FAMILY CAREGIVING CHRONICLES: PRECIOUS BROKENNESS - Accepting the Journey & the Hope
“The term “kintsugi” means ‘golden joinery’ in Japanese and refers to the art of fixing broken ceramics with a lacquer resin made to look like solid gold” (….and often actually using genuine gold powder in the resin). “Chances are, a vessel fixed by kintsugi will look more gorgeous, and more precious, than before it was fractured.” - Dick Lehman, Kintsugi: Gold Repair of Ceramic Faults
As a Family Caregiver who also battles mental illness, depression and anxiety, I can say my life is more blessed, full, and authentic than it has ever been. You may say that is hard to believe because of the difficulty one endures during trial. I would have too before it became my story. Something about mental illness forces you to shed all pretense, there is no room for it; you either accept your journey or be beaten by it. Initially there is the fear and the failed efforts to hold it all together and keep up the facade of being "okay". Then without any assistance from you, your brain sends out the "all-points bulletin" and you are emotionally, physically and spiritually "naked and afraid". You have no choice but to address your illness or be consumed by it.
Coming to terms with having a mental illness is half the battle I believe. Once you can accept your brain works differently and that fighting it, or rather resisting the change you can begin your journey to recovery. It's no cakewalk. It takes lots of discipline and lots of falling down and getting up again...LOT OF FALLING DOWN AND GETTING BACK UP AGAIN.
As a Family Caregiver I have grown as an individual in ways I don't think I would have with just a mental illness alone. When you are observing struggling from the outside it's one thing, but when you are struggling from the inside as well you have a whole new respect for how your loved one lives and battles every day. Anxiety and Depression are difficult and require gauging your emotions and managing responses to triggers as well as having a game plan in place if you start to take a slide downhill, and even then the fear of not being able to stop the momentum looms evermore. Having to manage all of that on top of mania, paranoia, and psychosis as in Bipolar Disorder/Schizoaffective which is what my son lives with, heaps on a whole new battlefield. Someone living successfully with a mood disorder, anxiety disorder, eating disorder, Alzheimer’s, or Autism deserve a “Purple Heart”. There is so much that goes into fighting yourself and winning.
Compassion is a byproduct of Family Caregiving I believe. There is a gladiator’s portion of war when you step onto the battlefield with your loved one to fight this formidable opponent who knows your every move beforehand. You learn to be the guardian of the light when they are in the darkness that is mental illnesses throes. You learn to pick up on the non-verbal cues of "I'm in trouble" or the relief and much preferred "I'm okay, just bracing for the next wave". The most welcome of them all is when we are both symptom free at the same time. That is the most refreshing time. Think walking into a air conditioned room with an oceanfront view after being all day in direct sun at 100 degrees.
As we are now upon Mothers Day and the reason for this blog post, I reflect on the Mothers Day the very first year of his diagnosis and how far we have come. My communication skills have grown, he has learned how to tell me when he is in trouble and not worry if I am going to panic or overreact suggesting a visit to the ER; I am more comfortable knowing when a visit to the ER is necessary.
It has been now been two years since our dreadful Mother’s Day of 2013 when he got out of my car after we argued about how he should manage his money, he'd just cashed his check and he needed to pay for his car note. He on the other hand had other plans and an explosion is an understatement of what ensued. He got out of my car and stormed away. I called and called and texted and texted. Finally I got a response and it was so horrid I prayed for months to erase it from my memory. He vowed to never talk to me again and he didn’t call me on Mother’s Day. I wouldn’t hear from him until 3 days later, I hadn’t seen him since that Friday before Mother’s Day. My husband and daughter took me out on the most amazing Mother’s Day outing and I used my camera I got as a gift that weekend to capture our time. I looked back on those images and the weather was almost reflective of the storm we were all fighting but with Gods help and holding onto each other we made it through. He called and asked for some of his clothing and some official documents as well as bus fare as he’d blown through his paycheck by then in a bout of Mania. We took him his clothing, his documents, and bus fare for the week as well as some food. A series of hospital visits, hospital stays, and a another medical diagnosis where we spent 2 weeks in the hospital was enough to break us, BUT GOD. I share this story because somewhere this weekend is a mother who is at odds with her child and fears it will never turn around. Have faith and know that once you have loved and supported and your loved one chooses to walk away it is not your battle. They have to come to an acceptance and then commit to the recovery. It’s not easy no, but support from family helps. Being disrespected and abused emotionally is not acceptable. Never accept mistreatment. Stand up for yourself.
Today we can look back on our journey and say that through it all it was God who held this family together. It took lot of work and lots of pain and lots of tears and lots of fear. We did it anyway. Were there times I wanted to give up. Yes. Many. I would say, “I’m done, no more”, and then I would see how hard he was fighting. We would stand in the gap for him until he could get his legs back. It cost. It cost us a pound of flesh, but we are better for it.
We are still on this journey and as with any long term illness you are always in management mode. We have had the best two months ever since his diagnosis. I have watched him come into full acceptance and awareness and be employed full time, saving his money towards getting his own place and a car. I have learned to respect that he is an individual with his own thoughts and opinions, likes and dislikes. I have come to respect that his illness doesn't render him helpless and in need of me "taking over" his life and making decisions for him. I have my son to thank for that as he never gave up his battle with me, he was adamant stating that although he was "battling his mind" he was not "out of his mind". He had to want it however, therein lied his success.
We had to be broken on this journey in order to become whole. We embrace our scars and "cracks" looking upon them in admiration of the grace of an amazing God. We laughed in the car this past week together on the way home from picking him up from work. He works late and so we are on the road very late for 45 minutes from home both ways. Sometimes people are not driving as careful as they should be. We encountered one of those people and something happened that caused us to be a bit later getting on the road to come home and we missed an encounter with a reckless driver. My heart was full as I heard him say, "We know that was no one but Jehovah".
If you are in a place where you are battling with and for your loved one through mental illness don't give up, especially if they are fighting. Hold onto them. Fight for them. Fight with them. Believe for them when they cannot believe for themselves. Hope for them when they cannot hope. Assure them I am holding this torch until you are strong enough to carry it yourself, because I know you are, and I know you will be.
If you are at odds or in a strained relationship with your loved one this Mother’s Day don't be discouraged. There will be many more to come. Don't give up on them. Keep praying. Keep believing. If they don't answer the phone, write, if they don't respond know in your heart that you have done your part. Don't give up hope they do come home eventually. Until they are ready to accept their diagnosis or their need to get help it is out of your hands. Let them know you love them and are there when they are ready. In the mean time for comfort read:
Just as God rejoices when we return to Him we ourselves will rejoice when our loved ones return. You will live and you will not wilt away. God has a purpose in your pain, you will be refined by it. In the meantime stay in prayer and believe God for healing and wholeness. Things that are broken are even more beautiful. Jesus specialized in the "broken" during His time here on the earth. Review His ministry. Jesus was here with a purpose to save, to heal and ultimately to redeem. His time was spent with the sick, infirmed, sinners, and outcasts. Rest assured whatever is meant to destroy you if you give it to God he will give it purpose. Wishing you a Mother’s Day filled with acceptance of beauty in brokenness.