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My Battle with Manic Depression
After 16 years of silence, one woman tells of the illness that almost destroyed her.

Gripped by an irrational rage, Cathy Ellis fought against the leather straps that pinned her to the stretcher. The door of the psychiatric ward slammed shut. "How could this be happening?" she thought. "What am I doing here?"

My Battle with Manic Depression
Cathy Ellis

Cathy had weathered mood swings in the past, but this time things were out of control. Her husband, Gary, fearing for her safety, had called for an ambulance to take her to the hospital. Locked in isolation, Cathy stared at the ceiling, loathing her husband and dreading what was next.

Cathy's aberrant behaviour first surfaced when she was a teen. Her outrageous verbal attacks would often alienate her friends. "When they confronted me about the abuse, I couldn't remember," says Cathy. "I didn't understand why my friends kept abandoning me." Cathy didn't know it at the time, but she was battling bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, a chemical imbalance of the brain.

Married at 20 to her high-school sweetheart, Cathy suffered through years of marital and personal turmoil before she was diagnosed. During her first six years of marriage she separated from her husband three times because of her disorder. Gary was devastated—he couldn't believe what was happening.

At 27, Cathy and Gary reunited and she pursued medical treatment, praying desperately for an end to the manic episodes. After the birth of their son, Tyler, Cathy was told her problems were hormonal. She underwent a complete hysterectomy in the hope that her condition would improve, but the behaviour only worsened.

Her frequent outbursts in church services, wild spending sprees and incessant letter writing deeply concerned her church pastors. They began to pray earnestly that Cathy would receive the help she desperately needed.

Cathy was prescribed haldol, a drug used to counteract psychotic behaviour, but the drug only distorted her thinking. She had a terrible sensation that the walls were closing in on her. "This is it, I'm going to take my life today," thought Cathy. "I can't live like this."

God protected Cathy from hurting herself, but after quitting all medications, she was eventually forced into psychiatric care. Doctors finally diagnosed Cathy as manic depressive. They told her that the mood swings came as a result of her illness. Although there is no cure for the disease, it is treatable with medication.

After four days in the psychiatric ward, Cathy escaped with nothing more than the clothes on her back and her hospital slippers. It was mid-March; her feet were frozen. She called her father to come and pick her up, fearing that her husband would have her readmitted.

For the next few months Cathy was treated on an out-patient basis, but she refused to take her medicine consistently, sparking episodes of mania. On a trip to Florida, she tossed her pills out the window. Her mental state deteriorated and she was admitted to hospital once again. No one was allowed in to visit. In her padded, darkened room, Cathy felt as though everyone had abandoned her. She was devastated and hopeless.

When she was released from hospital, Cathy made a decision that changed her life. She chose to stay on her medication. She prayed that God would help her live up to her commitment—and He has. For 14 years she has been able to manage her illness through medication and regular checkups.

Her husband, once perceived as the enemy, is now her hero. Gary stayed committed to Cathy throughout her battle with the illness. It was his faith in God that kept him true. They recently celebrated 25 years of marriage.

My Battle with Manic Depression

"I'm grateful to my husband for staying by my side," says Cathy. "He worked, provided for our family and loved me unconditionally. He prayed non-stop for the end of the behaviour. He is an amazing man." Cathy is also thankful for her sister, Monica, who cared for her son as a second mother for many years during her manic phases.

"Mental illness has a stigma," says Cathy. "When you're young you don't want to admit you have a mental illness. It's embarrassing and shameful, and you're afraid people will see you differently. I didn't want to be judged."

Today Cathy is not afraid to share her story. "I am 45 now and I want my life to count for something," says Cathy. "I want to help other people understand that manic depression is an illness. It is not a sign of a weak faith in God. There is help available."

Cathy continues to serve in her church, praising God in song and helping out in Sunday school. She clings to God's promise: "When you're in over your head, I'll be there with you. When you're in rough waters, you will not go down. When you're between a rock and a hard place, it won't be a dead end—Because I am God, your personal God, the Holy of Israel, your Saviour" (Isaiah 43:2-3a The Message).

Linda Leigh is the proofreader for Faith & Friends.

Originally published in Faith and Friends, March 2004.




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