Margin for Mental Health

05/18/2018 .
Diana Sun  .  Volunteer Storyteller

About 20 years ago, DJ was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Since then, he had managed his mental illness effectively with meds and therapy. But last winter, he experienced his very first psychotic episode, believing things that were not reality. It was a day that changed the rest of his life.

DJ remembered waking up that morning very alert and awake after just four hours of sleep. He finished all of his responsibilities at work early. He called and texted several friends out of the blue. He went on a shopping spree and spent over $1,200 because he felt like getting gifts for his friends. He decided to drop in on an acquaintance unexpectedly, just to say hello.

“I was energetically and enthusiastically greeting people — just having a great time,” DJ said. “I was in high gear and went nonstop. I was elated, praising God all day long. I thought God had finally healed me from my struggles with mental illness.”

Later that afternoon, DJ went to a shopping center in Anaheim to meet his wife and son for dinner. He kept insisting to his family that they meet him at one of the most popular restaurants there. By the time he arrived, the restaurant was packed, and no more tables were available. But that didn’t stop DJ from hovering around the hostess stand, thinking his presence would go unnoticed. He managed to sneak in and was quickly escorted out. He frantically looked for his family but couldn't find them. He tried going back into the restaurant to search for them, but the security guards stood in his way and asked him to step outside. Several minutes went by, and DJ grew more agitated. He wanted the security guards to let him find his family.

The next thing he knew, someone called the police. After that, everything became a blur as DJ vaguely recalled images of his wife’s gentle hand on his shoulder trying to calm him down while a police officer put handcuffs on him. He remained very confused as he sat in the back of the squad car all the way to the hospital. He spent the next three days and two nights at the hospital’s inpatient psychiatric unit so he could stabilize.

After his release from the hospital, DJ went into survival mode. There was still much work to be done in his fight against this illness as he entered into the longest depression he has ever experienced. DJ’s doctors had to adjust his meds and try new ones. He changed his diet, began a rigorous exercise routine for the first time in his life, and attended regular therapy sessions while setting healthy boundaries with the demands of his job. He worked extremely hard on self-care to keep this depression in check. Mental illness had never seemed so real.

DJ journaled regularly during his months of depression. He wanted to document what God was teaching him and how God was building him up so that he could share it with others.

“My suffering drew me closer to God,” DJ said. “As I understand him a bit more, as revealed in the Bible, my Christian faith was deepened. For many weeks and months, I would recite the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 over and over. Those words gave me something good to hold on to, something much better than my negative thoughts and feelings.”

DJ also penned a thank-you note to his family, friends, and fellow believers in Christ who visited and prayed for him during his hospitalization. It read, "Thank you, prayer warriors & friends! God loves you and me so much. It's been an amazing journey here and He is showing much grace these days. Resting well in Him. 40 days of prayer & break thru.”

Eventually, after months of diligent work­­­ — healthy eating, exercising, developing boundaries, new medication, faithfully attending therapy, encouraging support from family, friends, and his small group, and drawing on God for grace — the dark cloud of DJ’s severe depression finally dissipated. Even though his battle with bipolar continues, this past year’s experience has helped him see this fight in a different light.

“I believe God took all of these events this past year to really melt my heart,” DJ said. “I'm now that much more in touch with my good emotions — a definite breakthrough moment in my journey with bipolar. Life is such a gift, and I look for those opportunities to celebrate it with each person in my life.”

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