They Do Exist.

Being Dragged Through The Mud: Overcoming Bipolar Disorder

Editor’s Note: Today’s story is shared by Ali Morrison, and she blogs here. Do you have Bipolar, or do you have a sibling, parent or close friend who does? Please feel free to share in the comments. I know from personal experience it’s hard to find friends to relate with on this, and I’d love to see this post begin a conversation. – Lauren

I like the start my story at the end. At least the current end, because it’s a happy one. Look at me: I’m a Christian, a wife, a soon-to-be mother, I have a good job, a college degree, I’m a homeowner, I pay my taxes, I have no criminal record… I’m doing pretty well.

Eight or so years ago, I was doing pretty well too. I was first in my class, student council class representative, cheerleader, working, involved in everything… Everyone wanted to be me. Except, well, me.

I wasn’t the girl in the black hoodie in the corner, I was the girl at the center of the pep rally. But I was miserable. I felt hopeless and lifeless, and I assumed it was my fault. It was so much worse, too, because a few months before that I had been on a high like none other – I didn’t need sleep, I’d laugh at everything, I could finish my schoolwork in less than half the time it took everyone else. I had a great family, and as I said before, which really only made me feel more guilty for feeling awful. I tried everything to make myself better. I joined more clubs, I worked even harder on my school work, I tried out for and made more teams, I got a job, I rebelled and started drinking and partying… nothing could make me hate myself less.

One night I was at a friend’s house with some people when her parents weren’t home, and we started drinking. Everyone had one shot… then I had a second… then I had a third… I was so out of control that a friend I’d called to yell at (while drunk), called my parents and asked them to pick me up. I hated her for that, but I hate to think what would have happened if they wouldn’t have. When I see headlines for young people who die of overdoses, it makes my heart hurt almost like I knew them. Because, in a sense, I did.

Photo by Branden Harvey / / Design by Lauren Dubinsky

My parents were furious, obviously, but all I could say when they asked me if I knew how much trouble I was in was, “I don’t care… I just want to die, anyway.” It wasn’t some big dramatic blow-out or presentation from me. They just needed to know what I had hid so long. The next few days are a blur in my head. I think that was a Friday night, and I think I went to Methodist on Monday. The 8th floor, to be exact. Or, the psychiatric ward, as most people know it. When I came in, we had to enter through the ER. An armed security guard then took me up. My parents could only visit for an hour a day, during the assigned hour.

The pediatric and adolescent section of the 8th floor is a pretty weird place.

Maybe that seems obvious to you, but the disorders that they mixed in there could be pretty volatile. Substance abuse, rebellious behavior, chemical imbalance… We all made for one big crockpot of crazy in there. They take your shoelaces, anything sharp, and even anything that only MacGyver could find a way to use as a weapon. At first, I refused to talk to anyone. But even for me, that got pretty hard. There’s not exactly a ton to do, and leaving is slightly more than frowned upon. Even though it was an awful time and awful memory, I met people over that week who still affect my life. One girl I met there encouraged me to open up the Bible for the first time since my children’s Bible. In that week, I felt less judged and more accepted than I honestly have since then. I also found out that my wild swings in mood and behavior had a name: Bipolar Disorder. I started medications and was released from the hospital.

When I left, I was glad, but I soon realized that leaving meant returning to life. Answering questions, picking up pieces. High school kids are hateful, and I heard all kinds of rumors about me: That I had gone to rehab, that my parents were pulling me out of school, that I just had an incredibly poor immune system. Even with my medications, life was an unpleasant rollercoaster that I had no control over. My sophomore year, I had to have a home tutor administer my finals and missed almost 30 days of school. I needed more meds, I needed less meds, I needed a doctor, I needed a therapist… Sometimes it almost seemed worse on the other side of the diagnosis.

The only thing that seemed steady in my life was the feeling of being dragged through a life I didn’t want to live. And I know now that was God dragging me.

I know people like to create these grand analogies about God carrying us through life, but I’m a little more pragmatic when I picture God. I wasn’t exactly working with him to get the other side, and I really think in some ways, he was doing everything he could to get me to the other side of the valley. If that meant he had to drag me by my hair, so be it. I don’t think I ever DENIED God’s existence. I just couldn’t see, at that point, why a God who loved me would grab me by my hopeless, limp arm and drag me through the mud. But now, I realize, every day God dragged me through that mud was another day that he didn’t leave me and didn’t let me stop moving forward. (And just as a side note, if you know someone battling depression, please don’t tell them to have faith or pray more or “cheer up.” Those are absolutely vital, but no one would tell someone with diabetes or cancer that—and mental illness is still an illness that needs medical treatment. And empathy, and understanding.)

There are still highs and lows in my life, as there have been for years. I’ve been blessed, because as I’ve gotten older and hormone levels have leveled out, I worked with a doctor to get off my meds about a year and a half ago. Will I need them again someday? Probably. I mean, statistically I shouldn’t have been able to get off them at all. And as much as I’ve tried to bury the pain associated with this, it always pops to the surface every once in a while. My husband and I were out to eat a month or so ago, and a woman was talking loudly about one of her nephews.

“He complains about how crazy she is… I tell him, well maybe he should have thought about that before he started dating someone with Bipolar disorder! What, is she going to collect disability her whole life?”

It makes me cringe. Cringe because of her ignorance, because maybe some of it has an ounce of truth in it, and most cringe because I feel broken and bare when I hear comments like that.

I wanted to eloquently tell her my story. Or even just kick her in the head. But I couldn’t do either, because I felt exposed and vulnerable.

When we try to hide our pain and insecurities, we give them power over us.

I know that my story could help people. I couldn’t find a single “happy ending” story when I got my diagnosis, so I didn’t know if I’d ever graduate or get married or get a job. Now I’ve done all of that and so much more. I don’t think it’s because there aren’t any “happy ending” stories. I think it’s because when people get to a point like I’m at, they crawl up and bask in their normality, never to look back.

So I don’t doubt the power of my story. I just doubt… me. I’m afraid you’ll judge me. Judge my capabilities as a wife… as a Christian… as a mother… even just as a person. I’m afraid maybe when I come over for dinner, you’ll give me a plastic knife, or that you won’t let me be around your kids because, you know, I’m crazy. But that’s okay. I’m not going to give my pain power over me anymore.

God didn’t drag me through the mud so I could come out and live life constantly fearing mud.

He dragged me through the mud so that I could help drag others through the mud. So I could laugh at the mud and learn from the mud.

And so I could be prepared if I was ever in the mud again.


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24 Responses

  1. Nicole

    Thank you! Thank you for writing this. As a girl with bipolar, one course shy of graduating with college degree and happily engaged to a loving supportive godly man, it is nice and uplifting to hear your story. It has resonated so much with me in ways that I cannot tell you. There are happy endings even though you have this illness and we are the proof of it. God is good. Life is not perfect but He is the one that keeps us through our ups and downs. Thanks again. Your story made a huge impact.

    August 8, 2012 at 2:05 am

  2. Jasmine

    I live with cyclothymia / mild bipolar. Wonderful courage and great post!

    August 8, 2012 at 2:11 am

  3. yin

    as someone who has been diagnosed with depression and suspects that I have bipolar (but have never been medicated for it), I really worry about a relapse. also, i worry that i will never find a man who will accept my illness because of the terrible burden i already can be to my loved ones. for you ladies who did find someone, when do you disclose something like this? i definitely fear being labeled as "crazy" and in fact there isn't even protection against discrimination for that sort of thing in my country, so if i disclosed a history of mental illness to an employer in my country i could be refused a job despite my very good qualifications. i am fairly well at the moment but feel as though at any moment it could all collapse…

    August 8, 2012 at 3:46 am

    • Nicole

      For me once I felt that the person was really interested in me and we were getting serious, I told him. But it has always been my policy to tell people that I am in a serious relationship with about my illness, whether it was a friendship or romantic relationship. I can relate to those fears and I have had them too. The only advice i can give is to pray a lot for the right man, work on becoming as healthy as you can mentally, emotionally and physically and become very educated about the illness so you can educate any guy you like. I find that things go better when both parties are well educated about the illness.

      With regards to the job, I would be cautious and only disclose about my health stats if it become necessary to have treatment that would make you have to take time off from work.

      August 10, 2012 at 6:18 pm

      • sarabara

        Also, about the job question, the Americans with Disabilities Act protects you from being fired or discriminated against by an employer simple because of your disability. I recommend learning about this act, as I am only a somewhat-reliable source. :)

        August 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm

  4. Cass

    hey thanks for sharing, i live with a wonderful girl who is bipolar, she is really down at the moment, and we have been doing our best to help her through, but it's really hard to help motivate her… I know personally how hard it is to get through depression, having suffered from it my self, and can only imagine how much worse the depressed side of bipolar disorder is…so yeah, I understand a little of what she is going through, but any advice for me as to how to help her recover some of her previous spirit and become herself again…?

    August 8, 2012 at 5:46 am

  5. Mrs

    Thank you for sharing your story. As someone who has been ill for many years, with depression as a result, I really relate to the "feeling of being dragged through a life I didn’t want to live". I'm really happy things have improved for you :)

    August 8, 2012 at 5:53 am

  6. Hi everyone! This is Ali, the author! It looks like the link to my blog isn't working, but please visit more of my blog at proverbs31rockstar.blogspot.com! Thank you all for your comments and support!

    August 8, 2012 at 7:36 am

    • @laurendubinsky

      hey ali! so sorry that your link wasn't working properly. it's been corrected. <3

      August 8, 2012 at 11:54 am

  7. Mandy

    There are so many layers of bipolar. My sister is severe. She also has OCD and severe ADD. She can't drive, hold a job, and we were lucky to get her through high school. I try to be careful when I talk about her because she is so. Severe. I make sure to stress to people that she is severe when I talk in frustrated terms. And that there are others with bipolar who are nothing like her. She has put a lot of bitterness in this heart and in our home. But again, she is severe. Another friend of mine has bipolar and is married, smart, educated, great at her job and wasn't diagnosed until her 40s. Just know that sometimes when we talk about our "bipolar sister that we can't stand" it's not because she's anything like you. And it's not always because we are ignorant (sometimes they are VERY ignorant…). Sometimes we've been to close to the worst moments too many times. We've seen our families get hurt, berated and physically attacked too many times to tolerate it any more. Sometimes, we'd rather be ignorant.

    Your story is heartbreaking and beautiful. Thank you for sharing. And thank you for giving this bitter heart some new perspective.

    August 8, 2012 at 9:47 am

  8. Thank you for writing, Ali.

    I am also a woman who is also a Christian, a college graduate and a mother.

    I also live with bipolar disorder and I can tell you (as I am sure you can tell others), it is both a great burden and an unparalleled gift. I do not know how long I have lived with the illness; however, I suspect since middle or high school. Long enough that, as the 33 year old, single mother of an 8 month old, I remember leaving the psychiatrist’s office after he said “Bipolar” with a great sense of joy and relief!

    For 10 years, I had been treated off an on for clinical depression – but I knew something wasn’t quite right. That day, FINALLY, there was a name for it! And with the name came options. Understanding. A sense that, although all was not right in my world, there was hope…a place to start. The journey has not always been easy but there are ways to food and it starts with educating yourself and then educating the people closest to you. They will be your support; they must know about this illness – and about how it manifests in your life. Some things will be obvious – others not so clear (especially if you are type 2 and your ‘manic’ episodes are less obviously manic).

    I can remember my best friend sitting with me for hours sorting through 3 laundry baskets full of mostly unopened mail because I didn’t want to, couldn’t, face the bills that needed to be paid. She, in her ordered world, didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, yet she helped me anyhow. For that and a million other things she accepted when she didn’t walk away after the diagnosis, I owe her my life. And although I am prone to hyperbole (thanks both to my illness and my flamboyant personality), that is not an exaggeration.

    I will not go into all the things which litter my life because I didn’t understand, because I didn’t know, because in my family, mental illness doesn’t exist. I have been thinking of writing about it in my own blog but I haven’t gotten that far yet – maybe this is the catalyst I need?

    For yin – who suspects she is bipolar (and anyone else) – it is important to find a good doctor who can give you that answer. The very meds you take to control the depressive episodes can make bipolar worse because they can decrease cycling time, lead to mixed episodes and very occasionally escalate hypomanic episodes into full-blown mania. Please get help.

    I am somewhat unique in that, by the time I was diagnosed, I had known for so long that something was wrong that the relief overpowered the fear and it just became part of my ‘normal’ conversation. I didn’t have to worry about when to tell the man I was dating, it was just something that was there. My husband did have some difficulty in the beginning – not with the illness itself, but with its attendant drama. He learned fairly quickly that I have to have my ‘drama’ moment in any situation and then I settle down and can think rationally. :) before I was appropriately medicated, I rarely left the drama.

    I have always thought it an imperative for those of us blessed to be ‘high functioning’ to work to break the stigma of psychiatric illness. There are still those in my family (most notably my mother) who believe that if I just lose enough weight, find the right man, find the right job, etc., that I will be happy and I will no longer need to take my medication. It is vital that people know that bipolar is NOT the result of an unhappy life! As Ali stated – it is an illness just like diabetes, or a thyroid disorder or any number if things which are treated every day. The bipolar patient will need lifelong care. That care may look different for each patient but Ali is in the minority as she is able to maintain without medication, at least for a time. Most people will always need it. Many quit taking it because the thrill of the mania is addictive – they do not feel alive without the ‘high’.

    Ok. I have probably overstayed my welcome; however, I hope, truly, that I have added positively to the conversation you wanted to begin. It’s important. We have to break the stigma, bring it out of the shadows. There should be no shame. I believe now (though not always) that God brought me through it to give me the ability to walk with others and make their way somewhat easier for the understanding.

    Thank you.

    August 8, 2012 at 10:07 am

  9. Thank you so much for this. It was a touching, honest read and I'm so thankful for your perspective. :)

    August 8, 2012 at 11:55 am

  10. Sarah

    "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim. 1:7)," & "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear… (1 John 4:18)," these verse are ones I looked to as I healed and continue to heal from depression and anxiety. I am not diagnosed with bipolar but I can resonate with many that mental illness can take you hostage and grip you with fear. The fear that you won't come out on the other side, the fear of what others with think, the fear of being "crazy" etc. I just want to remind you beautiful women that although you struggle, you are not alone (as many many many people are diagnosed with bipolar and most americans have some type of mental health problem), yet you are not alone because even when we can't feel Him or see Him God is with you. His PERFECT LOVE has the power to cast out all fear, just as 1 John 4 talks about. Lastly, I want to leave you with this quote because I believe it touches upon Ali's story, that she did not let her diagnosis, or fear of what that meant keep her from living (or rather God didn't let that happen); "A life lived in fear is a life half-lived," …don't live your life half way because of a disease, illness, fear or stigma, live it to the fullest as God has called you to live life abundantly (John 10:10).

    August 8, 2012 at 12:05 pm

  11. I have suffered from bipolar disorder and depression for many years and just recently have found freedom from both. I can say the burden of any mental disorder is a lonely one because it seems not many people can understand it, which how can they if you can't fully understand it yourself? It's important to seek professional help, to get a better understanding and receive the treatment needed. For me it was simply attending counseling sessions for a while that helped me learn how to cope with the disorder.

    Honestly, I can tell you had I not gone to a counselor my marriage would have not survived. My husband even attended counseling sessions with me to better understand what I was facing. So not only was I getting help from a professional but my husband was becoming educated to the point that he could help me through some of my worst episodes.

    I needed help and the best thing I did for myself and marriage was geting that help. It doesn't have to be a lonely road. You and your loved ones can have a better understanding.

    At this point in my life God has brought me to a place of healing. It's been a while since I have had any episodes, and maybe it is just for a season, but no matter what I know I am not alone.

    August 8, 2012 at 12:31 pm

  12. asenathe

    Love this post. It is good to see a Christian embrace medical help in the area of mental illness. In the past (and it's currently waning away) I battled depression and terrible mood-swings, was highly irritable…I even got on the pill to help with this "imbalance". Now I have resulted to trusting God and I am working on speaking to a psychologist (no harm in that). I have my sister keep me in check whenever I am getting stressed. God gave some kind of "spiritual amnesia" that as soon as I started worrying or getting agitated, He would simply wipe all that chaos away and pour out peace over me. God bless you for sharing.

    August 8, 2012 at 1:21 pm

  13. This is beautiful. I've struggled with depression for many years and have had many interactions with bipolar. I lived with a dear friend for a year who was stable and in treatment, and related well to her because we were both on the sane side of things. I've also seen the dark side as my boyfriend's mom is untreated and in denial of her condition. Those two women could never even be compared to each other because of the vast difference treatment can make. I, too, have heard more slurs and demeaning conversations about bipolar and mental illness than I would like and share the passion to advocate and spread awareness on the reality of mental illness. This right here is monumental–keep sharing your story!

    August 8, 2012 at 6:42 pm

  14. Pingback: joy. | thoughts of cake | mental ponderings

  15. My mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 10 and she was 40, in the midst of a full-blown manic episode. She's been hospitalized at least half a dozen times in the past 15 years since diagnosis, usually while she had still been diligently taking her meds. But major mood shifters like family deaths, marriages, and moves often bring on another episode.

    We need to keep speaking because bit by bit the people around us can understand if we share. I always share with my closest friends my own fears since I am susceptible, and train them to look for the warning signs.

    Thanks for sharing bravely and eloquently, Ali, a piece of your life with us.

    August 18, 2012 at 4:49 pm

  16. sarabara

    Thank you so much for sharing! I do not have Bipolar Disorder, but I do have a chemical disorder in my brain where I am prone to getting clinically depressed. I have been clinically depressed before, and had a recent bout with it, but am out of the woods for now. I am encouraged to write about my 'happy ending story' so others can be encouraged. :) And know that I do not judge you for having a chemical imbalance in your brain! it is what it is, as I like to say.

    I also have epilepsy, and have very mild seizures when I sleep, and sometimes during the day. I feel judged when I have a seizure, or have to leave something because I feel that one might come on. I guess I am saying that I can relate to what you have shared. Now here is something my friend said that helped me. I'm not saying it should help you. Everyone has different needs. But what she said was, "Most people do not know what you are going through because they do not have your condition. You are entitled to do whatever you need to do to help yourself."

    You are not crazy, my online-friend. You are you. Thanks again for sharing!

    August 24, 2012 at 4:38 pm

  17. yin

    Hi, this is yin again, I posted earlier. Reading this post and Margaret's contribution have led me to seek help and see a psychiatrist again (I hadn't since college where it was more convenient). I'm very scared and apprehensive but I feel that if this (bipolar) is really what I have, I need to face up to it and get the right treatment because trying to go it without meds is not working (I can feel myself slipping back into depression again and am slightly freaked out by some of the things I did during what may have been a manic/hypomanic episode). Thanks to all of you for giving me the courage to face up to it and take the next step. I really hope I can come out the other side like some of you seem to have. Please pray for me if you read this.

    September 27, 2012 at 6:09 am

  18. Sonja Phillippi

    just trying to muddle thru life.

    December 26, 2012 at 11:17 pm

  19. Sueann Dawber

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    June 9, 2013 at 9:15 am

  20. Mariska

    Great to read your story! I'm a 35 year old Christians mum of three beautiful children (aged 2,4 and 6) who has been married to my lovely husband for 13 years. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder after suffering an acute manic episode at the end of year 12. I've had 6 recurrent episodes in the past 17 years. Keep in mind that God has great plans for your life – despite your diagnosis. I went on to complete 2 university degrees and currently work in communications with World Vision – my dream job! If I could give you any advise, it would be to be well prepared for the high possibility of becoming unwell after having a baby (due to hormone shifts etc.) After a terrible experience after having my first baby, I was much more prepared with the next two and went on to have them with no dramas. All the best!

    October 20, 2013 at 5:25 am

  21. ernest

    Hi everyone, I'm Ernest and I've just being diagnosed with bipolar disorder three days ago after living with it for ten years. I'm currently unemployed and hugely depressed. It's as if my lifeis in a halt. Gr8 to hear from all of you. At least you do understand…

    January 28, 2014 at 12:35 pm

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