A Time to Tear and a Time to Mend (Article 8)

swirly girl

Here’s a name you won’t easily forget : Flavil Yeakely (long “a” sound on both names).

Flavil Yeakely is a psychologist who visited the Boston church circa 1983, and, to Kip’s later regret, administered the Myers-Briggs Personality Test to almost all of the 900+ church members, including the top leaders, staff, and ministry interns. He asked that we take the test three times: first, as we would’ve answered five years ago, prior to becoming ‘disciples’; then, as we currently thought; and finally, how we’d anticipate answering the questions five years in the future. Most of the members completed at least two versions of the test, and among staff and interns, I believe there was 100% compliance. Flavil’s intentions? He wanted to investigate whether our personalities had changed under the influence of the discipling process.*

Once the results were tabulated, the answer was strongly in the affirmative: the majority of members showed evidence of evolving or changed personality types, moving closer to that of our leader. (According to Myers-Briggs, personality type is as fixed as the color of our eyes, and influencing change is like forcing a left-handed child to be right-handed: it’s difficult, unnatural, and can lead to deeper issues further down the road). In fairness, many of the current and future evangelists (among them many future World Sector Leaders) appeared to have started out with similar personality types. But others had undergone great changes over the five year period. I was among the few on staff (Kip’s wife, Elena, was another) who was on the opposite end of the spectrum, and had remained so. Then Flavil further analyzed his data among the staff, focussing on two particular couples.

Kip and Elena were almost polar opposites on the Myers-Briggs scale, drawing a collective gasp from all of us. “But”, Flavil teased, “there is one other couple who are as opposite on the scale as it’s possible to be. And they’ll have an awesome marriage one day, if they don’t kill each other first!”

Guess who that was? Yup, me and my polar-opposite honey-bear, Henry. And we have almost killed each other at various times during our tumultuous 32-years-and-counting marriage. It’s been a wild ride of love, adventure, passion, anguish, absurdity, and panic – Six Flags has NOTHING on the Crazy Kryptonic Rock-em-Sock-em Kriete Couple-Challenged Coaster of Life (limited edition)!

Here are the touchstones that have kept us together. Foremost is the grace of God and our tender vows before Him to marry for life, sight unseen. Secondly, our love for God, each other, people and the ministry, all of which drew us together in the first place, have remained central over the years. And of course, having children we love beyond measure also constrained us to endure even through the hardest of times.

But our marriage has never been easy (beyond the first honeymoon-quality year), and Flavil was right: it must be so much easier to coexist with someone who communicates and experiences life much the same way. Henry and I will likely never know that easy, effortless harmony. But. We are hugely looking forward to that final, promised stage of our awesome union, after we’ve run out of Strong Opinions, Misinterpretations, and all the other communication faux pas that trip us up.

So in some ways the cards were stacked against us from the get-go. Our differences certainly intensified when each of us started struggling with our own mental health issues, and we needed extra grace as we suffered individually and together through that “better or worse, in sickness and in health” clause of our wedding vows.

Here’s some of that story.

For many years, we commended ourselves for the uncanny way we took turns being ‘up’ or ‘down’. We always alternated. On some level we must have known this was essential for handling life and the ministry together, and for a long time, it worked. The ‘up’ partner would give the downer space and grace to wallow a while, with a measure of empathy but an implicit expiry date. The real problems started when we both hit the skids at the same time. OUCH.

Henry has shared a bit on Gloriopolis about his fairly recent (four years ago) diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I’d like to clarify some of that disclosure. Henry has a variation of Bipolar II Mixed State, a less-common form called cyclothymia. This version is characterized by less-extreme highs and lows. For example, Henry has never had a classic ‘manic’ cycle that involves reckless behaviour like wild spending or infidelity/ immorality. He does, however, have the ‘highs’ of dreaming big and super-creativity (along with losing touch with the normal world around him), and the ‘lows’ of clinical depression. He is also a very rapid cycler; this means (untreated) his moods can completely change, without warning, several times during the course of a day or even a conversation. The manic side can quickly flip into irritability and anger, and no one, including himself, can predict which mood is coming next. Thus, the roller coaster analogy.

As for many, many people with bipolar disorder, it took years before Henry was correctly diagnosed and treated. What usually happens is that individuals with bipolar first seek treatment for depression. The heightened euphoria of a manic state doesn’t merit their concern – they feel great at most points of the manic cycle, regardless of the opinions and perspective of those closest to them. So they end up being treated only for depression. Disastrously, taking anti-depressant medication when bipolar only worsens the condition over time, to the consternation of everyone involved. By the time the real diagnosis is reached, a lot of damage and pain has flooded their lives. This is what happened with us.**

The diagnosis can be both a shock and a relief. Before the diagnosis, the personality of the bipolar individual is so intrinsic to how we’ve always known them that we miss recognizing the disease. After the fact, everything starts to make sense. Like Henry, these folks tend to be brilliant, creative and emotionally expressive. They come up with amazing ideas and concepts; they’re engaging and artistic and original. And we love them for it – until we can’t take the peaks and valleys, or the rapid-cycling, or the self-absorption (guilty as charged with unipolar depression, too) anymore. Once the puzzle is solved, the journey to healing is just beginning. It’s often very difficult for the newly-diagnosed to accept their condition. Sometimes denial and non-compliance with treatment goes on for several more years before acceptance comes. Only then can the first step of healing begin.

The treatment for bipolar disorder has no one-size-fits-all remedy: there are many combinations of medications, dosages, lifestyle changes and therapy to try before arriving at an effective treatment package. There are unwanted side-effects, of course, and the sad reality that creative highs will be forever blunted by the life-saving medication. There’s the understandable tendency to feel ‘cured’ after a while, and go off the treatment in a quest to be ‘normal’, or to re-experience the creative euphoria. There’s the hindsight of realizing how the illness has wreaked havoc in relationships and life, and the pain of being unable to go back and fix the past. Of course, there’s also the stigma of wearing the label “bipolar”, still a greatly misunderstood and maligned condition, fraught with baggage. There’s the sadness of letting go of certain dreams, and the sobering reality of having to live a scheduled, disciplined, circumscribed life from now on. And I’m sure those of you who’ve been touched by or afflicted with bipolar disorder can add many more stages, liabilities, and losses to my incomplete list.

So. What was it like living with an undiagnosed, rapid-cycling spouse? It’s a tired cliché, but it’s the best I know: like living in a barb-wired, booby-trapped minefield, with the lights down low. What was it like living with an undiagnosed, rapid-cycling spouse when I was in the dregs of my own clinical depression? Like living in a barb-wired, booby-trapped minefield, engulfed in suffocating darkness and endless rain. Throw in a teenage daughter with classic ADHD and her own mood disorder, and it’s like dropping three post-traumatic-stress-disordered guerilla fighters with unspecified alliances into the already explosive, adrenaline-charged scene. Add one more soldier: a young adult family member with his own history of losses, and you’ve got a full-blown psychological war, conducted by absent, misguided generals and fought between best friends.

So, yeah, it’s been unbelievably hard. Even Flavil Yeakely, thirty years ago, had no idea what lay ahead for the most mismatched – but potentially blessed — couple on staff. Yet against all odds, we’ve made it through. And we’ve learned some precious lessons along the way, in the hands-on, cutting-edge way that such lessons are usually taught.

Here are eight best lessons we’ve learned:

1. Everyone has his/her own journey of facing one’s personal limitations and mental health conditions, and deciding what to do with that knowledge. Pray and be patient. But it’s fair to point out, gently, how their actions are affecting the family dynamic. (See # 5)
2. Sometimes the best we can do is extend grace and acceptance to each other, wherever things are at, and hope for the same in return. (But don’t always count on it!)
3. All finger-pointing must stop.
4. Likewise with all reflexive, destructive and negative reactive behaviour. If however you respond is making things worse, stop doing it!
5. There are terrible times to initiate difficult conversations, and there are better times. Wait for a better time.
6. Mercy triumphs over judgement.
7. Above all, love one another deeply, from the heart.
8. Love covers a multitude of sins (and unintentional, dysfunctional behaviour).

If you’re a member of the millions of families affected by some form of mental illness, you’ll easily grasp what I’ve been discussing. I hope this is helpful, and that you’ll share your insights to encourage all of us.

If you’re lucky enough to be part of a high-functioning, highly compatible, emotionally strong and nurturing family, consider yourself richly blessed, and spare some compassion for the rest of us. Please don’t boast or brag about your good fortune, or make us feel like losers compared to your enviable circumstances – mercy triumphs over judgement! And remember that wise old saying:

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Notes:

Here’s a related link worth checking out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_with_bipolar_disorder

*You can read all about this study by Googling Flavil’s full name.

**Henry is doing great these days, as am I, with the help of the right treatment and the healing power of grace, love, and the Holy Spirit.

22 replies »

    • Marilyn,
      Thank you for sharing this part of your families lives. I know very personally about bi polar disorder as we have experienced so much in my family. The more you understand the better you can fight against the problem. It has been a very long, painful road in my family. Since so many people do not understand what you are going through you can feel very isolated and alone! Reading your story and hearing you share with me personally on the phone last week makes me feel like I am not alone! Thank you …I love reading each chapter! Roxanne

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      • Hi Roxanne, I’m still smiling whenever I think about our LONG conversation! I know you can relate to so much of this, and hope this article can help others who know your family, too. Much love, always.

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  1. Marilyn, you are not alone in dealing with the bipolar chaos. Our family has been sifted, shattered and scattered by mental illness. It is a delicate balance especially in my public articles and is why I don’t write directly about it. I realize that their personal information outweighs the good that may come of my sharing. All 3 have children and the problems are escalating exponentially…. I say to let you know you’re not alone.

    We understand and truly feel with you. There is so much more to the physically challenged ministry than just physical. It includes all aspects of suffering and is independent from any organization, though we still remain friends with all who will have us.

    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

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    • Bill, I appreciate your comments. I know this is an issue that affects many people, and it always helps to know that others have been there, are still there, and understand.

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  2. Thanks for sharing … I thought we were the only ones …
    Years ago you came to Athens to adopt your daughter and we met … actually I picked out a “mom” necklace for you that was a gift from our church to you. My husband and I also adopted from India … and 11 year old boy. I love you guys from afar and always have …
    thanks for the story.

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  3. Hello Marilyn thank you againfor your honesty and vulnerability concerning you and your family my sister was affected greatly by cancer at a very young age somewhere between high school in college she was affected also greatly by mental illness mental illness is something that affects your whole family it brings out the best and worst in your other siblings not only is it difficult for the person with mental illness but also for the siblings as their character flaws and weaknesses are exposed and not knowing how to deal with the one with mental illness or sometimes not wanting to deal with the mental illness at all don’t get me wrong we all do our best to love each other but we are quite a dysfunctional family. my sister was valedictorian in high school she was very smart but she had a nervous breakdown after high school and has never fully recovered from it the cancer she had at a young age affected her physically appearance and she had many operations from the age of 18 to maybe the age of 30 which also affected have physical appearance although she was very independent as a young woman eventually she could no longer work and had to rely on subsidized housing and all the benefits that this country offers for those who truly need it the most she presently lives in an assisted living home with many other people who need help she has many friends from many different religious backgrounds and faiths some of her friends a wealthy some are middle class and some are poor but the one thing they have in common is they all love my sister and helper as much as they can my sister cares very deeply for the poor and less fortunate people in the world she needs clothes for poor people she’s very passionate about the rights of unborn children she used to go on a lot of walks for hunger and cancer she can’t do that so much anymore every couple of months she throws a party at a local restaurant usually about 20 people show up some of them are blind some obviously have mental illness some are wealthy many of them are poor I must admit I feel quite comfortable there in the midst of all the chaos that goes on at her Restaurant get togethers truly the best and worst seem to come out in all of us there the wait staff is usually frazzled and exhausted by the time we leave but I love going there and I’m looking forward to the next one in a couple of months I love my sister and I know if you guys met her you would love her too please pray for her you don’t have to mention her name God knows who you’re praying for pray that she will make it to heaven she believes in God I hope God does have mercy on her and bring her to heaven someday

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    • Hi Joe, Your sister sounds like an amazing person! I wish I could meet her. She’s been thru so much, yet still has the heart and compassion to reach out to others. Thanks for sharing a little bit of her story with me and the readers!

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  4. I read that book by Flavil in 1992. It was given to me by some friends in the Traditional Church to help me consider my initial involvement with the ICoC. Some things that ring true and others that reflected his biases. It gave me a healthy skepticism of warning signs. Didn’t know of your involvement with that study.

    Finding solutions to the various long-term issues in your family must be incredibly freeing! I’m glad for all of you that answers are being found and relationships among you are being repaired.

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    • Good to hear from you, Scott. It is freeing to be at the stage we’re in now — on the mend, and much more aware. Thanks for your comments!

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  5. Marilyn. This post. And post 7 about the sewing mess. And the poem re getting off the ministry train are My favorites and most relateable by far. Reading this came at perfect time for me. We love u and Henry so much. I am so grateful for how God has worked in your lives and brought u thru so many victories. But we must be in the desert. In the lions den. Sinking in the sea waves in order to truly appreciate Gods saving grace. Gods rescue. Gods power in our lives –the amazing way that love covers the multitude of our sins

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    • Hey there, Brenda… I’m glad you connected with the articles/poem you mentioned. Hope our paths will cross again someday, some way.

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    • You are welcome. I know there are so many of us who have been touched by this illness, and the more we talk about it, the less frightening it is.

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  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you Marilyn Kriete for writing this and Henry Kriete for allowing her to write this. This made me cry inside because it was so comforting to me that you guys can relate to my struggles and shared about it. I am ADHD and OCD and on all kinds of medicines for these things and other medicines because of some of the side effects of these medicines, etc. and I often find myself walking around feeling like a “loser” for having to be on so many medicines. In fact, I was feeling very down about this today (until I read your article). THANK GOD FOR YOU TWO (and I am so sorry you guys have had to suffer the way you have, suffering beyond what many people ever have to suffer..I have experienced the deep chemical based depression that can result when the antidepressants even out the serotonin in the brain and at various other times and that’s a hardest thing ever to go through. That serotonin stuff doesn’t play!). One thing I am realizing more and more recently is the need to be open with each other about these type of things. It’s so hard to share about these things too because we may be judged unfairly or people may look down on us or misunderstand us and our conditions. I think the big need (for me at least) is comfort and you guys writing about your own struggles in this area is exactly what this does for me. Comforts my soul. Hopefully, me sharing that I struggle with these things can comfort you too! The other thing that is hard is that its so hard to find comfort about this because sometimes other people can’t really relate (or aren’t being open with their own things) and the internet will send you through hell and back before possibly giving a morsel of comfort about these matters. So sorry for going on and on but if you get nothing else out of my post, know that you have greatly comforted a brother in Christ. Thank you…

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    • I’m so happy that this article comforted you, and your heartfelt response comforts me, too. Openess is so vital, even though some people can have unkind and uncomprehending responses…But those of us who have ‘been there’ need to stick together and keep talking!

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  7. My diagnosis of Major Depression has led me to working in the mental health field. I have learned so much from coping skills to eradicating the stigma. There’s an organization in the U.S. called NAMI that offers great support to the person with a mental health disorder and there is also support for the family members. Sort of like Al-a-Non. I recommend this as an excellent resource to anyone who it applies to. Just GOOGLE it. Don’t know if they are in Canada.

    Thank you for sharing. It is not an easy thing to do. I too have shared openly in my Ministry in the hopes of helping others with a mental diagnosis or who are in denial to seek help because of stigma etc… The disease is different for every one so a blanket statement that it can be managed doesn’t always apply. But for me and many of my clients, we’ve learned coping skills and the pursuit of Wellness.

    Much love and support.
    G,.

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    • I’m sure you have a lot of knowledge about all these issues thru the work you do, as well as your own experiences. Thanks for your comments and your referral to NAMI — hope others reading this blog can be helped thru that support group. I haven’t heard of it in Canada, but will do some Googling soon!

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  8. Dear Marilyn…I am just so grateful for your brutal and refreshing honesty. Alex & I have thought of you and Henry much over the years. Alex still shares with many men just how much of a positive and encouraging brother and friend Henry was to him and so many other brothers who were in great need of male friendships. Henry seem to grasp how important it was just to hang out and be together. I too have such fond memories of you and your love and warmth for everyone you came into contact with. You were both such pillars of faith and a great encouragement to so many. You continue to be loved and admired after all these years! We love you very much and are so grateful to have had our paths cross in this life.

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    • Yes, Henry knows how to be a great friend, as well as having many other natural gifts and abilities! You and Alex are on my mind so much lately in light of your new family!! I want to recommend an amazing documentary called “The Dark Matter of Love”, about an American couple who adopted three children from Russia at the same time. Very inspiring AND very realistic! Hope you can find time to watch it… I know you must be super-busy right now!

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