My father loves life and likes to laugh. He enjoys being with people and talking with anyone who will listen to his jokes and stories. Over the years, he's been a hard worker (two careers), a faithful husband (has outlived two wives), and a responsible parent (with two adult children). He has served his country, his family, and his church well.
When my father experienced a frightening psychotic episode in 2007, our family went into collective shock. Although we all wanted to retreat into denial and have dad back to "normal,” we realized over time that his diagnosis of bipolar disorder meant that everything in his world (and much of ours) had changed.
He could no longer work or live alone. He withdrew from church and friends, even though they were concerned and supportive. He suffered from personal shame and fear of stigma. He was totally exhausted and demoralized. Of course, we all were hurting with him and wondering what the future held.
God is gracious. Dad accepts the fact that he must take medication for the rest of his life. We are thankful that lithium keeps chemicals in his brain stable so that his thoughts don't race into mania or plunge into depression. I'm grateful to my brother and sister-in-law who live near dad and are available to help him through crisis and recovery. They are knowledgeable advocates for dad's health care. Competent doctors and compassionate but tough counselors are rare blessings. Dad's friends and extended family members pray, call, and invite him to social activities. I am proud of how he courageously faces each new day. Our faith gives us hope.
Our family has also received support through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), which has chapters in different states. We've learned much from NAMI's Family to Family course and recommend it to other families. We realize there is power in knowledge; we try to educate ourselves on what mental illness is and how to effectively deal with it.
As Christ's body, the church needs to recognize the biological basis of mental illness and wrap a loving arm around those who suffer from it. We are all different, but we will label no one "crazy" if we see God's image in them.