Preacher’s Irritability Cost Him Jobs, But It Was Really Bipolar

Donny Weimar, 41, has been a preacher since 1989 and holds a doctor of ministry degree. When in college, he began to experience mood swings and panic attacks, which went untreated for 10 years. Later, his severe irritability resulted in repeated terminations from the churches he served. Donny was voluntarily hospitalized while working as a full-time minister, and received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He lost that job too.

Courtesy of Donny Weimar
About 10 years ago, I was working with a church in Collinsville, Texas, and I was having mood swings. I would become very irritable and would say things I shouldn't say to members of the congregation. I became defensive, and I even threatened one of the elders that if I wasn't accepted, I would move. Apparently I was in a manic state and didn't know it.

In fact, I didn't even know what bipolar disorder was. The church terminated me because of the mood swings, but I didn't have a diagnosis yet.

For a short time, I quit preaching and started selling roofing materials. However, that didn't work. So I went back to preaching, and I worked for about two years with a congregation in Valley Mills.

I was very depressed at the time, and the congregation supported me through my depression. I voluntarily went into the hospital, but when I started taking the antidepressant Wellbutrin, it flung me into mania. I didn't know what it was, but I was very euphoric. Then I climbed into a state where I was irritable and hearing voices.

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On one occasion, I left the house, got into my pickup truck, and ended up in a grocery store. I didn't know where I was or how I got there. My wife spoke with one of the church leaders, and they figured out where I was and came and got me.

When I swung into this euphoric state, the psychiatrist wanted me to go to the hospital to be evaluated. I went on his recommendation and stayed there for a couple of weeks. They stabilized me, and when I came out, I was balanced. I was very open and told the church what my diagnosis was. But the mood swings had already set in, and they were afraid of me.

The church leaders wanted to talk to the psychiatrist to understand what I was going through, but the psychiatrist refused on the grounds of HIPAA. [The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, is a set of rules that strictly govern patient privacy.] That bothered them, and they perceived me as not being open with my condition and stigmatized me.

There were members who became distant from me and demanded that the leaders fire me. One of the influential members who donated a lot of money to the church told the elders that if I were to continue with the congregation, he would move. It ended in my termination.

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As told to: Elizabeth Diffin
Last Updated: September 16, 2010

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