What to Do When "For Worse" Means Mental Trauma
- Monday, July 16, 2012
By God’s grace I have never been pushed to the breaking point. I don't know when it is okay to leave. My experience tells me that "staying" may be hard, but it is worth the effort. If you find yourself in a situation like mine, here is where I would suggest you start:
1. Get physically healthy. One personal breakthrough came when I changed my eating habits, lost 40 pounds, and started exercising. The physical exertion got rid of some stress, and gave me additional physical energy to deal with both the emotional and physical challenges I faced.
2. Your health requires healthy relationships. I am indebted to Les Ellsworth, who sought out my friendship in the midst of a very difficult time. Les set up times for us to get together, and he listened, giving me feedback when I was completely nuts, but never judging me for my rants, rages, or whines. I also saw a professional counselor who later became a friend, Chris Legg (who blogs on Crosswalk). Chris helped me figure out why I was angry all the time and what I could do about it.
3. Pursue spiritual health as well. For me this was the most difficult. Frankly, God had disappointed me over and over again. Though I would never admit to pursuing a "health and wealth" gospel, my anger with God involved both those issues. There were times I shook my fist at Heaven, asking "How could you throw me into this wilderness?" And almost instantly The Spirit reminded me: God delivered the Hebrew slaves by leading them through the wilderness. And He leads individuals through the wilderness, too. It is simply how He works. So the "wilderness" is nothing personal, it's just part of Providence.
4. Simplify: commit to less; expect less. You need margin in your life to deal with unexpected relapses and to support your spouse. For me, that means politely refusing a variety of opportunities and being deliberate with how our family spends time. Stamina issues often go with head injuries. I compare Mindy's stamina to our family budget - a limited resource that we must spend wisely.
5. If you have friends in a similar circumstance, listen to their story before you give them advice. Then, look for practical needs that can be met. I appreciated the thoughtfulness of people who said they were praying for us, but that wasn’t much practical help (I specifically remember one unfortunate day when our Sunday school class prayed over us and our situation immediately got worse). So if you really want to help, don’t offer a Bible verse. Offer a meal, or child care, or a check that can pay some bills. Try to take some of the stress out of the situation so the care-giving partner can experience care-receiving.
6. Finally, whether you are in a difficult marriage or not, you should read Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make us Holy More Than to Make us Happy? Some of my anger was rooted in a sense that I was giving and giving, but not getting much back. I suspect this frustration applies to most marriages, even those in less dramatic situations. Sacred Marriage can help you get perspective on this. Also, my wife found John W. Cassidy's book Brain Storms: Recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury to be helpful. Unfortunately, it is out of print. However, he also has a recent book, Mind Storms, for families living with a traumatic brain injury survivor.
Stanley J. Ward is the Director of Campus Life and Ministry at The Brook Hill School in Bullard, TX. He is also author of Worldview Conversations: How to Share Your Faith and Keep Your Friends.
Publication date: July 16, 2012
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