In this interview Evan shares thought-provoking reflections on following God while wrestling with manic tendencies, delusional thinking patterns, & racing thoughts.
Sarah: Hello! We have Evan here with us, he has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and we are very happy to have him here with us today, to talk with us about his journey. Thanks for joining us Evan, I know that you have had a history where you had exposure to bipolar at a young age – can you talk to us more about that?
Evan: Yeah, thanks Sarah, its great to be talking with you today. Yeah, I wanted to share with you a bit, particularly about the early part of my story, about how I first was experiencing bipolar from the outside and then from the inside myself. So when I was growing up, I knew that my mom sometimes she would be on the down side and kind of not as active, and sometimes she would be very much animated and have a lot of ideas and a lot of activity. When I was really little I didn’t know what this was of course, and then later as I got a little older I realized that sometimes she went to the hospital and obviously this was disturbing to me but I didn’t know what that was, eventually then you know as I was getting into my teenager years I realized this was because she had a condition called bipolar disorder. I was very sorry that she had this, but at the same time you know I thought I was fine myself I never expected that it would be something that I would be suffer from personally.
Then I went off to college and it was just a new environment for me, it was a big transition from living at home. I was exposed to a lot of new and exciting ideas. It was a very intense intellectual environment. I went to a church that was pretty conservative theologically and pretty convinced in our right-ness of our views. There was a long sermon series that we were doing in the spring of 2003 I guess it was that was focused on the book of Revelation and so this really got me thinking about the end times, and obviously that is an issue that can get you into some murky waters if you start to become too preoccupied with sorting it all out.
At the same time I was following in discussions of a lot of Christian blogs of varying persuasions – whether that be Roman Catholic, or Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, or Reformed which is the tradition I came from. I was wondering, out of all these people and their kind of conflicting voices saying their tradition had it all put together, and that they were possibly even the one true church that Jesus Christ has established. This was disturbing to me because I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing, that I was in the one true church.
At the same time also I had always been disturbed by the problem of evil, basically just as a question of why God allows so much evil to happen in this world if he is all powerful and all loving. When running one night, I was running down a hill, and I just had a sense, I wouldn’t really call it a vision, but I had a sense of God as just this prevailing cloud of darkness. It was kind of the opposite of that vision that I had been thinking about that day in Isaiah 6 when Isaiah goes and he sees the Lord lifted high upon on a throne of glory.
This was really bringing to a head this intellectual and emotional crisis that I had, although I didn’t really recognize it at the time I just knew I was spending more and more time reflecting on these issues, and writing about these issues, even writing about them in margins of my notebooks when I was supposed to be taking notes in class, and not sleeping like I should be. It was only later on that I really realized there was a moral issue going on here even as much as an issue of the genetics that was predisposing me to mental illness. I realized later I had intellectual pride, in thinking I could solve the problem of evil rather than just experience what God’s will would be for my life. As I will talk about a little later on, Psalm 131 I have discovered is really the antidote where it says I have calmed and quieted my soul, I don’t consider matters that are too marvelous for me – whether that means marvelous in a wondrous sense or whether that be things that are just profoundly disturbing.
So to continue on then, I came back from college on spring break that year in spring 2003. I was jittery, not sleeping, I had a lot of impulsive ideas about how I was going to go visit these people I had been talking to on the internet in Philadelphia. My mom just recognized I was off, I was not as I normally would be. And so she took me to see the primary care doctor, and he recommended that I go get checked out in the hospital, and I went in as my first hospitalization for psychiatric issues. It was a voluntary hospitalization and I was diagnosed as bipolar, I was on the manic side at that time, and typically that’s always been the way I would go, mostly, is mania.
So I was in there for a little bit, then when I got out again I wanted to go back to college and finish out the year, that was very important to me, but it turned out I was on the wrong medication for me after I left, and this was partially due to a conflict that that medication had with another non psychiatric medication that I was having, that just had not been noticed by the doctors until it had basically been building up in my system. And my condition was actually getting worse rather than better, once I got back down to the college.
So, I ended up having to go to the emergency room and get that flushed out of my system. But I realized then, when got back up there, I had this amazing experience I can only really describe as providential – that there had been a fire drill in the middle of the night, or just all the fire alarms had gone off in the campus simultaneously in the middle of the night and everyone was there in the chapel and they saw me come back to the campus. Some people know what had been going on with me and they were just very concerned and asked how I was doing, and I just realized more at a new level what it meant to be vulnerable, and really to let people love you, to not be so distant.
So one of the conclusions I sort of draw out of that was that hitting bottom yourself can be a good thing. There is a book title, one of CS Lewis friend’s talked about a “severe mercy.” Sometimes God will bring you to a circumstance that you can’t see what good can possibly be in it, but there really is something good that he wants to bring out of it – and for me I think it was that he wanting to give me in a fuller way Christ’s love for bruised reed and the smoking flax – not so much to prove myself or to figure out the mysteries of God but just to love people, and of course that is a lesson I still am still trying to learn until this day.
So I just wanted to say then, since then in the conclusion of this part of my story, I’ve had some ups and downs, but I did find a good set of medications for stability. There have been some changes over the years, but I have had a good consistent relationship I had with a psychiatric doctor, and that has been really key I think to my maintenance in dealing with my condition. There are some cycles of being overwhelmed with life, the circumstances have changed, and so I have gone back into the psych ward a few times, but I am learning the warning signs and maintenance techniques that I need to, Lord willing, hopefully avoid that in the future.
So, I hope to talk about that a little bit more later on in this interview, so one thing I also should say is – in all my advice and suggestions, as I talk later, I am going to be addressing more from the perspective of mania since I don’t go usually to depression or severe depression. I am usually only depressive on the rebound from mania, when it is kind of like that you have just been so depleted now your mind is thinking slowly and you can’t take interest in things, like that, and I can’t really address the issues of dealing with suicidal ideation and things too much because that was only ever really my experience typically just before hospitalization or while I was in the hospital when I was kind of in an extreme mixed state, of course once you are in that state, medication is really the main intervention. I want to talk mainly about what you can do to help make sure you don’t get to that point, so that is kind of my story of my early experience with bipolar disorder in a nutshell.
Sarah: Great thanks for sharing that with us. I have a few questions about what you said today. So what do you mean when you said you felt like you could solve the issue of evil – was that part of your delusional system or…?
Evan: Um, I wouldn’t say that was much of a delusion, more that’s a belief that I had for a long time and its kind of a persistent false belief I had that goes on. It can become a delusion, and here is what I mean by that: basically I am the sort of person who will use the psychological defense mechanism of sublimation. I am a very creative person and I will try to take things that I’ve personally experienced and instead of trying to re-experience them and work through the pain of that, I will try to first broaden out and think about – okay what’s all the evil in the world and then I will try to think what is a system that can account for this whether that be the doctrines of Calvinism, or, I don’t know, in a more delusional frame of mind, I have gotten into thinking about some sort of number system. Basically like gematria like there is some sort of code in the Bible that can help account for things.
But it doesn’t necessarily have to go to the level of a delusion where it is definitely unhealthy from a psychological perspective, it’s just more unhealthy from a biblical perspective I think, because we have to always judge ourselves by the Word of God and recognize this is not my place. This is something I will talk about again a little bit more later you know, I am not God and I am not the savior of the world and the only real way to exist as a human in this world is to love other people, and walk with God and obey God’s commands, and to kind of feel your feelings and give them to God the way that you see people doing in the Psalms and just recognize the heights and depths and all those doubts and all those questions, that’s all real and you have to give that to God in prayer.
And you are not going to necessarily get an answer as to why everything has happened as it has happened. At most you will get an answer as I feel I have as to why some things have happened, like I think I know why I have this mental illness, this is what would call this gift of mental illness, but I don’t know why other people have suffered what they have suffered and it would be presumptuous for me to know. I think it is interesting you know to think about the contrast between Job’s counselors [book of Job in the Bible] when they first come to him they just mourn with him, that is what they should have done throughout, instead of trying to but say “well, you know you sinned so this is all, this is why these things have happened to you”, without knowing what the counsel was that had happened before the throne of God. Okay so, I don’t know if that answers your question or not but….
Sarah: Yeah, those are a lot of really good thoughts, thanks for sharing that. So you were talking more about your journey through college, you had that first manic episode and then kind of stabilized out, what about after that, after college, did you have any more episodes?
Evan: Yeah, yeah I did. So I can kind of give you, I was going to talk a little bit later about getting to know your cycles as a bit of advice, and so this definitely relates into that. I can tell you about the cycles of experience that I’ve had where things became difficult for me. I was initially hospitalized then when I was first diagnosed, and really when I first got the condition, as often times people first get bipolar disorder in their late teenager or early twenties. So that was in the spring of 2003 and it is interesting you know I think that the US was first going into Iraq at that time as well, so sometimes I know that these news events would also be a triggering thing for me that I would be very disturbed by this kind of broader evil in the world as well as whatever the more personal problems were that I was trying to work out.
So that was the first one. Then, I really had a long time that was good, all of the rest of the way though college, and I graduated from college in 2006, and then I made it through a year of working at an after school program in Boston, and that was a very difficult experience from the perspective of what I had to do, but odly enough even though I was tired, I was stressed out, psychologically I really was fine and I really can only credit the Lord for that, for getting me through that, cause there just some crazy things that happened including one time when my boss was in a car accident and I had just found out about it, and she was away for the next week and I was just there with the kids by myself and I had never really experienced that. Sort of taking care of all these kids between kindergarten and sixth grade, with no, assistance from anyone else until then some people found out about it and helped.
But then after that I started working at the place where I work now which is a really supportive environment, and where people are aware of the condition that I have, and we are just kind of a community of recovery and also a Christian organization so I am very thankful for that. However, and this is where I think the year gets a little fuzzy. It was around a year in after that so I guess maybe end of 2008 that I was having to find a new place to live. I was thinking about getting married right around that time which I did eventually did do to the person I was thinking about getting married I just had to put it on hold because of my issues I was working through. And I was also at that time considering going to grad school as a next step from what I was doing, mainly because at that time I was working as an intern instead of a regular employee. So all these different things are going on, so it was kind of, and I was on a health insurance that didn’t cover my medication properly, so I would have to pay out of pocket several hundred dollars and then get reimbursed.
So there was a week where I was feeling a real financial pinch as an intern and I didn’t take my medication for several days and I was having trouble sleeping and I was having very vivid dreams and just thinking more and more about how I could fix things at work in ways that its like not really realistic. Like these kind of grandiose plans of things I could code at work, because I work in IT. And so then I noticed even there were even some physical symptoms, like my heart felt like it was racing faster, my blood felt like it was pounding, and I was even starting to have some thoughts of self harm. Not that I want to consent to or not that I had a plan, but there would be just some of these fleeting thoughts.
So, I went to a local community health center because I hadn’t established a relationship at that time with a local psychiatrist which I recognized later was a big mistake. I should have done that when I moved up to Boston. And then they sent me over to a local psych ward, but that was a very difficult hospitalization for me because it was kind of an urban environment and not very well cared for, and there were a lot of patients in there who were very loud all the time and I couldn’t sleep and without sleep you know I kind of felt like I was getting worse rather than better. But eventually they got me on some stronger medication there for that season that stabilized me, and that was the second hospitalization.
Then eventually, um, after that I got a psychiatrist in the area that I worked with and I was able to get off that medication that was the stronger one and I felt like I had more emotional range, more creativity while still having balance in life and a balanced mood, so that was good. But then in 2012, I ended up being hospitalized again, and I still don’t know all the reasons why that happened. I think there was some anxiety in my life of thinking about what would be the next step now after I had actually been married for at least two years and thinking about having children and everything, and I think the prospect scared me. So I think that was one thing, bringing up some issues from my past.
Also I had just been really active in thinking about politics, because, the election was coming up and so I was spending more and more time on Facebook and early in the morning writing and responding to these long political things, and, so those are two factors. And at least in the week immediately prior, I was just working in an extremely large amount more than I should have, although I don’t really have anyone to blame for that but myself. So, that, I still don’t know all that precipitated it but those are some things.
And so then I went in, but I really disliked the place I went into, and I kind of, my goals were a little off. My goals were just to get out rather than to get better and I realized later that I should have, even though I hated it I should have gone with the program more to try to make sure I was stable before I got out because I ended up going back into the hospital then, only a few weeks later. Although the good thing was that time I went into a much better hospital in terms of the actual program, and the people running it, and even the people who were there I think, although that of course is kind of out of their control.
Those were the four times I have actually been hospitalized, now obviously there have actually been other times where hypomania at least getting towards mania has come back but I have been able to kind of stave that off. And then, again as I said earlier, the depression has only kind of been in the aftermath after getting out of the hospital and sometimes I think that can also be if I have been on a stronger medication when I was in there and it kind of contributes to that depression a little bit until I am able to get to a stable point where I don’t need that.
I should say also, last year, in 2014, I was dealing with some issues with my family in the middle of the year, and that was difficult for me as well. I was just there physically present in a way that I hadn’t been before and my sister has Down Syndrome so I was trying to help my mom care for her now that my dad [has] passed away. And just trying to solve those problems well also helping out my mom with her issues that was challenging, but thankfully by that point I had figured out what is the medicine I can have as a good PRN or a good “as needed” medication to augment my good mood stabilizer is, and so I was able to get back on that at that time and kind of nip it in the bud before things went to a state where I would have to go into the hospital again.
And so then even as I would say about a month ago I had kind of a more hypomanic stage. And again I think it was just precipitated by spending more time on Facebook and thinking about political issues. That really is just a trigger for me and relates back to what I was talking about earlier – maybe not solving the problem of evil in a universal or cosmic sense but trying to solve how to deal with issues in the US, and saying now, you know, people have the saying “think globally act locally”, while I want to think locally AND act locally because that is where I can have the biggest impact and that is where I can get to a point where I won’t be overwhelmed by all the things in the world. Cause I mean thinking about Isis and Syria and everything, you know like I in my heart is torn up by that, but I can’t, all I can do is pray and even that I can only do it to a certain point. So that is kind of a brief history of how things have gone since my initial diagnosis.
Sarah: So I know and appreciate the fact that you are willing to be open about the different sort of unhealthy trains of thinking that you had when you were manic. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about some of those specifics of what you believed during that time.
Evan: yeah, there are some that are more personal, obviously, because of the way in which they relate to other things in my life but I will say where I have more distance I can look back. When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was first manic (that was back twelve years ago) – and there comes a point you know in everyone’s life when you say “I am the same as I was then but I also am not the same as I was then.”- so I can think: back then, to give you a sense of some things – I remember very vividly when I was being driven to the hospital that was going to check me out to see whether I met the admissions criteria for psych – I remember thinking that the city reminded me of Alexandria Virginia which is a city near Washington DC which I remembered from the fact that my grandparents lived around there when I was growing up and I visited them a lot.
And then from Alexandria Virginia my mind kind of did a jump to ancient Alexandria, the city of learning, it is the famed library, so I didn’t necessarily think that Lancaster was Alexandria as such, but I remember my perception of it was that there was some sort of mystical connection. And I think that goes along with a lot of the things that I have had in the past, these delusions, this idea that everything is connected or that there is symbolism in odd ways, sort of like as I mentioned earlier as this idea of a Bible code and numbers.
I remember one time breaking down the number 2012 and factoring in, and you know the factors of 20 are 4 and 5, and the factors of 12 are 3 and 4, and then I would break down the 4s into the 2s and have like a code for what the 2s and the 5s and all that means, and I could tell you what every number means, so that is one type of thing.
Then there is also delusions of grandiosity, which is a DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – the “bible of diagnostic criteria” for psychologists and psychiatrists] characteristic of mania, what I mean when I was in that first period when I said I was worse rather than better because I had been on the wrong medication, I thought at that point that I was controlling the weather. I was sad, so the rain was coming down so that was the world crying, and so I related that to the concept of the microcosm and the macrocosm which the Greeks’ had where like the human mind was a microcosm and the world was a macrocosm.
So again I had all these intellectual-like rationales for what were really irrational ideas, but everything kind of has it own internal logic. I think that people would be better served, if people who didn’t have mental illness, or at least weren’t actively suffering from delusions would talk to, and try to sort out what is going on with the systems and the delusions that people construct because sometimes they really relate to either other delusions or to at base things that people are dealing with emotionally, and I will talk more about that in a bit.
And, then, finally a big one that I remember having in that first period when as I said I was getting worse rather than better temporarily, I felt like I was a renaissance man, that I was essentially re-experiencing all the thought history of the world in myself, thinking about all these things that had been just, my mind was just racing with all these ideas going off in every direction. And even as that was going on I know this was not right, I knew that I needed to stop but I couldn’t stop. And at some point, just like I said, that medication is the only intervention because you have gotten to a point where just trying doing relaxation techniques or CBT [Cognitive Behavioral Therapy] or something is not going to be enough.
So I would say those were some of the more intellectual delusions. In more recent times, when I was getting manic I have had more moral delusions, sort of like a kind of splitting of my self into thinking I am either the best person in the world or the worst person in the world, not thinking I am like God or anything, I never got to that [point] because I would realize I can’t be God because I had sinned, so obviously I am not God. But I would think that, like, I had either been chosen by God to carry out some tremendous mission, or I would think I was this horrible person that wasn’t worthy of life. You know, like, I had to come to a point as I was getting closer to recovery you know like the truth is not either or those things you know, like I am a person created in the image of God, I am loved by God, and, I have sin, but I am also forgiven and I can’t judge myself by my criteria, I have to judge myself by God’s criteria what he says about me in the Bible, and as I seek him in prayer, so those are a few things.
Sarah: I know that I seen in other people and I found in myself what you are talking about with that black and white thinking, that polarization, going to extremes. I think that is something we all deal with, in the way we think about things. Definitely can relate to that. So what has your recovery journey looked like?
Evan: That first story I gave you, that is the story of the negative side, of having this condition. But they call it bipolar for a reason, because you are going between different poles of not even really of mood, mood is not even the best word because it affects everything: it affects energy, it affects how you feel, how you exist in the world really, to an extent that people who don’t experience it really can’t understand. But I think of it kind of like a wave, like a sound wave, you can kind of diagram it out there, how some points you are going to be in the middle ground of emotions, like the emotions that the people who don’t have the condition experience, and sometimes you are going to be at a low point and depressive part of the wave like a trough, and sometimes you are going to be at the crest of mania maybe even up to psychosis.
So for me, I would say that, its not so much about necessarily like “a journey” to recovery, in the sense that you could have like a journey to sanctification, where it is like an upward journey – it is more about continuing to try to maintain an even keel in the midst of the circumstances of life. And so it is about developing the techniques and having the tools in your toolbox to maintain.
Because I think sometimes a lot of people will think that they can have a quick fix, or maybe not even a quick fix but just some sort of solution and it’s just not like that. This is something that you are going to have to deal with the rest of your life unless the Lord heals you in some miraculous way, sort of like how if you are an alcoholic in a medical sense you are not just going to be able to go out there later and be able to like have one beer and be good, you know like, you are going to continue to need to have practices in place, so those practices are the sort of things I would like to talk about.
I guess what I could say though in terms of “recovery journey” is that it is about getting further levels of awareness of yourself, and getting more levels of awareness of where you go wrong. I think about the story that one of my mentors at the place where I work, Bill Mooney-McCoy, talks about the “autobiography in five short chapters” which is a common recovery thing that he didn’t originate but he introduced it to me, where basically the idea is that first you go down a street and you fall into a hole because you didn’t see the hole there. Then the second time you go down that street and you fall into the hole again. Then the third time you go down the street and you notice that the hole is there so you avoid the hole, and the forth time you just decide to go down a different street. So I guess that is four chapters, I’m not sure where the other chapter went in. Anyway, I guess you get the point of what I am saying that it is about at first you make mistakes and you don’t even know how to stop yourself from making them, but then as you gain more awareness of the areas in which you make mistakes and the compulsions that you are prone to, then you won’t make the same mistakes any more. Now you may make other mistakes but you can say okay at least I progressed to another level.
Sarah: Yeah, that’s encouraging. Definitely. I like that way of looking at our journey. So I know that you talked a little bit about medication and having a good relationship with your doctor. Do you have any other thoughts for people who are trying to keep on top of the medication thing, what are some things you would recommend for having a healthy patient-doctor relationship?
Evan: Yeah that is a great question. I think that the most important thing is to get yourself educated and seek out knowledge, but seek it out from reputable sources. Now I don’t remember off hand what those would be, but I am sure that there are other places out there probably even on this site that could point you toward reputable sources in getting information about medications and its effects. I think that it should be noted of course though that medications’ effects are going to be different for different people, especially the psychological effects of them. So you have to have patience and be willing to work with your doctor to go through that process. As I said you how I said I was on a medication that wasn’t right for me and I eventually got on a medication that was right for me. And then I since then I have gotten some supporting medications that help with other particular areas including one that I take particularly as needed.
I think another thing I have learned just in my own self is to get over the stigma associated with the word “anti-psychotic” as ascribed to a medication. I have noticed there are a lot of medications these days that fall into the class of atypical anti-psychotics that are not highlighting that fact, they are talking about how they are being used for bipolar disorder. And they actually do work really well for bipolar disorder. So I think it is important for people to recognize you know just because I am taking a drug that may in some cases be described as an anti-psychotic drug that doesn’t necessarily mean I am a “psychotic”, because how people use that word, just in slang. And it doesn’t even mean like in a medical sense that I am currently psychotic or experiencing psychotic symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I am delusional.
Like there is one particular drug that I take at times that what I’ve noticed it can kind of take what was described to me as divergent thought patterns, where you feel l like your thoughts are just scattered and going in different directions and kind of bring that back into focus. So you can just think about one thing at a time and really help slow down those racing thoughts. So I think that is something I have experienced as a benefit of it. And I think that it is good to explore also supplements that can be helpful but obviously consult with your medical professional before taking any of the stronger supplements. Although I think that some things like Chamomile tea is good for sleep, or rooibus tea is good for sleep and those are not super strong, but other things like melatonin has been really helpful for me but I wouldn’t want to necessarily, you have to consult with your psychiatrist in those sort of things.
Sarah: Ok so I know you touched a little bit on the spiritual component of your journey and I know you have lots of different thoughts about that, can you elaborate on what your experience taught you spiritually and how the spiritual dimension manifests itself in your journey?
Evan: Yeah thanks a lot for asking about that – I think that is the most significant thing for me. I certainly know not everyone has gotten to the point where they can look at their condition positively in any sense, nor would I want to rush anyone into that, but I know that for me it has been encouraging to see how God has used it not just to humble me which can be/sound more negative, but also to bless me by making me able to be a blessing to others in a way that I really hadn’t been able to be before. At the least by virtue of the fact that now I have this in common with other people so I can give them not just sympathy but empathy actually, being able to say you know I’ve been there, I’ve walked a mile in your shoes to some extent. But even beyond that I feel like it has given me, as I was saying earlier, this greater vulnerability showing me the need for connectedness and accountability with other people whereas I had before that and even to this day I have a tendency to be intellectually proud and to be a loner.
So, recently my boss was talking with me about how all of us are like Jacob in one way that we walk with a limp. And it reminds me also I think there is a book by Dan Allender called “Leading with a Limp”. There’s many Christian writers who talked about the ways in which you can minister out of your areas of weakness. It is a theme that comes directly from Scripture when you think of what the apostle Paul heard from Christ when he said “my grace is sufficient for you for my strength is made perfect in weakness” [2 Corinthians 12:9] when Paul asked to have the thorn in his flesh removed. But I know this is a thorn that I have in my flesh, and I just try to recognize that it can be a good thing, but at the same time I don’t want to make it too much of a good thing where I could see kind of the seductive nature of hypomania particularly for a creative person where you feel like “oh I could get so much done, I could contribute so much to the world”, and then again you get into this complex of thinking you could “save the world” and that is not my place.
So it is all about having the right perspective of yourself, not thinking too highly and not thinking too lowely of yourself. But in terms of my calling, then I feel like I have a calling to both have compassion and show compassion for people in similar situations to mine, whether that be people with mental illness, or I also feel a closeness with people with substance abuse issues just because a lot of them also struggle with mental illness and are kind of self medicating, and as well as that compassion and then also to raise awareness for people on the outside who haven’t experienced these things. I had another co-worker, Ms. Melvina, an older woman, who would always say there is no test without a testimony and I liked that, and so I kind of hold onto that.
Sarah: That makes sense, I know you have talked to me before about being holistic so if you could elaborate on that , it seems like is a really interesting concept and there is a lot of different aspects to that.
Evan: Yeah, that is something that I have been reflecting on a lot over the past years and reflecting on the different dimensions of what that means. I am a creative person and a visual person in how I approach things. I don’t want to analyze and break things apart, at least not all the time. If I am going to analyze things and break them apart it is to put them back together. So I have a visual that I wish I could show you and maybe I will share with you sometime that maps out almost in a tree format how a person can be rooted in God and have all these components that grow up out of that, and how they can have different elements surrounding them in their life and then they can have the blessings of the fruit that God would have for them at the top, and the birds which I see as kind of the friends and the people they can bless can rest in their branches to quote the gospels.
To talk a little bit about the components I have in there, at the base of course is being rooted in God. I came up recently with this phrase of ritual delight which I like because and I like the idea of paradox where on the one hand you have something that is ritual people often think of a ritual as something that is mundane, that is tedious something you have to do. On the other hand delight which people think of as spontaneous, its just something that happens, but I think that there should be a way that we can develop spiritual practices that we can continue to have delight in them. I think for example of my church where we have the Lord’s supper every week, and we know this is something we can return to for nourishment from God. And so that’s like a collective practice.
Then on an individual level there are various things like reading Scripture and praying and just being in the presence of God and I will talk a little bit more about what that looks like for me a little bit later on. I think its different in a certain extent for everyone because it is easy for people to say, you gotta read your Bible and pray, but until you find a way to do these things that makes sense for you and in a way where God is really speaking to you through that, then it is not going to have that element of delight it is just going to feel like a routine like flossing your teeth, and that is not what God has for us. He wants you know more for us than that, he wants us to draw nourishment from him and he wants us to actually be learning things from him in that process so it is affectional in the sense that it involves your emotions and also intellectual.
Then obviously above that is the basic practices of self care. The ones all people have in common, you know, diet, sleep, exercise. Not going to go into all the details on that. And also as I talked about before in this interview medication for those of us who need medications for our conditions, to maintain that and recognize that it is just as if you had a heart condition or diabetes, and you have to take that medication in order to be healthy. I guess what I should say about sleep is that for me I’ve just definitely noticed that it is important to try to get to bed at roughly at the same time every night even if though are times that I want to stay up late. I think there are a lot of people with my condition who will feel a desire to stay up late and try to get more and more things done but that can just fuel the fire and be a negative thing.
On exercise I won’t talk as much because I would feel sort of like the person who preaches what they don’t practice. I know I need to do that more than I do, but I know when I do actually get out there particularly not just to feel like “ooo I’m exercising, this is a routine” or “I’m going to get on the exercise bike” or something but to actually like be out in nature experiencing nature that for me is when it is really restorative. And I think with diet too, I think what can be said is that it shouldn’t be just “these are the foods I eat to be healthy and have a balanced diet” you also have to think of it positively not just negatively – “I am going to cook meals for myself because this is something positive I am going to enjoy doing.”
Then kind of broadening out from the self care is just taking care of the space where you live. There is this concept that someone mentioned to me once on Facebook, a french word that cooks talk about “Mis en place”, everything in its place basically, that they would have their sous chef who would cut up everything and prepare it before the head chef would go put it into the recipe. And so I think just having a space where you live that you can be proud of the way that it looks, it helps clear your mind, and can be a feedback loop there in a positive sense.
Then a huge component to having health in your life is having life balance, people often talk about having work-life balance, I always thought was kind of silly because it makes it sound like your work is as important as your life and your work can be separated from from your life. Your work is a component of your life but it is not half your life. I think it is important to recognize all the things that are responsibilities in your life whether that be your vocation that you get paid to do or your avocation that you enjoy doing and your church, and your family and other responsibilities that you have, and putting them all in the perspective that works for you and that is going to be different for different people and in the different seasons of your life. And of course it is important to set boundaries and learn to say no so you are not always a people-pleaser.
There is a concept that I was introduced to recently in a book called “How Your Church Family Works” called the principle of differentiation which is a fancy way of saying “what is it that sets me apart from other people?” I have to recognize that I am not just a part of the group. Now obviously you could take this in a bad way and be self-absorbed or self-centered but at the same time you also need to be separate enough from other people that your identity is not derived from how other people think about you. Ultimately your identity needs to be derived from Christ as I said before.
So I was talking just a second ago about avocation and part of that is having projects in your life. I like to talk about projects not just hobbies – things you are working on that can balance the different and exercise the different capabilities of the mind and the person whether that be kind of the analytical side or the left brain, the creative right brain side, but also the physical – actually getting your hands in the dirt and doing things physically. I think it is important because for someone like me it is so easy to live so much in the head and that can for me can again lead to the racing thoughts.
Then finally it’s important to make sure you are in the right relationship with family, friends, church and the local community. Obviously we are called to love God and love others. You need to assess what is positive in your life and make sure you are getting that more than what is draining you, even though at the same time we need to give out to others and we shouldn’t cut people out of our lives completely except in extreme circumstances where that is needed for us to function.
In conclusion to all this I would just say that we exist on many levels as human beings that is how we are created, we are spiritual, relational, neurological, and physical beings. All of this is all interrelated from the highest level the spiritual all the way down to the lowest level physical and back from the physical up to the spiritual. They all feed in together who is to say where one ends and the other begins. So, that is what I would say with regard to looking at things holistically and some advice regarding that.
Sarah: Great thanks. That is really helpful. So what are some other things that you feel like can be helpful for people, you had talked about going down a road, falling into a hole and realizing the hole is there, and learning to avoid those types of situations. I think everyone with bipolar has had those situations where we accidentally went too far and fall into a pitfall and I really appreciated what you said before about that part of the recovery process is that insight, is learning where those holes are and how to avoid them. What else can you say about that topic of insight for us.
Evan: Yes, I was as I was thinking about what we would say here before we had our interview if there was anything I wanted to get across – it was lack of insight is kind of the linchpin of the DSM criteria for bipolar disorder and for a lot of other mental conditions as well that people don’t recognize that their in a situation that is wrong and that is unhealthy, that is interfering with their functioning as a human being. And if you can have that insight, we’ve reached a point now where things are’nt perfect but there are a lot of interventions whether medical or therapeutic that can help and make it so that people are in a better place.
If you don’t have that initial insight or have other people around you that can get you to that point of insight than that is really problematic. So the important thing is to try to nip things in the bud and recognize when things are going in a bad direction for you before they get to a point where you are no longer going to be able to have insight, because I think insight fades away the more you are in a manic phase. I can’t speak as much to depression, I feel like when I was depressed I definitely knew that I was depressed and that I didn’t want to be depressed anymore but it did take time to recover from that.
One thing I would say is that for work I do a check-in every week with my boss saying “what is going on in my life, and what is going on in work, what are the tasks that are coming up, and how do I feel about them and all about that”, he suggested something to me recently which was interesting, doing a check-in each week with myself and figuring out what is going on with me spiritually, mentally, relationally, all that sort of thing, and thinking of this in a systems perspective, like what are things that are feeding into each other. Perhaps I am spending more time thinking about politics and so then I am spending more time on Facebook, and that is making my mind go more and I am writing more and that is making me loose sleep, and that’s making my mind go more and writing more and that is making me think more about politics and getting on Facebook and the cycle continues until it gets to an unhealthy state.
Sometimes you can’t initially get to that systems perspective so what Bill Mooney-McCoy, would do for me when we would check in for our mentorship meetings, is he would ask what the top plate was, just thinking of this metaphor of a stack of cafeteria trays, you have to take the top one off before you can get to the next one. So uou ask yourself what is it that you are feeling, and you figure out, okay well maybe I am feeling sad. But then you know, I have taken that off and explored that a little bit, and then under that there may be another emotion that I have been suppressing even more than the sadness, like maybe anger. Anger is an emotion that people don’t want to acknowledge at all, very stigmatized. So you just kind of peel the onion one bit at a time.
Of course sometimes you can’t do this just with yourself although journaling can help. Having people in your life that are supports who you can do accountability with is really helpful, now this can obviously be a professional counselor or therapist, I think sometimes particularly to get that personal and spiritual perspective where the people really know you it is good to get outside of that too, again it gets back to this holistic thing, people are looking at it from the psychiatric perspective and the therapeutic perspective and personal perspective and spiritual perspective and putting it all together.
Sarah: Hi this is Sarah recording after the interview is over with just a few comments. The original interview was two hours long, eventually I will post the whole thing on Soundcloud so if you are interested in the second hour of what Evan had to say, I just had to cut out a lot to get it down to a portion that is easily digestible for people. So that first portion we just finished was the first major portion of the interview. I just had a couple sections of the later interview that I wanted to include in this first briefing for you guys, it is like three different paragraphs so I am going to go ahead an insert them here, just wanted you to know so if they seem kind of choppy I was cutting them out of larger portions of what Evan had to say.
Evan: So I have talked a few times about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I think maybe I should define that, finally. It is basically I think this idea that you take these negative thoughts that you have, these automatic negative thoughts and you sort of analyze them and think about defeaters for them, recognizing how irrational they are. And I think that can be helpful at times, but there are some times when you don’t want to be over analyzing your thoughts, particularly if you are trying to go to sleep, you just need to let them go. So that gets back into this psalm, Psalm 131, you know I have calmed and quieted my soul and I am not going to occupy myself now with these things I am just going to rest in God, I am going to let my thoughts pass, I’m not going to judge them, not going to try to solve or to understand and just think of them kind of like birds that are flying overhead or waves that are crashing on the beach and that one is going to pass, and then there will be another one and maybe it will be better, maybe it will be worse, but there is a time for each of those.
Living Water. God can restore to you the past, and use it for good, so I just claim the word um that it says in the book of Joel that he would restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten. As someone with bipolar disorder I often times have very vivid and disturbing dreams so I just pray as I am going to sleep that God would heal my dreams, that God would be present in my dreams as a force for good, and I often feel like there is a spiritual warfare that goes on in there. Ultimately I am resting in the promise that God will call to my remembrance everything that I’ve experienced that was needful for me to use as a blessing for others.
I think that old hymn that says that he would sanctify to us our deepest distress. John Piper quotes Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book Future Grace saying that we should preach to ourselves daily, we should preach the gospel to ourselves daily. I think Tim Keller talks about this as well. I would go further to say that as you preach and share your story your testimony with others as far as you are capable of doing so when you are healthy enough to do that, then God will return that to you sevenfold in blessing. At the same time you need to expect that the enemy will oppose you and you will have to deal with that. You will have to develop strategies for that for spiritual warfare, just putting on the armor of God, and answering Satan’s attacks with Scripture and knowledge of what the identity that you have in Christ is, that you are not your condition, you are not your sin, you are a child of God, you are one who was created in the image of God and restored by Jesus, for a particular purpose, to bring him glory, [and] to benefit yourself and others by his grace.
Sarah: Any advice for people who deal with that type of thinking [delusions] in terms of catching themselves? [This is coming from] from someone who has gone down that path at times and wants to catch it sooner.
Evan: yeah, good question, I think that its important to have firm presuppositions that you can counter false beliefs with. So like for example, “correlation is not causation,” and think just because two things happened at the same time that doesn’t necessarily mean one caused the other, because a lot of delusions come from that, thinking that there is a hidden relationship. [Also] presuppose that numbers don’t have significance, not any numerical code futile endeavor. Also to know that the Bible specifically says Jesus doesn’t know, or I guess I shouldn’t say that Jesus doesn’t know, but that in his humanity when he was here on the earth he said even the Son does not know the day nor the hour. Obviously as God he has all knowledge, important to note we are not to figure out what the day or the hour is of Christ’s return, because that is something that is beyond us. It is also important to hold to the verse from Deut 29:29 – where it says “the secret things belong to God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do the words of the law.” The Bible is written so we may believe and trust in Christ and so we can walk humbly with God, not made for us to solve and figure everything out. Now this relates especially to these religious category of delusions, which are the ones I deal with a lot, as to other types of delusions, these delusions of grandiosity – so again, I think – there is a God and you are not him. To think like, take the lowest place, humble yourself and God will lift you up, those types of principles.
And basically again I just keep banging a drum for calming and quieting yourself and not concerning yourself by marvelous things that are too wonderful for you, because if you try to pursue that mental calmness I think that will be helpful, but again as I said earlier, once it gets past a certain point you can’t do that, you can’t even second guess or question the disillusions, you just kind of become a victim of them, so at that point you really just need supports in your life that and friends and family in your life that can recognize and get you to a place where you can get help, so that is what I would say.
People with mental illness are not homogeneous, people from the outside can think, or even counselors or psychiatrists can think you are going to be the same, but just as I said earlier you are not. You not just your diagnosis, you are a person, it is complex. I think that it basically goes back to what I was saying earlier, at times I just have to shut off these questions, because I just recognize they are unanswerable, I’m not going to answer them and it is not my place to answer them, and it could even be presumptuous to ask them. It sounds harsh, but you know, I just have to rest in that, that is spiritual warfare right there, to recognize some of the questions that come up to keep you from moving forward, are there legitimate questions? Um, sure. Yes. If if helps you with what you need to do, helps you with your spiritual work, and how you practically do in life, so often go down rabbit trails in our minds that actually don’t effect the things we do on a day to day basis.
Sarah: That makes sense, thank you so much for your time and for talking with me.