The You Underneath

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Who are you underneath your mental illness?

The other day I took the Myers-Briggs personality test for one of my counseling classes. I expected to get the result I had gotten a few years ago but I was surprised to find I got an almost opposite result. Then it hit me. I’m healing now and I wasn’t before. I took the test when I was navigating the throws of Bipolar Disorder without therapy or medication. This got me thinking about identity, illness, and my faith.

              I struggled for a long time with my illness and it genuinely became my overwhelming concern for many years. It quickly became a huge part of my identity. The highs and lows are all I know. I became addicted to the rush of mania and the fourteen-hour days I spent depression napping. I let it take precedent over my relationships, my job, and my schooling. I became bipolar first and Bree second. This flipped identity has caused me a great deal of pain. I felt alone, unworthy, and incapable. The personality test was a good wake up call. I am not my illness; I am the me underneath the Bipolar. I have Bipolar Disorder it does not have me.

              This revelation caused me to do some soul searching. I began to ask God “who am I really?” and what followed was a beautiful awakening of my faith and confidence in myself. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.“ and Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” These verses have become the jumping off point for my journey into a new understanding of myself. I am not so broken by my illness that God can’t use me. In fact, God loves to use broken people to share his love. God has a deeply important plan for my life. This plan cannot be stolen away by illness. In truth, God knew I would be Bipolar when he looked into my future and saw my purpose.

              I have begun to slowly recognize that my disorder is a opportunity for ministry from this blog to the future counseling work I will do it is easier to listen to someone who has been through the trials of mental illness. God created me specifically to bring my unique experience into my everyday life and the lives of others. I know that I personally am guilty of pulling a Moses and asking “why me God? I am unable to do this”. Moses had a speech impediment that made him feel unable to speak on God’s behalf to Pharaoh, but God still used him to lead his chosen people. Aron spoke for Moses that day with Pharaoh. Thank God for the Aron’s of the world who spoke for me for so many years as I made excuses to God. Still, think how much Moses missed out on by not stepping into his destiny right away.

I know that for years I have used my Bipolar Disorder as a safety blanket. It was an excuse I used as to why God could not use me. Just think of all the beautiful blessings I missed out on. It almost breaks my heart. I need to live life in the here and now though. I am healing and learning to recognize the person underneath my illness. I am a sister, daughter, friend, student, girlfriend, and above all else a child of God. Yes, I can’t ignore my illness. I need to take the time to care for myself, but I can’t allow my self-care to be at the expense of the rest of my life. I want to live and love with abandon not in a manic way but in a careful and kind way.

              So, my Bipolar friends I would encourage you to look within your own heart. Who are you underneath the diagnosis? I’m sure you will find some beautiful things that you forgot existed long ago. Ask yourself, what interests you? Who do you love? And most of all who are you in God’s eyes. Remember, 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Embrace that newness in your life starting today. My prayer for you is that you find a beautiful God given destiny underneath your struggles. God desperately wants to love and use you for his purpose. Remember that!

RUN THE RACE

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Being Bipolar is a sort of everyday journey into self-reflection and understanding. It’s difficult and oftentimes both physically and mentally uncomfortable. For me the best metaphor for dealing with the highs and lows of bipolar disorder is running a marathon. There are extremely high highs and extremely low lows. You are exhausted, aching, and ready to collapse but still you press onward. In Hebrews 12:1 Paul writes “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The Bible clearly compares our life to a race. I like to look at mine as a marathon. It isn’t about speed it is about finishing. Maybe your illness has kept you from finishing school or getting married right away. Maybe you can’t have kids because of medications. Maybe you are tired, frustrated and lonely. Bipolar disorder can make us feel like we are completely alone. The constant pills, therapy sessions, social events where I cannot drink, and the days off from school and work wear on me. I feel alone and uncomfortable in my own skin most days. Still, God reminds us to run the race but at our pace. Whatever path you choose to heal if you are moving you are in the race. Don’t become discouraged if your journey looks different than other people. There is only one you. Focus on you.

              I must admit that I am partial to the running metaphor because I enjoy running. Honestly running is the only place where I feel truly comfortable in my own skin. The focused breathing and footfalls help me to focus inward and quiet my thoughts. Lately though I had quit running. My medications had made me gain so much weight that I was embarrassed by the shape I was in. My brother pushed me to go on a trail run today. I’m out of shape and fatter than I would like honestly. Still, I impressed him with my endurance over the run. I told him at the end “I may not be the best runner, but I will always be the grittiest”. Grit is something forged from trials. It’s my favorite word for resilience, and you my bipolar friends are the grittiest people I know. I am so proud to know that there are others like me with the courage to stay alive. I have lived a great deal of my life wanting to die. The intensity of emotion is exhausting, but still we press on. So, I would like to encourage you to please keep running. If you cannot take another step call on me and I promise I will run beside you, I will carry you even, until you can run again. We must keep moving. We are resilient and we are worth fighting for. You are worth fighting for. Bipolar lives matter deeply. It saddens me that 1 in 5 of us will take their own life. I pray that number grows smaller each day. So, run your race my friends. Please don’t quit until you cross that finish line.