Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2012 Nancy Virden
Felicia was thirty-three years old when I met her. A mother to several children, she was not raising any of them. Her sobriety was less than one year old, and she was in the worst quandary of her life.
You see, Felicia was pregnant again. One might think this would be old-hat to her, to deliver a baby then give it up. That’s not how she saw it. That’s not how her heart felt it.
She was experiencing this pregnancy as if it were her first. She knew of her other children and cared about them, however that love and ache was fairly new. No longer in a haze of nearly constant drug abuse and alcoholic binges, she was comprehending reality. Unfortunately for her, like for so many of us, the truth unveiled reason for regrets and sorrow.
Felicia was about to give birth. She was glad for her recent victories, and proud she had not used drugs or alcohol throughout the entire pregnancy. Yet, her heart was breaking.
Family Services had informed her she could not keep this child either, despite all her efforts at rehabilitation. Parenting classes, collecting a baby’s material needs such as a crib and diapers, and attending her 12-step programs faithfully, were not enough to please those who have to make decisions on what is best for the child. Why? Felicia was homeless.
She told me about a man who had once paid her for sex so she could get drugs. Her lifestyle at that time had been especially self-destructive, and this incident had not been a single event. As a result, Felicia did not know who the father of her baby is. Nevertheless, this man was making her an offer. If she would be willing to serve his sexual cravings, she could live in his house.
My mind went to excuses and denial. No way she would allow this horrific thing to happen. She is old enough to take care of herself. I can’t be expected to get involved every time I hear a sad story. There’s no time for this.
I pointed out county and city resources she could call and gave her some clothes. We spoke of second chances and eternal hope. Weeping, she prayed to receive Jesus Christ’s ultimate gift of love for her. Then she said she had to leave, and I let her go.
A few weeks later, we met again. She held a beautiful baby girl and grinned widely as I exclaimed over her new daughter. Sitting down, Felicia grew quiet. Anxiety crossed her face as she answered my questions. Yes, she was still sober. Yes, she had found a home. No, she did not have custody of this child.
“Then how is it you have your little girl with you?” I asked.
“Her father has custody.” Felicia’s eyes were downcast.
“I didn’t know you knew…”
“Yes. We did a paternity test.” Felicia sighed helplessly. “It’s the man I told you about. He has agreed to let me live with him and our daughter. He says he will take her away if I ever fail to please him.”
“I know. But I have no choice. Nancy, what else can I do? He has full custody!”
My content with the status quo had kept me from reaching out to Felicia when she needed me. I could have helped her find a home, nevertheless did not. Now, she was in the most desperate situation of her life. That’s saying a lot considering her experiences.
I don’t know where she is today. Whenever I think of her, which is often, I pray for her and her child. Is she drug-free? Is she with her daughter? Is she still being “held” as a sex slave? I have these questions, nonetheless a greater question might be, “Why don’t I know her situation?”
It’s simple. That information is not mine because I did not ask where she was living. I did not get her phone number or last name. Felicia and her baby are out of my sight because the status quo was again just too comfortable to refuse.
Is there a right way to respond when someone cries “abuse”? Yes, with compassionate love that actually walks toward and not away from the facts. Compassionate love asks questions, and pursues solutions. This means getting involved, many times beyond comfort.
Before I forget, there is one more detail to Felicia’s story. She has Bipolar Disorder and cannot afford meds. Consider how this particular mental illness, when untreated, traps one into unending cycles of vast mood swings. Some people with this disease cannot hold down jobs, and struggle to think rationally when they are most ill.
Is Felicia strictly a victim? No, she has indeed made poor choices. However, what if a disease brought her to make those choices?
Compassion sees beyond the surface and loves.
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.
*picture by LUSI on rgbstock.com