Today we’re excited to share with you a real life story of bipolar disorder, featuring Breanna Blain. If you or someone you love is struggling with this mental illness, you won’t want to miss her transparent story that offers honesty and hope.
WHAT HAS YOUR JOURNEY IN LIFE BEEN LEADING UP TO YOUR DIAGNOSIS OF BIPOLAR DISORDER?
I grew up in a Christian home and when I was about 14 years old I started struggling with depression and not wanting to do anything. I felt like what’s the point of it all, why am I here?
So my parents put me in counseling. I was in counseling all 4 years of high school. Every single week. I struggled with self-harm, I struggled with insomnia, a lot of typical things that a lot of people struggle with in high school.
When I was 18, the Lord kind of lifted that and I went and served with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) and I became in love with ministry.
I thought that God was permanently taking away my struggles, and I was so on fire for what God was doing in the world. I was like, “Okay God, I wanna tell my story, I wanna be transparent with what you’ve done in my life.”
So I came home from YWAM and I started speaking and leading worship at…Summit View Church in Vancouver, Washington… It was a really sweet season that lasted about two and a half years. Then I got engaged. In the summer of 2017, things just kind of switched. I started really struggling with anxiety and I started medication again.
And that’s when everything started to spiral out of control. I stopped sleeping, and I’d have these manic episodes where I’d get out of bed in the middle of the night and try to run away.
Thankfully I had a roommate at the time who was very gracious and patient and she’d sit with me. That’s when I realized this isn’t normal, and this isn’t the normal depression that I had struggled with before. It wasn’t the same.
So I went to my doctor and he said, “Yeah you could have bipolar disorder.” My counselor also said that.
That was something that had never crossed my mind, and it sounded scary. I think it sounded scary to my family as well.
So I kind of just put it out my mind. I got to the point where I hadn’t been sleeping for about 2 1/2 or 3 months. I had gotten married and I felt like everything was going to get better after that, but it didn’t.
That’s when I said, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m either going to take my life or I don’t know what else is going to happen.”
Luckily, I had had a conversation with a friend whose mom was praying for me the day I was going to go home, and she showed up at my office and took me to the hospital, which is where I got diagnosed as Bipolar 2. (Check out our video Bipolar 1 and 2—What’s the Difference? )
Since then, I’ve just been on this journey of trying to understand what it is, but also I’ve come to grips with the fact that it’s not my identity. So now I’m trying to figure out how I live out of this place where I know God can use what I’m going through, even though I don’t always want to acknowledge that this is my ongoing reality.
WHY DIDN’T YOU GIVE UP ON GOD? WHERE DID YOU SEE HIM ALONG THE JOURNEY?
I think it goes back to when I was in high school, and I tried almost everything besides running to God; trying to find peace and comfort in everything but God. I realized I’ll never be able to find peace with Him.
Even though I had realized that, I still felt angry with God, especially in the months leading up to the hospital. I was like, “Hey, I thought we were done with this, why are we dealing with this again? Why is it so much worse than how it felt before? Why is it during this season when I’m supposed to be a happily married newlywed?”
Because I had so many people would say, “Oh are you so excited to get married?” And I would be honest and say, “Yes, but also my life sucks right now.”
The first night I was in the hospital, they transported me from one hospital to another. They asked me “Are you going to say goodbye to your husband?’ and I thought yeah I’ll just see him there.
So I actually didn’t get to say goodbye to Austin. They brought me up to the other hospital room and I asked, “Hey, when am I going to see my husband?” and they said, “You’re not, and you can’t call him either.”
I remember just feeling all alone in this room that had nothing in it because it’s a psych ward. So I’m just sitting on this bed and there is nothing else in this room.
The nurses were switching shifts so there was no one that could be in the room with me. I was desperately alone, and I was just weeping. It had been about an hour at that point.
I remember just sitting at the end of my bed and going, “Okay it’s God or it’s nothing.” I can ask God to be here with me… He’s the only one who’s here, and he is the only one who is going to show up for me right now.
So that’s when my walls towards him kind of collapsed a little bit.
It sounds so cliché, but that’s the moment when I knew God was with me, because I felt peace in a situation that I shouldn’t have felt peace in. I remember being able to sleep. I was able to sleep for the first time in what had been months.
After that, the psychiatrist at the psych ward, who ended up being a Christian, said “How does wanting to end your life work out with your theology?” and I kind of laughed and I said, “It doesn’t.”
So he said, “Okay, we’re going to figure out how to get you through this.”
That was a huge blessing. I also have this community that says, “No, you can’t give up on God, because you know better, and you’ve seen him move and you’ve seen him work.”
There were days where I just really wanted to walk away, but there’s nothing really to walk away to.
WHAT HAS BEEN ONE THING THAT HAS BEEN HELPFUL TO HEAR FROM OTHERS REGARDING YOUR DIAGNOSIS? WHAT HAS BEEN SOMETHING THAT WAS UNHELPFUL TO HEAR?
Something that has been unhelpful, which helps the stigma of mental health continue, is that people are afraid to use the actual words. I’ve had a lot of people bounce around and say, “How’s your…how’s your stuff. You know, how’s your anxiety?”
Well, I have Bipolar disorder, is that what you’re talking about or are you asking about my anxiety within that? I think having people be nervous or hesitant kind of makes you feel, “Maybe we shouldn’t be talking about this.” It’s like a secret or it’s uncomfortable.
Something that has been helpful is being myself, and super open about everything. Saying yeah I have Bipolar and this is what has happened and having people be able to talk about it openly.
I was in a community group the other day and my friend was talking about her struggles with anxiety. She said “Yeah my thing is anxiety and Brenna’s thing is Bipolar.” I think everyone in the room was kind of like, ‘What?” I was like no it’s true, that’s what I have and that’s what I struggle with.
If I were to go into a room and speak to people and allude to myself having Bipolar and using words like anxiety and depression. I would probably reach people who have anxiety and depression, but I wouldn’t reach people with Bipolar.
Being honest and being able to own my struggles, makes room for people who are also struggling in these places that are maybe not talked about as much. Hearing other people’s stories about Bipolar has given me room to say hey I struggle with it too. Can you help me?
WHAT DOES YOUR MENTAL HEALTH JOURNEY LOOK LIKE IN THE FUTURE?
I haven’t really figured it out yet. I know it will involve psychiatrists and medication. I know counseling is going to be a big part of my journey as well.
You have to be a little bit strict with Bipolar struggles. It’s important to have a really strict schedule like when you eat, when you wake up and go to bed.
But I also know, it’s something God has spoken to me about, being honest and speaking to people, even those who might not struggle with it and just telling people that God is at work in these really crappy areas.
Sometimes we feel totally abandoned. So I plan on hearing God ask me to share, even though sometimes I don’t want to share. But also knowing that even though we live in brokenness, God doesn’t delight in our brokenness, but he can definitely use it.
Some days I’m not looking forward to that and then other days I’m ready for it. I’m ready for God to kind of kick Satan in the teeth with this whole thing and allow others to realize how good God is in the midst of where we’re at.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD LIKE TO SAY TO SOMEONE STRUGGLING WITH BIPOLAR, ANXIETY OR DEPRESSION?
Counseling is one of the best things that you can do for yourself. Go see a counselor, go see a doctor. (Request a Counseling Referral) It’s crucial to have a support system that is made up of professionals, and not just your friends and family. You can feel like your drowning and your family and friends can feel like they’re drowning too when they’re trying to help you. Getting to a professional is one of the first things that made me feel like I could breathe again.
There’s been so many times where I just say I can’t feel God, and I hate this season. But it’s easy when you get into a season of really hard anxiety or really hard depression and you kind of let your schedule go out the door and that includes your time with the Lord. It’s not necessarily something that’s gonna fix it, but it’s really important to be in community with God. Commit to your relationship with God.
If you can start off your day by just laying everything down at God’s feet. Saying “This is how I feel this morning waking up. But I know that you can still use today. I know that you’ve made me, and that you know me and that you know my struggles. And you already know what’s going to happen today and I trust you with that.”
That’s really the best thing you can do to set yourself up well. Just being wildly abandoned towards God’s plans for you. Just whatever it is, I know one thing for sure and that’s that God sees me. He’s taking care of me even when it doesn’t feel like that.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD?
If you’re reading and you’re struggling and you’re thinking “Oh it’s kind of weird that they’re talking about this on this blog today.” I wanted to say, very cautiously that that’s the Holy Spirit.
Get help. Don’t leave yourself in this place of aloneness or anxiety. There are people who are LONGING to be able to care for you and to help you find the tools to figure out what you’re struggling with and how to walk through that.
The best thing that you can do is take action. The best thing is to know that this doesn’t have anything to do with sin. Right, because sometimes people think “Oh man I’m struggling with this, this must be a punishment” or something…But depression itself isn’t innately a sin. And anxiety itself isn’t a sin.
So if you feel like you’re doing something wrong. No. That’s not it. We live in a world of struggles where this is real. We live in a world of brokenness. So it’s really important that you reach out and find a support system because it’s not you. It’s not your identity. But it is something that can kind of take over.
So just reach out and really allow God to do a work in your life even though it’s super messy. God can use whatever it is that you give him.
Brenna Blain is a 22 year old wife, mom and theology student at Multnomah University. Aside from school, she enjoys speaking for different youth groups and camps, leading worship and mentoring high school students. She hopes to use her degree to continue speaking at churches and conferences about life with Jesus, mental illness and Christianity in a post-Christian world. For more from Brenna connect with her blog: http://angstyadventures.weebly.com/
Special Note: This interview first appeared on the Rosebud blog http://www.rosebudblog.com and was added to with a follow-up interview with Angela Howard, Director of Mental Health.