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There are sayings about the thin line between "genius" and "madness". The reason for that is that mental breakdowns are often preceded by periods of rapid mental activity, sometimes referred to as "mania" or "manic episodes". It simply means that your mind is working overtime on something. Very smart people tend to do this more than people who are not very smart, but this is not always the case.

Obviously we all have periods of great mental activity, when we cannot stop thinking about something. Deep thinkers in particular, are used to this. It is often during these times when writers or inventors come up with their best ideas. But it is also during such times that we can THINK we are coming up with great ideas when they aren't really that great at all.

Have you ever had the experience of waking up from a dream with something that seemed like a fantastic idea? And yet, when you were fully awake, it was not as incredible as it seemed at the time? That is an example of madness. Madness is okay when you are asleep. In fact, some experts believe that dreams are very important safety valves which prevent madness during our waking hours, by letting us be a bit crazy in our sleep. But it can be very harmful when you are awake.

There definitely is a link between sleep and breakdowns. When you find that mental activity is keeping you from sleeping, that is an important time to get serious about slowing your mind down, before you start doing and saying the sort of crazy things that should only happen in our dreams.

As most of you know, I suffer a lot from insomnia. (It's 4:30am as I write this, and I've been up since 3am.) If this happens several nights in a row, and if I am not able to go back to sleep after I've written my "inspiration" down, then I become seriously concerned, and I take steps to slow myself down... prayer, physical exercise, getting away from the computer, even taking sleeping pills if necessary.

People who experience manic periods often find that these periods are followed by periods of depression. That is what is called "bipolar syndrome" or "manic-depression". People often enjoy the manic phase, but I don't think anyone likes the depression side of the cycle, and yet there does seem to be a link between the two. Unless we take steps to actually restrict our highs, we are likely to end up paying for them later through corresponding lows. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.

There are a few signs (besides lack of sleep) which we should also be on the lookout for during manic periods. The one that most often seems to contribute to sleeplessness for me is worry. When faced with persecution, especially through the media, I find myself going over and over things that I should or could say to defend myself. A little bit of that may be helpful, but Jesus seemed to be preparing us for this when he said to not even give it a thought, but just to let the Holy Spirit give us the right words when the time comes. As with his comments about food and clothing, I think he is talking about "anxious thought" (worry) and not constructive thought. But even when we recognise that our thoughts are creating anxiety, just knowing that doesn't necessarilyy equip us to slow them down or stop them altogether.

And that is where medication can be helpful. I have already mentioned sleeping pills. Sleep gives your brain a chance to clear out many of the worries (and the irrationalities that are associated with worry) and refresh the files. But there are other stronger medications that can help as well. Unfortunately, the people who need the medication most are often the ones who have the most stubborn resistance to taking it.

And that relates to two other even more sinister warning signs of mental illness. They are pride and fear. (Note: Worry is very close to fear, but I'm talking about a stronger manifestation of it when I say fear.)

First, I'll discuss pride.

During periods of increased mental activity, it is easy for the devil to sneak in and tell us that we are pretty special. In its most bizarre forms, he even tells people that they are God. But more commonly it takes the form of something a bit more believable. Amongst Christians who believe in Bible prophecy, we know that the Bible predicts the arrival of two very special people, called the "two witnesses". So it is common for people going through a manic stage to become convinced that they are one of the two witnesses. Hands up anyone who has ever considered that they might be one of the two witnesses!

I think it is healthy for us to discuss such things amongst ourselves. I actually think that people SHOULD consider the possibility that they might be one of the two witnesses. I mean young, old, male, female, leaders and followers. It's good to aspire toward such greatness, and to give a lot of thought to what qualities and disciplines would be required to qualify ourselves for such a position. Open discussion about such things should help us to see that we all go through the same thoughts and considerations. It's really NOT so special to think that you may be one of these two people. And, of course, when you can start breathing fire, others may start thinking the same thing.

But sometimes these proud thoughts turn into "delusions". A deluded person develops a long list of justifications for NOT examining the evidence in a subjective manner. For example, they turn all of the very things that make the two witnesses special (in particular, their miraculous powers) into subjective experiences. In their own minds, they become convinced that they are, indeed, special, but that other people do not know or are not able to recognise the secret greatness that they possess. They deceive themselve and they often deceive others, in an attempt to maintain the delusion about their own greatness.

I think it could be helpful for all of us to recognise how this could happen to us. Don't we all have secret thoughts at times, about qualities we possess that have never received the recognition that they deserve? Don't we all look forward to a day when God will reward us for things we have done that were never recognised here on earth? I believe that a deluded person has similar thoughts, but on a grander scale.

I have mentioned it before, but I really do think that it is an important principle in this whole area of breakdowns and delusions, for us to remember the story of John the Baptist, and how he did not even KNOW that he was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy about the ONE witness who was to prepare the world for Jesus' first coming. At the same time that it is good to go right around the room and consider how each person in the room could, potentially, be one of the two witnesses, it also helps to just forget about it, and let God work it all out. Such "specialness" would really be too hard for most of us to live with, without becoming proud as a result. And so the real two witnesses may not even be aware of it. To be used by God, we do not need to be AWARE that we are special, and sometimes our awareness is the very things that most hinders us from being used by God.

I think of Peter getting out of the boat and walking toward Jesus on the water. I believe that he was so overcome by his awe at seeing Jesus walking toward him, and hearing the call from Jesus to come, that he did not even think about the water. And it was only when he looked down and became aware of himself and the "special" thing that he was doing (i.e. walking on the water) that he began to sink.

Now I want to say something about the other serious sign of a breakdown (or an impending breakdown) and that is irrational fear. I believe that there is a relationship between pride and fear, in that what we all seem to fear, even more than death, is to look bad in the eyes of others. So if we become secretly convinced that we are special, we naturally want others to see it too. It is only a small step from such delusions, to fearing anyone who may try to take away that specialness, by labelling it as a delusion. I believe it is one of the biggest reasons why mental patients have so much difficulty with taking their medication. The medicine is seen as a tool of the enemy, because when they are "well", they lose their specialness. And, worse than that, taking medicine implies that they are "sick", and they don't want to face that.

So it is very easy to see anyone who is trying to help you as part of a great conspiracy that is trying to rob you of your specialness. The doctors and nurses become agents of the evil system; and friends who sympathise with the doctors and nurses are conspiring with them. As you can see, a vicious cycle gets started that is almost impossible to break out of.

As I said in the short article "Insanity", people suffering from a mental breakdown are able to see the truth in what we say about the system. They know that the system does not have the answers. But they are trapped on the wrong side of the system. Their pride has deluded them into thinking they are something so special that the evil system is being expressed in a war against THEM (whereas the real evil of the system is that it is opposed to GOD. Of course the system is also against people who are trying to FOLLOW God; but it takes great honesty and great humility to discern just how much we are being persecuted for following God, and how much of it is coming because of our own deluded pride.

I don't have any easy answers to all of this. And that is because I think that "easy answers" form much of the problem. Instant revelations received in the middle of the night are easy. But hard slogging with all of our faults and failings is the bulk of reality in the harsh light of day. That is what makes all of us so ordinary. And it is our awareness of this which will teach us true humility.


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