Finding peace in my mental health diagnosis
5 MINUTE READ
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
I have struggled with mental health issues for most of my life. It has taken me a long time to accept God’s control over it all instead of my own. Fear and timidity often knocked on the door of my heart, and I felt that I was not good enough for God’s love. I feared that He would not accept my terrible sins, so I did not put my faith and trust in Jesus as my Saviour. After the birth of my fourth child, I was diagnosed with severe depression. I had experienced many life changes and was carrying a lot of shame and grief. There was the death of my first husband, a new marriage, an abortion in my teens, postnatal depression and several moves around Australia.
I had called myself a Christian from my late twenties, but now recognise that I did not have a true relationship with God until about five years ago. Instead of submitting my life to God, I wanted to be God and have control over all of my life. I did not realise that this was causing my anxiety. Now that I reflect back over the last two years, I believe that I have always had bipolar, experiencing both hypomania and depression. The diagnosis allowed me to reassess my approach to life and the way I was thinking. It allowed me to recognise and appreciate the loving guidance of God in directing my life.
“The diagnosis allowed me to reassess my approach to life and the way I was thinking. It allowed me to recognise and appreciate the loving guidance of God in directing my life.”
Bipolar affective disorder was formerly called manic depression. It causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).
In 2019, I joined a health group, working with a coach to change my diet as well as taking a variety of vitamins. As I lost weight, my antidepressant medication became less effective. I took less of it, and my hypomania grew. My family and work colleagues started noticing my increasingly manic behaviour.
At the hospital where I was working as a midwife, I started a campaign for the employment of a lactation consultant. I emailed many people, asking wards, midwives and even the nurses’ union to support me. My behaviour with patients also became erratic and a complaint was made, leading me to resign that same day. My resignation was a photo of my work clothes in the rubbish bin, sent via SMS to my boss! I was experiencing increased energy and grandiose ideas, and my children began to worry. It was these symptoms of mania that finally led to my formal diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder 1 in 2020.
Over the years, there had been several occasions when I tried to go off my antidepressants, both with and without medical assistance. Looking back, I feel I did this in times of hypomania, believing I was okay and not seeing that my medication non-compliance was resulting in an insidious depression.
My mania came to a head when I was asked to share my health experience over Zoom as part of a health coaching programme. Even after cancelling my participation that day, my anxiety continued to distress me. It was like a volcano that had been simmering for some time before its sudden eruption. I contacted my family, and my son arrived to find his mother sobbing hysterically on her bed in a state of hypomania. We called the mental health helpline, attended a local mental health hospital and I was admitted for one week. This episode was so frightening that I determined I would never stop taking my medication again.
One week in hospital stabilised me to a certain extent, and I learnt a few things about medication interactions that would help me better manage myself in the future. A family conference with three children in attendance and one on the phone was reassuring, and I was discharged that day. I needed a sense of security after the trauma I had been through so I decided not to return home on my own to my empty house. Instead, I left to stay with my oldest daughter in Newcastle, and arranged to follow up with the same psychiatrist that I had seen in hospital that week. These two good decisions were life-changing as they have given me the accountability I needed to keep mental health stable.
“These two good decisions were life-changing as they have given me the accountability I needed to keep mental health stable.”
After four months in my daughter’s home, I moved out, sold my Sydney home and purchased a new home in Newcastle, close enough for my daughter to continue keeping an eye on my behaviour. I still have reviews with the same psychiatrist twice a year which is a blessing as there had been no vacancies for psychiatrists in Newcastle. I have also found a wonderful Christian psychologist and see him every four months, as well as keeping my regular GP appointments.
Alongside the medical support I receive for bipolar, I also have my community of family and friends. I have a wonderful church community and have been very open about sharing my story in small groups. Awareness of mental illness is important given that it can carry a stigma despite being such a common experience. I myself have lived with it, while also raising a family of four children, working and studying at four universities, training as a teacher, nurse, midwife and lactation consultant. Mental illness and bipolar affective disorder 1 have not stopped me living my life. Rather, it has changed how I live my life.
I feel the Bible gives much mention of the struggles mental health can bring. This helps me to trust, love and obey God, even as I experience my own health challenges.
- “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
- “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” (Acts 1:8)
When I finally let go of control over my life and handed it to God, the power of the Holy Spirit came into my heart. God did a lot of hard work in me to get me to that point, and it often hurt, but now I stand in His peace with His hope shining before me.
Jane Cunliffe-Jones has studied and worked in the fields of agriculture, teaching, nursing, midwifery and lactation studies. She is part of the Grace Evangelical Church Newcastle, and enjoys helping out at church and working in her garden.