Medicine and Miracles
Tony & Andrew Cooke
This is Andrew’s story… his testimony about his journey through some serious mental health challenges and substance abuse issues. We hear a lot about “mental health” these days, and we are proud of our son for wanting to share his journey. Andrew is preparing to receive training in peer support to better help others struggling with some of life’s great challenges.
Maybe you have faced or are facing mental health challenges, or maybe someone you love does. I want to share some of my journey with you, and I desire that it will bring hope and insight to you. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008 when I was twenty-one years old. My journey has included inpatient care at different psychiatric facilities, seasons of substance abuse and rehab, bouts of paranoia, a brief period of homelessness, and being on various medications to help me manage this condition.
But my story isn’t all negative and traumatic; it also involves experiencing great love and mercy from God. I’ve discovered how much God can rebuild and restore our lives when we feel broken. I’ve learned that there is absolutely no life apart from Christ. Without the hope of God’s glory, there was nothing for me besides death and destruction.
I know God is real because He has graciously revealed Himself to me in so many ways and continues to do so. Scripture does not say “Hope and wish that He is good.” It says, “Taste and see that He is good” (Psalm 34:8). It’s an experiential encounter that is our inheritance. You may be reading this to better understand how to help others, but if you are struggling, I am praying that the power of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, overwhelms whatever is overwhelming your mind with perfect peace and healing.
After years of floundering, I am now part of a worship team at a great church, I work a regular job, and even though I still face challenges from this condition, I am trusting God, and doing all that I can spiritually and naturally to lead an overcoming life. Life is definitely much better for me now than it has been in times past.
Because my parents have been a part of this journey, I asked my dad to help me in getting my thoughts on paper. We both thought the best way to do this was for him to ask certain questions about what has happened in my life these last several years. So, the rest of this article will be in “interview” format.
Tony: Andrew, I think it’s great that you want to help people who may be facing mental health issues, as well as family members who love someone who is struggling. When people think of bipolar disorder, they think of intense mood swings. Has that been your experience? What is the manic side like, and what is the depressive side like?
Andrew: From the outside looking in, yes, I would say they would appear as very intense mood swings. It feels like a constant overwhelming of all the senses and information that can overflow in either direction. When the bipolar flares, I can be at a perpetual breaking point that can manifest in a manic or depressive response depending on the stimuli. My experience with bipolar kept me near the manic side of the spectrum and involves heavier swings. Being on the right meds has helped me significantly in this area. There is another condition call bipolar two which is characterized with milder swings and less intense manic episodes.
The deceptive thing about mania is that it felt really good—better than the high of being on heroin. One time I had been in a rehab facility for drugs and alcohol for a few months, but I had not been taking any medication to control the mania. My mind began working at a tremendously fast pace and my physical senses were delightfully on hyperdrive. So, the fact that mania can naturally cause me to feel on top of the world without any help is absolutely wild, and dangerous. I didn’t realize how that seemingly “good” high would quickly spin entirely out of control.
The mania stops being the time of your life way too quickly when sleep deprivation, paranoia, and overanalyzing takes over. It goes from almost a “King of the World” sensation to very, very dark thoughts really quick. During my worst episode I absolutely believed that I was the reincarnation of Jesus, a vampire, and had the ability to turn into an atomic bomb. These were absolute realities to me at that time.
On the downside, the depressive side, I haven’t consistently been plagued with it, but during some of the bouts I have had, I was too depressed to even try to commit suicide. So, for the majority of the depressive spells I would try to augment my feelings any way necessary (often with drugs or reckless living) while praying fervently that someone or something would come along and end my life.
Even if the degrees of mania or depression aren’t as extreme for some with bipolar, they can still be dangerous and impactful on someone’s everyday life. My best advice that I wish someone would’ve given me during the beginning of my struggles is this, to listen to good counsel and to allow the Holy Spirit to guide you.
The challenge with this is that if your perception is badly distorted, you can easily confuse what is the true leading of the Holy Spirit as opposed to deception. It’s too easy to go down a never-ending “rabbit hole” trying to diagnose yourself, and that only makes things worse. Accept the reality of your situation and allow the Lord to guide you to your knees in prayer and to a doctor (if need be). Regrettably, I was very slow in recognizing the benefit of the medical side of things.
Myself, and I’m sure almost every Christian who has dealt with mania or psychosis, has wholeheartedly believed that any increase in medication would also decrease their ability to sense God in their relationship with Him. During the middle of Covid last year, I was barely keeping my head above water mentally and was contemplating an increase in medication or adding a new one.
During a run (and physical exercise is really important) I was listening to a podcast and started weeping. I internally vowed to never go up in my medication because I wanted to sense God no matter what. Then, my powerful and gentle God spoke, “Do you think medication can stop the galaxy maker from encountering His bride?” I needed to repent and trust His love for me while trusting that my pain was being highlighted so I could get some needed medical help. I actually started enjoying God’s presence more deeply, not because I increased my medication, but because I increased my trust in His goodness and faithfulness.
I am currently living with two true realities. The most true and superior reality is that God is still a God of miracles and His will for me is to be completely healed. The other reality is that when I’ve stopped taking my bipolar medication things have gotten really twisted and dark fast. The only way to live in these two realities simultaneously is through faith. We don’t deny the problems life on earth can bring, but we also don’t allow them to reign and rule over us.
So, what have I done? I have drawn near Jesus. It’s the only action we can take that will never return void. Being face to face with the one who spoke galaxies into existence will only bring us life. While listening to wise counsel, I have also sought to be tender to the guidance and discernment of the Holy Spirit. The Bible calls the Holy Spirit “the Comforter,” so call on Him! And listen, if you are in pain and chaos is rampaging through your life, go see a doctor as soon as you can. Pray right now, pray on the way there, and know that you are safe in His hands.
So, I have often said to my soul, “Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be disturbed. For I know my God will break through for me. Then I’ll have plenty of reasons to praise Him all over again. Yes, living before His face is my saving grace!”
Tony: You’ve talked about how the medication, at times, seemed to suppress your spiritual sensitivity. Are there other reasons why you were reluctant to take medication?
Andrew: Medication can definitely be way too heavy where your senses become dull. You do not like feeling like a robot, and it’s heartbreaking. But that is just a cause for adjustment, not for stopping the medication. At times I was dealing with paranoia (that the medication was a weapon used by the government to alter my state of being so they can do conspiracy-related stuff to me). However, the medication was exactly what I needed at that time to overcome the paranoia.
Medication isn’t always the most comfortable thing to take. It can make your body feel uncomfortable, but that eventually subsides. My body did get used to the medication and the side effects subsided.
Rebellion was another factor. It normally arose from the agitation the bipolar was causing me and left me screaming and kicking that I could do it on my own. I strongly believe the most influential and impactful reason that made me not want to take my medication was the spirit of suicide. I became so reckless and uncaring of myself it is frightening to look back on now.
I was so broken, and my heart had completely lost all hope so that slipping into the dark abyss of nothingness sounded like heaven. I almost found out how wrong I was about the end so many times. (Side note: It’s not always a spiritual attack or lack of emotional strength, sometimes it’s just an imbalance of chemicals because the world is fallen and broken). I finally came to realize, through so many broken days and nights of utter insanity, that the medication actually helped my brain function as it’s supposed to!
For those who don’t know much about mental disorders, to put it plainly, I have an overabundance of some chemicals and a lack of others. This chemical imbalance in my brain causes some pretty wild things to happen. So, the goal of medication is that it helps you get back to YOU. For those reading this that need medication, but are confused and afraid to start, please realize that it is there to help restore what God intended. Pray for a good doctor, because that has been another huge pillar in my journey of finding peace.
The medication helps increase or lighten the creation of chemicals in our brain to function the way it should. The medication does not heal, but it does help handle the negative symptoms that can overtake our lives. Our God is so good that it doesn’t matter if you cry out from insanity or soberness, He will come to us and give us rest. However, I have come to realize that when my mind is more sober, I’m more aware of His goodness and working in my life which brings me way more gratitude and hope for being completely healed one day.
Tony: From our conversations in the past, I know that God intervened in your life at different times and different ways to save you from destruction. Did some of these happen through certain circumstances, through people connecting with you in some way, through an inward-knowing, or through a combination of some of these? Can you describe some specific turning points for you, and what was involved?
Andrew: I’ve jokingly said in the past that my angel will sigh in relief when I finally get called up to Heaven, or he really deserves a raise for keeping me alive all this time. Those statements are beyond true. When you are living in such mental anguish and in enmity with God, my reaction was to push the boundaries of all the earthly pleasures. When your mind is not functioning right, death is not a wise old sage directing you to slow down and move cautiously, it becomes a welcomed delight.
The constant barrage of mental and spiritual attacks placed me in a position where the only thing that mattered was escaping the mental turmoil through any means necessary. Death wasn’t always the goal, but it seemed like a 2nd place medal I wouldn’t have minded winning. The biggest turning point in my life was when I went to a rehab center in Arizona for the second time.
So many little things God orchestrated to get me into a safe place to recover, but the biggest thing was Him giving Matthew McPheron a father’s heart and accepting me back into the program. The first time I went through I had my worst manic episode and made quite the mess. Getting back into this program led to my greatest time of sobriety and helped me in living a godly life.
Another moment I’ll probably never forget or stop being grateful for, is the time I first met Tim Reside (www.brighttomorrows.org). He is a compassionate man helping people in my hometown who struggle with mental disorders. The first time we met, He prayed and touched my forehead with his finger (even though I did not ask for this, haha) and I felt an “explosion” in my brain where I knew something had taken place. I wasn’t instantly healed, and I still am not fully healed of bipolar, but that was like a seed that began and is still doing something miraculous. It got the ball rolling.
I think it also helped me to continue to believe that healing is possible, and His power is real. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, my parents were at the epicenter of every turning point and divine intervention. If you are unsure if prayer does anything or wondering how to pray (I’m alive, so they are good at it) ask them. My last turning point was two years ago. My dad had to pick me up from a mental institution in Arizona. I had gotten back on the wrong kind of drugs and stopped taking my prescribed medication. Hallucinations and paranoia had already taken me past the breaking point, and I had barricaded myself in a hotel room (I couldn’t stay at my apartment because “they” knew where I lived).
The police took me to a hospital, and I got back on my medication. I wasn’t back to normal immediately but after five days of taking the medication, I began to think somewhat clearly and moved back home to heal. I have a stronger relationship with God than I’ve ever had today; and that’s where God wants to take you. Some may think I’ve talked more about “medicine” than “miracles,” in this article, but trust me, if you knew every detail of my journey, you would consider it a miracle that I’m still alive.
Even when you can’t sense His hand at work in your life, trust me, He holds it all together. He’s working behind the scenes for you. He’s putting the right people in your path. He’s commanding the angels to protect you, and He’s working on your heart to be sensitive to His. So, I say to my soul, “Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be disturbed. For I know my God will break through for me. Then I’ll have plenty of reasons to praise him all over again. Yes, living before his face is my saving grace!”
Tony: Andrew, your Mom and I are so thankful that you’ve been courageous to seek help. We know it was difficult. We are also deeply appreciative that you want to share your journey to help others. You talk about us praying for you, and we certainly did. We shared the challenge we faced with some very close friends we thought would understand, some of whom we knew had gone through similar challenges with members of their own family. Those who had experienced something like this, or those with professional training (we sought out their counsel also), were the most helpful. You mentioned Matthew McPheron and Tim Reside who were so helpful to you, and we all really needed a team to walk through this together. One time when you were dealing with bad paranoia, a counselor told me that we could not “reason” you out of that delusional thinking. We saw such a change in you (as you shared earlier) when you got on the right medication.
Andrew: I believe that Jesus wants us well, full of peace, and if they are present, he wants the claws of torment ripped from our backs. God heals us in a never-ending number of ways. If that’s supernaturally instantaneous, praise God! If that’s through a natural process, praise God! They are both equally holy and God always deserves our praise. Sometimes we have to allow God’s goodness to break through the constructs of our religious view of how we think He must move. If that means taking medication or seeking help through a doctor, please, accept help and continue trusting God.
Our protesting at the gates of heaven for our expectations to be met in our specific way in the deliverance of a mental disorder will only keep us in a state of chaos and pain. We can’t “make” our miracle of healing manifest. One element of faith involves surrendering all of our lives to Him in the throne room of His glory and power.
If you are struggling with issues like what I’ve experienced, or if you love someone who does, I hope what I’ve shared brings you hope. I pray it becomes deeply impressed in your heart of just how good our God truly is. Above your history and heartbreaks, I pray the Holy Spirit cascades over your weary body and brings healing and comfort to your mind as you read this, in the name of Jesus.