My Name Is ‘Beloved’
Finding Identity in Mental Illness
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:2)
I lost. I failed. I sobbed on the stiff hospital bed, the diagnosis settling upon my soul like clouds a mile thick.
I had tried so hard to fight what seemed to be a calculated battle. Faith. Willpower. Resistance against my chronic struggle with depression. But the escalating evidence and my declining ability to cope alluded to something more complicated under the surface. My formulaic fighter mentality could only take me so far in a world cursed by physical, mental, and spiritual decay.
The back corner of the ER hosted a collection of beds reserved for mental-health observations. Suicide watches. Looming staff eyes. A frantic woman wrestled into compliance by hospital security staff, screaming her piercing rebel yell for all to hear. It echoed of a place I’d been before.
A Dark Reunion
To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. (Psalm 28:1)
The mental hospital, the year 2000, a 72-hour hold. This piece of my history was pushing its way to the present, and fresh ink on commitment papers served to make it official: I was going back into a realm of peculiar brokenness. Shamed, dejected, and in an ER full of busybodies or failing bodies, I felt hopelessly alone in my defeat.
“By God’s Spirit, broken minds can still powerfully minister the gospel to broken hearts.”
In the neighboring mental hospital, a nurse wheeled me to a quaint, unadorned room. A bed. Linoleum floor. The words “Help Me” carved into the wood wall. After tests, a detailed history, and analysis of ever-worsening symptoms, the doctors delivered the diagnosis: Bipolar Disorder II.
For one week, I remained in the treatment facility, listening to the doctors and discussing with social workers what recovery would look like. A lifetime of medication and blood tests, symptom management and therapy. A lifetime of battle between broken, polar selves: the hypomanic and the depressed.
Broken but Kept
Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. (Ephesians 1:4 NLT)
The quieter moments of hospitalized solitude tempted me into foul thoughts. Wouldn’t being bipolar bring a barrage of ministry consequences? Wouldn’t my warring selves usher in professional discredit, public tarnishing, and private agony? The Christian community may readily sympathize with physical brokenness, but isn’t mental brokenness in a stigmatized category of its own?
I peered through the window of my room, watching the breeze sweep the tree branches and wondering about the future. In truth, not much had changed except the nightly medication. Yet it felt like everything had changed. My status as a person seemed to evolve from “bright and regular” to “bipolar in recovery.” As the new reality soaked in, I desperately preached the gospel to myself, remembering that my status as a child of God had not wavered in the slightest.
“No temporary malfunction of the mind can reverse God’s call of his elect.”
Mental brokenness is not my ultimate ruin. By God’s Spirit, broken minds can still powerfully minister the gospel to broken hearts, because the condition of our fallen brains cannot expel the Holy Spirit from our bodies (Ephesians 1:13–14). Once a sinner receives Christ by grace through faith, God will not let his dear ones slip into eternal ruin. No temporary malfunction of the mind can reverse God’s call of his elect (Numbers 23:19; Romans 8:29–30). No man’s judgment can nullify Christ’s claim on souls whom he purchased with his blood — including believers living with a mental illness (Romans 8:38–39).
God doesn’t dispense his love based upon a sliding scale of brokenness, but rather based upon the sufficient blood of Christ. In the eyes of my fellow man, I may be categorized as “bipolar.” But in the eyes of my loving Father, my status is simply “Beloved.”
Bipolar but Beloved
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. (Psalm 73:23–24)
I’m bipolar. I’m bipolar? Is this who I am?
Grace is for times like this, when our only certainty is God’s unfailing hold on us — when the only wellness we can count on is his.
“I live by faith with the brokenness of bipolar disorder, and when I am afraid, I put my trust in God.”
No matter the type of brokenness — physical or mental — Christian identity is found not in a diagnosis, but instead in our position as redeemed children of God (Romans 8:16–17). “Bipolar” is not my identity; it’s my particular weakness. Bipolar disorder may be with me until the day I die, but it doesn’t void the new creation God has made me to be in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). I’m still a mother and wife, daughter and sister. I’m still a church member who desires to serve, and still a writer who wants to comfort others with the comfort I’ve received from God (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Bipolar? No, my name is “Beloved.” I live by faith with the brokenness of bipolar disorder, and when I am afraid, I put my trust in God (Psalm 56:3). He holds my hand through it all and helps me, because I am his and he is mine (Isaiah 41:13).