When I was a boy in English class, I found diagramming sentences simultaneously fascinating and confusing. I never was very good at it, but I marveled at those who were. However, God taught me a very important lesson in how to diagram one of my most perplexing sentences—a life sentence. I recall when I was informed that I had a brain disorder. The doctor named it a bipolar disorder. I was told that it was incurable but treatable and potentially manageable. My responses included shock, disbelief, anger, blame, frustration, grief, and depressing despair. I began to deal with the stigma of being identified with that part of the population known as the mentally ill. “Why me God? Why this life sentence?”
I remember hearing a young lady share her testimony about dealing with an enormous life crisis. She commented that when she was in school the rule of thumb had always been that first came the lesson and then the testing. Crisis presented a different calculus: first the testing and then the possibility for learning lessons.
The seeds of many of the lessons I had to learn were sown into my understanding clear back when I was first hospitalized and in the midst of a life-upheaval crisis. It took years for health-recovering revelations to produce healing of memories and emotions. It took years for roots of bitterness and resentment to be pulled up and out of me. It took years of implementing and practicing lessons learned following testing.
One of the first lessons I had to learn was that I was not the disease. Having been living with what felt like great shame and the plague of self-condemning thoughts, I began to declare to myself: “I AM NOT MY DISEASE!” I became determined to survive.
There was a second lesson. This lesson began the process of converting importunity into opportunity.
My “Tutor’s” lesson went something like what follows.
QUESTION: “Timothy, who is the subject of the sentence “I am bipolar”?
ANSWER: “I am!”
QUESTION: “Timothy, what is the object of the sentence “I am bipolar”?
QUESTION: “Timothy, what is the eternal reality in this sentence that will live beyond death and bipolar disorder”?
ANSWER: “I am!”
QUESTION: “Timothy, who are you?”
ANSWER: “I am Timothy, a loved and eternal child of God!”
QUESTION: “Timothy, what is the temporary reality in this sentence”?
ANSWER: “Bipolar disease.”
LESSON ASSIGNMENT: “Timothy, daily discover who you are in the midst of your temporary life sentence. Find in your relationship with God, family, and friends the grace and strength to survive by visualizing the temporary as swallowed up in that which is eternal. Anticipate moving from survival to “thrival.”
I am a husband. I am a father. I am a grandfather. I am a pastor. I am bipolar. The subject of each of these life’s sentences is the eternal constant of my being me, a child of God. The objective data in each of these life sentences is in today’s curriculum.
I am not the curriculum. I am the worker of the curriculum!
TIM RESIDE is the President of Bright Tomorrows. Tim has completed 108 credit hours of study in Practical Theology, inclusive of 36 hours at the doctoral level, and holds an MA in Practical Theology. Tim has been successfully coping with and overcoming bipolar illness since 1979.