Living with Bi-Polar and the Jehovah's Witness Church.
By Susan Banner Todd on June 19, 2014
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.