Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness
(c)2013 Nancy Virden
Michelle Knight, one of three heroines who survived eleven years of captivity in Cleveland, today faced with poise the criminal who stole a third of her life. As charges were revealed and one criminal act upon another was read in court, these two people had opposite reactions.
Michelle spoke of abuse and tragedy. She had cried every night missing her son for whom she was trying to attain a puppy when she was captured. In court documents she described being afraid, of nearly despairing, of abuse, and torture. Her other children had been murdered in her womb, she’d been starved and beaten.
After her testimony, the cowardly thief who stole young women from their friends and family, dared look at her and defend himself. He denied torturing anyone, claimed his rapes were consensual, and credited his behavior to his late wife, his three prisoners, and even the FBI. Finally, he laid blame on a disease. A disease! “I’m not a monster,” he whined, claiming his sex addiction made him do the things prosecutors had described. “I’m sick.”
Some of the stigma that surrounds behavioral and mental disorders is no doubt because of men like this. People who want to lay every one of their faulty decisions at the feet of others have always been with us. Those with disorders are part of the human race and some can be childish too. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that a man so consumed with power would be upset because he got caught?
Addiction is not what defines a person. A disorder is not the whole of one’s being. The poor choices of others and past mistakes or wrongdoing most likely impacted one’s present thinking, and overcoming all of that is possible. To allow blaming to overshadow healthy thought processing is unhelpful at best. It happened. The past is gone. Now what? Will I remain as I am?
I ask myself every morning, who do I want to be? What kind of wife, mother, friend, and worker do I value? Do I want to aim for healthy or the status quo? What can I do this day to take one step toward becoming that person? Who I am in the moment is not decided by how much pain I feel. If I want to triumph even a little this minute, it is my choice to take one step, no matter how small or big, to achieve that short-term goal.
No one ever said this was easy. Or fast. Years of denial or ignorance did not accomplish change in me. With the support of knowledgeable mental health professionals, I am learning new steps I can take. The difference between staying stuck in a negative cycle or moving forward is choice. One decision, one determined stride at a time. Backsliding into old, more familiar patterns is to be expected, then the challenge is to select another option and move again. This is hard and doable!
The insidious monster of Cleveland decided to take what route seemed easy for him; he was lazy, selfish, careless, and had no concern for the well-being of others. He is not what defines addiction or disorder. Who he chose to be is not the umbrella under which to throw all those who struggle with mental issues. Michelle Knight had it correct when she said last month, “The situation does not define me; I define the situation.”
Today she is at liberty to thrive. To her would-be conqueror she said, “The captive is now free and the oppressor will be locked away forever to die a little every day. You took 11 years of my life and I have got it back. I spent 11 years in hell. Now your hell is just beginning.”
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.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.