A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Own Mental Illness And Words To Those In That Darkness

Again our world has been shaken by the effects of mental illness.  Again there is a clamor of voices, who is to blame, what should we say, what should we do.  It seems easy to talk about the “issue” or to pass judgment or glorify one who is gone.  Some of what we say is beautiful, some thought provoking, some horrifying.  But, I am left wanting to say something to those in the trenches, those struggling this very moment with darkness, despair, or overwhelming anxiety.  

My brother, my sister you are precious, you are brave.  If the world could see the darkness you face we would be humbled by your courage.  

We speak words on top of each other trying to find a balance between honoring the lives of those whom we have lost, comforting the ones left behind, and yet deterring you from terminal paths.  We try everything from shame to the fires of hell to frighten you into remaining here with us lest hope be lost.  But, it is always the case, when the terror of hell becomes the best motivation for a choice, something is terribly wrong.  And shame does no good.  

We want to harry you to therapy or sweet talk you into medication.  But perhaps what would be best is, for those of us who can, to come along beside you and speak our own experiences.  The silence must be broken to shatter the shame and then perhaps there will be one less obstacle for you to face in your weariness.  

Once I faced some darkness.  For a time I wrestled with anxiety.  I say wrestled but I think in the worst of times wrestling with it would have been a relief.  I couldn’t get a hold of it enough to wrestle.  It was an allusive, slippery thing.  Before I could grasp even a corner of one irrational thought to face it for what it was, another would spring up and then another and another always slipping beyond my fingertips.  Time, and work, and cognitive behavioral therapy later and eventually it became more akin to whack-a-mole: attempting to smack down irrational thoughts before they got a hold, only for another to pop up again and again.  Yep, whack-a-mole in my mind was a vast improvement.  

I still get to play mental whack-a-mole from time to time but things are soooo much better.  My brother, my sister, there is hope. 

I remember my therapist suggesting I try to laugh at my irrational thoughts.  I tried.   I don’t think I ever managed even a half hearted chuckle.  There just didn’t seem to be anything funny about no longer being able to trust my own mind.  I am humbled by those who manage to laugh. My journey with anxiety was relatively brief compared to many.  For those who fight for years and years I have a great respect.  

But no matter how monumental the battle, hope is not to be found in quitting.  Please don’t quit.  Gather all the weapons you can find: counseling, medication, family, friends, exercise, art, the beauty of nature, knowledge, spirituality, helping others.   Keep fighting.  The rest of us will fight alongside you when we can and when we can’t it is our duty to clear away as many obstacles as possible, to hear you when you cry out for another weapon, to honor you as a warrior.    

My sister, my brother you are precious, you are brave.  I know you are weary.  Please don’t quit.  There is hope.


Anonymous said...

To quit hmmmm . Please don't quit on those who are trying to hang on . We are condemned . Talked about and treated like we are fools. Thank you for trying but I live in the real world . I am glad that you are better . I wish someday all who suffer with this will at least be understood ..

Sheri Ellwood said...

Anonymous, I certainly don't want to quit on anyone. I'm sorry what I wrote didn't connect with you. I hope I didn't say anything which would make anyone feel like a fool. I realize my experience was fairly mild compared to many. I only meant to share my experience because we need to talk about this in order to remove the shaming which happens. I would welcome any words you could offer to help us all understand. I'm sorry you have to deal with this.