When Grace & Reality Collide: Dealing with Mental Illness, Part II
- Thursday, June 05, 2008
It’s More Common Than You May Know
As a person in ministry I have found Christians who love someone with a mental disorder/disease and/or addictions to be more common than not.
One particular Christian author and speaker (who asked to remain nameless, so we’ll call her Denise) is the parents of an adult child with Type-2 bipolar illness, a more severe form of bipolar disease that sometimes includes psychotic episodes. For the most part, Denise’s son Charles (not his real name) grew up healthy and normal. But when he was only seventeen-years-old the episodes began. “This was a child who was walking closely with the Lord,” Denise reports. “So imagine our surprise when the illness first showed itself.”
Denise’s victim of Type-2 bipolar disease typically begins an episode by talking fast, sleeping little (if at all) and eating little (if at all). As his moods begin to swing, living with Charles from hour to hour becomes a tremendous challenge. He displays unusual character traits: cursing, uncontrollable anger, walking off in the middle of the night. His strength becomes increased and—while some become violent, even toward those they love—so far Charles has not physically wounded anyone.
The Type-2 bipolar can become paranoid. “Once the episodes become full blown they can totally part company with reality. In a fit of mania they might spend literally thousands of dollars in a matter of an hour or sink to the lowest places of despair,” Denise says. “This is often when the patient attempts or is successful at committing suicide.”
Within the framework of grace and mercy, Denise and her family had to find different types of boundaries for Charles. “Most doctors will tell you tough love makes a bipolar patient worse. Patience, honesty, gentleness, prayer, kindness, and often simply being quiet are the best ways we’ve learned to cope with Charles when he’s not well.”
Denise also had to find peace within herself as her son’s illness coincided with her mother’s Alzheimer’s. But as Bottke writes, “We have become emotional repositories for everyone else’s problems, and the time has come for that to stop.”
When Denise found the boundaries that worked for her—both with her son and her father—she was able to put the fragmented pieces of her life back together and—drawn closer to God—was then capable to climbing to new levels within her relationships with God, her husband, herself, and her ministry.
Another friend of mine has a father with Alzheimer's and a 54-year old brother--a former homeless man--who suffers from alcohol-induced dementia. My friend often tells me she is suffering from the guilt and anxiety involved in being the only caregiver in town for them both.
Still, she has she placed boundaries so she can cope. After years of giving in to the guilt, she has claimed the promises and boundaries of Psalm 16:5-6. She has come to realize that God never gives her more than she can handle, and when she feels too stressed to handle the situation, that's her cue to back off and let God take care of her family.
Finding the Boundaries/Extending Proper Grace
While it would be wonderful to hand everyone who loves a person with a mental illness/disorder/addiction a step-by-step recipe to healing, I cannot. I have discovered that some issues are universal and some are dependent upon the relationship you have with the patient and the degree to which you’ve allowed the patient to take over your life.
That said, there are things that don’t work. Melanie, a Christian who suffers from a mental illness/disorder, says one of the worst things that happened to her in the beginning of her illness was when people told her to “buck up.”
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