15 February 2013

C.J. Chase--Bibliotherapy and Mental Illness


On my first visit to Overcoming with God, I wrote about how drastically my life changed the day my husband and I learned our younger son Nathanael had Down Syndrome. Through that experience, we learned that God can turn sadness into joy. I included a character with Down Syndrome in my first book, and I’m thrilled to report that right now as I type, plans are underway at our church to develop a ministry to other families with special needs.

Caroline, the young woman with Down Syndrome, also appears in my second book, as does another character with a different kind of special need. But this condition isn’t visible on the face. In fact, it is one family members seldom discuss with any but their closest friends and relatives. Mental illness.

The intrepid heroine of my latest book has a sister locked away in an asylum. Because my book is set in the past, I chose a brain trauma injury instead of a heredity illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder to explain her behavior. I figured the characters of the time period could better understand an injury.

I wish I could say our “modern” era is more understanding. Well, perhaps it is, but only to a degree. The truth is that mental illness is still highly misunderstood, often misdiagnosed, and usually stigmatized.

Our family spiraled into the darkness of mental illness around the same time Nathanael was born. My husband had had some stress issues a few years earlier, and then again when Nathanael was a few months old—probably the first signs of developing bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance in the body that disrupts the brain’s ability to regulate a person’s moods. People with bipolar alternate between periods of mania (elevated moods) and depression (lowered moods). Depending on the person, cycles may be as rapid as minutes or as slow as years.

For months, my husband complained of sleeping issues, digestion problems, work stress—all classic symptoms of depression. After a trip to Asia (and attendant 15-hour time change), he returned home excited, charged, and filled with ideas for his job.  And then a few months later, he was once again stressed, tired, miserable.

I wanted to be a supportive wife. Tell me what you need to be happy, and we’ll make it work, I’d beg. But he couldn’t tell me because there is no rational reason for the depression that comes part and parcel with bipolar. I’d had no prior experience with mental illness, and I couldn’t recognize it though I was staring it right in the face.

Another trip to Asia brought another manic episode, one with symptoms conspicuous enough even for me to look back over the past few years and see the developing pattern. Elevated moods of approximately three-months followed cycles of depression lasting nine-to-twelve months. I will never the first time I voiced the words to a friend, “I think my husband has bipolar disorder.”

Then followed the frightening aftermath as I learned just how serious bipolar is. What would happen if he refused to get treatment? What would happen it the doctors couldn’t find a combination of medications that would stabilize the disease? Many people with bipolar enjoy the highs of the manic episodes too much to take their medications. Many others are unable to hold a regular job or maintain normal family relationships.

I spoke to people with bipolar disorder. I questioned family members of people with bipolar disorder. I prayed. I cried. And I made contingency plans. What would happen if he couldn’t keep his job at some point? What would happen if he refused to get treatment? Our boys were six and three at the time. Was it better for them to stay or go? At the time, I figured there was a 50% chance we’d still be married five years later.

Look at the top of this blog again: Overcoming with God. I am thrilled to tell the world that this is not my story, it’s his. He is the one sought treatment, who takes his medication faithfully, who monitors his sleep and diet, who sees his doctor regularly.

That was 13 years ago. Today, David is a deacon in our church and works full time. Our boys have only ever known a two-parent family. My husband is, in short, a bipolar success story, a man who lives a normal life, and who just happens to also have a mental illness.

And he is the one who gave me permission to go forward with our story, despite the stigma attached to mental illness. We have never told this story in such a public forum—in front of friends, relatives, co-workers, and total strangers.

I wish I could promise every bipolar story would end so happily, but I can’t. Mental illness can be an incredibly debilitating condition that robs us of our very essence. However, we can offer hope. Even in our darkest hours, God will hold our hands.

By C.J. Chase, whose new release "The Reluctant Earl" is out this month with Love Inspired Historical books and is on Carrie's best of 2013 books!  

GIVEAWAY: "Like" C.J.'s author page on Facebook and put "CJ" after your answer to this question: Do you have a loved one who suffers from mental illness? One winner will receive a copy of C.J.'s new release!





19 comments:

  1. What a blessing and encouragement you and your husband are, C.J. Thank you so much for sharing so openly.

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  2. C.J. thank you so much for sharing your story of hope with us! Blessings to you and your family!

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    1. Marian, I didn't get over here to wish you congratulations on your anniversary until late (and by then it was the middle of the night in Europe). So, let me start with a belated congratulations and then thank you for the kind words and thoughts.

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  3. C.J., Thanks for sharing with us! We are praying for you! You are such a blessing!

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    1. Carrie, when it comes to sheer niceness, no one beats out you. Thanks for giving us an opportunity to share our experience and maybe give someone else hope.

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  4. There are several in my family who suffer from depression. I'm treated for depression caused by PTSD. My former husband was bipolar and like many with this illness wouldn't follow any form of treatment. (The marriage did end, but not because of his illness.) I still feel that often mental illness is not treated by others like they would someone with a physical illness. Both are quite real and should be treated the same. An illness is an illness. It sounds like you've dealt with your fair share. So thankful you shared this wonderful Overcoming with God moment with us. Looking forward to reading your book. Blessings, Susan Fryman susanngarrylee@yahoo.com CJ

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    1. Oh, I so agree that physical and mental illness should be treated in like manner. I've pointed out to people that no one thinks twice of calling the church prayer list and saying, "My blood pressure meds needs some adjusting. Would you pray that my doctors will have the wisdom to get this back under control?" And yet, people are afraid to call the same church friends and say, "My depression meds need some adjusting..."

      And yet, church should be the place where we are safe enough to share our deepest hurts.

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  5. Thanks for your story. This is very hard to talk about had issues of my own in the pass, but by God's grace I am fine today! Love to read this book.
    Blessings
    Diana
    joeym11@frontier.com

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    1. Diana, so glad you are doing fine. I'm so thankful for medicines and doctors and psychologists like Carrie.

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  6. Oh, C.J., your story SO resonates with me and I SO appreciate your candor. I am from a family of 13 where bipolar is rampant. But, through the grace of God and medication, most of my siblings live normal lives and are amazing people with a deep love for God. For some reason of all 13, I seemed to be the most stable (now there's a scary thought!!), although I do wrestle with mild depression from time to time. My heart bleeds for those with depression or bipolar because through my own depressions, I've experienced the absolute despair and lack of motivation that goes with it, and it is a nightmare. Thank you for speaking out on such a sensitive subject. It is more prevalent than we know, but seldom discussed in the light.

    Hugs,
    Julie

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    1. Okay, first I have to wrap my head around a family of 13!

      I learned later that my husband's has a family history of mental illness on both sides, so it wasn't surprising he developed it too. But I had no personal experience with it, and since it's so seldom discussed, I just wasn't prepared to recognize what was happening.

      Julie, how wonderful that your family members have mostly gone on to live normal, productive, and God-pleasing lives.

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  7. I don't think I have a relative with a mental illness. That must be incredibly hard. CJ shopgirl152nykiki(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  8. Hi, I don't have a loved one who suffers from mental illness. It would be a challenge.

    CJ

    OWG

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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    1. You have been spared, MARY. You are the winner of CJ's new book, per random.org. CONGRATS!!!

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  9. C.J. thank you so much for sharing your husband's story with us, it took a lot of courage. I'm so glad he's doing well.

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing C.J. I'm praying your story will make a real difference in people's lives. I can imagine how hard that would have been for you at times, and I truly admire your strength and his determination to seek treatment to make his story a successful one. Very happy for you all that he's doing so well!

    As most know, I have a son with Asperger's Syndrome. I wanted to deny it when he was first diagnosed, but it was when I accepted it fully, I was able to help him the most. Along with my husband of course, God, and many professionals. He has come such a long way since then for which I am very grateful.

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  11. I so wish I had seen this when you posted it. My DH suffers from bipolar, actually is diagnosed Skitso-affective. Its a hard thing for sure and he is on meds now but has a tendency to go off them when feeling good and for 5 years he lived without meds but when we came back north , he has been a real mess at times. Praying for you and thank you for speaking so openly on the issue of mental illness. Praying for all who have or do deal with his.
    Blessings
    Linda Finn
    Faithful Acres Books
    http://www. faithfulacresbooks.wordpress.com
    faithfulacresbooks@gmail.com

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