Let’s Be Kind To One Another

The confessional and personal nature of my last post meant that the comments were more important than usual to me. Each and every word of encouragement, prayer, song snippet or kindness held great meaning for me. I thank you for your comments.

But it is those words that you have not seen that are hitting my heart with power. And conviction. And pain. Look, here; read a sampling of what has come to me via private messages or emails:

“Mental illness is a subject I’m very sensitive to, and I have spent a lot of time cringing and biting my tongue…You come to expect that your position isn’t going to be understood or welcomed, so you keep your mouth shut.”

“…I know all too well the devastating effects that mental illness forces upon families…I grew up ashamed of my mother and did whatever I could, at any cost, to keep people outside the confines of our four walls from discovering what really went on behind closed doors…I continue to wrestle with the demon of guilt…because I was a terrible daughter to her. I was hateful, impatient, and angry with her most of the time. I mourn now over a lost relationship…If only I had the support as a child that walked me through the mood swings, the paranoia, the mania followed by the can’t-get-out-of-bed-for-days depression…if only.”

“I just want to say that it did my heart good to read your words…I wish my mother had reacted that way years ago. The fact that she didn’t and to this day still says “it’s in my head” is irreversible damage that she’ll never be able to undo.” 


“My youngest daughter is also suffering with a mental illness…She is filled with anger and hatred and much of it is directed towards me.”


“…our son also is bipolar. I have told almost no one…I understand the pain, the fear, the heartache, the confusion, even the shame and the guilt…And I understand the feelings of helplessness. Utter, gut wrenching helplessness.”

“I read your blog on mental illness with great pain.  My eldest daughter…The disease has affected her marriage, her relationship with her daughters, her friendships and our relationship…I worry.  I feel bad.  I feel responsible.”

And here is my further confession: most of these folks are known to me in real life. I have touched their hands, had face-to-face conversations with them. They are my friends.

And in most cases, I didn’t know. 

Before we moved into this new place, I never thought much about bipolar disease. I was ignorant. It didn’t factor into my assessment of others, my relationships, my expectations, my empathy.

But now I know.

And it makes a difference.

There’s a lot of pain out there. Let’s be kind to one another.

Thank you for all of your responses. Your encouragement means the world to me.

In Which The Truth Comes Out

I’m house cleaning. Music pours through the empty halls and off the walls as I wait for three of my five kids to make the 45-minute trip from their dad’s house back home. I’m in the kitchen, and I can hear the shuffle of the melodies from the living room.

Eminem – Tenth Avenue North – Susan Graham – Michael Roe – U2 – Willie Nelson – A.R. Rahman – Andrew Bird – Dave Matthews – Jay Z – Lecrae – Hillsong – Sting –

I’m unsure about so many things these days, including what kind of music I want. So I put it on shuffle. It works brilliantly. There’s a little bit of everything – a LOT of everything!

I think, to myself, “This music….it’s like I’m schizophrenic or something…” and I imagine me saying that to someone, because I do that, sometimes, when I’ve spent a few too many hours alone.

And I pull up short in that moment. It’s that word, schizophrenia. Because I have learned, recently, that comparing the challenges of a mental illness like schizophrenia to the razzle-dazzle of an eclectic music collection meets a wide range of criteria for wrong.

There is no comparison. Bad analogy.

I’m not schizophrenic. I just have diverse taste in music. I don’t have a mental illness.

But my daughter does.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

There it is. I said it. The truth is out.

And oh, the roaring rush of wind that blows through mind as I even type those words…it is loud and it is fast and it blows where it will. And I can’t control it.

So I am giving up control. I have decided (with her permission) to let it go.

It seems, at times, that we live in two separate worlds. It’s not the biggest secret; there are many who will read these words and acknowledge what was confided months ago. Coming out is no surprise to all.

But we have lived in this other place, where we read blogs about bipolar and pass around a book called Loving Someone Who Is Bipolar and we talk about and pray for friends who are exhibiting symptoms that we recognize so well. We talk about our extended family, and those who have gone before, some undiagnosed, and what cousins are struggling still. We see the scarred branches of our particular family tree and have learned to find new names for what we once simply called moody. Or over the top. Or intense. Or hyper.

And we live in this place where we are all just a bit sensitive to the mania and the depression and the way the tendrils of either one can wrap around our legs and throw us on our collective asses.

Bipolar disease has changed our family dramatically, because we live here, now.

Sarah was diagnosed just a few weeks after her 19th birthday. Calling it what it was – naming this thing that was bouncing off the walls and scratching itself bloody on our backsides – led to a decision (hers, mostly) to walk into St. Mary’s psych ward here in Richmond. Reliving those moments as I watched my child – my baby girl! my daughter! my beautiful child! – walk through doors locked to keep me out as much as to keep her in brings hot, tense tears even now.

Of all the things that life has brought; of the many mistakes I have made, the pain I have caused, the injuries I have inflicted, the wounds I have felt, nothing – absolutely nothing – compares of the utter agony of a suffering child.

My suffering child.

And me, rendered completely incapable of helping her. In fact, quite the opposite, as therapy and hot dialogue reveal that the initial triggers all connect to me, somehow. Those tight, tense strings of maternal love and affection can also carry deadly, destructive disease.

I am her mother. I bring healing, and I bring pain.

There is a special place for this sort of motherhood. I’ve yet to determine any analogy, any comparison. I know this: that there is a depth to my soul untouched and likely unreachable by anything but the fiery coals that sear this tainted love, the kind that rages within the boundaries of mania and weeps with the despair of depression. Only this particular, unforgettable fire burns this deep. None other that I have felt.

I love my daughter. She is bipolar. And we will never be the same.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Sarah is incredibly wise and proactive and continues to embrace – even to own her life, in a full and vibrant way. The challenges of living with mental illness are greater for her, the affected individual, than any of the rest of us; but Sarah has a unique, God-given ability to consider others around her. Perhaps it’s because she is the eldest, the “big sister”. Years of looking out for everybody else created habits and patterns of bold love and heartfelt kindness. It’s a beautiful thing.

Today, she sent a note to me and to her sisters, quoting a book she is reading. It was the trigger to finally tug these words out from beyond the walls of our house and into the light.

So, now you know. And I wonder if some of you read this post and were surprised.

It’s everywhere. There are people and families all around us who live with bipolar and other mental illness. The spectrum of treatment and life engagement varies wildly. You never know.

In opening the door to our situation, we hope to offer an invitation toward healing for other families who are living with bipolar disease or other mental illness. And we want to help eliminate the stigma. Everyone around you is carrying some sort of burden. Some of them struggle with mental illness. Don’t forget that.

Here’s the quote Sarah sent us, how she is helping her siblings walk this road:

The effects of mental illness on brothers and sisters
Mental illness can lead to a variety of emotional effects for brothers and sisters of the affected person. For example, they may feel:
Confusion about their sibling’s changed behaviour.
Embarrassment about being in the affected person’s company.
Jealous of their parent’s attention.
Resentment about not being like their peers.
Fear of developing the mental illness.

What brothers and sisters can and can’t do
What you can do
If your sibling has a mental illness, you can:
Talk honestly about your feelings and encourage others in the family to do the same.
Be active in improving mental health services – for example, through local mental health support groups.
Avoid making the ill person the axis around which the family revolves.
Maintain your focus on living and enjoying your own life.
What you can’t do
If your sibling has a mental illness, you can’t:
Be totally responsible for their welfare.
Make your sibling behave in a certain way – for example, force them to take their medication.
Solve all their problems or feel you ought to.
Lessen the impact of the illness by pretending that it is not there.

And this is the back story, then, to the tremendous emotion behind that post I wrote. You see, leaving home and taking this step towards her future was something that she wasn’t sure she’d ever really be able to do. That’s why we cried; that’s why we rejoice.

You never know.