by Yevgeniya Przhebelskaya
I had a suspicion that Barnabas had mental health issues from the time I got to know him in our Bible Study group. His sullen behavior and hints of family drama made me act deliberately slow in getting to know him. Yet his insights in regards to the spiritual life and good writing skills led us to start a poetry workshop last year. Every other month, we were supporting and challenging each other on the progress of our poems. He was working on revising a collection of poems about his girlfriend. I was editing a poetry collection about Christmas, infertility, the joy of a miracle pregnancy and the sorrow of my postpartum depression. We successfully finished working on both books, and were talking about ups and downs of self-publishing process and our next writing projects. However, one ordinary day, instead of a writers’ meeting, I was drawn into an all-day emotional support role. When I called Barnabas, he was in the middle of a panic attack, and later in the day panic attack converted into a full-blown manic episode that resulted in a two week involuntary hospital stay. During those two weeks when Barnabas was in the hospital, I had to ask myself on the purpose and the boundaries of our friendship, the role of God in both our Christian lives, and I also had to make more sense of the manic-depressive bipolar disorder itself.
I am not a stranger to neurodiversity or to mental health issues. I have family members on the spectrum and even though I was never diagnosed myself, I have long suspected that I have traits of both autism and ADHD in me. I could be absent minded, forgetting that it’s my friends birthday today, even if its marked in red on my calendar. Or I could be obsessive and compulsive, revising my poem over and over and over again, and driving my friend and editor Michelle absolutely ballistic. (She is used to it by now, and just waits 24 hours for me to stop writing, and then reads the last draft and deletes everything else).
As far as mental issues go, each month right before my period I am plagued by Premenstrual Depression that makes me want to crawl into bed and not face the world. I become my own worst critic. Incidentally, this Premenstrual time is also a wonderful opportunity to edit my poetry and essays, as deep introspection brings life giving insights into my writing that would be missed otherwise. It’s also a wonderful time to argue with my husband, but I have to tread very carefully there, choosing my fights that will lead to overall positive change in our household.
And yet I was never hospitalized for any of this. I was able to muddle through life with talk therapy during the hardest part of my life, and I have thought many times about Lexapro and Wellbutrin, but I was always too afraid to take a leap. One day I might, especially if I ever experience a natural disaster of a gigantic magnitude like it happened with my friends in Turkey, or forced immigration that has been happening with many friends from Ukraine. Like Advil, that I religiously take on Day 1 of my period, I know that prescription medication is here to help.
However, the process of involuntary hospitalization feels jarring. Why didn’t Barnabas know that he was having a manic attack? Also, how could I miss all the signs of it? Am I that blind? (Michelle thinks I am)
While Barnabas was in the hospital, and for several months after that I spent several months reading everything I can get on about mania. In a way, mania became my special interest, and I was almost manic about it. After careful reading of various resources from anonymous recollections on Reddit, to medical articles on National Institutes of Health and Psychology Today, I realized that mania or deep depression is not something that you “snap out of” in one afternoon. It is a state of mind that lasts a while and requires a lot of perseverance from of the afflicted one and from his or her family and friends.
My second realization is that we all have different resources and circumstances. I have seen my share of troubles, but in them I was still blessed with good resources. Barnabas’s challenges were in some ways more painful than mine. Moreover, he had difficulty assessing good resources for mental health. He did have health insurance, but any therapy appointments had long waiting lists. Therefore, in a state of crisis, the hospital was the safest place for him to be, and ultimately a beneficial resource for him. After completing a two-week inpatient stay, he enrolled in the hospital-based outpatient program that provided him with both group talk therapy and medication management.
Finally, I had to guard my time and emotions in our friendship. I observed the Sabbath rest every week, and I made myself in waiting to hear from him. I let him make and learn from his own mistakes, while asking friends in my Bible Study group to pray with me for him.
But I also had to remind myself to be humble. It is easy to judge friends when they go through difficult times, but that happens until we go through difficult times myself. Recently, I was in a car accident. It was a true accident caused by me taking my mind of the road. It triggered my own depression, which in turn made me realize that I need to get back into talk therapy. The same patience I forgiveness I feel for wrecking my car, I try to feel about struggles of other people. It is a process, and I take it one mental health essay at a time.
I still see Barnabas as my friend. We text weekly, and he has read all of 25 versions of this essay. I hope one day he will be in a better mental state, and resume writing his poems again. Until then, I trust God despite the thorns on the road. His grace will be sufficient, and His power and love will shine through our weaknesses.
(Names, ethnic identities, personal details and chronology of events have been changed in order to protect the privacy of individuals in this essay.)
Yevgeniya Przhebelskaya is a freelance writer who explores themes of mental health, neurodiversity, and Christian faith in her writing. Her essays and poems have been published or forthcoming in Agape Review, Amethyst Review, Ancient Paths Online, Ekstasis, Trouvaille Review and many other publications, and were nominated for the Pushcart Prize two times. Yevgeniya lives with her husband and their son in New Jersey. Check out her blog here.