Living with Bipolar: How I Found Hope without Fully Healing

Published: Mar 30, 2022
Living with Bipolar: How I Found Hope without Fully Healing

My diagnosis of a mental health disorder was a shock and a relief. I would come to know that I would not be healed, but I could manage. Ultimately that was hope.

The entire idea of being so messy and feeling so broken was an evolving vexation and disappointment throughout my twenties. But by age thirty, I’d lived over eight years with an ever-growing attachment to fear. I still dreamed big dreams, but honestly, my hope was depleting daily.

I faced uselessness/meaninglessness, victimhood/villainy, and hopelessness. So, when my wife, Kariann, and I learned that I was a couple neurological chemicals shy of cool, calm, and collected, it made us sit up and pay close attention.

My diagnosis of a mental health disorder was a shock and a relief. I would come to know that I would not be healed, but I could manage. Ultimately that was hope.

Diagnose Me

The day my professional medical team, Elizabeth “Libbi” Hamilton, Ph.D., and Arvilla Claussen, RN PMHNP, told me they were diagnosing me with bipolar II disorder, I was overwhelmed with relief. To a great degree, the relief I felt was due to how this powerful medical partnership framed the information about bipolar II disorder and the future.

“My diagnosis had been a long time coming and was also a relief in many significant ways. Most of all, it gives me context to all the mental wreckage and practical heartache I seem to be creating for myself and my family. Having a definite diagnosis is, for me, a gift, not a death march. This puts so many things into a different context.” —My journal, 2006

After leaving their office that afternoon, I remember cruising back toward our new house in Newberg, Oregon, the entire forty-five-minute drive home was full of relief and, “It makes so much sense now!” exclamations by both Kariann and me. We were exceptionally grateful to finally have an appropriate label to place on my “issues.”

Bipolar Basics

Bipolar is a disorder with a spectrum of intensities; bipolar I is more intense than bipolar II. I should quickly explain bipolar II disorder at its most basic level, the way I experience it. This mood disorder causes me to fluctuate between emotional highs and emotional lows. Bipolar II disorder is caused by insufficient levels of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Maybe you’ve heard of chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine? These chemicals make a distinct impact on a person’s ability to manage stress, anxiety, mood, sleep, appetite, memory, and even muscle movement, among other things. And the fluctuation of these chemicals can cause me to bounce high or drop deep emotionally. These variations can happen over hours, but they generally occur throughout periods of two to four days at peak intensity levels. At their most volatile, it seemed cycles would occur within even periods of twenty-four hours or even less. There were times when my elevated or depressed period lasted for many weeks at a time. In my case, after a period of feeling emotionally sunny and chirpy, I would almost always modulate to lower levels of emotional intensity over a couple of days’ time.

It would function a bit like a period of recovery. Occasionally, the switch between one extreme and the other would feel instantaneous. It was so confusing. But as I became medicated, these episodes spaced out and became less pronounced in intensity.

Dedication to Medication

Bipolar II disorder became a crisis that gave God an opportunity to reveal what He could do to save me and make me more heroic like Him. Learning to be dedicated to my medication was part of that opportunity.

I found balance and health in medication.

I realized almost immediately that I would do nearly anything at all to not become the sick person I had been again. If proper dedication to medication would help me never again have to endure the same type of calamity, and I was still able to keep the hero dream alive, then you bet your life I was willing to heartily embrace and accept prescription drugs for their role in keeping me balanced and healthy.

Metaphorically, the medication I started taking in 2006 was as much or more connected to doing or taking anything legal and prescribed by Arvilla to put the corpse of my all-American, God-fearing heroic Frankenstein back together—it’s what I expected of myself, after all. I still believed it was my hero duty to identify my issues and drag myself along, even if I didn’t feel like it.

I didn’t think I had to fight the battle for balance all alone anymore. I had a team, a great team that cared.

So, the trick for a professional medical team like Libbi and Arvilla was to work together with Kariann and me to introduce medication that would help me find a healthy baseline of stability with the proper prescriptions and then fine-tune the doses from there. The ultimate goal was not to eliminate but to shrink or flatten the peaks and raise the valleys to achieve a much more manageable unpredictability level.

Thank God, my dedication to medication made the unpredictable, well, more predictable.

Never Fixed. Never Healed.

Altering my lifestyle and following dedication to medication allowed me to achieve a massive measure of health over the years.

I was a man who had bipolar II disorder, and I learned it would be a severe mistake to believe I was fixed or healed.

The biggest mistake I could’ve made would have been to assume the medication I took to bring the chemicals in my brain into a healthy balance confined or restricted God. It would have been foolish to believe the medication I took removed His ability to actually restore my health. Foolish!

See, the thing was, I wasn’t limiting God by saying, “I’ll never be healed.” What I was saying was “I’ll never allow myself to believe, ‘Wow. I feel so good. I’m all better now! I don’t need to take my medication anymore.’” No! I knew what life was like on the other side of medication —or, on the other side of the wrong medication. Those were both terrible places for me. When I was in those nasty places, it was nasty times for those I loved.

In the same way that you and I need air, food, and water to survive, I always needed my medication to be healthy—and I still do! Jesus took the opportunity and used my need for medication to guide me to health successfully. My prescribed drugs were—and remain—the key to that success. It wasn’t a concession to worldly ways either. Good grief, my dedication to medication was one of the fundamental pillars the Great Hero, Jesus Christ, used to alter the daily bad habits I was struggling to overcome in the first place, to alter my lifestyle—to make me more heroic as He is heroic.

No, I was not fixed or healed, but I was better. I was way better. Libbi and Arvilla were right. It took time and dedication—it took real trust and hope—but medication worked. My dedication to medication worked. And I found that place that was good enough. I was not fixed. I was not healed. But I was healthy.

You Don’t Heal. You Manage.

Since I was a child, I had believed winning made me heroic. I believed losing made me a heroic fraud, maybe even a villain. So how could I win and be a hero when I was in a battle with an unbeatable mental disorder? I was too broken, too sinful, too wrecked to win—this was the absolute truth.

Defeating bipolar II disorder was wishful thinking from the very beginning. It was never about winning. 

It didn’t take long for Libbi to set me straight:

“You don’t heal from bipolar disorder, Scott. You manage it. You will always need to manage it. For the rest of your life, you must manage it. Your life is now, more than ever, about obedience. Obedience to Jesus will lead you to health.”

I hope to never forget this advice Libbi gave me. It’s a critical part of my story. It’s also one of the great and wonderful ways God allowed my struggle with heroism to intersect with my desire to understand my mental disorder, my faith, and my worship. The link between the pursuit of Jesus and the reflection of Jesus was continually getting tighter. Humble obedience was the coupling.

In context, what Libbi was saying was this: the new rules for living my life would not be about healing my heroic Frankenstein but about disciplining myself to hope, expect and find rest in faithfully knowing and following, pursuing and reflecting Jesus—obediently.

“ . . . The healing Jesus will bring into your life will come in how you choose to manage your sickness obediently.” —Elizabeth Hamilton, Ph.D.

Faithful obedience as a friend of Jesus became the primary prerequisite for my potential health of mind, body, and spirit.

My bipolar disorder forced my personal opinions and preferences about life—heroism and worship especially—not to matter anymore. Bipolar didn’t care about my views. Bipolar didn’t care about what I thought about it—it just was. So, because these things were true, I needed to adjust, or I would continue to deal with the consequences of being stubborn. This is how I found hope in Jesus, without fully healing from bipolar II disorder. 

Heroic Disgrace is available on Audible, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Target. Additional information about Box is found through his ministry, Worship Hero, on Facebook, Instagram, and

About Scott W. Box

Scott W. Box is the founder of the ministry, Worship Hero. Box’s mission is to change the way people understand and practice worship by providing tools to "Pursue Jesus. Reflect Jesus." as a habit leading to hope; to live lifestyles of heroic disgrace. He lives in Central Oregon with his wife, Kariann, daughter, Ainsley, and son, Titus. They share their home with a four-pound dog that has no teeth.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Lorenzo Antonucci