Sunday, October 11, 2015

“Who Is Qualified to Advocate for Me?” – On (Some of) the Frustrations of Mental Illness

(When you get tired of the whining, just jump to the paragraph after where it’s marked, “Here’s the important point.”)

I am tempted to joke, again, about the Ann Hedonia film festival. I could give you an imaginary roster of “famous film noir classics” in which the protagonist manages to maintain a dour demeanor of depressed indifference, even as tragically heroic actions preserve and protect others, without emotionally, mentally, socially, physically, or spiritually benefitting the movie’s central character.

Still, Ann Hedonia keeps making personal appearances, bringing her black dog along with her. And even though her roots are starting to show, that doesn’t stop her from bringing the twins out to offer their equally sour succulents, spines and all. She fulfills her usual typecasting, diminishing any desire to pursue otherwise enjoyable activities. But she’s expanded her repertoire to include a diminished enjoyment of even those activities I manage to pursue. In short, I don’t do fun stuff. And on those occasions when I do what used to be fun stuff, I don’t find it fun. And that’s before the black dog finds a quiet corner in which to do his business.

You won’t find her at IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base), and searching for her elsewhere may lead you to some very different conclusions than her personification of anhedonia, the inability to derive pleasure from otherwise pleasurable activities. As you can imagine, there is no fan club. (I think Sylvia Plath talked about maybe trying to organize something, but she doesn’t return my calls.)

If it seems that I am stalling, then you’re being perceptive. If you know me well, then you probably know that there have been good reasons to be, temporarily, sad. True, the San Francisco Giants are not in the playoffs, but it’s an odd-numbered year. And whatever business the Forty-Niners are pursuing is likely to self-correct, eventually. But some of you know about the long string of close personal deaths. Others are aware of the disappointing return on several deeply personal investments (involving the return of the abused to their abuser, the addict to their addiction, and the repeated disappearances of the purportedly devoted). There are other struggles that I pretend are invisible even to those closest to me. But the lie is wearing thin.

Yet all of you, I imagine—and, frankly, I myself—remain acutely aware of the many resources, benefits, and blessings not only available, but stocked deep in my personal inventory. And that’s where the key problem lies for many of us.

I perceive myself as having no standing from which to advocate for those experiencing mental illness. I am functioning, even as I find it difficult to have fun. (And I really do believe that fun is overrated as an evaluative category of life anyway.) Many others are struggling far more with far less ability to do anything about it. I can afford the counselor that I, until recently, avoided. I can adjust my diet and exercise in an attempt to foster endorphin production. (And I have, but it didn’t. Hence the counselor appointment.) There is no legitimate reason for me to be depressed—which further depresses me while simultaneously shaming me. No wonder I don’t get invited to many parties any more.

And yet, if I cannot speak about depression because I am not depressed enough, am I asking those who are more depressed than I am to bear the greater burden for communicating their needs? It would seem so.

But I was recently told that I could not advocate on behalf of a population whose status I do not share. The message was clear: those in need are the only ones with the right to speak of their need. But they don’t, any more than I willingly speak of my own minor difficulties. And yet, as those difficulties have worsened, I find that I wish someone else would advocate on behalf of this population in which I am numbered. Because I have been less and less willing to speak. In some ways, I feel like this post is something like a shout back toward town from edge of the growing chasm that threatens to swallow everything I know and love. I may not choose to say more.

Granted, the breaks between segments of the football game invite me to celebrate with them. McDonald’s now serves breakfast all day long (and the Twitter-pated are ecstatically emoji-ing over the news). Kia is finally building a vehicle for football families. The average military family can save over three hundred and forty-five million dollars by selecting USAA as their financial institution. And there are even more reasons coming at the next commercial break for celebrating life in these United States. But even in the face of these amazing developments, and “the power of Kaepernick” (in the words of the commentator enjoying the Niners’ quarterback as he leads the first sustained drive of the game), I find that my hopes, minimal as they are, rest…well, where? Not with me. Not with my self-help attempts. And not really with the counselor who comes so highly recommended.

But I am going. And I am hoping. Before it gets any worse. I think you should know why.

(Here’s the important point.)

This is why I am admitting my malaise, and moving toward the care I believe I need:

I recently heard a caregiver explain how strong they were, how much they were enduring, and how they would know when it was time for them to abdicate their role, turning the care of a loved one over to others. They expressed that they would not wait too long. When they were “ninety-nine percent done,” they promised, they would let others know to take up the slack of their absence.

My objection to their plan, as gently put as I knew how, was that when others have to respond, it would be good for there to be a little more than one percent of the caregiver’s attentions available, if for no other reason than to share with their replacement(s) what needed to be done in their stead. We agreed on eighty-five percent of their capacity as allowing enough time to make such a transition. But even at eighty percent, there is the possibility of crisis, of personal illness, or of any other unforeseen circumstances that might suddenly push them past their capacity. Engaging in some self-care in order to prolong their availability, and even to alleviate some of the pressure that has pushed them toward the end of their abilities, they may find themselves not only able to provide the care they want to give, but to be healthier in doing so as well.

If I, then, having advised others, choose to run my life too deeply into the high ninety percent range, then I am pretending that there will not be another string of close personal deaths, or other disappointments, or discord, dysfunction, or further debility among those I love. The reality is that I should expect more of the same. I serve a congregation where the average age is significantly higher than my own. The health of my immediate and extended family is unlikely to improve radically any time soon. Oh, and I continue to form close personal friendships with Hospice patients who are, by policy, supposed to be dying relatively soon.

So, before I use up too much more of whatever margin actually remains, I will be talking it over with a competent mental health professional. And if anything I have described in any of the above resonates with you, I pray that you do the same. But if you’re waiting for someone to advocate for you…I find that I can only advocate to you that you avail yourself of whatever resources you can.


Anonymous said...

Bill, YES YES and YES again. I don't talk much about the early years of my young motherhood life, but at the age of 24, my mother-in-law had a brain hemorrhage and ultimately because my husband's father divorced her soon after, her care fell to us. Actually, because I was also secondary care-giver for my own mother every other week or so, it meant that it fell on me to care for both moms. It meant my life as a mom of two daughters was not meant to look like my friend's lives for a very long time. I have up close and personal experience with not only being exhausted, but watching my dad's exhaustion as well when I wasn't able to spell him. So YES...of all the things I could tell you and anyone who is taking care of others, especially if they are family, is PLEASE take care of yourself! A caregiver is of no help or use if they are sick or ill or in need of care giving themselves. And I found many ways to help this happen, from good friends, in home-health care workers who would come in two to three times a week, to small miracles when God seemed to intervene with just the right person to help out. BUT in all this it is important to say one other thing when it comes to care giving for family members. A treasured health care worker once gave me hugely wise advice so I must pass it along. It is important to be my loved ones care giver and advocate for them, but it is even MORE important to just be their "husband or son or daughter or wife or ???" too. One cannot JUST be their caregiver and not totally "Burn out"! One must create enough margin in the care giving schedule to simply be, in my case, my mom's daughter and daughter-in-law. That made sense to me and although I remained in the care-giving lifestyle for almost 30 years, it enabled me to endure and even enjoy those with whom I cared for. SO YES please do whatever you need to do dear Bill to care for your self too!

Anonymous said...

I recently preached on Sabbath... which was tremendously convicting. My approach to avoiding my inner life (depression, stress, whatever) is to simply over-involve myself in my work. So, here is an excerpt of what I preached to myself and allowed the congregation to overhear:

"Lastly, we will see that Sabbath is to be…

A rest, vv 10-11. READ TEXT.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
If you think about it, it's strange that God is spoken of as resting, for God does not get tired! In fact, unlike youth who grow tired and weary and young men who stumble and fall, God "does not faint or grow weary" (Is 40:28).

God is pictured more as ceasing from his work than resting. In Gen 2:3, the term "rested" really means to "cease" or to "stop." The idea is that God stopped created after the sixth day. He did not cease from working because there was no more work that COULD HAVE BEEN DONE, but that what was done was “good” and “very good.”

“God rested.” Can we? The term used in this passage can mean to "be quiet" or to "depart from." Can we set aside our work? Can we be quiet? Do we ever depart from our work, or does it go with us wherever we go?

On the seventh day, the Israelites, their animals, & any foreigner in their midst were to do no work. God, as man's Creator, knew there were times that people needed rest. People need quiet. We need to know how to “depart” and cease from labor.

So, if not under law and there is no exact way or time in which God instructs you to keep a Sabbath, how will you know when you need to cease from work? How do you know when a rest is appropriate?

Here’s the test of whether or not you need to rest… if you wait until you are weary, you have waited too long! If our example is God’s pattern, resting after 6 days, not because he needed to, but because what he had done in the six days prior was “good,” we need to be okay with resting regularly.

 CONSIDER: How often do we, as slaves to the perfect, keep on working after what we have done would be called “good” and “very good” by God? Waiting to rest until we’ve done all we can is not heeding the wisdom of the Sabbath. Walk in step with the Spirit, consulting the heart of God, and you’ll know when you have done all God has called you to do! You can have a peace that comes from God, surpassing all understanding, a peace that can put your perfectionism and nagging guilt aside. You can take a deep breath and say, “It is good.”

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