me to find something for the depression.

  7. 10 lance
    June 26, 2018 at 9:47 PM

    I’m a single male with bipolar 2 so I go together with church like peanut butter and tuna. When I was first diagnosed I went to my pastor for help. He quickly led me to the front of the church to rebuke Satan. I’ve finally reached the point that I want no part of church. I know many people find comfort in church but my empty seat can be used by a normal married couple with kids who readily followed the script.

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... or, preaching from both ends


That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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