Not a Problem, Just a Difference

Mental illness is illness. That's important to remember. I'm not surprised that people find it hard to understand this; I admit I find it difficult to accept myself.

It has been pretty common for people to suggest that what is called bipolar disorder -- or high-functioning autism or anxiety or depression -- is not really a problem in design per se but just a difference.

I personally view my own ASD diagnosis as an identification of a difference in me instead of as a disorder that needs treatment. I'm just a little weird; well, I know that already. It's kind of hard to miss, really. If I look like I don't know what you're talking about, it's because I don't.

I can see, though, that I've had a hard time with conversation, for instance, in ways that people usually do not. It's not because of upbringing or situation; it's in my head. Likewise, the swings between depression and mania, constant apathy and being constantly overwhelmed are not only uncommon -- they're not the proper functioning of my mind. I cannot will this away.

While I was pregnant for the second time, I went through a painful depression. In truth, I went through a difficult time of depression during each of my four pregnancies. With my first, I did not speak about how I was feeling -- a lot of things were new and pulling at me emotionally at the time anyway. With the second, I let a few people know that I was having a hard time.

I muddled through the pregnancy (and the care of a toddler) without the help of antidepressants or counseling. Looking back, I don't know that this was the best choice, but in any case, my greatest fear was for the postpartum period. My doctors warned me on more than one occasion that depression during pregnancy greatly increases the risk of developing depression following birth. Where I was hoping for relief and a return to some sense of sanity, I instead could expect more of the same -- or worse.

Friends prayed for me, specifically concerning this fear, and the Lord answered by providing the relief I had hoped for. I remember crying while describing this to a small gathering of women at my church one day.

I don't know if I expected that feeling to be permanent, but I suspect those that were there, encouraged by their answered prayers in my life, did. I have wondered if I should have held back that day and not made so much of my not having postpartum depression as my doctors warned I might. After all, I was probably depressed again by the following year.

So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service... In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves....Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. Exodus 1-2

Here is what I know.

The Lord answers prayer, and he answers differently than we expect. The beginning of the story of the Exodus always gives me a smile for this reason. Israel is oppressed in slavery, and they are crying out to God for help. The Lord hears, and sends... a baby.

Sometimes, it is a quick action that he provides. Sometimes, it is a pretty slow process. And sometimes a mix of the two.

At that time, not having my greatest fears -- a continuation of depression into postpartum -- come to pass was an answer to prayer. A couple years later, the long, arduous, painful process of counseling and diagnosis and medications -- going on for at least two years now, is an answer to the same prayers. And more, I see now that the Lord has answered and is answering, clearly, my deepest groaning -- at times when I've cried out, literally, to him for real help from inside repetitive, destructive cycles, uncontrollable sin, and deep-felt pain.

This is a song I used to sing over and over in the thick of long stretches of depression.

I hope and hope
I hope and hope with all of my might
I hope and hope
I hope and hope without any sight
I hope and hope
I hope and hope as much as I can
I hope and hope
And I hope and I hope all over again.

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. 1 John 5:18

I keep expecting, even now -- I have spent my life expecting -- that I will snap out of the high/low cycle and no longer have to battle day to day. I'm learning more and more to let this expectation go -- and instead, trust that without physical (that is, mental) healing 1 John 5:18 will still be true.

It is likely that I will struggle emotionally for the rest of my life, just one of the broken in a cursed world.