It’s not a sin to be sick
Let’s just put it out there right now. I’m a Christian. There. I said it. No, I’m not one of those “holier than thou” and everyone-needs-to-do-as-I-do types. We all know them. Maybe you’ve even been one. Until the day you received your diagnosis: Bipolar.
I was a questioner when I was diagnosed in 1997 at the age of 34. I have always been the curious sort. So it wasn’t unlike me to begin to search for answers to the “Why me?” question. I tried Overeaters Anonymous; I read everything by the Dalai Lama I could get my hands on. I even meditated. No luck. Still bipolar. Going to church seemed like the next best thing to do.
I had postpartum depression after the birth of each of my three daughters. It had lasted about six months the first two times, and I managed it with a little Prozac. But the third time, it didn’t abate. It got worse. The doctor upped my anti-depressant; the worst thing you can do for someone with manic-depression tendencies. It’s not hard to guess what happened next. Yep. I spiraled into a terrible mania. Out of control. But, I wasn’t depressed anymore. When I went bounding into my doctor’s office, reporting that I was happy for the first time in years and practically bouncing off the walls, she said it. Those words. “ I think you’re bipolar. Do you think you’re bipolar?” Heck, I didn’t know what that meant. But I spent the next ten years and 14 trials of meds figuring it out.
That’s what led me to church. They’ll have the answers….right? After all…they’re….Godly people. Right? Only they didn’t have any more answers than anyone else did. To their credit, they did try and help the only way they knew how: the prayed. They anointed me and prayed. And that’s O.K. It’s what happened when I wasn’t healed that became a problem.
As my behavior became more and more out of control, more and more eccentric, they backed away from me. They abandoned me. When I became depressed again, no one offered to bring my kids to church; there was no meal train. No one helped with the laundry or housecleaning.
Why is it that when you have depression, no one brings you a meal the way they do if you have a broken leg, or cancer?
I stopped going to church altogether, and although I managed to hold on to my job as a special education teacher, my personal life fell apart. It wasn’t until my current pdoc and I tried a trial of Abilify and Cymbalta that my mania stopped. I have been mania free for 9 years now. And although I still cycle with depression now and then – especially with the changing of the seasons – still, no one offers to bring me a meal. A single mom. A full time teacher. Grad school. Three teenage girls. And that’s it.
Still, through it all, I never lost my faith in God. Oh, I’ve lost my faith in people many times. They are so fickle. But never God. This past year, I decided to give church another try. I am Anabaptist by faith. I tried every Mennonite Brethren Church in my town. (We are a big town for “MBers”) Finally, I found a place where the people were just as flawed as I am. There is no pretense there. No judgment. Only stories of infidelity and scandal. A broken people. But we are bound together by a common love.
It’s no sin to be sick. And don’t you let anyone tell you it is. Just keep looking for that church, that temple, that house of worship where you are accepted and loved for everything you are, not because of everything you can hide. I am completely open about having bipolar disorder, having come out at work and church. At 50, I’m too old to pretend anymore. I even let my hair go gray this past summer. I am what I am. And if someone doesn’t like it, I’ll be happy to show you the door, ‘cause life’s too short. Life is just too damn short.