When I first experienced mania nearly 10 years ago there was no way I was thanking God for it. I had to take 5 months off work without pay and lost the promotion I had worked two years for. I moved back in with my parents indefinitely after living on my own for more than 5 years.
Then there were the hallucinations and delusions of grandeur that seem good at the moment, but soon become the object of great disappointment when I realize they are not real. Plus, I missed out on all of the fun things I usually did like attend the weekly young people’s group I was a part of, attend church on Sundays, go to the Thanksgiving pie social, volunteer at the radio station’s days of giving and attend the county fair with my dad.
I am thankful that during my second episode of mania, my counselor referred me to the psychiatric hospital when my symptoms got worse, and I wasn’t sleeping much. I was able to be in a safe place during mania. I started sleeping again. I enjoyed it because it reminded me of summer camp. I had an amazing roommate, and we became great friends. I got to show God’s love to the doctor who treated me. I thought that was amazing.
Other symptoms of mania include anxiety, panic attacks, spending sprees, an uncontrollable amount of energy and more sleepless nights. Do I have to be thankful for feeling like something bad is going to happen or for being scared to death for no reason at all? How about giving thanks for spending most of my savings in as little as one week or for being exhausted all the time because in 3 months I lost a total of one month of sleep (33 night’s worth).
No, I don’t have to be thankful for the bad things, but like Romans 8:28 says even good things can come from bad things when you choose to love God and follow him. During the sleepless nights, especially on Saturday nights, I began to look forward to time with God. I listened to sermons and worship music. I also poured my heart out to God and was honest with him about how I was feeling. The amazing thing is God answered, which I am really thankful for.
Now, let’s talk about the depression. I first experienced mild depression when I was 16. It lasted for two years. How can I be thankful when I can’t feel happiness even when I am doing something that should be fun? Then 15 years later I experienced moderately severe depression. This was the worst depression I had experienced up to that point in my life. All I did was eat, sleep, and go to work. This lasted for a year. Then 2 years later I experienced depression on and off until 2019 when it got so bad, I felt like it was pointless to live. It didn’t help that I was hearing voices too. I got help and spent 9 days in the psych ward. I am not thankful for how I felt, but I am thankful that once my friends found out how I was feeling, they dropped everything to help me. They took me to the ER and visited me every day I was in the hospital. They prayed for me and gave me words of encouragement. This was just the first time. I was in the psych ward two more times within 2 years for depression. These two times were during COVID so no visitors were allowed in 2020 and only one visitor per day in 2021. That didn’t stop the phone calls, prayers, and words of encouragement from everyone who cared about me. Also, my friends were there for me when I got out. They gave me a ride home from the hospital, took me out or had me over for dinner and continued to pray for me and with me. I am definitely thankful for the community God placed me in.
One thing that I am thankful for often gets overlooked, either because it’s too difficult to accomplish or because it’s not that exciting and we don’t count it as being a good thing. I am thankful for the opportunity to practice forgiveness. It’s not fun at the time to be hurt and feel betrayed by those you love and trust. For me, forgiveness in this area of my life took a while. Now, that I have forgiven the people who have hurt me, I feel like I can better understand God’s forgiveness for us. Jesus had to forgive his best friends who betrayed and denied him as well as the people who killed him. So, the way I see it, forgiving those who have hurt us, no matter how big or small, makes us a little more like Jesus and I’m sure that makes God smile.
I am thankful for the cool people I have met this year. In April I joined a zoom peer support group for anyone who experiences mental illness. Through this group I got connected with the Broken People Website and Facebook group. I’ve met some amazing people who have similar struggles as me. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. I’m thankful for these people and this organization because it has given me the opportunity to share my story with others, not just what the dark days look like, but how God gets me through them even when there is no light at the end of the tunnel and the tunnel is really, really long.
I am thankful for the medical professionals who treat me. I have been seeing my current doctor for 15 months. This year he always seemed to come through for me when I really need him. I am extremely thankful for that. Because I trust him, I am able to be open and honest with him even during my darkest days. I was wondering if anything good could come from my struggle with depression and mania this year. When I asked my doctor about it he said that while working with me he has learned to become a better listener, have deeper conversations with his patients, have courage to bring up spiritual conversations with his patients and take more opportunities to pray with his patients. These are the things I am really good at. I am thankful I could have a positive impact on him even when my world was in chaos with mania and depression and my mind felt like it was going crazy. I know this isn’t always the case but this shows that who we are when we are well, determines who we will be when we are not well.
I am also thankful for the 2 pharmacists who fill my prescriptions and educate me about the meds I take. When things started getting really bad at the end of August, I wrote one of the pharmacists a thank you note and briefly described what I was going through. He told me he really appreciated it because he doesn’t get many notes like that. He said he would have never known what I was going through because I come in with a smile almost every time. He also said he would be more aware of how some medicine might be needed ASAP and do what he can to get it to me quickly. Several weeks later when I wasn’t sleeping much and went to pick up a prescription to help with that, I got to educate him on that part of mania as well. He told me, “You’re strong.” I am thankful for the opportunity to teach him more about mental illness so he is more aware and can better help his customers who experience it.
If I didn’t have mental illness, I wouldn’t see my doctor or pharmacists as often and I really like seeing them. This is just another reason to be thankful for Schizoaffective Disorder Bipolar Type.
Diana Henderson is a former journalist who lives in Southwest Kansas. She hopes her story will educate and inspire you to view mental illness as any other illness someone might experience.