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Posts Tagged ‘Illness’

Near my home, there is a lake surrounded by an incredible meandering walking and biking trail. Trees and wildlife are in abundance and restful swinging benches overlook the water at many junctures.

Each season presents its unique breathtaking colors and scents. The last few weeks, have brought a sense of awakening and new hope as I’ve watched the pussy willows pop. I can smell the grass as it begins to show green through brown.

In the summer, when the wind is at bay, the lake is like a huge sheet of glass. Anglers sit patiently in their rowboats near the shores in anticipation of snaring their next bass, crappie, or sunfish. Wildflowers freely grow on the banks and bloom from May through August.

Fall 3

Autumn is my favorite time to walk the trail. On a sunny fall day, there is no better place to enjoy God’s spectacular beauty as displayed in His creation. The colors range from the reds and browns of the oak leaves to the golden hues of the poplar, elm, and wild grapevine leaves. Sumac, which is barely noticeable in the spring and summer, bursts into fire-like flames of red, gold, and orange. The air is pungent with a rich earthy smell of nature about to die once again.

The lake attracts the hardiest of Minnesota residents in the winter. They dress in several layers of insulated clothing and set up tents on the frozen water to fish through holes they have drilled in the ice. Some winters the ice can be as much as three feet deep. After a fresh snowfall, the trail is a velvety white wonderland.

Winter 2

Life is on hold whenever I walk through this glorious place. However, even as I breathe in every sight, sound, and scent of the seasons, I am keenly aware that, at any moment, Minnesota weather can suddenly change without warning. How reminiscent this is of my life. For a season, I can experience amazing joy, hope, and serenity. Then suddenly, without warning, a circumstance brings an unwelcome chill, a dark shadow.

Those of us who live with someone who is chronically mentally or physically ill know that, at any moment, the scene can change from sunny and peaceful to dark and desperate. There will always be less than perfect situations just around the bend, but why should we let that rob us of our present joy?

Much like my coveted walk around the lake, when I bring every thought captive to the beauty before me, I must learn to guard my heart against dreaded future possibilities. I must endeavor to experience fully my present joy and not borrow trouble from tomorrow.

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

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What should we do when a mentally ill loved one is in denial about their illness?

When someone we love is unwilling to accept their diagnosis, it causes a heartbreaking chain of events. As we watch them spiral downward, we feel frightened and worried. It appears that nothing we say or do will change their mindset. For those who walk alongside the individual who is ill, it is a horribly helpless situation.

When my daughter graduated from high school, she had been on medication for bipolar disorder for less than a year. Her moods were finally stabilized after a 17-year roller coaster. Now that she felt better, she began to think she could survive without the medications. She took them on a hit or miss basis. If she felt good one day, she did not take them. However, usually “feeling good” meant she was on the road to mania. On the days she was depressed, she took them. Eventually, she just did not take any medications.

At first, she went into a manic state. She partied all night and slept all day. She disregarded all house rules and argued for her independence. After repeated warnings, my husband and I reached the point of ENOUGH ALREADY! One night we dead bolted the house and put a sign on the door saying she should come back for her personal belongings that afternoon.

The next morning at 4:00, we heard a loud banging and yelling in our garage. My husband went to the door and explained to our daughter that she would have to find another place to live. We had a right to tranquility in our own home and her behavior was causing us to be sleep deprived, worried, and upset most of the time. She was homeless for a few hours, but she quickly figured out how to find another place to live.

The bigger issue was that she was very mentally ill and was in denial about it. Nothing we said convinced her she needed to be medication compliant. Drawing boundary lines for her was a scary stance for us to take, knowing that she could go off the deep end at any moment. However, we could not help her unless she accepted her illness and advocated for herself.

She wandered through the next year, working temporary jobs and living with friends, but she refused to take her medications. We kept in touch and prayed for her but did not offer her refuge in our home. One day she had a breakdown and ended up in the hospital. From then on, she gradually learned to accept her illness. Unfortunately, this scenario is more prevalent than you might think.

Doing what we did is not always the best solution. Each case has to be evaluated individually. Caring for someone who has a mental illness requires much grace, forbearance, tolerance, charity, endurance and self-restraint. Nevertheless, there is a fine line between giving them what they want and enabling them and giving them what they need, causing them to accept responsibility for their illness.

Dorothy Ruppert, author of “God Placed Her in My Path – Lessons Learned from the Furnace of Bipolar Disorder.”

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There has been a long and tragic disconnect between churches and mental health issues. I once spoke with a pastor who told me there was no mental illness in his parish. REALLY? In a church of 1,000 contributing members, there was no one who suffered from mental illness? The statistics show that one in four persons will experience a brain disorder sometime in their lifetime. Was he serious? What planet did he live on? Talk about being out of touch with his community!! Perhaps he was from the group that believes that mental illness is demon possession and not a physical illness of the brain. If so, it might be safer to shove mental illness under a rug rather than deal with messy demons!

If you are a church attendee, when was the last time you heard mental illness mentioned from the pulpit? Do you have a mental health team active in your church? Do you have faith support groups for people who suffer from mental illness? How about a support group for family members of the mentally ill? Probably not, right?

Several years ago, the National Alliance on Mental Illness recognized the importance of faith in the lives of the individuals whom they serve and their Faith-Net division was born. I have spoken with many long-time NAMI members who are not aware of the new NAMI Faith-Net initiative and I suppose most churches and other individuals are not aware of it either. The following article speaks of how one man is creating Faith Net awareness in his community. This is encouraging to those of us who want to be able connect our faith walk with the mental health struggles we cope with on a daily basis:

http://www.nami.org/template.cfm?template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=140770&lstid=275

I think it’s time for church leaders to remove their heads from the pit of denial about mental illness!

Dorothy Ruppert, author of “God Placed Her in My Path – Lessons Learned from the Furnace of Bipolar Disorder.”

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In our society, we have been conditioned to think that a mental breakdown represents a character flaw.” That is a lie! When I hear even hint of that lie, I want to scream WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.

Dr. Nancy Andreason writes, “[Mental patients] are urged to exert more mental and moral control, to have more self-discipline, to adopt a more positive attitude. This is a very unfair way to treat people who are suffering from a tragic and painful illness that they cannot in fact control. To ask them to ‘shape up’ is like asking a person with a broken leg to run a marathon.”

When the brain becomes physically ill, it is not possible for the individual to “will” its healing. It takes medication, therapy, compassionate care, and huge amounts of time to heal. Complete recovery might only come after months or years. In the meantime, the patient is in an exceedingly fragile and vulnerable state. Sometimes, they never return to their former state of mind. Then the patient and their family must learn to live with a “new normal.”

Biologically, the physical trauma of a mental breakdown is intense. While recovery might occur faster when a patient cooperates with the available treatments, the physical changes to the brain still must have time to heal. Can you imagine the devastating psychological grief and shattering of mental integrity that happens with a psychotic episode? Recovery, against all odds, takes a tremendous amount of courage and strength on the part of the patient. The last thing we should accuse a victim of a breakdown of is having a “character flaw.”

The following is an open letter to families, written by Sita Diehl, co-author of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Bridges Consumer Peer Education Course.

My Dear Family:

This letter is a plea for your compassion, understanding and patience. We have all just come through an episode of my mental illness. I have experienced it personally and you have tried to deal with its effects while continuing to take care of our family as a whole. It has not been easy, but I have done the best I know how and so have you. For this, I thank you.

As a result of this episode, I am now exhausted. Maybe I look all right to you, but inside I’m wounded. Even the least stress, the least effort is overwhelming to me. I need to just sit and pull myself together. I need to sleep a lot, and not do much at all. This may go on for quite some time.

It may be hard for you to see me this way. You may feel it is your duty to help me “snap out of it.” You may be wondering if I am using this as an excuse to be lazy. Please be gentle with me; let me heal.

If you want to do something for me, there are three things I would appreciate.

1)  Learn about my illness. This is an illness of the brain and body, just like any other disease. It also affects my ability to think, feel and behave. Those effects may have been difficult for you to deal with. I’m sorry if the effects of my illness have made your life more difficult. Learning about the illness may help you put these difficulties in perspective.

2)  Help me find effective treatment. This takes patience and persistence. In my present state, I may not have the energy to follow through by myself. I may need you to advocate for me, until we find people and medicines that really help.

3)  The other thing you can do for me is listen with an open heart and an open mind. Don’t try to advise me. Just listen while I work this out for myself. Your trust and understanding during this time of rest and recuperation will help me feel confident enough to decide when I am able to step (perhaps gradually) back into life activities.

Thank you for your support and compassion. It will make my path to recovery more smooth and sure.

With thanks and hope,

Sita

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People who experience brain disorders have a common complaint. They say they have no friends. They want just one person to stick by them through thick and thin. Someone who suffers from a mental illness has mood shifts that cause him or her to be cranky, moody, defensive, and negative. These behaviors are not usually intentional, but rather symptoms of their illness. We expect our friendships to be an equal amount of “give and take” and find it annoying to be on the “give” most of the time. It takes patience and unconditional love to befriend someone who may not be able to reciprocate our friendship at all times. Most people are simply not willing to stick with someone who has many vicissitudes and requires a great deal of maintenance.

I find those who suffer from a disability to be some of the most compassionate and loving people. However, I must be willing to befriend them long enough to witness those wonderful traits. Yes, sometimes they appear bitter, but I must remember they have suffered much emotional pain, embarrassment, humiliation, and rejection. I must put myself in their shoes for a while and consider how their disability might affect their behavior.

There were times when I too felt discarded by friends and relatives who did not understand my plight with mental illness in our family. Thank God, that one devoted friend remained with me during my most chaotic period. She was my prayer partner and compassionate confidant for twenty years. She suffered from unipolar illness (chronic depression), and the first five years of our friendship were rocky. There were times when I felt dumped on or misunderstood, but I am sure she felt the same. We worked through our issues and remained best friends until her death at the early age of 41.

My friend and I had good reasons to pray for, and with, each another every day. For the last ten years of her life, she battled cancer and dealt with surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy, along with depression. I was battling the unknown enemy of mental illness, dealing with ongoing turmoil in my family, accompanied by discouragement and situational depression. We became accountable to each other, always admonishing and encouraging one another to persevere. We shared our laughter and tears, our deepest fears and sorrows, and our greatest victories and joys. Our friendship was closer than that of blood sisters. Our struggles knitted us together like David and Jonathan in the Bible. Her twenty-year friendship is one of my most treasured gifts in life.

For everyone who either suffers from a mental illness or is a caregiver for that person, today I wish one thing for you – a friend who sticks closer than a brother (or sister). When you have that kind of friend, you have a precious jewel!!

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When people are in the hospital for depression, a psychotic episode, or a need to adjust their medicines, they say they rarely get cards, flowers or visits from friends and relatives. I have known families who get no assistance from anyone, including their immediate family, when one of their children is in the hospital for a psychotic break. No one offers to babysit for the other children; no one provides transportation; no one seems to care. However, it is totally the opposite if this child is in the hospital because of a car accident, a surgery, or a treatment for cancer.

Why is this? Perhaps it is because mental illness spooks people out. People seem to view it as dark and mysterious, shrouded in stigma and shame. However, illnesses that cause dysfunction in the brain are no different from illnesses that cause kidney, heart, or thyroid dysfunction.

If hospitalizations are recurring in the life of an individual, it is common for others to begin to wonder why this person cannot seem to get it together. Do we ever question why cancer recurs? Do we blame or shun the victim and wonder why they cannot seem to get it together?

I realize it is difficult to know how to relate to a person who does not seem to be in control of their mind. When there is a death in a family, people also find it hard to relate, not knowing what to “say,” but at least they know what to “do.” They bring in food, send cards and flowers, and call with expressions of condolence. In both cases, death and a mental break, the sufferer just needs others to support them with their presence.

If a family receives no support when one of its members is in the behavioral unit at the hospital, they learn quickly to isolate from their friends and neighbors and keep silent about the matter. They build a wall around their hurt and the next time it happens, they deal with it in silence and shame. While this reaction may protect the family from feeling shunned and criticized, it serves no good purpose for the hospitalized member.

If someone has the courage to share with you about a family member’s mental health hospitalization, consider it a privilege. I encourage you to, with your whole heart, treat the person temporarily struck down by the illness and their family with the same respect you would if it were any other type of hospitalization.

On the flip side, I encourage families to share about a mental health hospitalization when it occurs, beginning with those who might understand and react appropriately with gifts of kindness. Gradually, it will become easier to step out and share with those who may not have any knowledge of mental illness and/or may not have a clue how to react. We all need to learn more about mental illness. We all need to learn how to act appropriately in messy areas that are outside our comfort zones. That builds character.

Take a risk. Share a problem, offer your support, and watch your character grow!

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