Monday, March 28, 2016

Coping with a Loved One's Mental Illness

Last Saturday, I heard the testimony of a father whose teenage son committed suicide in early 2015 after suffering clinical depression. He was in Taiwan on a business trip when his wife called and said their son was unstable. He flew back and saw his son. But on the following day, the 17 years old killed himself at home.

This was a case that the parents did not see the tragedy coming. Their son seemed happy, did well in school, had friends, and was involved in many activities. You could imagine the questions the dad asked himself and God. Questions such as

(1) Where did my son go since he stopped going to church in high school?
(2) Why do so many people with depression attempt suicide?
(3) How to look at a life that ended short?
(4) What's really important in life?
(5) What could parents do differently while they still have time?

Having comforted by God through his grief and loss, this father stood in front of hundreds to share his testimony, hoping to raise awareness of clinical depression which is a real sickness and an unseen killer. He described depression like a balloon losing air. The life force was let out. A person suffering depression is often tormented by repeated negative and destructive thoughts. In this day and age, through the Internet, everyone is constantly exposed to and bombarded by information which might induce negative thoughts about oneself, the world, and our future every day!

Witnessing the suffering of a loved one can be one of the most difficult situations we face. Among other things, we may feel powerless, frustrated and frightened. That’s true whether the suffering originates from a physical illness or injury, addiction or self-destructive activity.

When a loved one suffers a debilitating, persistent and chronic mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, those feelings can be compounded. Strange, unpredictable behaviors can be terrifying and confusing. Your loved one may suddenly rage at you with blame or be utterly dependent upon you for basic needs and emotional stability.

You may experience many confusing emotions yourself, including anger, grief, guilt, fear and sadness. As you struggle with each episode of illness and worry about the future, you may feel anxious and overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, since serious mental illness still carries a stigma, you may be keeping it a secret, resulting in increased isolation, frustration and difficulty because you may have no one to talk to about your feelings or no way to get information and support.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Tending the Fences: Setting Healthy Boundaries

“Good fences make good neighbors.” So goes the old proverb from the well-loved Robert Frost poem.  

Likewise, good personal boundaries make for good relationships. Boundaries are those invisible lines of protection you draw around yourself. They let people know your limits on what they can say or do around you. Healthy boundaries give you freedom in relating to others. Make them too solid and you build walls, too weak and you allow other’s actions to harm you.

It’s not always clear where our boundaries are or need to be. Recognizing and studying the signs of ignored or ineffective boundaries is a good place to start, as these “symptoms” give clues to the needed boundary. See if any of the following ring true for you.

Aloofness and distance. When you are unwilling or fearful of opening your space to others, or when you build walls to insure that others don’t invade your emotional or physical space, this may be a defense against cruel behavior, abuse or neglect that you allowed to happen. A person with healthy boundaries draws a line over which they will not allow anyone to cross. They recognize their right to say, “No!”

Chip on the shoulder. This kind of attitude declares, “I dare you to come too close!” and is often the result of anger over a past violation or ignoring of your physical or emotional space by others. Healthy boundaries mean you are able to speak up when your space has been violated, leaving you free to trust that you can assertively protect yourself to ensure you are not hurt.