Perseverance and managing bipolar disorder. I have to admit that even after 24 years of navigating bipolar, those two words don’t naturally go hand in hand for me.
I’ll be honest here. I have spent most of my life being a quitter. In the past, when I was faced with the adversity, nine times out of ten, I would buckle under the pressure.
I hated it because I knew that to do anything of substance in life, you must endure and learn from obstacles. You must keep getting up when life knocks you down.
Perseverance plays an even more critical role when you are managing a serious mental illness like bipolar disorder. It then becomes not if life knocks you down, but when life knocks you down.
So, what do you do when bipolar disorder rears its ugly head and disrupts your life? Do you crawl into the fetal position and give up? Or do you ride out the storm and get back up and take the next step?
How can you learn to persevere while managing bipolar disorder?
Let’s unpack James 1:2-4 verse by verse to see what this scripture teaches us about perseverance.
Trials are Inevitable
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2 NIV)
Trials are inevitable. They are a necessary part of life.
I know what you are thinking. Trials are necessary! Is she crazy? But how would we build character if we walked comfortably through our entire life?
When you add bipolar disorder to the mix, it magnifies trials. And unlike most people, when life gets hard, your first thought may be: I wish I was dead. That’s my first thought more times than I would like to admit.
Bipolar disorder tells you it is better to die than press on. But you have to fight against your biology. The way a person who has bipolar approaches trials is that much more important for this reason.
You don’t have to like trials, but you have to remember the only way to move forward in life is to actually move forward. To get anywhere worth going, you must develop your perseverance muscle, so your first instinct isn’t to give up when the symptoms of bipolar disorder are overwhelming.
Faith and Perseverance Go Hand in Hand
“…because you know that the testing of faith produces perseverance” (James 1:3 NIV).
Nothing has tested my faith more than living with bipolar disorder. I have had stretches of stability that erupted into an avalanche of symptoms that brought me to a breaking point.
I have questioned God’s motives in allowing me to have bipolar. I have wondered where God was when I battled the worst seasons of my bipolar disorder journey.
I have had times when I was like Jacob, wrestling with God all night.
Everyone’s faith is tested. It is your response to the test that is important.
You have two choices when bipolar disorder tests your faith. You can give up and search for something else to believe in, or you can dig your heels in and fight.
Muscles Need Exercise
“Let perseverance finish its work…” (James 1: 4a NIV)
Letting perseverance finish its work is the part that would trip me up every time. I wanted to move on before I finished the trial. But learning to persevere takes practice.
I mentioned earlier that perseverance is like a muscle. How do muscles grow and become strong? You develop them over time.
First, you lift light weights, then you build endurance, and finally you continue to challenge that muscle by adding more weight to your workout.
It’s no different with developing your perseverance muscle. Letting perseverance finish its work is crucial. You can’t just persevere up to a point.
You must ride the trial out to its natural conclusion, learn the lesson, and apply it to your life.
The Prize for Persevering
“…so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4b NIV).
The prizes for persevering through trials and applying the lessons learned are maturity and completeness.
I long to be mature and complete, but I know it is an incremental process.
However, if you let perseverance finish its work, your character lacks nothing. You have the tools to face whatever obstacles bipolar disorder throws at you and take that next step.
Almost anyone can white knuckle it through a trial. I don’t know about you, but I want more. Because when you let perseverance finish its work, you get to the good stuff.
Perseverance and Managing Bipolar Disorder
Learning a lesson without applying it is like swallowing the seed and still expecting the crop to grow.
Application is essential. It does no good to endure a hardship if you don’t use that hardship to build a bridge to character growth and maturity.
How can we apply what we have learned about perseverance in James 1:2-4 to managing bipolar disorder?
Here are three practical applications to apply to perseverance and managing bipolar disorder.
1. Prepare yourself for battle through prayer and have a prayer warrior (or warriors) in place to pray for you when meaningful prayer seems impossible.
When you live with bipolar disorder, there are seasons of your life when you feel like you are at war. Your mind is not your own, and unrelenting symptoms weigh you down. It is only natural to feel all hope is gone and life is no longer worth living.
Those are the times when you must pull strength from a supernatural reserve, so you can press on. But how do you do that?
Ephesians 6:10-18 (ESV) reminds us we must prepare for battle by putting on the full armor of God. Being covered in prayer gives you the tools to cope with the inevitable trials of bipolar disorder.
When you are capable of meaningful prayer, do the heavy lifting yourself. But during those seasons when your mind is not your own, have a prayer warrior—or a group of prayer warriors—in place to pray for you, so when the challenges of bipolar come, you will be ready for the battle, and you will stand firm.
2. Set small achievable goals.
When you live with bipolar disorder, it often feels like you take two steps forward and three steps back. A challenge that feels like a speed bump to most people feel like a mountain to those of us who struggle with bipolar disorder.
When you are in the middle of an episode, even the smallest tasks seem impossible. Finding the energy to take a shower or cook a meal seems beyond you.
So, how do you press on and continue to function when all you want to do is stay in bed and cover your head?
That is where setting small achievable goals come in.
What does setting a small achievable goal look like? It is breaking up goals into smaller, more manageable steps that don’t overwhelm you.
Let’s say your house is a mess, but you don’t have the energy and focus to clean it. When that happens, set a timer for 10 minutes and pick one task to complete, like dusting or vacuuming one room.
Keep resetting the timer until your house is clean. It is perfectly okay if you can only finish one task a day. It’s a start, and you can build from there.
When you set small achievable goals, those small successes build on each other. Eventually, you will achieve the larger goal that seemed unattainable at first glance.
3. Find a perseverance partner who understands your struggles, so they can encourage you to keep going when you want to give up.
Bipolar disorder is a lonely disease. Many times, your loved ones want to help, but they don’t understand your struggles. They can’t comprehend how impossible it feels to even get out of your bed and into the shower.
It is difficult to understand what you haven’t experienced. That is why it is crucial to find like-minded people to talk to when you are amid a trying season.
Find someone you trust who has bipolar disorder or has done their homework and understands what you are up against. The right therapist or support group can be a lifesaver.
When you face a trial and are ready to give up, reach out to your support system for encouragement. Sharing your troubles with a trusted confidante helps take the darkness out of the difficulty and shines a light on the possibilities ahead.
And those who have faced similar struggles can remind you that there is hope, and the season of struggle will not last forever.
Perseverance and managing bipolar disorder are two words that may seem counterintuitive when used in the same sentence. I must admit that I still struggle with pressing on when I am entrenched in the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
James 1:2-4 breaks down the importance of persevering through tough seasons and provides you with the building blocks to strengthen your perseverance muscle, so you can stand firm, even when you are on unsteady ground.
Applying scripture to your present reality will not eliminate your struggles, or even lessen the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
What putting your faith in God’s word does is give you the tools to find hope in hopeless situations and supernatural strength to endure when you need it the most.
If you are looking for a safe, Christ-centered, interactive community where those who struggle with bipolar disorder—and those who love them—can and find support, encouragement, and hope, join my Facebook support group, The Light Brigade.
I don’t have all the answers, but I have 25 years of real-life experience navigating bipolar disorder. I promise I won’t try to fix you, but I will be there to sit in dark with you and remind you that brighter days are ahead, and you are not alone.
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