MAY INSPIRATIONAL WOMAN: BRENNA BLAIN
Hello Brenna! Meet May’s Inspirational Woman! Earlier this year she was diagnosed as Bipolar shortly after getting married to her husband Austin. She talks to us this month about what that means for her life and where God is in the midst of it all. She teaches us all something in this post, whether we struggle with anything on the mental health spectrum or not. Brenna is a high school youth pastor in Vancouver, WA and is currently attending Multnomah University for her degree in Theology. She is also expecting her first baby October 2018.
As a special feature, I have included the recording of our interview which you can check out below. As a fair warning, the sound quality is not as great as I would have liked so you may need to crank your volume up. If you would rather read it, I have transcribed the interview into written content as well.
What has your journey in life been leading up to your diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder?
I grew up in a Christian home and when I was about 14 years old I started struggling with depression and not wanting to do anything. I felt like what’s the point of it all, why am I here.
So they [my parents] put me in counseling. I was in counseling all 4 years of high school. Every single week. I struggled with self harm, I struggled with insomnia, a lot of typical things that a lot of people struggle with in high school.
When I was 18, the Lord kind of lifted that and I went and did YWAM (Youth With A Mission) and I became in love with ministry.
I thought that God was permanently taking away my struggles and I was so on fire for what God was doing in the world. I was like “okay God, I wanna tell my story, I wanna be transparent with what you’ve done in my life.”
So I came home [from YWAM] and I started speaking and leading worship at the church Lynnaea used to go to, Summit View, that’s where we met. It was a really sweet season that lasted about two and a half years-ish. Then I got engaged. That summer I got engaged, things just kind of switched. I started really struggling with anxiety and I got put on a medication.
And thats when everything started to spiral out of control. I stopped sleeping and I’d have these manic episodes where I’d get out of bed in the middle of the night and try to run away.
Thankfully I had a room mate at the time who was very gracious and patient and she’d sit with me. That’s when I realized this isn’t normal and this isn’t the normal depression that I had struggled with before. It wasn’t the same.
So I went to my doctor and he said ‘yeah you could be bipolar’ and my counselor also said that.
That was something that had never crossed my mind and it was something that sounded scary. And I think it sounded scary to my family as well.
So I kind of just put it out my mind. I got to the point where I hadn’t been sleeping for about 2 1/2 or 3 months. I had gotten married and I felt like everything was going to get better after that, but it didn’t.
Thats when I said “I can’t do this anymore. So I’m either going to take my life or I don’t know what else is going to happen.”
Luckily, I had had a conversation with a friend and their mom was praying for me the day I was going to go home and she showed up at my office and took me to the hospital, which is where I got diagnosed as underlining Bipolar.
Since then Ive just been on this journey of trying to understand what it is but also I’ve come to grips with: it’s not my identity. So now I’m trying to figure out how I live out of this place where I know God can use what I’m going through, even though I don’t always want to.
Why didn’t you give up on God? Where did you see him along the journey?
I think it goes back to when I was in high school and I tried almost everything besides running to God; trying to find peace and comfort in everything but God. I realized I’ll never be able to find it.
I was really, really upset with God the whole couple months leading up to the hospital. I was like ‘hey I thought we were done with this, why are we dealing with this again? Why is it so much worse than how it felt before? Why is it during this season?
Because I had so many people be like ‘Oh are you so excited to get married?” And I was like yes but also my life sucks right now.
Yeah it really wasn’t up until the first night I was in the hospital.They transported me from one hospital to another. They asked me ‘are you going to say goodbye to your husband?’ and I thought yeah I’ll just see him there.
So I actually didn’t get to say goodbye to Austin. They brought me up to the other hospital room and I asked, ‘hey when am I going to see my husband?” and they said “you’re not and you can’t call him either.”
I remember just feeling all alone in this room that had nothing in it because its a psych ward. So I’m just sitting on this bed and there is nothing else in this room.
The nurses were switching shifts so there was no one that could be in the room with me. I was desperately alone and I was just weeping. It had been about an hour at that point.
I remember just sitting at the end of my bed and going ‘okay its God or its nothing.’ I can ask God to be here with me but thats the only person I can ask to be here with me. He’s the only one who’s here and he is the only one who is going to show up for me right now.
So thats kind of when my walls towards him kind of collapsed a little bit.
It sounds so cliche but thats the moment when I knew God was with me because I felt peace in a situation that I shouldn’t have felt peace in.
I remember being able to sleep. I was able to sleep for the first time in what had been months. It was insane.
After that, the psychiatrist at the psych ward ended up being a christian and getting to talk to him — and he said ‘how does wanting to end your life work out with your theology’ and I kind of laughed and I said ‘it doesn’t.’
So he said okay we’re going to figure out how to get you through this. That was a huge blessing. I don’t know I also have this community that says ‘no you can’t give up on God because you know better and you’ve seen him move and you’ve seen him work.’
There were days where I just really wanted to walk away, but there’s nothing really to walk away to.
What has been one thing that has been helpful to hear from others regarding your diagnosis? What has been something that was unhelpful to hear?
Something that has been unhelpful, which helps the stigma of mental health continue is that people are afraid to use the actual words. I’ve had a lot of people bounce around and say ‘how’s your, how’s your stuff. You know how’s your anxiety?’
Well, I’m Bipolar and so is that what you’re talking about or are you asking about my anxiety within that? I think having people be nervous or hesitant kind of makes you feel ‘oh maybe we shouldn’t be talking about this.’ Its like a secret or its uncomfortable.
Something that has been helpful is being myself and super open about everything. Saying yeah I am Bipolar and this is what has happened and having people be able to talk about it openly.
I was in a community group the other day and my friend was talking about her struggles with anxiety. She said ‘yeah my thing is anxiety and Brenna’s thing is Bipolar.’ I think everyone in the room was kind of like ‘What?” I was like no its true, thats what I have and thats what I struggle with.
If I were to go into a room and speak to people and allude to myself having Bipolar and using words like anxiety and depression. I would probably reach people who have anxiety and depression but I wouldn’t reach people with Bipolar.
Being honest and being able to own my struggles, makes room for people who are also struggling in these places that are maybe not talked about as much. It wasn’t until I heard someone’s testimony and hearing them say the exact same thing that I struggle with, gave me room to say hey I struggle with it too. Can you help me?
What does your mental health journey look like in the future?
I haven’t really figured it out yet. I know it will involve psychiatrists and medication.
You have to be a little bit strict with Bipolar struggles. Its important to have a really strict schedule like when you eat, when you wake up and go to bed.
But I also know, its something God has spoken to me about, is being honest and speaking to people, even those who might not struggle with it and just telling people that God is at work in these really crappy areas.
Sometimes we feel totally abandoned. So I plan on hearing God ask me to share, even though sometimes I don’t want to share. But also knowing that even though we live in brokenness, God doesn’t delight in our brokenness but he can definitely use it.
Some days I’m not looking forward to that and then other days I’m ready for it. I’m ready for God to kind of kick Satan in the teeth with this whole thing and allow others to realize how good God is in the midst of where we’re at.
Is there anything you would like to say to someone struggling with Bipolar, anxiety or depression?
Counseling is insane. Its one of the best things that you can do for yourself. Go see a counselor, go see a doctor.
You don’t have to be put on medication. Having a support system that is made up of professionals and not just your friends and family – who can feel a little intimidated. You can feel like your drowning and your friends can feel like they’re drowning too when they’re trying to help you.
Getting to a professional is one of the first things that made me feel like I could breath again. So I’d say that [seeing a counselor] and also you have to commit to your relationship with God.
There’s been so many times where I just say I can’t feel God and I hate this season. But its easy when you get into a season of really hard anxiety or really hard depression and you kind of let your schedule go out the door and that includes your time with the Lord. Its not necessarily something that’s gonna fix it but its really important to be in community with God.
I suggest people do it in the morning. If you can start off your day by just laying everything down at God’s feet. Saying “this is how I feel this morning waking up. But I know that you can still use today. I know that you’ve made me and that you know me and that you know my struggles. And you already know whats going to happen today and I trust you with that.”
That’s really the best thing you can do to set yourself up well. Just being wildly abandoned towards God’s plans for you. Just whatever it is, I know one thing for sure and that’s that God sees me. He’s taking care of me even when it doesn’t feel like that.
Anything else you would like to add?
Just again if you’re in that place, if you’re listening or if you’re reading and you’re struggling and you’re thinking “Oh it’s kind of weird that they’re talking about this on this blog today.” I wanted to say, very cautiously that that’s the Holy Spirit.
Get help. Don’t leave yourself in this place of aloneness or anxiety. There are people who are LONGING to be able to care for you and to help you find the tools to figure out what you’re struggling with and how to walk through that.
The best thing that you can do is take action. The best thing is to know that this doesn’t have anything to do with sin. Right, because sometimes people think ‘Oh man I’m struggling with this, this must be a punishment” or something.
Well we know that pain is a signal to us that something is wrong. So sometimes depression can be a signal that something is (wrong).
When I was out of a season of depression and I would feel depressed it was because I probably wasn’t spending enough time with God. But depression itself isn’t innately a sin. And anxiety itself isn’t a sin.
So if you feel like you’re doing something wrong. No. That’s not it. We live in a world of struggles where this is real. We live in a world of brokenness. So its really important that you reach out and find a support system because its not you. It’s not your identity. But it is something that can kind of take over.
So just reach out and really allow God to do a work in your life even though its super messy. No, God can use whatever it is that you give him. If you ask him to use it, I guarantee he probably will.
If you would like to connect with Brenna you can email her at: Bjolarson@gmail.com
And if you would like to read her blog you can do so here
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