She is lost. Gone away somewhere in her mind. I squeeze her warm hand and catch her gaze, offering anchor. Where is she? Somewhere dark, devoid of truth or reality? Sometimes I think it may be sweet oblivion, a coping mechanism. The screen of her mind plays blissful memories or creates fairy tales in which she can play the lead. I smile and put my arm around her to mask my confusion. Her voice drops low, softly intent upon each unintelligible word, like we are confidants sharing secrets. I speak sweet affirmations to her: you are safe; you are loved; you are so special; I’m so glad that I’m here with you. I turn on a gospel cd, not knowing how to fill the hours of our day, but to hold her hand and give her mind rest, her body safety, and her soul comfort.
What must it feel like to lose your self, to feel yourself slowly slipping away? And how alone you must feel to share this with others, but they cannot hear it because you are not an average capable, independent adult? Sometimes you wake up an angry tormented stranger trapped inside of despair. What kind of nightmares does the mind weave when it has a lifetime of abuse and pain with which to paint its canvas?
The guilt weighs heavy on us. How did we not recognize the signs? Could we have paused this shocking decline? Maybe not, but we can give her something now – dignity and love.
Mental Illness – we try to make it suit our rational order, but by its very nature, it is the brokenness of that order, the fragmentation of the mind, the disintegration of our world. It is the scourge of generations. What can we fight with except kindness and respect for human dignity?
Our fears and inadequacies are not more important than the person. Our emotional pain and discomfort are not more important than the person. It is a hard line to walk; healthy boundaries are often trial and error. For our family, it is a constant tug of war. We vacillate between normal life and chaos – a beautiful complete life or weeks of burnout from the sheer magnitude of being responsible for another human adult’s quality of life. I am in awe of families that fight this good fight for decades. Our battle has been more of a sprint, and we are blessed with support.
If you, or someone you know, are dealing with a loved one with mental illness, you do not have to walk this journey alone. Find your local chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), bravely make the decision to attend a meeting, and realize that there are thousands of others fighting the fight. There are resources available to you and your loved one. Don’t wait. You are your loved ones’ only champion. If you are defeated in the battle for their health and dignity – who will fight for them?
NAMI Davidson County, Nashville TN – www.namidavidson.org
NAMI All 50 States – www.nami.org
NAMI Tennessee Helpline: #800-467- 3589
Mental Health Crisis #615-726-0125
Suicide Prevention Lifeline #800-273-8255
Family Services #615-244-7444