Bipolar Faith

A Black Woman's Journey with Depression and Faith

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Monica A. Coleman
  • Minneapolis, MN: 
    Fortress Press
    , July
     2016.
     364 pages.
     $26.99.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781506408590.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Bipolar Faith: A Black Woman’s Journey with Depression and Faith, a memoir by Monica A. Coleman (Claremont School of Theology), gives the reader a glimpse into very significant and painful events in the author’s life which conclude with a diagnosis of bipolar II disorder. Most chapters are subtitled with a certain number of months or years after a personally traumatic life event, conveying to the reader the significance of the event for Coleman. Considering the book as a whole, the following events were of special significance to her: the death of her grandmother from cancer, her anointing for ministry, when she was raped (this takes up one quarter of the book alone), her entrance into a doctoral program at Claremont, and a physical illness she suffered, which ultimately led to her mental health diagnosis.

Coleman’s story is one of faith gained, lost, and gained again. Each time—as she discovers through her eventual embrace of process theology—her faith is remade into something different as she transitions from one life event to another. But, for her, this realization was a long, hard-fought battle with a prevailing sadness throughout life that she could not explain and tried to hide. As she would reach out to other ministers and explain to them what she was experiencing, they would often reply that depression was the work of the devil and that she only needed to pray more or “let Jesus in.” Interestingly, any time this answer is given, Coleman instantly rejects it, realizing that mental illness is not a religious problem. For readers with mental health difficulties, this is an important insight that would help prevent the all-too-common rift in divine-human communion caused by a devotee thinking that, because she continues to suffer, God is not hearing her or does not care. Coleman’s message is that God does care and, in fact, uses such things as medication and therapy as ways to bring healing. In her worst moments, she says that if she can just believe that God is not the one doing this to her, then this is a sufficient act of faith. According to her, faith in the midst of illness does not require one to save the world. 

The title, subtitle, and back-cover description of the book lead the reader to believe that this is a work primarily about one person’s struggle for faith while dealing with bipolar disorder. And, while it is that to a degree, no substantial mention of bipolar disorder is made until the last quarter of the book. In hindsight, Coleman realizes that the traumatic events of her life (some mentioned above) follow a pattern that fits the episodic nature of bipolar disorder. But, until this realization at the end of the book, the reader is led through these life events without mention of mental illness except for accounts of some sleepless nights and unexplained sadness and crying spells. For this reason, this book is not for someone hoping for a how-to manual on maintaining a vibrant faith while in the throes of mental illness. Although, in passing, she does provide a small list of books that she read and found helpful as she discovered more about her illness (309).

Considering all that she has been through, Coleman ends the book in a hopeful stance as an overcomer. To have faith while struggling with bipolar disorder means to simply believe that God has not abandoned oneself. And to overcome bipolar disorder means to know that the rain will come, but that “this rain [is] not death” (343). Coleman encourages the reader to keep in mind that whether she is suffering an external hardship or the darkness of depression, such things will pass, and she will persevere—the rain will not drown her.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Chase Montague is a doctoral student in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, UK.

Date of Review: 
October 9, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Monica A. Coleman teaches theology and African American Religions at Claremont School of Theology, where she also codirects the Center for Process Studies. Her writings cover womanist theology, sexual abuse, and the African American experience. She is an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a sought-after speaker and preacher.

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