Those that know me know that mental illness runs in my family a bit (that may be an understatement). I dare say it may run in most families to some degree, whether one knows it or not. It is also probably a safe bet to say that everyone has experienced depression or anxiety at some point in their own life (whether it be small or large in scale), though I am by no means trying to pull out statistics or some official document to back up that statement, just my own thoughts and observations from years of conversations with friends, family and strangers through my positions in life; be it in sales, a corporate executive, a business owner, a mother, a friend and a woman. I feel as if I have talked to hundreds of people, especially women and mothers that have suffered from depression or anxiety…or both-they tend to be connected.
In all the persons I have come in contact with that suffer severely from it-you know the ones that kinda break…like a tea kettle made of glass that boils for so long it explodes kinda thing…I find myself wanting or thinking I can ‘fix’ them. I mean come on..it is just a matter of changing their thinking right? Think positive! Be positive! You can do it! Just do it! OK you get it. I even took a whole psychology class that taught me everything I need to know to help my family and friends. I know what to do now. Really. I. Have. A. Plan.
During the execution of the plan, with one particular dear friend a few months back, I found there is something that gets in the way of the ‘healing’ process for individuals that struggle with mental illness. Well there are a lot of things, but the one that is the hardest for me to overcome as an outsider….is the ‘DEAF’ period. This is not an official term so please do not try to look it up. A very close family member to me goes through this period quite often so I think I always knew about this, but that was before the plan. Of course there are a lot of stages of depression and anxiety. I even have my own names for them since I have been intimately surrounded by it since a child. The start I call ‘the slippery slope period’, then it’s ‘the rain-man period’ then ‘the DEAF period’, and then ‘the recovery period’. Some cycle through the periods a few times before they hit ‘the recovery period’. Some get stuck too. All of it is hard. I struggle the most with the ‘DEAF’ period as an outsider watching a loved one go through it.
What is the ‘DEAF’ period? Before I can answer that I wanna mention a few of the things that I have noticed that surface during depression and anxiety. These are not necessarily triggers, as I will leave that to the experts, these are just what I would call roadblocks to ‘the recovery period’. I know you have heard these things. You may have even said and done them yourself. I have.
They sound like this. “I am just not good at anything.” “I wish I could do xyz better.” “I should be at a different place in my life right now.” “I could never do that.” “I wish my hair, nose, face, body, legs, (INPUT X HERE) was or wasn’t…” “I hate myself.” “ I suck.” “I am stupid.” “If only my parents had or hadn’t…” “If I had more money I could…” “I will never heal.” “I wish I wasn’t always sick.” “My life sucks.” “I am not a good (WIFE, HUSBAND, MOTHER, FRIEND SISTER, …).” “I should have been a better (FATHER, MOTHER, FRIEND,..)”, “I am weak.”
The list goes on and on.
Being ‘DEAF’ is when one is in the terrible grip of depression and/or anxiety and CANNOT get past this type of thinking. Can only focus almost solely on negativity or past mistakes (whether real or imaginary mistakes). Does not hear anything positive-despite them nodding their head while someone goes on and on about how great they actually are. Can’t even recognize loved ones in their life, friends that treasure them, children who crave their attention, spouses that cherish them, coworkers that admire them. To a ‘DEAF’ person in this stage there is no room for positivity. They can’t hear what is said because of the ‘noise’ in their head. The ‘noise’ of what CAN’T be done. The ‘noise’ of perceived failures. The ‘noise’ of uselessness. The ‘noise’ of feeling weak and pitiful. The ‘noise’ of fear.
So back to the plan. During day five of this plan, I realized that my friend couldn’t hear me. She was ‘DEAF’ and no matter what I put into place, she just couldn’t hear me, couldn’t hear the world. Can you guess what happened? I felt defeated myself. Sad. Hopeless. Fearful. Will she heal? Will she get better? The Dr’s haven’t been able to help her. Medicines, therapy and even electric shock therapy hadn’t done it. How in the world did I think the love of a friend could?
At that moment I got a message. Could have been from God, though it came in the form of an email from a dear friend of mine. It said this; Mental illness can’t be fixed by entertaining someone…..you know that. You are helping in that you are a friend who cares enough to love on her by spending time with her. You may not be “healing” her, but you are being the hands and feet of Jesus to her. Don’t take on the pressure of trying to help “fix” things and don’t diminish what you ARE doing! Just PRAY for her and continue to love her the best way you know how. That’s all you can do.
In my defense the plan is not entertaining one. Not entirely.
But the point is clear.
I can help someone by loving them. Praying for them.
That is not to say that support doesn’t also come in the form of medications from a Dr. if needed, or therapy, or what is best for each individual or even the plan. But for me, now, it simply means being there. Being present. Surrounding her and others with love.
It’s harder than you think. Especially if you have ever had a close loved one suffer with mental illness.
I am not forgetting the plan. I still believe in it. It does work. Because the plan is constructed in love.
Hopefully one doesn’t read this and focus on my use of the word DEAF, or feel that I am diminishing the seriousness of mental illness, as I am well aware of the seriousness of it. Or get wrapped up in what I am missing and all the intricacies of this disease that I chose not to cover nor am qualified to cover-I chose to focus on my own thoughts, observations and experiences. My prayer and love-filled wish is that one will take away this;
You may meet someone today who is suffering from depression or anxiety. You may have family or friends who suffer from depression or anxiety-or worse. Give them something.
Give them love.
And perhaps, before you go to bed, say a prayer for them.
p.s. I want to thank my dear friend-the recipient of the plan– because of her immense strength (yes folks it takes INHUMAN strength to battle mental illness) and for simply being HER, I have changed things in my life for the positive. She saved ME. I love you friend.