The original article can be read here.
The last few months have been particularly interesting. My church, which had decided to close anyway, and my denominational leaders, decided medical leave was necessary because of a particularly bad time I was going through. At first, I resisted. I have always fought to keep my sanity and remain stable – it was a battle of wills which I won more often than not. My father gave into his mental illness and I was vehement about not doing the same thing.
After receiving the notice that not only was I on three months medical leave, but also was “terminated” after that period, I decided my previous approach to mental health was not going to work this time around – I was in too deep. This was a difficult decision. I had always functioned through the ups and downs of what I believed to be depressive episodes. With this new diagnosis, however, came a realization that I had been medicated wrongly over the years and I had to work with the doctors to find a new cocktail that would work.
That, let me tell you, was a rollercoaster ride that, at times, left me unable to get out of bed and, at others, almost unable to distinguich between reality and my own bravado. We have, after five months, zeroed in on the right meds – the effort is ongoing to determine the right mix.
I guess the best way to decribe what has happened is to liken it to a rip tide. I was raised coastal, so this makes sense to me. A rip tide, if you fight it, will pull you down and keep you down until you drown (unless a very, very strong swimmer, which I am not). The best way to deal with a rip tide when encountered at the beach is to swim with it. The tide will eventually bring you back up if you do this, as the rip tide weakens and returns to the top of the water.
By deciding to swim with the tide of the Bipolar II, and this particular period of alternating depression & hypomania, I have ridden the rip tide for three months or so. I deciding not to fight, but to ride, I have been dragged down to the depths but I am also feeling that I am beginning to emerge from the water stronger and more stable.
A problem, however, is whether or not the stability will last. To be an effective minister requires some modicum of stability in the face of many stressful situations and even antagonists within the congregation. Can I weather these storms as well as I need to? The denomination thinks not, evidently, since I have been approved for long term disability. Given that there is an expectation, or at least a risk, of continued difficulty, can I effectively pastor a church, or do I have to begin looking for some alternate way of earning a living long-term?
One problem is that I have no training other than ministry to fall back on. I have been a “business person” in the past – 25 years actually – but have no formal qualifications in management, accounting or economic forecasting, which were my fortes. It has been 12 years since plying that trade, just as it has been 12 years since giving up my optician’s license. Neither vocation is a viable option at this point. I invested 5 years full-time in seminary education and another eighteen months waiting for the “ideal” call to ministry. I will not comment on the relationship between it becoming apparent that the call was far less than ideal and my fall into symptoms of Bipolarity.
Anyway, this is a period of discernment and, as such, is a time in which I need to seek the help that is available to me. I used a Quaker practice of a “discernment committee” to validate my call to ministry. Perhaps it is time to pull together another group of folks who will fulfill the same function.