Finding My Faith Despite Losing My Mind
by Katie Dale
At twenty-four, I was hitting the peak of my young adult life. I was a college grad enjoying marriage and working my dream job as the graphic designer for a small business in sunny Central Florida. Yes, I was living with bipolar I, diagnosed at the tender age of sixteen, but I had come a long way from my three-week stay in the juvenile psych ward. The unpredictability of that memorable stay blindsided me. No one explained to me how traumatic and scarring this experience would be for me, and how it would shape my future. I was confused, paranoid, and my arms seemed to always reach forward in a stiff zombie-like posture. But I came around and believed, through a daily ritual of taking my prescribed medication, that I was healed. I also believed, as a committed Christian, that my stable mental health was a result of answered prayers and claimed Bible verses.
In the spring of 2012, my husband and I purchased our first house and moved in, praising God that we were young first-time homeowners with a beautiful property all of our own. The move put me in a great mood– so great, in fact, that I decided it was time to come off my medications. The sermons from a southern, Faith-Word televangelist to whom I listened at that time confirmed my aspirations for a whole, healthy mind. He prided his ministry on the premise that healing was only dependent on the faith inside of oneself. He never communicated explicitly that I go off my medication, or addressed those with mental illness, but to me, that didn’t seem to matter. All that was required to be healed? Enough faith.
As my husband and I discussed my plans to taper off my medication, he encouraged me to wait until his month-long trip to Mongolia that July was over. The call to healing through faith was too loud to ignore. Instead, against my psychiatrist’s warning, I tapered off the medicine. In my husband’s absence, I morphed into a full-blown manic case. My symptoms from eight years before returned, although I refused to believe that it was my illness. I was caught up in a world of euphoric fantasies, visions, miraculous moments, and days of supreme ecstasy.
The world of bipolar was alluring and magical. Boundless energy, creative ideas, heightened mood, exaggerated optimism and self-confidence: who wouldn’t want to be bipolar? Life was like a movie, and every song I sang or heard was part of the soundtrack. But then the paranoia ensued, stopping me in my tracks of euphoric ecstasy, inferring in my conscience that the FBI was bugging the house, overshadowing my rational mind. After a handful of exacerbating online chats with my husband, he returned home to find a manic and maniacal wife. We had argument after argument, so I sought help from our pastor, but the problems, and the symptoms, stayed. We went to my therapist together, but she disregarded my hysterics. Finally, after some sleepless nights and continued dramatic behaviors, I was admitted to the hospital.
Funny enough, as a creative type, I had already been working on the first draft of my book, a memoir of my first hospitalization. Little did I know that, eight years later, my story was to earn a Part Two: endless days and nights lost in paranoia and manic psychosis. Once admitted to the adult ward, the screams down the road from SeaWorld Orlando didn’t help at all; I couldn’t tell whether they were the screams from exhilarated amusement park guests, or the internal cries of at least half of the psych patients.
The first night there slipped seamlessly into days of insomnia: I was experiencing paranoia that kept me from getting sleep, believing my dreams would be extracted and used to manipulate me. I fought to stay awake, and sundown proved most difficult. At first refusing to take any medication, I now entertained hallucinations and believed I was in the midst of angels and demons and spiritual warfare. My overt manic expressions of improvised songs, rapping, and flirtatious, witty banter made me feel like the star of the show, and a Messiah Complex followed.
When I prayed for a miracle, I got one. I requested to leave within the first three days, so the hospital conducted a court case and the system permitted my discharge, against my psychiatrist’s wishes. On the subsequent trip to my cousin’s wedding in New York a week later, my husband and I made it through the ceremony. But the drug cocktail hastily prescribed before my discharge quickly lost effect, and we were forced to take an impromptu flight back to Florida where I was readmitted into the hospital again. Desperate to win this battle of my sanity versus my misguided judgment, I finally embraced the staff’s medication recommendations.
Rounds of group therapy and supervised activities, plus the testing of multiple psychotropic medications kept my paranoia alive. I was the butt of a cosmic joke and being persecuted for my faith. It didn’t seem fair that they could keep me behind locked doors and call me a danger to myself and others when all I wanted was to get out of this pit. I was being mocked, lined up for the slaughter.
Ideas of reference came and enhanced this journey of distorted reality. When a patient named Edward tried to kiss me, I was suddenly Bella Swan from the vampire series, Twilight. With the presence of a ropes course in the courtyard, and the assimilation of people in a confined unit, I was Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. A bossy, blonde girl manipulated and teased me, and I morphed into Laura Ingalls’s, fighting spoiled Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie.
The psychosis packed a punch, and I was on “Cloud Nine” for a good portion of time. But no matter how outlandish my beliefs, I couldn’t stabilize and come back to reality. This illness was too much for me to handle on my own.
When they discharged me the second time after another ten days, I was still tipsy. At the beginning of October, after a few anxiety attacks at home and a strong intuition that I needed a different combination of medications, I readmitted myself to a different psych ward for a few more weeks. It was a tormenting experience, as I believed the apocalypse was near; it was 2012, after all. I even met another patient, a caricature of Jesus who tried to convince me he was too busy for my struggles, since December 21st (the Mayan calendar date for the end of time) came soon. He had me: hook, line, and sinker.
While confusion reigned supreme, my symptoms worsened: hyper-sexuality came into the foreground of my bipolar flare-up and I found the temptation to seduce men and plan a divorce stronger than my own will. When I met a few other charming bipolar flirts, I found the desire to fantasize about being with them unbearable. I fell for one guy and agreed that if, after the next year I was divorced, we would find each other and marry. I took that love-interest to the level of a kiss, though he didn’t return the affectionate gesture. Soon, I was talking openly of divorcing my dear husband, though he (thankfully) would have none of it. I was sincere, but my passions died off as time passed and I was discharged for the last time.
I held my breath as December 21st of that year came and went, and when the world didn’t end, I gradually came back around. It took a while to figure out that all my psychotic hallucinations and seeming substantiations weren’t real. After I felt like I betrayed my husband in lusting after another, I doubted I was even “born again” – a true follower of Christ. A consequence of the illness and my irresponsible behavior combined with the voices in my head, which told me that I was a child of Satan, not of God. How could I enter the kingdom of Heaven if I thought like an adulteress? But my husband never gave up, even when I did. Eventually I repented and he forgave me. The force of the bipolar disorder was strong…but God proved stronger, and faithful.
I always had a strong faith in God. I felt closest to Him in my hospital stays than ever before. But I wanted healing from my bipolar. Didn’t He promise healing through faith? Sure, but I am wary now of anyone professing signs and wonders, as Jesus Himself tells His disciples in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”
God is good, as He restored my mind, my faith and my life. It almost cost me my faith, but, slowly and surely, I came out of the fog. The bottom line is this: I needed to take my medication, no matter how much faith I possessed.
My journey since that last hospitalization incorporated intensive Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a daily routine of taking my medication, finding a career I am passionate about, advocating for mental wellness and sharing my story in memoir and blog form. I am a firm believer, not only in healing through prayer, but in the merits of medication and science.
If I had the opportunity to sit down with my younger self, maybe in the activities room or the hallway of that psych hospital in Orlando, I would tell her that, “Yes, God can and does heal, but just because some preacher encouraged you that you could be healed simply by having enough faith, you needed to be wise and take the counsel of others. Medication is God’s gift to you to keep you stable and mentally intact.” That’s what I would tell that confused, young woman. I know this is true because, without my medicine, I lost my mind, even though my faith was intact. Without God, there is no medicine, and, in regards to my mental wellbeing, that is the miracle of miracles: redemption through modern science and medication. He is, after all, known as the “Great Physician.” Thankfully, I am taking His prescription for a full, healthy life: medication and a daily dose of truth; His Word.
Today, I am more stable and sound of mind than ever. I have found that this life with serious mental illness is a battle, but, if I can take my medication and hash out my issues in life with a Christian therapist, close friend, or family members, I am already on the road to victory. Half the battle was accepting the diagnosis, and understanding that there is a treatment that can keep me balanced and functional. I am going places now.
Sharing my testimony and trials proves to me, and others, that this illness is not something to ignore, but that the Lord, my Shepherd, is working out everything to the good and to His glory for all who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28). Everyone has a cross in life to bear. In mine, it happens to be bipolar disorder. I am so blessed to have the depth of the experience I did. I felt the closest to God in the hospital and no one can deny me that. He saw what I saw, heard what I heard, and that comforts me. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that, even in my mania, He was in control then and is in control now. It’s His creation. He is King of it.
So for those struggling with a faith in God in the midst of mental illness, take courage: He is for us. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
When the day comes and psychiatry wants to study the connection between spiritual and scientific, my case will provide the material to do so. I am convinced the spiritual, social, intellectual, emotional, and physical are intricately intertwined and more correlative than is generally accepted. If the mind is science’s final frontier, it is because it is the most mysterious, complex, and elusive object ever studied. Having my brain chemistry altered through bipolar disorder and the medications I trialed was a psychological meat-grinder kind of experience that oppressed and twisted my sanity. I wouldn’t be where I am today, healthy and stable, if it wasn’t for the superb concoction of medication I take daily. Surely, medication for my mind is nothing short of a miracle, no matter how much faith I have.