A ministry of mental health & healing
Dancing with God
dancing with madness
confessions of a bipolar pastor
I dedicate this book to Donné; charismatic, competent,
a leader - my editor, my friend and my wife.
Special thanks to those who wrote reflections:
Gordon Miles, Benjamin Lane, Trevor Hudson and Raymond Vermeulen.
Thank you too for the role you have all played in my life.
To my children, Becks and Pete, I love you.
When my husband first told me he was bipolar, his declaration barely mattered to me. I was in love and we were invincible. And indeed our first years together were the most stable period of his adult life. And then, five years into our marriage, triggered by a serious post-operative infection that affected the stability of his medication, I watched in horror and helplessness as he descended into a deep depression that seemed to kickstart again the mood swings of his bipolar.
In the years that followed I became an eye witness to the vulnerability and suffering of a brilliant, loving, funny person who lives with this condition. I came to understand just how profoundly it affects every part of an individual’s life story. Bipolar is a insidious condition
because it robs the sufferer of equilibrium and identity, of the confidence to trust himself or his thoughts and decisions. Watching a person I love fight with every bit of his energy to stay on this side of life, to refuse to give in to the chemicals brutally “misfiring” in his brain, to win back his health and dignity, has been the great humbling experience of my life. It is arrogance and ignorance for any person to suggest (as many still do) that the fight against depression or mania takes anything but the greatest levels of courage, faith and sheer will. It is a fight for survival, for identity and for wholeness, for the most basic elements of life and being that many of us take for granted. I have journeyed with my husband in his fight, through long and dark periods, and into moments of grace that brought to us a profound recognition of the fragility of life, the preciousness of relationship and a deeper understanding of the lives we are called to lead and the people we are destined to be. It has drawn deeply on untapped reservoirs of compassion and patience in me,
as it does in countless others who care for and love those who suffer from mental illness. It has not been easy. But in the end, it has been a journey that has rewarded us with new and deeper hope, love and gratitude for the abundant grace of a God who can only love.
I am so immensely proud to share my life with a man who has shown such courage, both in determinedly claiming his life as one to be lived with purpose and destiny, and in choosing to share his fight with the world. Whether you are a sufferer or a carer, I hope you will find in these pages seeds of hope and inspiration for your journey.
I woke up with a wet cloth being thrust in my face and a voice insisting “Eat!” A spoon of warm soup materialised in front of me. But I was not interested in eating; all I wanted was to sleep and sleep. The cloth was pushed persistently into my face and sluggishly my mind began to awaken. A nurse’s uniform took shape in front of me. She was irritable and business-like. I reluctantly swallowed her offering. After some rapid-fire spoonfuls of food had satisfied her duty, the nurse withdrew. I lay still, no idea of where I was, trying to piece together the events that had led me to this strange bed.
Slowly, I peered around the room at others curled up in hospital style beds. After some time, I got up to use the bathroom. In an expansive room, with a toilet in the far corner, I stood in front of the mirror, staring at my image, motionless, my brain attempting to make sense of things.
I felt like a stranger to myself. Deciding to explore my surroundings, I went down the stairs and heard a cacophony of groans from women in what appeared to be wards. I hurried back to my bed, frightened and perplexed by this strangest of hospitals.
Lying there, pieces of my story began gradually returning to me. I recalled being taken to a doctor. I told her that I didn’t know who I was, that I was confused about everything. I burst into tears. Then I was rushed to a car, folded into the backseat and wedged between my aunt and my mother as if they felt the need to protect me from jumping out as we drove. And finally, we arrived at this place, the Gardens Nursing Home. An immense feeling of relief had overcome me. Finally, somebody was taking me seriously. Finally, I was going to find some respite from the hell of the past months.
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