Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Being Bipolar Doesn't Mean You Are Demon Possessed

Learning About LeeAnn

Getting LeeAnn to tell her story wasn’t easy because it’s so painful. Talking about the details sent her into sobbing fits, followed by depression, followed by the need to defend herself. I constantly told her she didn’t have to, that nothing she could say to me would shock me. 

And nothing did, even as dark as her story became. 

“I know what it’s like to be afraid of my own mind,” she told me once. “Do you know what that feels like? To be afraid of your own mind?”

I didn’t, but I knew what it was like to be afraid of someone elses. To never know when the next proverbial shoe would drop. 

As the months went on, LeeAnn and I—as well as our family members—became close. LeeAnn and I became “besties” as we call it. I found in her a woman who had seen the absolute pits of bipolar depression, the mania of shopping excursions in New York City and other fabulous cities (and then having to pay the credit cards off), a woman who had worked with some of the biggest names in fashion and cosmetics (she can still be seen in Bobbie Brown catalogs), and a woman who deeply loves Jesus.

“What bothers me most,” she said, her thick Alabama accent rising an octave, “Is not only the stigma that goes with this disease, but that people within the body of Christ insist that it’s demon possession. You wouldn’t say that to someone with cancer. People telling me I need to pray harder so the devil will flee from me … they’ve got a lot of nerve … wanting me to read these books, thinking that I’m some kind of crazy.” She crossed her legs with a huff. “Well, I’m not crazy. I’m sick. I mean would you make such a declaration to someone who had been diagnosed with, let’s say, cancer? Would you dare? I am a God-fearing, Bible-believing, church-going, blood-bought Christian, who happens to have a disease that is no respecter of persons, of race, of nationality. It doesn’t care how much money is in my bank account. And it surely doesn’t care about my faith. I could be Muslim. Buddhist. Hindu. Jewish. I could have no faith at all. Bipolar disorder simply doesn’t give the striped pajama bottoms off a rat’s behind.”

I laughed at her last few words, then checked my recorder to make sure it was still working. It was. I wanted the book we wrote to carry this exact message. Being bipolar doesn’t mean you are demon possessed. All sickness comes from sin. Had it not been for the devil himself, we would live in perfect bodies and in perfect union with our heavenly Father. But one sickness is not Satan’s gnarly fingers wrapped around the throat of a patient while another is a cough. Bipolar disorder is a real disease, affecting millions—millions—of people, Christians included.

What We Know

According to the folks who research things like this, we know that (at last count) 5.7 million Americans over the age of 18 have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. We also know that 10 million will develop the illness during their lifetime, but only half of these will seek or receive the correct treatment. 

We know that while 3.9% of adults suffer from the disease, 2.5% of children (teens) under the age of 18 will also match the criteria for diagnosis. A diagnosis once shied away by clinicians in the charts of teenagers is finally being recognized. 

We know women and men are diagnosed in equal proportions, but that women are more likely to suffer from rapid-cycling (four-plus episodes of major depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed states within a year) and mixed episodes (experiencing extreme highs and lows so quickly they almost cannot be distinguished).

Bipolar Disorder is generally divided into five categories:

1. Bipolar I (Patients experience manic or mixed episodes lasting at least seven days.)

2. Bipolar II (Patients show patterns of depression and hypomanic episodes and without full-blown manic or mixed episode.)

3. Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (Patients do not meet the requirements for Bipolar I or II. However, the patient’s range of behavior is considered “out of the range of normal.”)

4. Cyclothymia (Over a two-year period, those with cyclothymia have episodes of hypomania and mild depression.)

5. Rapid-cycling Bipolar Disorder (Includes four-plus episodes of major depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed states—all of it—within a year, the patient is diagnosed with Rapid-cycling Bipolar Disorder. This is more common in younger patients.)

This is what we know clinically.

On a personal level, there are not too many of us who cannot swing a bat and hit someone affected by bipolar disorder, either directly or indirectly. 

Personally, we know it is time to stop the stigma.”

Our Story Continues

LeeAnn and I finished the book, The Bipolar Experience, and saw it published in September 2016. As we waited for the final product, we formed The Bipolar Experience Facebook Closed Group, a place where those affected by this disease can seek help, talk about their issues, laugh, cry, and/or all of the above. In the time that this page has been up, I’ve seen bipolar patients talk each other off the ceiling, the roof, and away from the medicine cabinet where a handful of pills will end their agony. I’ve seen them cheer each other on in their successes and mourn the failures. 

LeeAnn’s modeling career ended because she didn’t know how to tell Ford she was bipolar—that she needed to take a pill that might put weight on her but that would stabilize her moods. As her bipolar disorder swung from one end to the other, time after time, year after year, she endured people assuming she was on drugs … or drinking too much … or just flighty. “In New York,” she told me once, “I blend.”

But eventually, by not telling, the tightrope she lived on pitched. She had a complete breakdown while on assignment in Scotland for Marks and Spenser. Her career was over, but her mission had only just begun.

Today we—LeeAnn and I—tell anyone who will listen about BD. About the realness of it. About the effects and how we can, together, help stop the stigma. 

But mostly, we let people know that dreams are bigger than disease … and about the purpose for which He has ultimately called LeeAnn Jefferies. 

Copyright © 2016 Eva Marie Everson. Used by permission.

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