Karen’s Story: I had fallen apart several times. But at the age of 39, I shattered into a million pieces. I call this time “my exile.”
I have bipolar disorder. The symptoms began in my late teens and worsened over time while I remained under-diagnosed for two decades, waiting for resolution. But God worked in the waiting.
As a neuroscientist, I had studied the biological basis of psychiatric disease. When I suffered from the very disease I studied, I knew it was not my fault. From the age of 30, management of my illness eluded me, and treatment for OCD and anxiety worsened my undiagnosed bipolar symptoms. At age 39, I finally reached a crisis point in a manic episode, which dropped precipitously into a suicidal depression marked by a devastating decline in my cognition. I had no choice but to resign from my job. My life fell apart overnight.
During this first phase of my exile, depression stole my motivation and energy. I also suffered a running injury, obliterating my ability to manage my emotions, my need to achieve, and my eating disorder. My self-esteem was consumed by lies of worthlessness. Sleep eluded me day and night. I wept endlessly.
My thoughts raced at blurring speeds even while my body moved in slow motion, and my intellect dulled. Constant agony yanked me into the black whirlpool swirling in my chest, dragging me ever downward into painful emotional and physical sensations. Thoughts of suicide assaulted me—like black birds attacking my face. I strayed into moments of psychosis when my thoughts and impressions broke with reality. In my backyard, huge earthworms crawled over my feet and turned into vipers in my mind. Everything terrified me. And the worst part—I could not feel God’s presence for the first time in my living memory.
But God remained with me, working in the waiting, providing for me at every level. I found a book I had bought for my husband over a decade before: Chuck Swindoll’s Job: A Man of Heroic Endurance. On the dedication page, Swindoll addresses those “going through times of great suffering…”
“Like Job, you have been unable to understand why.
Like Job, you have not deserved the affliction, but the pain continues.
Like Job, you have prayed for answers and waited for God to bring relief.
Neither has occurred.
You sometimes wonder, ‘Where is God?’
He remains silent and seems aloof.
Nevertheless, you faithfully endure…” 
These words soothed me. Yes, God finds no fault with me! Yes, I wait in vain for relief! Yes, God remains silent and aloof—the most painful part. But Swindoll points out that God does not punish Job nor leave him alone. During times of great pain, God’s presence seems absent even though it remains. In these times He demonstrates in other ways that He abides closer than ever.
I realized God was using other means to show me He was there. He had spoken to me through Swindoll’s book. My husband loved and supported me in amazing ways. God provided friends who helped me know when to admit myself to the hospital. God stayed by my side, and He proved it time and again.
In his book, Swindoll says to “hold all things loosely,” enabling me to let go of what I could see and re-focus on the unseen things of God. I could turn my eyes upon Jesus, the source of life and the light of all humankind (John 1:4). My identity rests only in my Savior Jesus. Nothing else defines me—not my illness, not my marriage, not my career or money or worldly status or body image. Only Jesus.
My exile opened an avenue into my inner self where Jesus met me—spiritually, emotionally, physically, financially—on every plane of my life. He taught me to trust Him completely. Faith means trusting in Jesus before He provides a way out or an answer to my problems. Faith means putting one foot in front of the other, especially when I can’t see. Faith means trusting God with my suffering because it glorifies Him and serves my good.
Now, 7 years into my exile, I still suffer daily, but I have experienced healing. I have come so far since my darkest moments that I now carry a full course load as a graduate student at Dallas Theological Seminary—to the praise of God!
I also encourage others with mental illness and help family members who cannot relate to their loved ones. Those with mental illness often don’t have words to describe their anguish. Because of my experiences, I can help bridge that gap by providing the language of pain. And I glory in my continued suffering because God has convinced me He is good—always and in all things.
Suffering bestows great rewards when we let God work in the waiting.