Living with Bi-Polar and the Jehovah's Witness Church.

James K Phillips took his own life just 4 days short of his 55th birthday leaving behind four confused adult children.  Jim had divorced yours truly ten years earlier because I wasn’t any fun.  That statement alone lends to his mental state.  Jim was Bi-Polar, rapid cycler and nonmedicated.  Too further add to the mix was the fact that he was an Elder in the Jehovah’s Witness Church.  I don’t know their current stand on mental health presently but at the time, their Governing Body did not hold with mental health issues. 

On Father’s Day of this year, my two daughters did their father honor in a Facebook stream.  No mother was prouder to see their process of coming to a place that they could see past the horror to the good.

As proud as I am, I remember, as a mother, the horror.  We always referred to his manic days as the ‘good’ mood and his depressed days as the ‘bad’ mood.  The threat wasn’t as obvious at first.  He was the fun parent and I came across as the task master.  As time went on, and his swing between bad and good became blurred, happening more often, closer together before the ‘good’ would make its brief appearance.

As a mother, I can only relate the intensive indescribable fear I felt whenever I buckled my children’s seat belts in the car.  Yes, I was an avid seat belt person long before it came into law and as you can imagine my home made child safety restraints were really not up to par.  You want to talk fear?  Jim’s favorite fun thing to do was go through red lights.  It is only by the most Divine or whatever you perceive God to be that we survived that little fun activity.  How about the time we were out in the door to door work and he decided that it would be fun to jump the irrigation ditch?  We were miraculously saved by another car group of witnesses who happened to be in the area; nothing like the standard witness coffee break to save the day.  The list goes on…  quitting one job after another, writing one check without funds after another, giving our son alcohol as a baby for his general entertainment and I won’t even go into his idea of teaching us all a ‘lesson’.  Weeks could go by and he wouldn’t utter a word because….  One day he’d get up and he couldn’t stop laughing.  Everything was funny.  It is only the safety of my children that overrides the sadness I felt for his behavior.  My awareness of danger heightened on a trip to Spokane.  He pulled into oncoming traffic and looked over at me with the clear blue eyes of a man I did not recognize.  “I can kill us all and there wouldn’t be anything you can do about it.”  He swerved at the very last minute.  I looked at my four children in the back seat, reading, with their newly acquired sunglasses anticipating the adventure of visiting their grandparent’s house and I started to cry uncontrollably as he told my children, “Your mother’s nuts!”

My role in this scenario comes clearer as time moves forward.  I, too, was once a member of the Jehovah’s Witness church; born and bred with very little, if any, exposure to the real world.  In my world of religious piety, you went to the Body of Elders as you would approach the judicial system in our country.  I’d been to the Body of Elders many times but it would always go the same way.  I’d come across as an emotional female who clearly didn’t know her place and Jim would deny and if that didn’t work he'd laugh and say he was just joking. My reputation as an emotional rigid stick in the mud grew without restraint. The brothers would lovingly <insert eye roll here> council me by reading endless bible texts on how to be a better wife.  I would go to more doors, put in long hours in the attempt to convert more folks, cook better and more elaborate dinners, keeping an exceptionally clean house while I waited for the one called Jehovah to sweep in and save the day.

I would like to end this on a philosophical note, if I may.  It is my belief that every situation, no matter how tragic is an opportunity for change that leads to growth.  I make it a habit to look to the benefits and I will agree that sometimes that can be difficult.  One of my daughters is a top notch Art Therapist that works with Wounded Warriors and a Breast Cancer Support group.  She has told me many times that every time she deals with addition or substance abuse and starts to get discouraged, she thinks of her dad and it motivates her to move forward.  My baby still searches for what’s her own and is deeply affected by a father who was distant, at the very least.  I’m so proud of her because she searches with compassion and caring.  My son struggles with his health but continues moving forward making me proud at every moment.  Always my son and always concerned for his mother.

Me? I left the Jehovah’s Witness church well over twenty years ago.  I send the people love and light and know it is not them that I have removed myself from but from the rigid black and white every changing organization.  There have been consequences; there are moments when I feel alone, I am shunned, I struggle with abandonment, and obviously I have serious trust issues.  The upside is that three of my children stand with me.  I play the ‘would have, should have, what if’ game on occasion; leaving unanswerable questions rolling around in my mind to no practical avail.

On Father’s Day of this year, my two daughters did their father honor in a Facebook stream.  No mother was prouder to see their process of coming to a place that they could see past the horror to the good.

At this writing Jehovah’s Witnesses still shun and consider those who have left the Organization as mentally diseased.  According to some of my contacts, the Organization still does not support mental health (not verified).  This writer still asserts that we show love and compassion to all humanity including that which is uncomfortable.  I embrace the members as they know not what they do and a brick is made.  A brick that leads to the building of understanding and compassion for all humanity regardless of their belief system

Susan Banner Todd


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