It was 25 years ago, on Labor Day weekend 1987 that I first learned I had a mental illness. A mania had come over me of disastrous proportions, completely overwhelming my sense of reality and propelling me into a delusional state.
My ex husband had come down that Friday to accompany our son to his first day of kindergarten, only to discover that I had completely and utterly forgotten to prepare Jack to go to school. He took both our children home with him for the regular weekend visit.
Saturday and Sunday, the mania continued to spiral out of control. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t see anyone, and I stayed at home (Praise God). I don’t remember eating much, but I did drink a lot of water. I found out later that all that water washed out my electrolytes which further added to my mental instability.
Sunday, my ex returned with the kids, and realized I was not in my right mind. He took both children back with him, and called the police later that night, saying he thought I was a suicide risk.
The Oceanside police arrived to find me sitting outside my house, enjoying the night air. They called me to the curb and politely asked me if I had ever been in a mental institution before. “Yes,” I happily replied. “I’ve been in graduate school at UCSD for the past 5 years.” They looked at each other and asked me the question again. Again I relayed my witty response. After answering a few questions, which I answered with ease, they decided I wasn’t a danger to anyone, including myself and drove off.
Not satisfied with the police response, my ex drove back down from LA Monday afternoon. One look at me and the house was more than enough to convince him he needed to call the police again. This time three uniformed officers came into my living room and asked me questions while my ex stood to the side, shaking his head and indicating he’d seen enough. I believe had I been alone, they would have concluded I was not a danger to myself or to others (as would be the case in future episodes). But as a lawyer and former Marine, my ex husband exudes authority. His determination to have me taken in was very clear, and the police obliged him.
I can still remember my shock and horror as the policemen dragged me off to their car and shoved me in the back seat. The smell of cigarettes and leather was burned into my memory. The police took a route to Tri-City that cut through Mira Costa campus. For a time, I thought they were taking me to college – which made perfect sense. Then I was at the ER entrance, and nothing made sense after that. I was taken to the locked unit at PalomarHospital, and two days later received the diagnosis: Manic Depressive, or as it is commonly known now, bipolar.
The front page of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 1st Extra, December 7th, 1941 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Labor Day, 1987, was my morning of December 7th, 1941 (when the Japanese attacked PealHarbor).
Pearl Harbor wasn’t like an earthquake or a tornado or even a tsunami. After disasters such as these, people rebuild their lives and go on in a world that has largely remained the same.
Pearl Harbor did more than blow apart a shipyard that had to be rebuilt. Pearl Harbor changed lives forever. Pearl Harbor changed the world forever. Nothing went back to the way it had been before. And nothing in my life has gone back to the way it had been before Labor Day 1987. My whole world changed, and so have I.
The biggest change – and by far the best change – was coming in from the wilderness to the shelter and victory of a Christ-centered life. A few of you know who I was, and how shattered I was when I first came to First Presbyterian Church in 1993. Some of you were praying for me way back then as “Sande Varano,” the name I had from a second marriage that failed, before I resumed my first married name of Rajcic. Some of you were in the early service when I began to openly ask for prayers for my condition. Some of you remember the shape I was in when I began to fellowship more regularly in the first service, around 2003. You are the ones who know the fuller magnitude of the grace God has given to me. You are the ones who gave me Christ’s shelter, and spoon-fed me His truth and His love when I was weakest and most confused.
All of you are my strength when I falter. Being able to serve the Lord by organizing the prayer list each week, gave me hope and comfort during the times of depression when I was really too ill to be faithful in actually praying over the list. Your constant care and concern for me, ever faithful to see me and not my diagnosis, gave me “Jesus with skin” when I needed His hugs as much as His salvation. And, every one of you over the age of 70 are a light to me and a vision of what is possible when the Lord is in one’s life.
I was raised to think the “Golden years are the pits,” and fed the sage advice, “don’t ever grow old.” I came to believe that when I hit 65 life was going to be pretty much done and down hill. I had no vision of happiness or fulfillment, let alone energy or vigor. In the light of life I behold in your faces, the Lord has blown all that apart! I know if I follow Him closely, I’ll have the character to face the challenges of later life, and He’ll fill me with purpose that won’t run out or go dry. When you spend 25 of the “best years of your life” in mental hospitals, or flying in another reality, or just plain flat out in bed, too weary to get up and no reason to try, it means more than you can know to believe there’s a good life ahead of me.
Twenty five years sounds like a very long time for God to answer my prayers for healing and relief. Put it in perspective. Mental illness comes in varying degrees. Bipolar can hit a person anywhere along a spectrum from easily treatable to practically uncontrollable. My illness was on the more severe end of the scale. Medically speaking, even with the best, state of the art medications and good, hard work with an excellent therapist, the chances of me progressing out of the level of disability I had to my present level of stability and quality of life are – nil. Zero. Doesn’t happen. Not in 25 years. Not in 35 years. My biological aunt is 75. She still suffers from severe depressions. My biological mother is 77. She’s been depressed since January, and still isn’t entirely out of it. They may not have worked as hard is I have with their doctors, I can’t say. What I can say is bipolar doesn’t resolve itself. You don’t “outgrow” it.
Praise be to God for his mercy and grace to me. Praise be to God for the loving Christian family he’s given me. Praise be to God for the opportunities to serve that this church has extended to me. May Christ be exalted among us now and forever more.