Welcome to the first interview in a new series called Faith Through Illness. I hope you will find these stories to be encouraging and a blessing. I know I am loving each one that arrives in my inbox and I cannot wait to share them with you!
Today I'm sharing Nicole's beautiful journey of faith. She is the co-founder of "Jumpstart Positivity", a community focused on personal growth, positive thinking and making impactful change. Do go visit her site and leave some comment love!
1. What is your diagnosis?
In early 2014, I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder (type II). Going to bed at night was scary and stressful because I didn't know who I was going to be when I woke up in the morning.
My anxiety was out of control and I worried about every little thing - spending money, social situations, my health, and even what to eat. Since then, I've gotten better about "taking captive every thought," and I've also learned to identify the triggers that lead to the ups and downs of bipolar disorder.
2. Briefly explain the process you went through to get your diagnosis.
I've struggled with depression since I was nine years old and I can trace periods of hypomania throughout my teens and early twenties. After several trips to the ER for panic attacks, I finally sought treatment.
At the mental health clinic, I had a session with a therapist, who referred me to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with bipolar disorder and anxiety. It took 15 years of struggling with anxiety and depression before seeking treatment, and only two sessions with specialists to get diagnosed!
I tried several different medications before finding one that helped stabilise my moods. Once I was stable, I made a conscious effort to rewire my brain and forge new neuro-pathways, which allowed me to get off my medications. I've been medication-free since late 2016.
3. How has chronic illness affected your faith? Why do you think this happened?
I grew up in a conservative Christian home. Although I had a strong faith as a child, I withdrew from God as a teenager when my anxiety and depression worsened. When I talked to my parents about my anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, they suggested I "pray more" and "have more faith." That didn't seem to help, and I didn't know who else to turn to.
I ended up frustrated, questioning God, and constantly asking, "Why me?" Now I realise that God allows for me to feel what I feel because He trusts me. He believes in me. Maybe not on my own, but definitely through Him, I'm strong enough to handle anything that comes my way, including intense emotions.
My experiences can be used to encourage and bless other people. Whenever I'm feeling bad, I remind myself that God is preparing me for greatness, and it gives me hope.
4. How has your church family responded to your condition and need?
Right before I was diagnosed, one of the church members got up on stage during the service to share his faith journey through bipolar disorder type I. His story sounded similar to mine, and it inspired me to join the mental health workshop that the church was hosting. Everyone was so encouraging, even in the midst of their own pain.
Afterwards, I signed up for the 8-week mental health learning community being held at the church. It turned out to be perfect timing, as the group took place during the first few weeks of my new diagnosis. Being a part of a faith community during that difficult time taught me that it's okay to struggle with mental health issues as a Christian. I'm a beloved child of God. Imperfect, but that's okay. God loves me just the way I am, but too much to let me stay that way.
5. Do you have any habits that you feel strengthen your faith or bring you comfort and peace?
I get a lot of peace from being well-rested. My husband sometimes teases me for going to bed by 10:00 pm each night, but I like to go to bed early so I can get at least eight hours of sleep and still wake up early to have quiet time.
This is when I can do my daily devotional, read personal growth books, and listen to encouraging podcasts and/or Christian music without being distracted. I also like to enjoy God's creation by taking my dogs for walks to the nearby park. Getting eight hours of sleep, eating right, exercising, and getting positive input is my recipe for good mental hygiene.
6. Which character in the Bible do you most resonate with during your illness?
I really resonate with Elijah. He was suicidal and depressed, yet God still used him to bless other people and glorify His kingdom. Elijah's story gives me hope that God can use me too.
7. Share your favourite Bible verses and why they are so meaningful to you.
My favorite Bible verse is Jeremiah 29:11 - "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
This was something my mom repeated throughout the years as I struggled with anxiety and depression and eventually with coming to terms with my diagnosis. While at first, this may have fallen on deaf ears, now this verse assures me that God has big plans for me.
Also, not too long ago, my husband gave me a journal with this verse on the front as a reminder of God's love for me. Jeremiah 29:11 never fails to give me hope.
8. Do you have a message of encouragement for those struggling with chronic illness?
You are not your illness. Your illness is a part of you, but it doesn't define you.
9. Favourite Christian Website
10. Favourite Christian Book
"Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young
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