When I read Rohan’s blog post this morning it bought me to tears! Its an incredible and honest story. It gives insight into biopolar disorder and into faith: into the difficulties of living with mental ill-health and into the amazing impact that God can have on people’s lives. The bible is really brought to life when you see how God was speaking directly into Rohan’s life when the bible was first written all those years ago! Rohan’s story will continue as he looks to God for continued guidence, but many of us know sadly that some people’s stories end too soon and too tradgically. Let this story help you to understand the lives of those who live with mental ill-health (which may be you or those close to you), and let it help you to search for God’s heart. Be encourged by the word of God and let Him speak into your own life, your own actions, and your own health. Please feel free to use the (moderated) comments section at the bottom of this story. Cheryl (Photo: Easter morning, before the service)
Biopolar and Faith, My Story
I gave this sermon on Saturday 6 April, 2013, the first Saturday after Easter, at St Martin in the Bull Ring. I had no plan to publish it but I have been asked to do so by some who missed it. Whilst it gives testimony about my long battle with Bipolar Disorder, it is above all an example of God at work in our lives.
May the words that I speak be yours, and may the Holy Spirit be amongst us here today and guide us, fractured as we are, into your comforting embrace.
We ask in the name of Jesus, Our Saviour, who died that we may have eternal life.
The response was “talk about yourself, and relate it to Easter and its themes” … now talking about oneself, that comes more naturally to some than others. In my younger life, it probably came far too naturally to me!
However, to speak about oneself and relate it to the Lord, and not only relate it to the Lord, but at the time of year when He overpowered sin in all of His glory? Surely that is a step too far for anyone.
But as I spent the early part of this week deeply considering how I would approach this, I suddenly realised that it was actually quite perfect. God’s timing, after all, is perfect:-
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” – Ecclesiastes 3:1
Why was it perfect? Because we are all here to Glorify God. And there can surely be no better way of doing so than in singing his praise and sharing what he has done in our lives. And there is no better time to do that than during this Easter period, when the Glory is that of His Risen and Conquering Son.
The Chinese evangelist, Brother Yun, said that “It is not great men who change the world, but weak men in the hands of a great God.” I may not change the world, but I am a weak man, who is alive only because of a Mighty God.
Faith was present in my life from childhood. I was a regular churchgoer as a young boy, had my first communion and was confirmed at a young age in the Catholic Church. I never wanted for a thing, materially or spiritually, during my youth. I was loved and happy.
There were some warning signs during my last year at school of troubles that lay ahead but most people put that down to an unsettled scenario at home as my parents’ marriage became increasingly fragile.
I went to University aged 18 … and my life would never be the same again. At that point, I had a promising future in professional sport, but by the time I was 20, I had walked away from it. I was consumed with anger, and lacked the maturity to deal with my dreams crumbling around me.
What I didn’t know was that I was already suffering with the Mental Illness, Bipolar Disorder, or Manic Depression as it is commonly known. Using the words of Mind, the leading mental health charity:-
It is characterized by severe depressive episodes alternating with periods of hypomania. During manic episodes, you can feel excessively high, extremely irritable, sleep very little, demonstrate poor judgment, spend excessively and inappropriately, behave aggressively and misuse alcohol or drugs.
Depressive episodes are epitomized by hopelessness, feelings of worthlessness, loss of interest in daily life, guilt, and suicidal tendencies. And this truly was me for over a decade.
The gap between highs and lows were often a split second. There was no inbetween. For close to 13 years, I lived on a roller-coaster, one on which I either loved, or absolutely despised myself.
Exactly as the experts describe, I was excessively high and low to the point where even I didn’t know what I’d do next. How those around me were meant to cope, I’ve no idea. I spent irresponsibly, and found myself in thousands of pounds of debt. To compound it, I lost job after job because I felt so low and couldn’t face the world.
I was guilty of poor judgement I binge drunk, I was overtly aggressive and angry. Where was God? Well, when I felt that worthless, how could I be worthy of Him? What would he want to do with me? I avoided him.
This was like being possessed by the Devil. Sadly, those closest to me were often the ones on the receiving end of my violent rage, the same people that I would then crawl back to like a child, racked with guilt, overwhelmed by worthlessness. With each increasingly volatile moment, I died a little. My life was one of running from my own shadow, from creditors, constantly seeking new friends, as people understandably walked away.
In hindsight, had I ever seen the list of symptoms that I’ve just described, I would have taken myself to the doctor straight away and asked for help. Instead, I just thought it was me, that I was the worst of poisonous apples from the tree.
In those days, and this was only in the 1990s and the early 2000s, you didn’t talk about Mental Illness. The one time I did at the age of 20, the response was quite simply “what have you got to worry about, you’ve got a nice home and education.”
Over 10 years of living in self-contempt and going from one manic episode to another just couldn’t continue. Implosion was inevitable and so it happened that I found myself spiralling out of control.
The first overdose was cold and calculated – I drunk on my own, smiling at bar staff who knew me, they couldn’t for a minute tell that anything was wrong. Between each drink, I slipped to the bathroom and took a bottle of paracetamol. I recorded a voicemail message to say good-bye and, having taken 120 paracetamol and drunk around 4 bottles of wine, I made my way to hospital and told them what I’d done. You see at that point, I wanted to live.
4 days later, they released me, I just told friends that I’d been away, and few were any the wiser. Life went on, and left untreated, manic depression continued to destroy me, cutting into every vein, a destructive decaying influence on what was a shell, a human body on the outside, annihilated and obliterated within.
I found myself in front of magistrates, not once, but twice, on both occasions humbly holding up my hand and saying how sorry I was. On the first occasion, I served 40 hours of Community Service, and on the second, I was sentenced to an Anger Management programme. But God was already at work.
Just 48 hours after the latter, doctors at Manchester Royal Infirmary were fighting for my life. I wasn’t fighting, I had no fight left, this time I wanted to die, and quite frankly, I was in no fit mental state to think about the consequences on others. However, God was fighting, because He had a plan for me.
It was again a cocktail of alcohol and pills, but there was no farewell voicemail, no walk to the hospital. My parting gift was my elbow through the window of the back door. I was so out of it and my body so relaxed, it went through without even a cut.
I still have no idea why one of my closest friends, and my suffering girlfriend, decided that they should come round and see how I was at 2 in the morning. That can ONLY have been at God’s prompting. They found me, alerted paramedics, and the rest is History.
48 hours later, I walked back into Church for the first time in many years.
“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” Psalms 51:17
I was alive by the grace of God, and I owed him at least that much. Finally, I stopped running, and came home to Birmingham to a mother whose love shone through all she endured from me. I uttered the simple words, “I cannot cope, I need help.”
My girlfriend ended our relationship so that I could concentrate on me; it was the kindest gesture.
During the next 3 years, I battled my demons, worked with counselors and thrived in the anger management programme. At times I faltered, but we’re all human. For a while, I really did reestablish my faith, but I never felt able to confront or speak about my background. Within the church that I attended, it was a doctrine of penitence, one, to me anyway, lacking in joy. I soon walked away, disenchanted by it, a move accelerated by the total lack of pastoral care towards my mother during a period of illness in 2007.
By this stage, my ex-girlfriend, who had suffered so much during my mental illness and beyond, had become my fiancée. I was reconciled with some of my closest friends who blessed me with their forgiveness. Yet I still was never truly happy. I was clear of mental illness, I had the love of the most wonderful girl in the world, but something was missing.
On November 18, 2009, we woke to the news that Danielle, my fiancée, had lost her life in a tragic accident. Those closest to me were in fear as to what this would do to me – I suppose I was too.
But God had kept me alive through 2 overdoses, He had taken me through the dark hell of Bipolar Disorder, there had to be a reason why.
I still stayed away from God and Church in the months after her passing. However, some 4 months later on Easter Sunday, I once again needed to pray. I could have been anywhere, but found myself outside the doors behind you. At the age of 35, I had never set foot inside this iconic building, yet it is now the building without which I cannot live. It is, and I again quote from the Psalms, my refuge and fortress.
I gave testimony here in 2010, and also on what would have been my wedding day in 2011. They were very different from each other, and this different from both of them. Testimony is dynamic, it changes every day, and do you want to know why? I’m going to tell you anyway …
OUR GOD IS A LIVING GOD!!
This proves it. Were it not so, our relationship with Him would never change. But it does change, and He changes us as we glorify Him. He is alive, and our testimony changes as we explore him deeper.
While I was at my previous church, I was never truly a Christian. I didn’t understand it. I thought it was all about fearing and saying sorry to God. And it was all about God the Father, not the Son.
“He IS the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Him.”
And, as I have grown here, Jesus Christ has become the very rock of my life. And why wouldn’t you love, glorify, honour and worship the purest man who ever lived, the one who died for us, the one who set us free.
Here, I finally found everything that was still missing in my life, and this is where we come back to the Easter message of forgiveness and reconciliation.
I was asked last week to pray for those whom I needed to forgive. However, I realised that there was nobody to whom I felt even the remotest resentment. It is impossible for me not to forgive knowing all for which I have been forgiven.
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Matthew 6:14-16
Until 3 years ago, there was one person whom I had still not forgiven, and that was me, for all the suffering I had caused others. However, I found that redemption, similarly in the form of a biblical passage, and one to which I look back when I think of truly being born again, one that is the cornerstone of my very being:-
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God.
– Isaiah 43:1-3
I was given that in late 2010 by someone who knew nothing about me. Little did they know that they had just given me the kiss of life, having been dead for nearly 17 years. That was my moment on the road to Damascus, and one which keeps me alive with the joy of God every day. God knew my name, and HE redeemed me. I know that I need nothing else in life.
From that moment, I understood that I had nothing to fear in telling anyone about my past. My Saviour forgave me on the Cross just as the prophets said he would, so why would the judgement of any human get to me? This is why we do not judge others.
As I sat with the Rector and told him that I wished to deeply explore my faith and my calling from God, it was with pride that I told him of my inglorious past. It was as if he already knew. He smiled and told me that what happened then was not relevant to whom I am now.
For some reason, God felt me strong enough to carry the burden of mental illness for that long period of time, but I was delivered from my suffering, and given the opportunity to now reach out to others and give them the hope of knowing that Our God Saves, and HE WILL NEVER GIVE UP ON YOU.
Our faith tells us that Jesus had to die for us as sinners to be reconciled with the Glory of God. Let us then glorify him in all that we do. Let us then resist the temptation of walking into His church for an hour a week in solemn penitence or joyful prayer, only to forget it some few minutes later as we go about our everyday business.
Moreover, when we glorify him, let us come together and share that joy in worship.
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20
We can no longer sit at home and claim Him. We need to be here in God’s house praising Him.
Hold Him in your hearts for every minute of every day. He has, as the Prophet Jeremiah told us, only “plans to prosper you, to give you hope and a future.”
So this Easter period, release yourself from the shackles, glorify His Holy name, and rejoice in your suffering, for it is but a mere fraction of what He went through on the cross. And by the Power of that Cross, we are free from sin.