For the God on the mountain is still God in the valley;
When things go wrong, He’ll make them right.
And the God of the good times is still God in the bad times;
The God of the day is still God in the night.
This morning as I sat down to write my story for you, I first opened my Bible to have coffee with my Lord. I call this my Be-Still-and-Know Time, based on Psalm 46:10, and rarely do I start the day without it. At present I’m reading through the psalms again, and this morning I’m at Psalm 71. As I read, the Holy Spirit said to me, “Angela, this is what I’ve done for you. Tell them.” And I will. But first, you need a glimpse of the miry clay from which He lifted my feet.
The first time I did myself harm, I was fifteen. I cut my arm, but disguised it by pretending to be cut on a nail sticking out of some wood I was carrying. I did not bleed out. Did I want to die? Probably not. I don’t even know why I did it. A year later I found some penicillin in the medicine cabinet and took it, knowing I was allergic. Nothing happened. Again, I have no idea why I did it. I don’t even remember being depressed. I was a loner, but not particularly unhappy, that I can recall. My freshman year in college I took twenty aspirin at once. Again, nothing happened. And again I don’t know why. I had also tried to “fall” out of a tree as a child so I could break my arm and get a cast so the other kids would want to sign it.
Maybe that was it. Maybe I didn’t want to die. Maybe I just wanted attention and was going about it the wrong way.
After college graduation, I went on two short-term missionary trips overseas and also worked for several months as a translator. With this experience, I became fluent in Spanish and madly in love with the people and culture of Bolivia. I desperately wanted to go back as a full-time missionary. While there, I had taught a music class and a children’s Bible class as well. My desire was to go back and do more of the same—as a single missionary. Twice I had been engaged, and contently I accepted that marriage was not in my future. I had broken off the first engagement, and my second fiancé had the nerve to get married while I was in Bolivia. Oh, that was hard! The missionaries I was with saw the struggle I went through getting over that heartbreak, which is unfortunate—maybe. I had applied to a mission board and thought I was well on my way to becoming a full-time missionary to Bolivia. All I needed were three letters of recommendation. Two came back very positive. But the third, from the missionaries I had stayed with, recommended I get married first. I was crushed. Who were they to know whether or not I needed to be married? But God was in it. Marriage definitely was not of my choosing; it was all His. And my spouse was of His choosing too. At first I thought marriage was going to be my ticket to Bolivia, but I was wrong about that too.
Isaiah 55:6-13 Seek ye the LORD while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near: Let the wicked forsake His way, and the unrighteous man His thoughts: and let Him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon Him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
Marriage was like a mirror into my soul, and the image I saw there was hideous. With all my heart I wanted to shatter that mirror. It hurt too much to see the real me. I already knew I was not the “good girl” people thought I was, but I didn’t know I was that bad. The first time my husband left for work after the honeymoon, I threw myself onto the kitchen floor, kicking, thrashing my arms, and screaming bloody murder until I was hoarse. Where did that come from? I don’t remember ever doing that before, even as a toddler. To be honest, it scared me.
Time went by, and more ugliness came out. I tried to hide it from the outside world, but I didn’t do a very good job. A friend of mine told me several years ago that he remembered seeing me in the church parking lot one Sunday afternoon punching my husband repeatedly in the back. This too was in the early years of our marriage, before I knew what was wrong. All I knew was that I was bitter against him for not keeping his promise to take me to Bolivia. I wished I had never married him, and some days I wished I had never been born.
We miscarried our first child, and the emotional roller coaster, both before and after the miscarriage, was devastating. I used to enjoy watching horror movies as a teenager, but I had to stop because now they seemed too real. I thought the villain would come out of the screen and get me. One night I was looking at a video someone had sent me in my email. It was a car driving on a peaceful country road. All of a sudden, a scary face appeared out of nowhere in front of the screen. It was supposed to be funny, but not to me. I slammed my laptop closed and ran crying to the bedroom, afraid the monster was coming out of the laptop and chasing me. The same thing happened at a couples’ retreat my husband and I went to with some other couples, and I hyperventilated.
Our church started a Bible college, and I began attending classes, working on a MRE and teaching the college chorale. I noticed that in the spring semesters I was really on top of things and went far above and beyond the requirements, writing three to four research papers for every class. In fact, I was affectionately nicknamed “the lady preacher” in some of my classes, which is funny because we are Baptist. But during the fall semesters it was all I could do to meet the bare minimum. I passed my classes, but did nothing extra. I had to push myself just to get out of bed in the morning and put one foot in front of the other. August and January were the worst months of all for my emotional lows.
Three children were born to us, in 1997, 1998, and 2001. Over the years we have had lots of good days and our fair share of bad days. I am a teacher, but when the children came, I left teaching in school to teach our children at home. However, when August of 2005 rolled around, and it was time to start school again, I couldn’t do it. My poem “The Hard Way” came out of that time. I remember one night when I wanted to be alone, I went out to the car and sat in the back seat. No one knew I was out there. The wind began to blow, which made the car rock a little. In my paranoia, I feared that an evil man was pushing on the car, and if I dared get out, he would attack me. Terrified, I stayed there until someone in the house came looking and found me. It isn’t easy living with irrational fears.
The following Wednesday night, I sent my husband and children to church while I stayed home, telling them I wasn’t feeling well. I swallowed the contents of a bottle of allergy pills and went to bed. I honestly hoped they’d come home and find me gone, and I thought it would make their lives better. I hated what I had become. I hated what I was doing to them. I hated the paranoia. I hated getting furiously angry, then crying, then laughing, then getting furiously angry. Over and over again I went through this vicious cycle, and I didn’t know how to make it stop. The children were confused and scared. My husband didn’t know what to do with me. My friends pretended they didn’t see what was going on—or maybe they really didn’t see. This was when I finally realized that I needed professional help.
We enrolled the boys in school and one of my sisters came to live with us to take care of our four-year-old daughter. Then I called my doctor and got a referral to a psychiatrist, and so began years of treatment. After a few sessions I was diagnosed with Bipolar I, and we got started on some medications. There were problems with side effects, but eventually we found something that worked well for me.
Medication was a start, but it was not a fix. I also needed to work to help pay for the children’s tuition, but I could not get through a job interview without crying, so I started collecting aluminum cans on the side of the road and turning them in for recycling. That turned out to be excellent therapy, as I was getting exercise and fresh air, and listening to uplifting music as I worked, all of which did much good to brighten my mood. And I actually made $100 per week from the aluminum that I collected!
Gradually I began to talk to a few people at church about my experience, and I quickly discovered that there are two camps on the subject of mental disorders: those who believe it is a legitimate medical condition, and those who believe it is the consequence of sin. I am here to tell you that it is a genuine medical condition that can be effectively treated, although sin certainly complicates every aspect of our lives. Bipolar can be controlled with medication, but there is a much better treatment, and—perhaps—a cure? I will tell you more about this soon.
During this time I learned how to sift words, “keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away,”³ for it is certain that not everyone I spoke to offered their support. But I got support from enough friends that the others did not matter. In fact, the dearest of them will be reading this, for they know who they are, and they still support me. Thank you! A thousand times, thank you!
So I was doing better, but I still suffered from extreme highs and lows. What more could I do? Two friends had excellent suggestions, one I had never heard of before, and the other I should have thought of on my own. One friend told me to start reading the psalms every day. That really should have been a given, but for some reason, when I was down, I did not think to pray or read my Bible. I thanked him for the suggestion and took it to heart. The other friend recommended I try neurotherapy. Neuro-what? I had never heard of it. I’d like to give much more detail about this type of treatment, so I’ll save it for Monday, September 25th, and I’ll come back and add the link for the benefit of you who find this article later.
Medicine. Fresh air. Exercise. Music. Friendship. Neurotherapy. All these were steps toward healing from the Bipolar, but the best healing of all came from God’s Word and prayer. I’m so glad my friend told me to read the Psalms. It sounds obvious, and yet I had missed it. And God was waiting there for me, with His healing ointment ready to be poured into my wounded spirit. And not just the Psalms, but all of God’s Word. However, in the case of depression, the book of Psalms is a very good place to start. David also suffered from chronic depression, and he knew where to turn when he was down. He didn’t turn to a psychiatrist or medicine. David talked to the Lord in prayer, and he sang songs of praise. He didn’t just read the Psalms—he wrote them, many of them anyway.
I told you at the beginning that I read Psalm 71 this morning, and it is my testimony of grace. I’m going to present in such a way as to show you how the Lord speaks to me through His Word. This is not so much a translation as an application of the psalm to my life personally. As you read it, think of how you could apply it to your own life. I left the verse numbers in so you can open your Bible and compare what I have here to the Word of God, if you so desire.
1 In You, O Lord, do I put my trust: let me never again be put to confusion.
2 Deliver me in Your righteousness, and cause me to escape when my soul is troubled: hear my prayer, and save me.
3 Be my strong habitation, to which I may continually resort: You have given commandment to save me; for You are my rock and my fortress.
4 Deliver me, O my God, from these wicked thoughts, from my own unrighteous heart and cruel mind.
5 For You are my hope, O Lord GOD: You are my trust from my youth.
6 You have upheld me since birth; You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb. My praise shall be continually of You.
7 I am as a wonder to many because so many times I have escaped death; but You are my strong refuge, You are the One who sustained me every time.
8 Let my mouth be filled with Your praise and with Your honor all day long.
9 Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength fails.
10 For I would not want those awful demons to torment me again,
11 Saying, “God has forsaken her: persecute and take her; for there is no help for her.”
12 O God, be not far from me: O my God, hurry to help me!
13 Let them be confounded and consumed that are enemies of my soul; let them be covered with reproach and dishonor that seek my hurt, whether real or imagined.
14 But I will hope continually, and will yet praise You more and more.
15 My mouth will show forth Your righteousness and Your salvation all day long; I don’t know how many days You have given me, but I know You have allowed me to live for a reason.
16 I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD: I will make mention of Your righteousness alone, for I know that I have no righteousness of my own.
17 O God, You have taught me from my youth: and now I have declared Your wondrous works.
18 Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, forsake me not; until I have shown Your strength to this generation, and Your power to everyone who is to come.
19 Your righteousness also, O God, is exalted; You have done great things. O God, who is like unto You!
20 You, who have shown me great and sore troubles, shall quicken me again, and shall bring me up again from the depths of the earth.
21 You shall increase my greatness and comfort me on every side.
22 I will praise You on the piano, O my God. Unto You will I sing with the guitar, O Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to You; and my soul, which You have redeemed.
24 My tongue also shall talk of Your righteousness all day long: for the voices inside my head that told I was worthless, they are gone, they have been silenced.
This has been quite a bit longer than my usual post, but I tried to say only what needed to be said to give you as clear a picture as possible of where God found me and what He did for me. From time to time I’ll share other glimpses into my personal life, but only to give praise to God my Redeemer, for He alone is worthy. Please join me again on Monday for the rest of the Bipolar story. Thank you for reading.
¹Chorus of “God on the Mountain,” lyrics and music by Tracy Dartt.
²Original photo taken in the mountains of North Carolina, 2014.
³Line quoted from “Friendship” written by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik (1826-1887), originally published in her novel A Life for a Life (info from geonius.com).