Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness
(c)2014 Nancy Virden
He sits atop a pony and grins. His five-year old hands grasp the red saddle horn in a sense of adventure. He has no fear because holding on to his belt is an adult walking alongside. As they circle around a small dirt track at the county fair, his eyes are wide at the wonder of his first experience horseback riding.
Compare to another child’s experience. She is staying at an overnight camp for third graders where horses are part of the daily routine. One horse in particular was either avoided or demanded when it was time to choose because his temperament was ornery- playful with a mean streak.
This girl knew how to ride; she’d been a camper for three years already. Boldly, she placed her foot in the stirrup and flung herself into the saddle of the unpredictable horse. All seemed well at first as an adult volunteer turned the horse by its bridle to line up with all the rest, and the caravan was off. Adults attended most of the riders, similarly to the boy’s experience at the fair. She, however, was left to control her horse on her own- something she was certain would be easy.
They took off at a walking pace. The lead horse was taking it’s time. Hills and a large lush field awaited the train on their little adventure. Thick woods were to their left. Children were chatting and laughing, the sun was shining, and the horses appeared content.
The whimsical horse was looking at the woods. Suddenly, he took off into a trot as the girl clung tightly. Veering sharply, he entered a gap between trees and headed down an obviously horse-made trail, complete with scratching brambles and overhanging branches. The little girl thought she was doomed. This was no longer fun as her amateurish riding skills completely failed her. She ducked as limb after limb threatened her head, then saw the inevitable lowest one quickly coming her way. The horse bowed his head, intending for his rider to be dethroned, and with quick reflexes the girl caught the branch and allowed the horse to run out from under her.
Soon, the adults caught up and lowered the shaking child to the ground.
These two stories, in my opinion, express some of what those of us who struggle with mood disorders feel. One day we are sitting atop the world, feeling safe and enjoying the ride. Life is fairly predictable and routine, we are comfortable. These emotions are what the human race in general can experience from time to time and what we hope to feel more often.
Mood disorders however, are abnormalities. Although the ride is peaceful for a time, one’s emotions can take a downturn, fast. Suddenly we are ducking depression, anxiety, impulsivity, or despair. We have no horses to blame; management of our moods falls to us. This is a simplistic analogy of a complex issue that affects mental health. Healing is not a matter of grabbing a branch and going back to craft class. It can be long, tedious, frighteningly unpredictable, and tiring. Medications can offer some relief, and that helps us to reason. It is our turn then to learn how to apply reason when our emotions are robbing us of will, desire, joy, purpose, and support. It’s a tough trail sitting on the back of a runaway mental illness.
Compassionate love shows patience for yourself or those you know who struggle with a mood disorder.
NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal 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 from qualitystockphotos.com