Bipolar by Koehler
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Bipolar by Köehler is the main story (in a larger collection) of a man whose life, beginning at age 30, was hijacked by Bipolar Syndrome. Using journal entries from that time, Koehler discusses how he survived this frightening and confusing illness using a combination of medication, support from his family and friends, and faith in God.
“Koehler decided to write “Bipolar” to help other people going through a similar experience or who have a family member with the illness…it is an open door into Koehler’s life…he addresses his audience directly and, at times, with a witty and humorous tone despite the seriousness of the subject.”
“Koehler’s emphasis on the value of medical treatment and faith provides an added note of optimism for those who promote a convergence of faith and science in the successful treatment of mental illness.”
Thomasine Cubine, MSW, LCSW,
Consultant in Mental Health Consumer and Family Affairs and Co-Author of the MESA Family Curriculum
“I keep my depression totally secret from everybody…I have been depressed, withdrawn and hurting and John’s book gave me an invitation to hope.”
“John Koehler is a real person with a real story. A story about faith and guts. A story that doesn’t give all the answers, but a story about what God can do in the struggle of mental illness. This story is not for the faint of heart. However, John has opened his heart and you will be challenged by his tale of grace.”
Michael Simone, D. Min.,
Senior Pastor, Spring Branch Community Church
“Bipolar by Koehler is a story of triumph over adversity that has meaning to anyone who has suffered a life crisis, fought substance abuse, or endured mental illness.”
Marjorie Campbell, PhD, LCP
“Bipolar by Koehler is at the same time too much and not enough! Experiencing the effects of this disorder from the inside out was horrifyingly fascinating. I’m so glad the funny, loving man prevails. It was the poems in your book that touched me the most – your feelings put to rhythm and rhyme. They are like a beacon cutting through the darkness, compelling and inspirational, breathtaking in their ability to touch the heart, to claim a truth. Thank you!”
Drugs, drugs, runnin’ round my brain,
Keeping me away from Mr. N Sane.
Watch my self runnin’ down the drain,
Hey, I’m cool, I can’t complain.
My name is John Koehler and I am a man. I am a Christian man. I am a Bipolar (BP) Christian man. I am a Bipolar Christian seasonal affective man. I am a Bipolar Christian seasonal affective white-bread, artistic (not autistic) middle-class 45-year-old man.
If you met me in person, you would probably like me, as I am a likeable guy. True enough, I have many moments of weirdness, and meanness, and certainly I have a strong showing in the Stupid Human Tricks category. But my disposition is, generally speaking, light and fun. I love to laugh and look for the silly side of life when at all possible. I think that grownups are way too serious and full of gloom. Ha! Look at me, talking about gloom and how grownups need to lighten up, when here I am writing about manic depression.
On the other hand, you might not like me, as I can be loud and obnoxious, I love practical jokes, like to drink beer with my friends and can carry on like a class A dork sometimes. But hey, I’m a guy, and somewhere it is written that all guys have to behave like a dork (class A) from time to time. (It’s the law, and who am I to challenge it?)
Whether you ever meet me in person or not, I think you are going to meet me through this story. It kind of scares me to share it with you. I feel a bit like my emotional undies are hanging out to dry, but since I really don’t embarrass much, I reckon it’s OK, and so I invite you in for a peek at what has happened to me, and how my God, my family and friends, and a few doctors and little pills, helped me to remain here a while longer to practice being a dork. Step back, people!
Diabetes Of The Brain
In 1988 I became mentally ill and suffered a severe depression that nearly killed me. Like, dead, over and done with, end of story, finis, done and gone. Eventually I would be diagnosed with manic depression, or Bipolar Syndrome, with a side of seasonal affective disorder as a garnish. It came to me out of left field, with no warning signs, no medical or emotional indicators that maybe I should run for cover, ‘cause son, you’re going down.
Over the course of many years, I have learned to live with this condition. I think of it as diabetes of the brain. A diabetic takes insulin and watches his diet and activity level. A BP boy like me takes Lithium or other medication, and does his best to surf through life in one piece and watch for the warning signs of mania and depression. While I would very much like to walk away from it, I can’t. I didn’t choose it. It chose me.
I am not complaining about this, nor am I looking for pity. Only understanding. I recognize the simple fact that every human being carries some kind of problem or difficulty around with them. We all have some kind of ‘cross to bear.’ I’m not looking for an award as to why my problem is worse or better than yours. This isn’t a contest. Trust me, you don’t want my problem, and I don’t want yours. Perhaps the things that we share can bring us together and the things we have in common can unite us. I don’t know.
We all have tough things we live with. We all have things that make us feel weak and make us feel tough. This is the story of my toughness and weakness and how, maybe, I’m much like you. And if not, you can have the satisfaction of saying, ‘Wow, I’m glad I’m not like him! Please God, don’t EVER let me become like him. But wait, he’s not really so bad, or so weird. And he tells an OK story. How messed up can he be?’
I’m not the crazy homeless guy on the corner who is so completely whacked out in his head that he can’t function beyond mere survival. I’m the crazy guy next door who for the most part is doing fine, thanks to medicine, family and God. You don’t even know I’m there, and that’s OK. Don’t be afraid. As Franklin Roosevelt said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Because I have a mental disorder, mental illness if you will, I have the right to say ‘crazy’ and ‘whacko.’ I have the right to joke about it, because I know it intimately. I own it, and it is mine to joke about. I do not worry about being politically correct. Having said that, I mean no offense by my words written here to anyone with a mental disorder of any kind, and offer you, in advance, peaceful apologies from a brother in arms.
Welcome to my Head
Hopefully this story will not be, in the words of my good friend Bill Ressler, a Buzz Kill. A buzz killer is someone who says or does something that profoundly reduces in a negative way the feeling within a group of people, usually in a social setting. Buzz in this case does not mean drug induced, but attitude and state of mind. It would be like being at a party, going up to a group of people who are laughing and carrying on and saying, “This party sucks.” That’s a buzz killer, and I hope that this story does not kill your buzz and maybe, just maybe, will help you build a better buzz. (Whatever you say, John.)
Being Bipolar, or manic-depressive, means living on a roller coaster and trying to find a way to flatten out the slopes. Manic moments can be profoundly beautiful and inspiring, while also turning you into a complete jerk. Depressive moments basically suck, but even they can be used, after you get over them, to balance and better understand all that is good and right in the world. The goal for BPs is to find and maintain a zone of normalcy that is neither too hot, nor too cold. Not too light, or too dark. Just right is hard to find, especially if you don’t live in a storybook.
Being Bipolar means accepting that you are living in a world where mentally ill people are, uh… crazy, and should be avoided! (Run for your lives!!) Actually, there’s probably, to date, never been a better time to be mentally ill! We have come a long way from the days of electro-shock therapy when someone who was diagnosed with manic depression might enjoy a life in a state institution. Goin’ to the Funny Farm. General public acceptance of mental illness has improved over the years, but a BP person is still marked as different. And we are, with a BP tattoo on our souls that doesn’t stand for British Petroleum. Perhaps in the future there will be no stigma to it at all. One can hope for all those who experience it “down the road” – our children and grandchildren. Or perhaps there will be a “cure” – anything’s possible, but for now, in the early years of the 21st century, we have to accept it, and cope with it.
Being Bipolar means doing your best to cover up your malady so that the world sees you mostly as “normal.” The beauty of this, of course, is that by the time your brain makes the switch to your new BP state, you ain’t normal no mo, bro. But you WISH to be normal, so you try try try to put on a good face and prove to the world that you are one of them, not one of those. But guess what? You already are one of those.
I am including journal entries from that point in my life, 1988-89, when I went down into the pit of depression and lost my life as I knew it. I began to keep the journal as a way to express and record what was happening to me. It is painful for me to go back now and see myself in the beginning without a clue as to what was happening. But also enlightening to me, to see how my faith wavered, then became strong, up and down she goes, where she stops, nobody knows. To see how I am the same and different, how I’ve grown. Or not grown. (Some things never change.)
Some of the journal entries have strong language. I originally wrote them purely for myself with no intention of sharing it with the world. Sometimes I showed my wife, but that’s about it. This was my PRIVATE journal. I have thought long and hard about whether or not to include the language. My pastor, Michael Simone, told me that the language may make it tough for some Christians to take. He was right! So I have changed the offensive words in this printing to !@#$%%!, the way they do it in cartoons.
I am not trying to be gratuitously rude, and I am not trying to shock you. Just trying to accurately share my state of mind at the time. The state of mind of a man with a brain illness.
What you read may upset you because it is strong. This book was not written to make those who do not suffer from brain illnesses feel good, but to honestly share my life in hopes of helping others like me, and their loved ones. For everyone else, open up your hearts and your minds and please leave your stereotypes at the door. No baggage allowed!
Consider yourself warned and read on at your own risk. (And welcome to my head.)
John Koehler - Owner & Publisher is a multi-talented, award-winning designer, entrepreneur, ministry volunteer, and author of three books. A 1980 graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University with a BFA in Communications Arts and Design, John went on to graduate studies at George Washington University, in Washington, DC.
After stints as Art Director at several DC area ad agencies, John started Koehler Studios Inc. in 1993. Since then, Kim Nelson joined the team as the Creative Director, and in 2010 bought the studio and re-christened it as Red Chalk Studios. John is a past president of the local Ad Club and is a member of The Noblemen, a fundraising group for kids.
John has also served with Young Life Capernaum in Hampton Roads, a ministry that serves kids with disabilities. Perhaps his best known accomplishment was winning the 1991 Boomerang World Championship in Perth, Australia. He was also a member of the Foster’s Boomerang 2000 Team, a touring demo team that taught the NFL, MLB and others the gospel of boomerangs. In 2005, John published his first book, Bipolar by Koehler, about living with bipolar syndrome. Since then, he has given many talks around the state and in schools to help people better understand how to survive brain illness and avoid suicide. In 2007, Koehler published Benjamin: the Road to Capernaum, a novel based on a crippled man in the Bible who was healed by a certain Jewish rabbi. His latest book is My Inflatable Heart, a series of short stories about Capernaum and life recollections.
Married since 1982 to his college sweetheart, Patty, an art teacher at Old Donation Center for the Gifted and Talented, John is the proud father of Kimmi and Danielle and grandfather to Lilli and Eli. John lives and works in Virginia Beach, Virginia.