Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2013 Nancy Virden (Today’s blog is excerpted from my book Always the Fight: A Living Testimony of What Only God Can Do, 1st edition)
At one point several years ago, my pastor at the time asked me to regularly attend his weeknight class for the express purpose of my not being home alone with dark thoughts.
The first few evenings I sat outside the classroom, terrified to enter. Major depression had interrupted healthy reasoning, and imaginations of abuse and hatred from the other students kept me at a distance.
Finally, courage rose. Loneliness trumped fear. As one woman made her way to join the talking and laughing others who had gathered, I spoke up quietly. At first, she did not hear.
“Sharon.” Her name was called out the second time more forcefully.
“Nancy? What did you say?” She came closer.
“If I come in there, may I sit in the back? I don’t think I can face everyone…” My volume had returned to mouse-like.
The tone of her voice grew my confidence. “Nancy, just come and be with us. You can sit wherever you like.” Such acceptance and love.
I have been asked, “What can I do for you?” and it is difficult to answer. Maybe it seems too selfish to ask for much, or too risky. Blaming, judging, and disbelieving those who care for me camouflages that they too are afraid, do not know how to help, are concerned they might make my situation worse, and do not want to upset me.
Still, I agree with a man who said if his major depressive episode, “The only thing I wanted was someone to care—a note, an email.”
What then do the best supports look like? They exercise personal boundaries, believe for the best (does not mean they approve of all I do), trust God’s process in my life, and do not try to control me. They offer reasonable support and do not enable my excuses.
They are safe, do not abuse or take advantage in any way, and they try to meet me where I am emotionally. They listen to what I say I need instead of assuming. They try to understand the situation by asking good questions (not interrogating), and accept that if they cannot understand they can continue to be supportive.
They are human and never perfect at any of the above.
God bless you as you offer or search for and receive strong support.
NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
*photo from qualitystockphotos.com