My eldest daughter is in the hospital. She’ll likely be coming home in a few days, and we’re grateful for the doctors and nurses and other medical professionals who have served her well and cared for her during the past week.
Many of us are familiar with the fact that some people prefer privacy during times of illness. But in some situations – like this one – many people never say anything at all, because the ongoing disease that my daughter will deal with all of her life is a mental illness.
My daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disease 10 years ago. During that time, she’s had periods of tremendous stability (“remission”) – both with and without medication – and times when the disease was more active, to the point that it interfered with normal activity. My daughter determined early on to be self-aware and practice self care so that she can live well in spite of the unique challenges of this disease – and she has done so with dogged determination and an incredible support system.
While bipolar disease often has elements of both depression and mania, it manifests differently for every individual. My daughter’s biggest struggle is with mania. Recently, the stress of the holidays and a few personal challenges (an extremely busy work schedule, some old relationship issues, and trying to connect with a lot of family members in town) coincided and activated a cycle of mania. The mania kept her from sleeping, which in turn heightened the mania, and it became a vicious cycle. Left unchecked, mania can lead to delusional thinking, anger and violence, and even psychosis. She realized what was happening and called a friend to take her to the hospital. Treatment began with an immediate medical intervention to bring down the mania and essentially reboot her brain so she could sleep.
It worked, and after a few days she was calm, able to regulate her mood, and in complete control. Again, we are so grateful for her medical team and the incredible support at St. Mary’s in Richmond.
We talk a lot about “ending the stigma” of mental health, and in that vein I am being very transparent with you in sharing this news. When my daughter is manic, it can be messy. She’s loud and grandiose and exuberant; she posts a lot on social media, and it doesn’t always make sense. Sometimes manic behavior makes people raise their eyebrows or back away; they lift their hands and whisper, “What’s the matter with her?” That’s how mania makes itself known, and it’s hard; people often turn away because mania can be weird and annoying. (It can also be fun and silly and energetic – it’s not all bad!) But ultimately, mania is a problem with brain chemistry – either toxicity, neurological, or something metabolic. We’ll probably never know the exact cause of this disease in my daughter.
And that’s just it: Mania is a symptom of a disease; a disease she didn’t ask for, a disease she manages with medicine, an intentional lifestyle, and great care. There is a genetic component; it’s the way her brain chemistry works. Just as my husband has to navigate diabetes and I have to deal with terrible eyesight, she drew the card labeled mental illness. She didn’t ask for this or make some terrible mistake that made her sick; she didn’t drink too much or do drugs or anything else. It’s the genetic hand she was dealt.
Today, while I visited her in the hospital, we had a conversation that was revealing, convicting, and heart-breaking. She had just come out of a group meeting, where everyone on the Behavioral Health floor had an opportunity to share (it’s essentially a short-term small group!) The topic came up of illness and support, and someone in the group commented, “Yeah – I don’t get flowers. Nobody sends me flowers or teddy bears or makes me dinner or even sends me get well cards…because they don’t think I’m sick. They think I’m crazy.”
“They don’t think I’m sick. They think I’m crazy.”
Mental illness is serious and can often be challenging to deal with. It can be incredibly overwhelming to navigate; because it affects brain chemistry and alters moods, it can be frightening. There is a huge stigma attached to mental illness. But at the end of the day, it is simply an illness. And so many people deal with mental illness – 1 in 5 these days – that it’s safe to say that our churches, our communities, our schools, and our neighborhoods are full of people who struggle, or family members who are devastated as their loved ones suffer. And many of them are suffering in silence, trying to learn how to manage a disease that is incredibly difficult to deal with, while others around them raise their eyebrows or whisper behind their backs. Because most of the time, we treat them differently. Either we ignore them altogether and give them a wide berth, or we step back and whisper a prayer (“Thank God that’s not MY kid!”), or we point fingers and poke fun.
In our family, we often say, “end the stigma” as we decide how to talk about mental illness. One important way to do this is to treat this illness just like we would any other; no whispers, no keeping secrets, no fear of talking about what is really happening. To be completely honest, I guess what I’m doing here is, in effect, trying to stand up and shout and make you look. Look at my beautiful, exceptionally talented daughter, whose brain chemistry makes it hard to be “normal”. Look at her, even when she’s acting strangely, and understand that she didn’t choose this. Look at the men and women and children around you who might be exhibiting the same symptoms, and find compassion and kindness. Don’t look away. Let’s be willing to be present; let’s unmask the secret and diffuse the anxiety and be okay with the fact that mentally ill people sometimes exhibit difficult symptoms, and medical intervention – and a good dose of support and kindness – can go a long way.
In short: My daughter is getting out of the hospital early this week. We don’t need to whisper or tiptoe around what seems like something that should be secretive and shameful. She has a debilitating chronic illness and needs treatment, no different than any other person who might need medical care. She would benefit from prayer and continued support as she comes back home and gets back to work.
So, pray for her. And then perhaps consider how to move in grace this week as you encounter others who are not neurotypical; those who might act “off” or different. They may simply be one of the 20% of people who are navigating life with a mental illness.
Be patient – especially when people might act weird or loud or annoying. Show love. And when a flare up or recurrence happens, don’t be afraid. Don’t turn away from somebody and just think they are “crazy”. These are people who need to see our love and support.
When we show love in the hard places, we are the best versions of ourselves, fully living out the gospel on multiple levels. That’s a good way to make this difficult world a better place.
A little more grace, every day.
Some important and very helpful resources:
Learn more about bipolar disease here and here.
A great book to read if you love someone who has bipolar, aptly titled Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder (great for other family members, too).
Incredible resources and support, including meetings – NAMI.
Great perspectives, tons of articles, and helpful insight – bpHope.
23 thoughts on ““They Think I’m Crazy.””
I understand..thanks for this. My daughter Haley is going through depression too. I still have my UPS and downs but I continue to try and remain in Christ…a day by day struggle with bipolar.. I’d like to send your sweet child a card to encourage her..peace shall too come in this ..remain in Christ and do everything in love as good mothers do. Love you. Amen in hesus name we pray for us all .. count them blessings not them troubles..truly great truth
My struggles with my son’s autism and how it manifests are no different. His perseveration with worry and anxiety about germs and contamination, while not true OCD, manifest in the same ways, and greatly impact his quality of life. Being mom, and not being able to “fix” things has unleashed feelings of helplessness, the likes of which I’ve never imagined I’d experience. It’s been on-going for five years now, at different levels of intensity. We’ve been through medication after medication, and all we can do is keep trying. Keep reassuring him, keep putting one foot in front of the other, and keep hoping that we can at least keep the anxiety at bay enough for him to exist day to day.
Sending much love and many hugs to you and to your beautiful girl.
Oh, girl; I get it. It’s the most rewarding thing in the world, even as it’s the most exhausting. We’ve had lots of great conversations about what it means to be a parent and how expectations impact our experience of life. So much to learn…
Hugs to you and your beautiful boy as well. ❤
Glad she is so self-aware and good at getting treatment. That’s big. And so glad the treatment helps and she will be home soon.
I am grateful she is getting good treatment and knows there are people who care about her. I could not handle my depression if I did not have the same. All of you stay in my prayers.
Also, Christ on the Psych Ward by David Finnegan-Hosey is another good resource. He is a Disciples minister who is also diagnosed bipolar.
Milton, one of the most helpful books I have read. Thanks for mentioning it here.
I am so glad that you are sharing about your absolutely gorgeous, smart daughter who had the sense to know she needed help. That beautiful soul who is so very talented and so gifted. I had no idea she was in the hospital. I am not praying without ceasing for her. She will be on my daily prayer list. Sarah, you know God. He knows you. So he is with you and for you on this earth with this flesh of a disease. May your doctors regulate your meds so that you can flourish and be the person God intends you to be. As you change and your body ages, may the doctors have wisdom to know how to monitor your meds so that these episodes will not overcome you. You are such a fantastic soul on this earth. This planet needs you and your spirit. This and much more is my prayer for you. Mama, be patient and I feel you. You too are in my prayers. Be the Beth we all love, God has you all close to his heart. oxoxoxox
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i AM NOW PRAYING…..EXCUSE TYPO!
i AM NOW PRAYING…..EXCUSE TYPO!
Thank you so much for sharing your story so beautifully and from the heart. I am writing from the hospital. My eldest daughter has major depressive disorder with catatonia and we have been out of state for almost four months. God meets us in every moment of the day. He has drawn near. Mental illness is not an issue of belief or faith. My daughter and I have found Him to be be a constant companion and friend. Our hearts and prayers are with your daughter and family as you live life with mental illness. May you know the sustaining grace of His presence.♥️
Thank you for these beautiful words of encouragement. What we’ve experienced of the spirit of God as we’ve navigated these times has been deeply healing and centered in the purest of love. I’m glad to know that you have found grace in his presence as well. Blessings to you!
We love your family and will be praying for Sara. I still remember making a special trip over to see her in Savannah when she was inschool there and worked in the candy shop. Mike wouldn’t leave without making sure we stopped in to see her. Give her our love and tell her we are praying for her.
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We love you and Mike so much, and are always thankful for your presence in our lives!
You write beautifully about the reality of Bipolar disorder, I’ve been hospitalised a few times for mania and psychosis and having the outside support of my family meant so much.
It’s such a difficult journey for an entire family – but when we can make that journey together, it makes a huge difference. Thank you for your comment, and blessings to you.
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Thanks so much for sharing your story! My 16 year old son was recently diagnosed with bipolar 2. He’s shown signs for a couple of years, but his symptoms have been more consistent for around 6 or more months. It’s been so difficult navigating through his manic episodes. Thankfully, he has an amazing psychiatrist who is trying to find the correct dosage of meds and a wonderful Christian counselor. The most difficult thing for him is that he really feels alone in this (not knowing anyone his age going through the same thing).
Sharon, thank you for your comment. It can a be a lonely journey, but the more we talk about it, the more support we find. God bless you for being a strong advocate for your son.
I, too, struggle with Bipolar Disorder. Although the stigma can be difficult, there will always be someone who will care and understand you. Of course I’ve only been recently diagnosed, but I still agree that support is the best way to go.
Dylan – thank you for your comment! Support is out there, even though it is sometimes a challenge to find. Keep believing that it’s there for you! You CAN have a victorious life!
We have met once. I have read some of your blogs and they are so moving . Your daughter is the strongest most courageous person I have ever met. I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was in my late 20’s. The attention that You and Your Daughter bring to this needed subject is amazing. People need to know that taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your heart ,your kidneys or your body. Thank you for sharing this important topic. I have been a nurse for 16 years and I have always felt that there was a stigma on mental health that should not be there. I wish I was able to help my husband who struggles with depression and maybe something more but he refuses to see the need for help. I feel very helpless because no one else seems ever say anything to him about being depressed. I wonder do they notice it, are they just ignoring it. My husband does a fantastic job as coming off as everything is great. I pray continuous for him to be safe and I will never give up on him.
Thank you again for opening everyone’s eyes and making a difference
Tiffany – thank you for these encouraging words. I believe that the more we talk about the challenges we face, the more healing will come. Your commitment to never give up on your husband is invaluable! May you be blessed and encouraged through this day….and thank you for your comments!
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My granddaughter was also diagnosed in high school.
And yes people do judge.
My prayers with Sarah, you and family. It effects all.
THANK YOU FOR YOU HONEST WORD!