CompassionateLove Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2016 Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry
When we have a mental illness, we still have to own the effects our symptoms and behaviors have on others. If we hurt someone because we were not able to manage well during an episode, our self-proclaimed “I couldn’t help it” does not relieve their pain. For example, while isolation and withdrawal are two common symptoms of major depression, to later say, “I was depressed and that is why I stopped speaking to you” is, in my opinion, disregard for their experience.
That friend or relative paid a dear price for our illness. We owe it to them to acknowledge that. This does not mean begging forgiveness for being ill.
Beyond courtesy, we can ask two questions. Could we have done anything differently? Did we know better in the moment? Not every choice we make while ill is a clear-headed one! We may not have the tools or knowledge to make preferable decisions, or perhaps our illness robs us of reason. However, if the answer to one of these questions is yes, that is a behavior to address.
We learn over time not only how to manage our disease (prevention of relapse), but also how to manage our symptoms. For some, one episode is treated and seems to not reappear. Others regularly deal with their chronic condition. Recurring episodes, sometimes unpredictable, disrupt our lives, plans, relationships, work, and peace of mind. In this context, changing how we treat others in the process can be a growing experience.
Connie faced her first hospitalization for suicidal thoughts. In her pain, she failed to call home and let everyone know where she was. Her family told her how scary it was for them. A few years later, Connie struggled again and went to the ER. This time, she made herself call home despite every inch of her preferring to hide in bed.
It is important to remember that when we are in episodes of mental illness we are ill and will not function at our best. We are very good at beating ourselves up for that, aren’t we? The “shoulds” berate our hearts.
I’ve learned that talking this out with God and listening for his answer (usually post-episode) may occasionally reveal a sin of my heart – beyond illness – that fed poor choices. This could be something like selfishness or conceit. If this is the case, then asking forgiveness from him, and repenting (changing that attitude) is my next step. No prayer is more daring and rewarding than addressing a sin-sick heart. It is there, in sorrow for the hurt my sin caused God, other people, and myself, that Christ is most near. He lovingly reminds me of the price he already paid on the cross for my guilt, and sets me free of self-condemnation.
Our responsibility is to do what we can, and own the messes we leave behind. This is not carrying guilt for illness. We do not have to grovel for people who want to lay blame on us for their every problem or choice. We never have to apologize for our mental illness. I am saying it is best to validate the experiences of others, and accept it when we have caused harm intentionally or not intentionally.
It’s called making amends. It’s fair, and a compassionately loving thing to do.
Today’s Helpful Word
“The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth.”
-King David struggled with depression and also sin.
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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 is yours.