Feb 23, 2012

What If...

Let's say that you saw me at the farmers market (or church, or Little League practice) and we chatted.

"I haven't seen your better half in a while, how is Tim doing? " you ask.

Not so good, I answer. You know he has some health issues? He is often very weak, or weary. Some days all he can manage is to get the basics done, and after just two or three hours up he needs to head home, usually to bed. He has headaches, sometimes he feels like he can't breathe, his heart races. He has a hard time eating. He has a very hard time focusing. He is so discouraged that he seems to even lost an interest in fighting, in getting better. He doesn't see any hope for improvement, in fact he is so discouraged he cannot even remember being well--or anticipate ever getting better. He struggles with this and sometimes lashes out. Please pray for him, I am afraid he has given up.

"oh wow, I am so sorry, how is the rest of the family managing?"

Well...it has been hard. You know that he is an integral part of the business and he is able to do very little. He sometimes gets to market but they really wipe him out. This leaves the rest of us carrying a heavier load. He has a hard time being able to see past his own struggles, so the kids and I are leaning on each other a lot more emotionally. They see that he is pulling away and they don't really understand. In a very real way, it feels a lot like single parenting. Mostly we are just consumed with worry.

You, being a friend, would likely be empathetic. You would possibly ask what you could do to help. Even if you did not understand the physiology of metabolic diseases or the progression of degenerative nervous system issues you would still want to be supportive.

What if rather than being Renal Failure or Muscular Dystrophy you learned that the illness was Major Depressive Disorder? Or panic attacks? Would you be able to be as supportive?

We have made great progress regarding mental illness in our country. People speak of it, it is required to be covered by health insurers. Antidepressants are some of the most commonly taken medications in the country. Yet a stigma--especially for men--still remains.

Would someone with Diabetes be told to just snap out of it, get over it, pull themselves together?

Would you see someone as just plain lazy if they found it hard to function due to chronic joint pain?

For Christians the backlash can be particularly challenging. I have heard the statement made that depression was one thing and one thing only--hidden, secret sin. Confess your sin, make restitution and voila, you will be healed. Except...what happens when you rack your brain and can come up with no such sin? This is reminiscent of witch trials where the suspected witch was dunked in water--if they lived then they were a witch, and burned at the stake. If they drowned, then they were innocent--but no less dead.

We have seen those in ministry scratch their heads when asked for help and say "well now...I do not know if I have really ever heard of anyone else who dealt with this..."

We have also heard that you must not truly be a believer if you struggle so.

and, of course, there is the suggestion that perhaps you need deliverance from demonic oppression.

Why can't we accept that the human body is incredibly intricate and that we live in a fallen world? Our kidneys can fail, our pancreas not be up to par. We can have cancer, diabetes or Lyme Disease. We can have a heart attack...but we better not have a "brain attack"!

The brain is the most complex organ in the body. There is more that we do not know about the functioning of the brain than we do know. We know about the structures of the brain and generalities about the chemical processes but in the end speak to any neurologist and at the conclusion of the conversation you may well get shrugged shoulders and the wistful statement "we just don't know..." We know that when blood sugars are off kilter the most mild-mannered granny may act aggressively. There are brain tumors for which a primary symptom is personality changes. We know that renal failure can cause confusion. Yet in these situations we do not suggest demons are at work, we seek the cause and a solution but if aggression, personality changes and confusion arise from a chemical imbalance that we cannot see, we seek to protect ourselves by pointing fingers. Why? Because it scares us. We stave off cancer by quitting smoking, heart disease by eating correctly and exercising. How do we protect ourselves from mental illness? We cannot--and this is a scary proposition. It is much more comfortable to conclude that mental illness has it's origins in a personality flaw because in this we are safe.

And so it continues, those with mental illness are even more isolated and their families continue alone.


goatldi said...

Darn it girl! Don't let those alligators get you under the water!

It isn't easy, it will live with you and the children and him forever. It can and might get better. It might get better and then come back.

If I had an answer from living with my mentally ill mother , symptomatic from my age of ten, I would gladly share.

Just hold on to what you have, each other. One day at a time. And don't loose faith. And search out support groups, especially for the kids. They are there, wish we had them when it was my go round.

Again. I am here. Holler if you need too.

Anonymous said...

My husband deals with anxiety issues and it's just getting more and more challenging. We are trying to stay away from the usual meds, because of the suicidal tendencies associated with them, among other things. Keep your faith in our Creator and like goatldi says, find a support system, even if the support is as simple as a blog post to vent or a friend to confide in when you can't hold it in anymore.
With you in spirit & prayers,

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. I just found out that I've been suffering from anxiety/depression and possibly OCD. It's a scary and painful thing to live with, but I know two things. One, God can (and someday will) provide healing, and two, until then, He'll get us through. He gives us His own strength, He give us friends, and He gives us medications that can help. However bad it gets, Christ went through worse things, and He doesn't forget us in our pain. Trust Him and don't let anyone put you down! Jehovah-jirah!

Maid Alana

Jonathan H said...

Unfortunately what you say about depression is a too real problem; there are so many things we are willing to speak about in church (some of which we shouldn't) but we are not willing to seriously address depression.
I am someone who has struggled with depression also, fortunately not as much as Tim, but I have noticed when I seek help with it that many churches and Christians are unable or unwilling to make serious attempts at helping resolve it. Some people have unhelpfully told me "just suck it up and live with it" like its my choice - I'm sure you have received similar advice!
You are NOT alone even when it feels like it.