Bipolar Christian

My name is Emma, and I am both a Christian and a sufferer from bipolar affective disorder. I wasn't brought up as a Christian, though I did have some exposure to Bible stories and the like. However I was very interested in religious belief, and because of that, wound up doing A-Level Religious Studies and then went off to study Theology at university. I had a completely normal sort of childhood, with normal ups and downs.

When I got to university, I had what I now recognise were a few little blips in my mental health, little depressions in my first and second years. I remember taking tablets for one of those, but they were related to specific situations and got better in the summer holidays! Then, in my final year, things just exploded. The stress of preparing a dissertation was a factor, I believe, but all I know is suddenly I felt very, very depressed. I started to self-harm - something that grew in frequency as I got more ill. I also started to experience the upswings, where I thought I was the most wonderful person on earth, and I'm sure I was a pain in the neck to be around.

I got more ill, and started to think about self-harm and suicide all the time. In the end I attempted suicide by overdosing twice, ending up in hospital for a short time. In all this I did not get taken into a mental hospital, for reasons I do not know. I found that my speech was becoming strange as my mental state deteriorated, I do have a memory of talking nonsensically about rainbows, and I have some poetry that I wrote back then. All in all it was an awful experience, and the worst my illness has ever been. I couldn't even think about surviving, I could not imagine a future for myself, I was just desperate to get away from the pain I was in.

At the time I was not a Christian - although I had played at being one, mostly in order to get up the noses of very fundamentalist Christians on the internet! It was not heart-felt though. The odd thing is I remember, before being ill, sort of wistfully hoping I could become Christian - because I had developed a love of Christianity through my course. As it turned out, I believe God used my illness to bring me to him.

I found that when I was in the absolute depths, when everything in my life had been stripped away, deep down there there was a kernel of faith that I never even knew existed. It was as though I had believed, somewhere deep inside, but I was able to embrace that faith, and fully believe. I still raged at God plenty of times, but I felt that He was there in a way I never had before.

The words of "Footprints", that poem, really resonate with me, because it was as I became better again, through time and after leaving university (by God's grace alone I managed to get my degree) that I was able to see that God was with me. I could see that God was by my side as I suffered much more clearly as I recovered, and that was a great comfort, and something I remember often.


Since then, my illness has damaged my life in many ways. I have lost all the jobs I have worked in due to my illness, been forced to resign because my boss couldn't deal with it, and been bullied by one manager because of it. I have gone from well to ill so many times, and I am still on medication and probably will be for a long time. I am on ESA now (the sickness benefit) and haven't worked in a year. And I have been well since stopping work. But I know I cannot be off sick forever, so I know I have to face the possibility of being ill again soon. But I trust, I always trust, that all things work together for our good. I may not know what good God is doing with my illness - but I can think of one thing, that it brought me to Him. Illness, and the causes of it are a mystery to me but I remember that we "know in part" and one day will "know fully" (1 Cor 13..something) and I trust that one day, I will know the reason. Until then, I pray, I trust in God, and I work with the doctors and therapists to find some way of coping and helping with my illness.

I have never been discriminated by a church because of my illness, partly because my first church ran the services in the mental hospital! I know some who do, and I think it is terrible. To me, being a bipolar Christian only means that I need extra support at times. At other times I do not need it - and may be able to offer support to others that I never could before.

I believe that God is with us in our suffering, and that His purposes may be hidden, but they are benevolent.

Emma McCarthy, 24/04/2012
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