Bipolar is the paint palette that Julie Kraft has been given, but her life is the canvas. So, whatever she does with that will be her gift back to God. These are just some words that she shares in this week’s episode. Julie Kraft joins us to tell of the transforming power of God that she has experienced in her life from before she was diagnosed to day one of her diagnosis and now, today. She joins us to discuss some helpful steps to those who are struggling, or who have just received a diagnosis that might seem life-ending – assuring each one of us that it’s going to be okay. Throughout the episode, Julie shares with Ryan about how she saw God working in her life and how she desires to let God use her to reach more and more people. Julie encourages us to trust that God will use every single thing that we experience for his good. And if that means a diagnosis, so be it.
Who's our guest?
Julie Kraft is a Canadian author and mental health advocate devoted to spreading awareness and shattering stigma. Since her bipolar II diagnosis in 2010, Julie has come to a place of embracing her ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ bipolar mind. She credits it with allowing her to live a vibrant and full life. Julie’s memoir, The Other Side of Me, was published in 2017. She has also contributed to publications for Psych Central, Psycom, and BP Hope magazine. Julie currently lives in Vancouver with her husband and three children.
Welcome to the indoubt podcast, where we explore the challenging topics that young adults often face. Each week, we talk with guests who help answer questions of faith, life and culture, connecting them to our daily experiences and God’s word. For more info on indoubt, visit indoubt.ca or indoubt.com.
Hey everyone, thanks for joining us today on this episode of indoubt. My name is Kourtney, and I’m so happy to have you with us. On this week’s episode, Ryan is joined for the third and final time by mental health advocate, Julie Kraft. If you’ve been following along, you’ll know who Julie is. But for those of you who don’t know, Julie’s an author, speaker, and like I mentioned, a mental health advocate. Having been diagnosed with bipolar two disorder almost 10 years ago, Julie lives a full life while recognizing her disorder. So, in part three of our time with Julie, her and Ryan talk about how we can encourage those who may have been diagnosed with what seems like life-ending news. Julie tells her personal experience of how she doubted herself and her relationship with God, but now she sees bipolar disorder as a way to reach more and more people, recognizing that she can be used by God to be a beacon of hope. I hope you’ll find this episode encouraging. So, take a listen and let us know what you think.
So here we are with Julie Kraft again. Julie, so great to have you with us. Our first episode with you, we talked about what is bipolar disorder, and that was amazing. And then our second episode, you shared a little bit more about your personal testimony and your personal story, which is amazing. And today, what I want to get into and what I want to ask you is, what would you say to someone who, maybe they have experience with somebody who’s bipolar or maybe they’re listening to your story and they’re noticing trends in your life that they reflect, if they’re honest, they see in their own life. What would you say to them if they were listening to you and they were like, “Oh yeah, I have maybe a few similarities, but probably not,” what would you say?
I would say don’t ignore those feelings, because we do usually know when we’re struggling and when life’s hard and when it feels like an uphill battle, in the snow, 20 miles both ways. So, it’s okay. I suffered in silence for so long, and I was so proud, and my husband begged me to get help, and I would either shrug it off or then I would be feeling better. But it was so clear to him, and I think the people around me have now admitted, we saw it, we didn’t know what to say or how to urge you to get help.
My husband ultimately did give me an ultimatum. He saw the damage that it was doing. So, it just took me so long to reach out for help, and I think I was fearful of what those next steps would look like. So, it doesn’t have to mean running straight to the doctor. Getting help for someone might mean something as small as just letting one person into your world, reaching out or having a coffee with someone and saying, “You know what, I’ve been having a hard time.”
But don’t be fearful of even those next steps, because the thing is you want to get to a place of living your best life. I know we hear that term, but if it means a diagnosis, so be it. If that’s what it takes to get you to a place of being the best person that you can be, and for me it was being a wife that could give back.
I begged my husband to leave me because I just felt like I couldn’t give anything to the relationship. I felt like he was perfect and stable and in control, and I was just this tether to him that was dragging him down. And I just said, “You know what? Just marry someone else and take the kids. I’m just a disaster.” And instead he just said, “No, I love you, but I need you to get help.” And I think sometimes if we don’t want to get help for ourselves, we need to do it for the sake and the sanity of those around us. And I think for me as a mom, I think I finally realized if I don’t take that next step, I’m gonna lose my marriage and I’m going to lose my kids and I’m going to have a life full of regret.
So that’s what it took for me, and I think for everyone it’s different. But I would urge anyone out there, if you think or know that there is a problem, seek help. It’s going to be okay, and whatever that help’s gonna look like, if you just keep in mind the end goal and whether that’s a proper diagnosis or getting the proper treatment, if that’s what it’s going to take for you to live day to day. I was barely surviving. I would wake up, from the minute I woke up, I would start to worry and stress – grocery shopping, driving, putting my makeup on, showering. It was just this endless ball of worries. My husband once said, “Do a brain dump. I want to know what’s swirling through your mind right now.” And I listed off a million worries and stresses and fears, and he looked me in the eye, and he said, “How do you live that way every day?” And the truth was, I wasn’t coping. I wasn’t coping at all. And I would lay my head on my pillow each night, physically and emotionally exhausted, knowing that I would have to wake up and do it all again the next day.
There was a day when I looked at my husband and I just said, “I will never get help. I would never take medication, and you are not allowed to talk to anyone about this.” And if there’s anyone living alongside someone right now who may have said all of those things, may I be the smallest beacon of hope? Because here I am, I reached out, I went to the doctor. For me, the right choice was to get on medication. I’ve taken a path of getting well, so it is possible. My biggest regret is not reaching out for help sooner, not getting over my pride, because in a way I feel like I have a bit of time to catch up on, but knowing that God had a plan and that I had to go through certain things to now be able to share them, I know it was all part of his plan, but yes.
Yeah. The thing that I’m taking away from this is if you do have bipolar, find out. Because then you can … if you have bipolar and you’re suffering, find out and get support and maybe learn to manage it and get some treatment that’ll help you and help your life and the life of people around you. So let’s say somebody was curious about whether they’re noticing symptoms in their life that might seem in connection with bipolar, and maybe there’s some family history, and they haven’t been diagnosed, but they want to learn if they are potentially bipolar, and then they get diagnosed as having bipolar. What’s something that you would say to someone who is recently diagnosed?
I would give them a big hug, first of all. But I think I would just look them straight in the eye and say, “It’s going to be okay. This is not a death sentence. It does not define you, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a successful career or pursue post-secondary education.” So many people think, “I will never be able to hold down a full-time job. I’ll never be able to have a healthy, stable relationship. I’ll never be married. I’ll never be able to have children, or I shouldn’t have children.” And I say no to all of that. I say it is absolutely possible to manage bipolar disorder. It is absolutely possible to have an amazing relationship, marriage, strong friendships, faith, to go to church and not be judged. It’s all possible. And I think it all goes back to not listening to the voices of the world or what stigma shouts, because the minute we do that, we’ll just throw our hands up.
I do have people that write me and say, “I’m devastated. I don’t see a future, and I don’t see that for me.” And a lot of people think they need to lower the bar in the expectations. I got a letter from someone once and she just said, “I think I have bipolar, but if I go and find out, then I won’t be able to pursue my career path of this.” And I was just like, “Absolutely you will.” So, find out you have it. Because if you do, think of how much you could learn and manage it and have a career beyond your wildest dreams.
And it did take me nine years to get to today, and I have to remember that, because it’s only out of my excitement that I want someone newly diagnosed, but I need to remember it does take time, and I don’t want to undermine that it is a serious condition, but it’s not one that will doom you, and it’s not going to prevent you from being loved like crazy and accepted by the people around you. Yeah, have hope.
And if I can even give you the smallest glimmer of hope that it’s possible and life is amazing, and God’s got you through every single step of this journey. And if in me sharing today can give someone out there who’s been newly diagnosed even the smallest glimmer of hope that yes, it’s going to be okay and God’s got you and he’s with us and this is part of his plan for your life, even if you don’t see any part of that right now and you can’t believe that, then I’m going to believe it for you.
Totally. You said that you’ve seen God working in your life and how he’s moved and all this stuff. Are there specific verses that, for you, you’re like, “Oh yeah, these are the verses I put on my mirror in the morning, or these are the verses that when I feel I’m caught in attention and I don’t know what to do, or I’m stuck, or whatever language you could use, this is where I go.” What kind of Bible verses really helped you and supported you?
So when I started to look up instead of look to the world for the view of myself and bipolar and what that meant, I started basically back at the beginning. Do I believe in God? And the answer is a resounding, without a doubt, yes. There is so much around me every day to prove to me that yes, there is a Creator. The sight of my newborn babies, sunsets, sunrises, mountain ranges, waterfalls, the patterns on butterflies’ wings, it leaves no doubt in my mind.
And I’m also so grateful that I’ve had people in my life that I’ve been able to witness go through unimaginable trials, health issues, and just storms that you would never think someone could find joy or peace through. And to watch someone who is dying to have so much joy and peace, I just know that that’s not a joy or a peace that the world can give. And so all of those things combined, yes, without a doubt there is a God and a Creator.
And then one of my favorite verses that I start out with is Psalm 139, verses 13 and 14, “For you created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. I know that full well.” So, if I believe in God, then I need to take his promises and his Word and the Bible as truth. And so, to know that every hair on my head is counted, every neurotransmitter is accounted for, and God has created my brain and my mind, although it works differently than a lot of other brains around me, I’m not a mistake, I’m not broken. And so many people I hear from, and they say, “I’m broken, and I’m devastated by it and my life is over, and my expectations for anything I’ll be able to do or accomplish just dropped to zero.” I just take so much comfort in knowing and believing that God knew exactly what he was doing. And I really do see my bipolar disorder as a gift and an opportunity that I’ve been given. Now I need to manage some parts of that. If I’m not careful, the devil can get ahold of the worst parts of it and use it to destroy me, my peace of mind, my relationships. But if I am responsible and careful and I choose to use those gifts and talents that I’ve been given, then the sky’s the limit.
And so my husband, I gotta give him credit for this, but he said, “Bipolar is the paint palette that you’ve been given, so the colours, but your life is the canvas. And so, whatever you do with that, make it beautiful and meaningful.” And so, I think my life and my bipolar is an opportunity, and what I do with that will be my gift back to God and those around me. So that’s the first verse.
And then the next one. I would have said that sitting here with you, talking openly about my bipolar journey on this platform, when I’m someone who sometimes rambles, and I even as a teen thought my voice sounded like Darth Vader, for me to be here doing that, I would have said, this is plan D, E or F for my life. No way in a million years would it have ever been my plan to be diagnosed with bipolar or be here now sharing it, yet here I am.
And so there’s another verse that I take comfort in to know that me here doing this podcast is all part of God’s plan for my life. And so the verse is Jeremiah 29, verse 11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” And so to just rest in that, God says, “Not only have I made you exactly the way I wanted you to be, I have a plan and a purpose, and it’s not plan D, E or F, it’s plan A,” and I’ve now learned God doesn’t need a plan B, we’re all living his plan A, no matter how dark it might seem in some moments, to cling to that.
And then my biggest struggle still is my thought life and my worries and my insecurities. And so, God’s like, “I have this, don’t worry. I’m going to give you practical advice in the Bible.” And so, another great verse, Philippians 4, verse 8, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent and praiseworthy, think about such things.” For me, it would be so easy to believe what the world says about bipolar, that we’re not educated, that we’re unsafe, we’re reckless, dangerous, we’re those crazy girlfriends that you need to block on Facebook or whatever. And so for me to monitor my thoughts and take this verse to heart, and just every thought that comes into my mind, I have to take it captive and say is this the truth, is this what God says about me, or is this what the world would say or what my insecure being would say about myself.
So that really does keep me on track starting the day with that, because there are a bajillion thoughts at any moment racing through my mind. So it would be really easy for me to go down a really dark path very quickly. So I think that’s an area I really need to guard myself, because I think the devil knows our weaknesses, he knows where to try to pounce, and so that’s one area that I really need to be careful. And then there are dark times. I do have days when I’m like, “What am I doing? I’m closing all my social media accounts.” I did have a few days when I said, “I’m canceling this. I can’t do it. There’s no way. I have nothing to offer. And I’m so overwhelmed with life.” And so Matthew 11, 28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” And I could go on with verses and verses where God just promises to be there and be our strength and walk alongside us and that he’s in control.
And so I just need to do my part in believing that, because I think God’s there, he’s in front of us and he’s just saying, “Trust me, I’ve given you everything you need to to know that you’re in my hands and I’ve got you, no matter what life throws your way.” Because life can beat us up sometimes, but God is like the only anchor, the thing that you … because if you put your hope or your happiness in anything else, in a moment, it can be taken away. Those are just a few of the verses. And I know I can’t spout them out forever, but I seem to just find more and more each day.
And it’s like a grounding rod. It keeps us centred. I would say if you’re listening to this, that’s for somebody with bipolar and somebody who doesn’t have bipolar. Because we all need to be grounded in who we’re created in. We all need to be grounded in God. I like how recognizing our brokenness is … all of us are broken to a degree, but it’s when we come to Christ, he’s the one that puts us together and makes us new. And he says, “Hey, let me support you along the way.”
And so I really appreciate this conversation. I appreciate hearing your story. I appreciate hearing how you’ve gone through the experiences with such a hope and a joy in the midst of such potential opposition. And that opposition might be inward or outward, and it might come from different sources, but for you to sit here and say, “Hey, I know who I am, I know who God is, and that’s that, and I’m going to trust that,” I think that’s a beautiful picture. So there’s something here where the enemy loves to use fear and shame and all these things, but fear is really quenched in love. And as you were talking, I thought to myself, if there’s somebody listening to this, I feel like what I would want to share is that God’s love is not scared. God’s not scared. He’s God. He’s so secure in himself that he can love you despite whatever you’re going through. Because he loves everybody. He loves me and my mess. He loves you and your mess. We can’t go anywhere where God’s love can’t penetrate to the deepest part. And so fear would say, “I can’t find out because what would that say about me?” And that’s a very legitimate fear, but it’s a fear, and God’s love goes beyond that, goes so much deeper than that.
And this passage in First John 4, 18 is, it’s a beautiful one, but it says this, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. And we love because he first loved us.” And it goes on. But this one phrase, “There’s no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear,” I think that is a beautiful thing to hold onto, because God’s love for us is perfect.
And I think it’s so important for people to know that needing help is not a sign of weakness, and reaching out and getting help is a sign of incredible, incredible strength.
Julie, this is an awesome conversation, and as we wind down some of the conversation and we wrap up this episode, one of the things that you had also mentioned before we had our chat was this phrase of taking a pill to cure you of bipolar. So I just want to follow up with that conversation that we had off air and ask a little bit about what was that line of thinking for you of … because you said in response to that question, would you take a pill to cure you of bipolar, you said?
Never. Not in a million years.
So that might be confusing for some people.
And I know that shocks people, and I know it can even offend some people that are probably in a darker place and can’t quite see that there could be any positive to having bipolar. But for me, for me to give up my bipolar would be giving up what makes me me. And it would also sort of be saying, “God, I’m not really happy with what you’ve done with me.”
So it’s my wild creativity. It’s my passion for life. I’m all in or all out. And so I know that I can experience extreme sadness but also extreme joy. It’s proof to me that I am living a very full life. And I think it’s given me a deep compassion and empathy for other people walking a similar road. So I’ve been able to connect with people on such a real and authentic level, and it’s a gift.
The list goes on and on, but I see so many gifts that my bipolar has given. My faith was rocked at its core. But then it’s been restored and refined, and I think it’s stronger than ever, and it’s getting stronger by the day. And my relationships, my marriage has had so many ups and downs, but through it all, I’ve experienced my husband’s unconditional love and forgiveness. My marriage is still together, 23 years in, we’re still dancing together. So I’ve been able to experience that and the love of my kids and to know that my friends except me. This could be confusing to someone, but I once heard someone say, “I’m so thankful that I allowed myself to break and be shattered into pieces.” And I thought, “Why would anyone ever say that?” And this person went on to say, “Because I was then able to look at all the pieces and piece them back together and rebuild a stronger, more resilient version of myself.”
And so for me, I know there are a few cracks for me and I have been broken at times, but I think God promises that he will not waste a single hurt. He sees every tear, and I truly believe that if we allow him, he can use anything that we’ve been through to reach others. So that’s my deepest desire. When I share the most embarrassing parts of my journey, it’s my hope that God’s light will somehow shine through the parts of me that I would think or that the world would say are most broken.
It actually takes a lot of strength to be transparent.
And to know where you’re at, to let God search you and know you. I’ve worked with youth and young adults my whole life, and a lot of times it’s like I’m insecure, I can’t let something come up, I can’t let something bubble up, I can’t show weakness. And my journey has been, oh my goodness, I’m so weak. And Paul the apostle says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardship, persecution and calamities, for when I’m weak, then I am strong.” And that’s Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians in chapter 12. This is the invitation of Christ, to embrace the fact that we are broken, every single person on the planet, and we are in need of a Saviour. And when we can say, “I’m broken and I need a savior,” that’s when God’s like, “Okay, great. Here we go. My child, come on, let’s grow something beautiful up in you. Let’s bring healing to you.” But this is the Kingdom of God. It’s not just healing for us as individuals, it’s: “Now you go and bring healing to other people in the name of Christ and make disciples.” So I think that’s a helpful reminder.
It’s not weak to ask for help. It’s actually a sign of strength and a sign of courage that you’re willing to go into the dark places of your own life and let Christ examine you and let the Holy Spirit bring healing.
Julie, this has been incredible.
Thanks so much for being with us. It’s been a joy to talk with you. I’ve learned a lot.
Thank you so much for having me.
Mental illness is something that affects each one of us in some way. I hope by hearing Julie share her story that you were encouraged. Unfortunately, the stigma that surrounds bipolar disorder and mental illness in general is often a stumbling block that prevents us from voicing what’s really going on in our lives. The thought of possibly being viewed as less than or not whole scares so many of us when we’re all struggling anyways. Julie stresses that a diagnosis does not define you, even if it doesn’t seem that way now. With almost 10 years since her diagnosis, Julie does understand that time makes a difference and encourages each one of us in whatever we’re going through that it’s going to be okay. You can follow Julie on Instagram and Facebook @julie.kraft.author, and you can also check out her website, www.juliekraft.com.
I’d like to encourage you to reach out to us and let us know what you think. Your feedback is important to us and we want to hear from you. Even if you have a question about something that we’ve talked about in the episode or a suggestion for a topic for an indoubt episode, we’d love for you to reach out and let us know. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can send us a private message on social media.
I did want to take a quick second to add that this month is indoubt’s fiscal year end. We are a nonprofit, and we do rely on your guys’ support to be able to keep providing resources for you that help you connect your faith to life and culture. Things like this weekly podcast, the articles and Bible study we publish online and our smartphone app wouldn’t be possible without your partnership. If you’d like to help the ministry, you can go to our website, and anything that you’re able to give would be greatly appreciated.
So thank you for joining us for this episode of indoubt with Ryan and Julie, and we want to thank Julie for being so welcoming and allowing us to hear her story. Check back next week as we have guest, Jonathan Pokluda, who led an influential young adults ministry called The Porch in Dallas, Texas.
Thanks so much for listening. If you want to hear more, subscribe on iTunes and Spotify or visit us online at indoubt.ca or indoubt.com. We’re also on social media, so make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.