I haven’t written about this before, but I’ve been encouraged by Pastor Slack and the Lord to do so. I hope the Lord uses it to bless, encourage or sharpen you.
In March, I was diagnosed with a variant of bipolar disorder called Bipolar II. I had been suffering extreme depression for over a year. Antidepressants really had not helped and despite short periods without feeling too bad, the persistent tone of my life was sadness, apathy and misery.
After a few months of the Lord telling me that things weren’t right and that I needed to go to a psychiatrist, I attended a conference where a pastor’s wife shared about her struggles with mental illness. The Holy Spirit was all over me while she talked, and I knew that I had a serious mental health problem – not a spiritual problem, as I had often berated myself for. That day, I finally listened to the Lord’s leading to seek medical help. A friend of mine (a dear sister in Christ and a mentor to me) recommended a doctor and I went to see her for my depression.
The doctor (let’s call her Dee, to make this simpler) did a long intake with me. For 45 minutes she asked me about my symptoms, how long they had lasted, what I had been like as a teenager, etc. Dee was very thorough. At the end, she told me that she thought depression wasn’t the right diagnosis for me, but bipolar was. This was not what I expected to hear, even though my mentor also had bipolar and I’d wondered if that was my issue too. The picture I had in my mind of bipolar was extreme mania and that mania felt good.
Dee explained that there is more than one type of bipolar disorder and that I was struggling with Bipolar II. Bipolar II is characterized by extreme lows (depression) and milder highs (mania). She also explained that mania can manifest in ways that do not feel good: anxiety, inability to focus on tasks, irritability, agitation, distraction and more.
She said that people with bipolar II can be very accomplished and high functioning when level or manic, but are paralyzed when depressed. That hit the nail on the head for me. The more she talked, the more the Holy Spirit confirmed in my heart that this was the right diagnosis. I went home and researched the condition more, and as I did I recognized so many of the behaviors in my life over the past 17 years. This explained so much.
Dee put me on a mood stabilizer (called Lamictal) which is designed to even out my highs and lows. Fortunately, I responded well to the first medication we tried and didn’t have to search for more, but it is very slow going. Increases have to happen over periods of months. Then there is the waiting to see if the dosage eliminates my symptoms. We still aren’t there yet, and I’ve just discovered that I can’t tolerate a higher dose of Lamictal.
So, now the tweaking of the infinite medication combinations begins. If I didn’t know the Lord, I would truly despair at this thought. How can humans be expected to find the needle I need in the haystack of possibilities? They can’t. But God can. He’s the only hope I’ve got in this, and really in anything.
He’s constantly revealing to me how in control He is in this situation though. Before I even realized that I couldn’t take more of this medication, I was talking to my mentor about her symptoms, etc. and was surprised when, through this conversation, the Lord showed me that I needed some additional/different help.
The reality of the situation is that although this medication has improved a lot of things, there is still so much that it hasn’t touched. Things that I used to be able to do – even want to do – without any difficultly are now almost, if not entirely, impossible, or only come with tremendous difficulty. For example: remembering to pay the bills on time, cleaning/decluttering my apartment, filing important papers, regularly reading my Bible, leaving my house (!!), being with people, especially in groups of more than 3 or 4. And I’m still struggling a lot to make it through the day (hence, no posts in 2 months!).
For a while, I thought these struggles were spiritual: laziness, stubbornness, selfishness, disobedience, rebellion against God, backsliding, etc. Now I am learning that they are so much more. They are the symptoms and results of a physical problem: mental illness.
In that same conversation, my friend said that another friend of ours had found that a very small dose of Lithium has helped her tremendously, with the same problems that I am still having. I researched it, and had decided that if my current medication still didn’t improve the situation, I was going to ask to try Lithium. I planned to work with my neurologist to switch a medication I’m on (for migraines), since it interacts negatively with Lithium, just so that I would have that option if I needed it. I was going to give the latest increase in my Lamictal dosage a chance to work, though. Lo and behold, mere days after the Lord brings me to this place, I had a bad reaction to the most recent increase of Lamictal, and realized that I wouldn’t be able to take any more of it. And God had me completely prepared for this possibility, cushioning the blow and setting things in motion perfectly.
I meet with my neurologist on Thursday. As soon as I can get off of this medication and switched to the other, I’m going to see Dee and ask for the Lithium. Wisdom for my doctor and me is high on my prayer list.
Expect to see a lot more entries about my struggles with mental illness and what the Lord is speaking to me about through it. Comment if you are out there, or if you have questions.