by Yevgeniya Przhebelskaya
I knew that Matthew 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 with regard to the spiritual life and good writing skills led us to start a writers’ group last year.
Every other month, we were supporting and challenging each other on the progress of our writing projects. He was working on revising his children’s picture book, dedicated to his daughter for whose custody and visitation he was fighting for. 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 the 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 Matthew, 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 Matthew 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. My own son was diagnosed with mild-to-moderate autism a week before his third birthday. As autistic traits are genetic, I have long suspected a lot of them in me. Sometimes it makes me ridged and repetitive in my thinking. Other times, I miss social clues. Other times, I say things without a filter or take them too personally. And yet, I am as close to God as ever, and I feel His love very intensely. And so does my nearly 4-year-old son, whether he is excited about going to church on Sunday or singing worship songs during the week.
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.
And yet I was never hospitalized for any of this. I was able to muddle through life as a high functioning and socially acceptable person. Having faith that God loves me and yelling at Him when I felt He did not, like when it took me a few very long years to conceive my child. I was also hypomanic many times, unable to sleep and typing all night on my computer in a state of restless frenzy.
Why then was Matthew admitted and spent two weeks locked away from the world? Why couldn’t he function with outpatient resources like weekly talk therapy, or simply “snap out of 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. Matthew’s challenges were in some ways more painful than mine. Moreover, he had difficulty assessing good resources for mental health. 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.
I know that God gives us psychological, pharmacological, and spiritual resources. He gives us friends and family members who speak the truth in our lives, and He also gives us grace. I still see Matthew as my friend. I hope one day he will be in a better mental state, and our bimonthly writing group will resume its meetings. 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 and some personal circumstances 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.