I am re-posting this one in honor of National Mental Illness Awareness Week. If you or someone you love suffers from any mental/emotional health issues, please seek help and learn to risk opening up about the struggles. We need to learn to support both those suffering with and those suffering with them through this hell.
‘I admit how broken I am in body and spirit, but God is my strength, and He will be mine forever’ ~~Psalm 73:26 (The Voice).
Remember, as kids, asking for a ‘do-over’ when you missed a shot or messed up a move in a game? The older we got, the less likely requests for do-overs got positive responses. As adults, how often would we like a do-over? We say things we wish we hadn’t, we do things that hurt people, we don’t think far enough ahead to realize consequences. As an extrovert, I pretty much live life out loud and wishing for do-overs. I’ve become an expert apologizer and often internally berate myself for my words and actions.
So, when I got the news that Robin Williams died this week, I wondered what I always wonder when I hear of suicides: Did he wish for a do-over just a little too late? Lots of my favorite actors have died–Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland (do you see a musical trend?). Oh, and how could I forget Cary Grant?! But death by suicide brings a deeper sadness with life-changing and life-lasting effects for those left dealing with the aftermath. Life becomes more real, more sober, more heavy. Always waking from stressful dreams.
Like chasing in vain to stop something from going over a cliff.
Like wanting desperately to stop talking so you don’t say what you know will change a relationship forever and you can’t take it back.
Like when we were young and called a ‘do-over’ in a game, only to have your friends deny the request.
Robin Williams’ suicide this week spotlighted the tragedy of mental illness. Many articles and blogs detail how depression, anxiety, and other debilitating diseases and disorders leave a life in constant chaos. I’ve watched friends, loved ones, and loved ones of loved ones exist in the trenches of the mental health war. Part of the sorrow I feel over his death is my own helplessness and inability to change lives. I’ve known personally at least 4 people in my life who committed suicide. I’ve watched and held countless other sobbing friends (3 in the last year) live with the shock of loved ones who died by their own hands.
While much is written on depression/anxiety disorders, I haven’t found much encouragement for those of us who have to live with and watch those we love suffering from that anguish. Needing to process all that’s going on in my soul right now, I dedicate this post to myself and to others who need to acknowledge what they rarely, if ever, admit:
If someone we love attempts suicide, but lives through the attempt:
- We. Thank. God. Every. Day. For. Their. Life. But we may never sleep restfully again. Every ring of the phone, every noise at night in a silent house becomes heart-stopping for us–even though we may appear calm, happy, or to have recovered from the shock. The elephant in the room remains. And we’re afraid to address it.
- We remain vigilant of where you go, how you’re doing, and are always nervous when you don’t pick up the phone. But we try to sound ‘breezy’ and nonchalant.
- We feel insecure with our own limits to help, fix, empathize, support. Some of these feelings spur us on to grow and mature. Many times the feelings incapacitate us from intimacy with you because we’re afraid of creating waves that may drown you. We need to recognize that it’s no one’s responsibility to make someone ‘happy.’ We can’t live well with that pressure; but accepting that we aren’t big enough to absorb your pain is equally daunting.
When someone doesn’t live through a suicide attempt:
- Guilt, shame, questions never go away. We constantly second-guess what we could have done, could have said, could have been to you, and relive every minute detail of every last encounter with you … for years.
- Our questions will never have answers. You cannot assure us that it wasn’t our fault. And believing that your death reflects how we didn’t show enough how much we loved you, shames us.
- We cannot erase the image of you in death. That death image is what we remember. Even if we didn’t find you, we know how you died and our imagination fills in the sordid picture emblazoned in our heads. It’s the last, and therefore, strongest memory we have.
- We cannot confront you with our anger over the hell you’ve thrust upon us. You don’t have to see the consequences of your actions; but we have to live with them every day.
So how do we blend the two worlds of people who suffer with chronic illnesses (physical, emotional, mental) and those of us who love them? We have to live vulnerably and without shame with each other. We have to network and create support systems. We must de-stigmatize chronic illnesses–especially the ones that have no physical attributes. How often have I heard people say to friends with internal challenges, “Well, you don’t look sick.” To the people hearing those words, they feel dismissed, because if you can’t see the challenge then it doesn’t exist. It may not be what we’re trying to communicate; but it’s what they hear. Instead, let’s have some open communication and address the elephant in the room.
We may not be able to ‘fix’ ____ (depression, anxiety, chronic pain, recovery, etc.); but we can sit with you in it. We have to learn how to support those we love and cherish in the midst of their struggles–read books on what they deal with, go to counseling sessions with them, just listen … patiently … endlessly. Does it get old? Yes. But it’s not about our comfort or convenience, it’s about the ones we love–remember, their lives may depend on our support. Let us into your hell and help you fight the demons. We may make mistakes and insensitive remarks, but tell us when we do! Don’t close off when we fail–teach us how to love you in your language. We want desperately to learn!
Take some time for self-care and soul-care. Loving someone with chronic issues exhausts even the best and strongest of us. Talk to a trusted counselor, friend, pastor or priest. Take a vacation. I take a personal retreat every year for 4 days in the mountains. So refreshing and rejuvenating! Find at least one daily activity that you can do for your own joy–paint your nails, read for 30 minutes, walk a trail, finger paint, write. Find God within and without. Meditate on Scripture, pray, sit in quietness and feel God’s presence. Connect with friends for coffee, meals. Sometimes, I make a coffee date with a long-distance friend. Even 15 minutes can lift my spirit.
And don’t forget that people are not defined by what challenges their lives. Don’t let the challenges define the relationship. Remember to have fun! Remember to laugh! Remember to enjoy the presence of each other!
Because, we don’t ever want to stand over your grave wishing for a do-over.
If you or someone you love is struggling, please get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always available: 1-800-273-8255.
I welcome comments. Please keep them respectful and constructive.