Kristin Colino always responded to music, even as a baby bouncing in rhythm to “Saturday Night Fever” and “Zanzibar” while in her crib. Of course, she couldn’t have known it then, but God would use music to ultimately speak to her…the “all-American girl with a world-class brain disorder.”
Kristin, a writer, spiritual mentor, and active mental health advocate, has bipolar I disorder, a serious mental illness marked by short-lived highs and deep lows, and for some, like Kristin, breaks from reality, known clinically as psychosis.
“I spent my early twenties thinking my life would be spent in psychiatric wards with people who absolutely frightened me,” she tells me from her home in Silicon Valley where she lives with her husband. “I didn’t know there would be a future of flourishing…with some floundering, yes…and, eventually, a solid and nourishing relationship with Jesus Christ through grace by faith.”
She believes her testimony, which she will share in a future memoir, The Padded Elevator, will speak to others. Hers is an inspirational journey through darkness and into the light… how God would use music to ultimately speak to her and reveal her identity.
The Journey’s Start
Like many diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Kristin’s illness manifested at the age of 18. And, like others, manic depression, alcoholism, and suicide ran in her family.
Initially, her symptoms appeared as intense anxiety amid her father’s forced retirement after 20 years as a corporate executive. Her stay-at-home mother went back to work, a change that upended the household’s stability.
Not wanting to burden her parents, the formerly straight-A student from Montgomery County, Maryland, hid her feelings and barely managed to complete her courses in time to graduate from high school.
She desperately wanted a fresh start and decided to move hundreds of miles away to attend Indiana University where no one would know about her previous setbacks.
Within a year—still plagued by extreme mood swings and inner turmoil—Kristin finally confided in her mother. Having suffered from postpartum depression herself, her mom arranged an appointment with a psychiatrist in Washington, DC. The doctor diagnosed (unipolar) depression, prescribed the antidepressant Prozac, and referred her to a psychiatrist near her college.
Her journey with mental health care began.
What she didn’t know then is that Prozac can lead to a manic episode for those prone to develop bipolar disorder. And indeed, that’s what happened to her. Back at school, her despair gave way to hypomania, a less severe form of mania, irritability, and restlessness. The cycle kept repeating, the short-lived highs, and the deep, dark lows…the suicidal ideation.
In the middle of her junior year, her worried parents brought her home to Maryland. Under the care of another psychiatrist, who prescribed both Prozac and lithium carbonate, Kristin convinced family and friends that her treatment was working.
But her mind was plagued by rushed and chaotic thoughts. She bought things she didn’t need, slept little, worked on projects in the middle of the night, and played music louder and louder.
“Initially, the music served two purposes,” says Kristin, a flutist and pianist who, as a teen, had embraced the idea of music as poetry, like stories in the Bible…Jesus’s parables. “I wanted to block the noise and confusion in my brain and assign some semblance of peace and order.”
The Second Psychotic Break
Released from the hospital, Kristin diligently took her meds. Ate right. Exercised. Did everything the doctor told her to do. And because of her discipline, she attended a local university to develop her graphic design skills and worked for several nonprofit organizations in D.C.
Seven years later, though, she suffered her second psychotic break, more intense than the first. It lasted nine months. Nothing seemed to make a dent in treating the episode. Doctors at a reputable mood disorder clinic in Baltimore had no solution. The doctors told her to wait it out and let the medications do their job.
She didn’t wait.
Kristin vowed to thoroughly educate herself. She joined a peer support group in D.C. And, as a result, became a group facilitator and board officer for the local chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. She got a job as a graphic designer for a large nonprofit, only to have her career ambitions dashed two years later when symptoms appeared yet again.
“Honestly, I didn’t plan to be around in my fifties,” says Kristin, who now takes multiple pharmaceutical drugs to manage her disorder. “I was too busy trying to stay alive in my twenties and thirties to think long-term. Suicidal ideation amid psychosis was like living in my own personal hell at times.”
But God would use music to ultimately speak to her.
The Search for Greater Meaning
More than a decade into her diagnosis and treatment, Kristin started searching for something else. What was the meaning of her life, a life beset by highs, lows, and chaos?
She immersed herself even deeper into Bible study trying to reconcile her thoughts with what she read in Scripture. She journaled. Meditated over God’s word. And, of course, she listened to music, creating CDs for her friends and playlists for herself—lists that included pop, rock ‘n roll, country, and contemporary Christian music.
She documented and dated these selections—all chosen because of their lyrics and how they squared with the observations she’d made from her Bible reading. She kept them in a spiral notebook…her way to commune with and worship God.
“It wasn’t until about 2017, when I got back to writing my memoir, that I started to notice something special about the playlists,” she says. “They spoke to me, personally. Through that reflection I found connection with my Savior, meaning for my life, and purpose for my future.”
“God raised me to be a champion for those who feel different or marginalized, persecuted, and oppressed,” she continues. “I have been in the trenches. I have faced my demons…I am no longer a slave to my past and my pitfalls. These days it looks like confidence. I found my identity. I am the daughter of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the one true God.”
God would use music to ultimately speak to her.
He still does.
Another inspiring story, Lori. Amazing what God will do when you search for Him — and he responds.
When we ask, he always responds…sometimes not as quickly as we’d like. Loved meeting Kristin and I’m glad she allowed me to share her story.