written by Karl Shallowhorn
This past weekend, the UCC celebrated Mental Health Sunday. But for the one out of five of us living with a diagnosable mental health diagnosis, every day is a mental health day. This isn’t meant to disparage our denomination’s recognition of the importance of raising awareness and reducing stigma, but it’s a plain and simple fact.
If you’ve read any of my posts in the past, you know that I’ve been living with bipolar and co-occurring addiction disorder for the vast majority of my life. Over time I’ve fortunately been able to develop tools that have helped me to gain stability and which have allowed me live a life “beyond my wildest dreams.”
When I was struggling with my illness in the 1980’s all I ever wanted was to have a “normal” life (whatever that means). These were the days when my peers were all going on to have careers, start families and seemingly living a carefree life. What I didn’t realize at the time was that by comparing myself to others I was limiting my own potential and developing a negative self-image at the same time.
It was, however, at this same time, a period of spiritual yearning. I recall even going so far as to calling prayer lines, like the one promoted on the 700 Club and the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker television programs. I would pray earnestly to have my maladies removed. And while some of my belief was tinged with delusional thinking, I still had the hope that I could get better. And I did.
The turning point came when I joined a 12-Step program and my bipolar symptoms abated. The spiritual principles and the practical application of said ideals helped me to change the course of my life. As I have said, this program saved me from a mental, emotional and spiritual death. This was when I began to realize the awesome power of God’s healing presence in my life. Over time I slowly experienced a transformation that can only be described as miraculous. I mean, if you had seen me in my “wilderness years” of my illness, you’d say the same thing. There were times when I was completely incapable of any kind of self-care, not to mention being utterly unemployable and devoid of any emotional capacity to feel anything.
One thing I do know is that never during my time of struggle did I blame God for my condition. Like Job, I had to endure many unbearable situations; ones which could have easily caused me to throw in the towel and give up. But my faith in God, as distorted as it was at times, helped to get through to the other side. The many trials and challenges I’ve experienced have all served to help me to grow my belief in my Higher Power.
This is not just something I experience on one Sunday every year. It’s every day. One thing I’ve learned through my 12-Step program is to “live life on life’s terms.” What this means is that I have come to an acceptance of my life, thereby understanding my assets and liabilities, as well as my potential and my limitations. I’ve also learned that by turning my will and my life over to the care of God, I can withstand any challenge that life presents.
And I’m not the only one. There are many people who have successfully overcome their condition by using the tools that are available to them. Each one of us has to discover what works best. It is through this knowledge that we can fully live out God’s plan for our lives, not just on one day of the year, but every day.