December 10, 2013

Relapse really is part of recovery

By Jack Smith

My doctor told me two things the day I left The Menninger Clinic: I may never outgrow bipolar disorder, and relapse is often part of recovery.

My first six weeks or so at home, I felt renewed and refreshed, hopeful and content.

I awoke every day at 5 am, read my Bible, made a gratitude list and enjoyed the silent comfort morning brings. I experienced something that has eluded me for much of life. Serenity.

My naive hope was that my illness was behind me. Maybe I finally had found the right combination of meds and mojo, therapy and attitude.

Yet somehow the train recently came careening off the tracks, and I couldn’t stop it. I pulled the emergency brake, but it didn’t stop. I did all the things I was told to do.

I prayed. I exercised. I mentalized. I took deep breaths. I told myself the paralyzing anxiety that triggered obsessive and ridiculous thoughts would pass, that feelings are just that. They aren’t facts.

Yet the depression came back like a slow-moving, dark cloud, consuming my soul and distorting my thoughts. The stubborn cloud hasn’t moved.


Depression is a liar. It tells me my life is unraveling. It tells me the pain and suffering might never go away. It tells me I’m not worthy of the blessings I’ve been given. Worst of all, it makes me forget how blessed I really am. This disease is cruel and cunning, relentless and unforgiving, exhausting and maddening.

It tells me it’s not even worth the fight. It tells me to fear my emotions, all my emotions, because I might launch into mania or slide down the slippery slope of misery.

Today, I used all the strength I could muster to try and climb out of this dark and dreadful abyss. My fear is slipping into the pit of agony again as I scratch and claw my way out.

As difficult and discouraging as these days have been, I have not given up hope.  I can’t give up hope because it’s all I have.

I do not believe God has forsaken me or left me alone in the bitter cold and darkness of winter. I believe he has a plan for me, a reason for my suffering. I just don't yet know what it is.

I have asked God to take this burden away from me, but I can accept it if He doesn’t. At least then the suffering will not have been in vain.