Off The Deep End

“Off the Deep End” is the name of my blog. It’s in the web address, And when I first began blogging a few years ago, I gave it that name thinking I would write some blog posts that were “deeper” and some that were not quite as deep, and some that were light and fluffy, and it would be a cute little catchy title, and I could use a little widget on the right-hand side of my blog tagging the posts “deep” or “light and fluffy” and wouldn’t that be fun. I never imagined that “Off the Deep End” would be a place that I would actually visit. But that’s what happened.
I have bipolar disorder. I share that with some trepidation, as I have historically been fairly guarded with that information. It’s not like I have a Jen Hatmaker-sized blog following – my blog is primarily read by my close friends and family, most of whom already know about my diagnosis. But it still causes me some fear to put that information out there. Maybe because I’m a mental health professional, or maybe because there is still so much misinformation out in the world about this illness. But I have been convicted lately about the fact that I work hard in my everyday life to decrease stigma around mental illness, but I am reluctant to be open about my own. So I am sharing a bit of my story in the hopes that maybe it will be helpful to someone who is struggling, and to give testimony to the redemptive power of a God who has loved me throughout the darkest of my days.
As Kay Redfield Jamison says in her book An Unquiet Mind, “People go mad in idiosyncratic ways.” For me, the descent into The Dark Place was slow at first. I have had bipolar disorder since early adulthood, but by the grace of God, my illness has always been well-controlled with medication, once I finally embraced the fact that I needed to take it regularly. There were some bumpy roads in my 20s, but I have enjoyed a great deal of stability throughout my 30s and early 40s, as medication worked well for me and I journeyed through life giving little thought to my illness on a day-to-day basis. Until the fall of 2014, when the wheels came off.
Ironically, in October of 2014, I had just received an award given by Texans Caring for Texans for the Behavioral Health Employee of the Year. It was a great, great honor, and the awards ceremony was a wonderful day for my family and me. And it’s the last memory I have of The Before. In late October of 2014, I began to notice that things were changing in my mind. People and things around me began to seem far away, and it seemed as if there were a glass wall separating me from the people around me. I became unable to concentrate, lost motivation for the things I usually enjoy, and began a descent into a deep, dark, depression. And this depression progressed into a mixed episode, which occurs when someone experiences depressive symptoms along with manic symptoms – for me, these included racing thoughts, insomnia, agitation, and a feeling like my brain was literally on fire. And I stayed in this dark and terrifying place for the better part of 2 years.
My doctor tried multiple medications, and I had periods over the past 2 years when I would emerge from The Dark Place and spend days or even weeks in The Normal. I would return to work, come up for air, post happy things on Facebook. But each time, The Dark Place returned. And my journeys into The Normal became more rare, until they stopped altogether. Finally, this summer, I was hospitalized for 8 days on a psychiatric unit. It is incredibly humbling for a mental health professional to be on a psychiatric unit, yet not be the one with the keys to the door. Not be the one leaving when 5:00 rolls around. Instead, to be the one sitting at a table struggling to put a 100-piece puzzle together because my thoughts are so scattered. Yet it was here, on this inpatient unit 6 hours away from home, that my God began to heal me. That He began to work in a mighty way. I confess that my faith had wavered over the past 2 years, and that at times I had felt abandoned by God and questioned not only His love for me, but His very existence. But it was here, at Rock Bottom, that my God showed up. And I left the hospital not cured, not “well” yet, but knowing that I was loved by God and that healing was coming, if I could just hold on.
Over the past several months, I have slowly emerged from The Dark Place and re-entered the world. My doctor and I found a medication cocktail that is working, and I am slowing returning to my life. And I am finding that it is possible to not only re-enter the world of The Normal, but to possibly even enter the world of The Better. Because I have a renewed joy in my life, an appreciation for even the tiny things that make up the ins and outs of my days – a new gratitude that permeates every day and every relationship and every moment. I take nothing for granted, because I have seen and tasted The Dark and am now able to appreciate The Light in a way that I never did before.
As I think back over the last 2 years, as dark as they were, I feel a profound sense of gratitude. Gratitude first of all to my God. My Jesus redeems. He redeems it all – every moment of hopelessness, every moment of fear – he is redeeming and making meaning of it day by day. And I am able to see how through it all, He provided for me in a most amazing way. When I was unable to see any light, when I was unable to sense His presence, He loved me through His people. My people. I will never be able to express enough my gratitude to the friends and family with whom He has blessed me. Through this dark 2 years, my friends and family have loved me relentlessly. They have faithfully walked every single step of this road with me. They never gave up, never wavered, never faltered. I remember fearing that they would get tired, and I’m sure they did. But they never left me. They sat with me. Cried with me. Picked me up and took me to get smoothies, when I couldn’t eat much of anything else. Cleaned my house. Most importantly, they prayed for me. Prayed without ceasing. My precious friend Mindy gave me a bracelet this past spring that says, “And Jesus saw their faith.” It refers to the story in the Bible where a man who is unable to walk is lowered down through the roof on a mat to see Jesus. He is lowered down by his friends, each friend carrying a corner of his mat. And this is what my friends did for me. Day after day, they brought me before the throne of God. Carried my mat. I fully believe that when my own faith faltered, healing began to come to me through the faith of my friends. Jesus saw THEIR faith, even when my own was wavering. And I am forever eternally grateful.
So now, as I find myself on what I hope is the other side of this journey, I have a new sense of purpose. A calling to love others as well as I have been loved. A calling to bring glory to The One who never left me and who brought healing to me and who brought me out of The Dark. A desire to squeeze every ounce of joy that I can out of every moment of my life. And finally, a hope that permeates my very being and makes its way down deep into my heart and soul.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised IS FAITHFUL.” ~Hebrews 10:23


When I was a little girl, I spent most of my time with my best friend, Rhonda, who lived down the street from me.  Rhonda and I often spent Saturday nights at each other’s houses, and attended church with each other’s families on Sunday mornings.  Rhonda was Catholic, and I remember being fascinated with the Sunday service at the Catholic church she attended, and intrigued by the ways the Catholic mass differed from the Sunday morning service at the church I attended with my parents.  I have a distinct memory of communion at Rhonda’s church – the priest would stand at the front of the church, and the parishioners would line up and approach him to take part in communion.  There was a special provision for those in attendance who, like me, were either not Catholic or were too young to take communion.  We would approach the priest with our arms crossed over our chest to receive what was called the “bread blessing” – a special blessing from the priest.  This was my favorite part of the Catholic church service.  I would stand in line with Rhonda and her family, and as we approached the priest, I would hear him tell each approaching parishioner, “This is the Body of Christ” as he handed them the thin, round, communion wafer.   I would hear the priest make that statement several times before I arrived at the front of the line, and by the time I met the priest face to face, those words were cemented into my mind – “This is the Body of Christ.”

Although the Catholic mass differed from the church services I attended regularly on Sundays with my parents, there were many commonalities between the two as well.  Communion was also a weekly occurrence at our church, although it looked slightly different.  The pastor would stand at the front of the church and would read the Scripture passages from the Last Supper.  Before serving communion to the congregation, he would read the passage from the Bible that says, “This is my Body, broken for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this in remembrance of Me.”

I did not come to know Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior until I was in college, and if I am honest with myself, I have to say that most of the hours spent in church as a child were spent daydreaming, intermittently napping, or flirting with some cute boy in the youth group.  But as I have come to understand that God began working on my heart long before I knew He was doing so, I believe that there is a reason that these elements of my childhood church experience are so deeply etched into my mind.

Over the past year, I have gotten a new glimpse into what I believe the Body of Christ is intended to be.  About 9 months ago, I went through a very difficult time, which although short-lived, managed to totally turn my world upside down.  In a very short time, relatively speaking, I went from being an upbeat, funny, energetic, focused person, who counsels other people for a living, to being in a very dark place.  A place where I did not have the energy or concentration to complete basic, daily tasks.  A place where I was not able to heal my own mind, let alone be a part of the healing of another’s.  A place where the independence, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance that I take such pride in (and I mean the word “pride” in its most ungodly and destructive way) evaporated before I even knew it was happening.  A place where my identity was stripped away, and I was left with nothing but a sense of overwhelming fear and hopelessness that threatened to consume me.

Despite the darkness that had taken up residence in my mind and heart, God kept His promise to me when He said “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  And indeed He did not.  Instead, He  strategically placed people in my life who were the very hands and feet and arms and legs and mouth and heart of His Body. And as God in His infinite mercy has been teaching me what His love truly looks like, I have often heard the words of the Catholic priest and the pastor at my childhood church over and over again:

When I would have nothing to offer my friends, and they would respond with, “It’s okay.  Your worth is not determined by what you can do, but rather by who you are in Christ” – THIS is the Body of Christ.

When I was not funny, upbeat, or energetic, and felt that I was simultaneously letting down everybody in my life, and my church family would gently remind me that my identity is not found in my personality, ability to make people laugh, or any other characteristic that I might possess on my own, but in Jesus’s perfect love for me – THIS is the Body of Christ.

When my friends would call and say, “It’s going to snow, and you don’t have any groceries – I’m going to pick some up for you at the store” or “I want to spend time with you whether you’re ‘yourself’ right now or not” or “Just hang out on my couch, even if you don’t want to talk, because you will be fighting the tendency to isolate” – THIS is the Body of Christ.

When those same friends would continue to call and check on me, even when I wasn’t doing a very good job of returning phone calls, even when I would have nothing to give, and all I could do was apologize over and over for the abysmal job of friendship I was doing; when those friends responded by placing no expectations on my being able to “hold up my end of the friendship” at that time, and instead responded simply with, “I love you” – THIS is the Body of Christ.

And finally, when my friends in Christ would have the courage to be with me in my brokenness, while continuing to point me to the One who is the Source of all hope and light, walking with me, not giving up on me, and consistently reminding me that the pain is not forever and that He who began a good work in me will complete it – THIS is the Body of Christ.

To my friends who continue to walk with me, patiently holding my hand as I come to the end of myself and learn to turn my eyes to the One who brings true healing – thank you for carrying out the words of Jesus (and of my childhood pastor) – “This is my Body, broken for you – do this in remembrance of Me.”