Touching the Heart
The neglect is a source of much pain, but there are also occasions when we are touched by compassion.
I remember one night when I was filled with dispair, having been assigned to live in the local ‘county home’ which was a chaotic dumping ground for the generally incompitent populations. I had run away in the middle of the night. I was walking through the woods when a car drove up. I told the driver I was a run away he told me he would drive me home and gave me a dime to call my parents. He probably saved my life and that phone call turned my life around.
And another touching moment was when the Mental Health clinic gave me a job cleaning offices. I worked there for 2 years post my last hospitalization and then went back to Technical College in Iowa. As much as cleaning was not my dream job, so to say it, gave me a place to be and a position to fill in which I was able to earn money and be included in society. That was invaluable.
Lastly, when I was around 35 years old and trying to get back into the community in any way I could, the Jewish Community Center took compassion on me and offered me to teach ‘Sunday School’. I was both touched and shocked by this act of humanity.
Looking in, and back
Looking back on my journey as a family member involved in a loved ones recovery process, I learned to arm myself with education, research and personal support outlets. Having stable family support during ones recovery can be an integral part of their future success. The question is how to be a supportive player, how to address both the needs you have as well as the needs of your loved one and ultimately how to maintain a lasting sense of compassion and respect. My initial experience was marked by flundering between two extremely strong emotions, that of guilt and that of resentment. When I break it down, the guilt was an ultimately unhelpful tool which was used to augment my sadness. “I could have done more, I should have seen it coming, Its my fault, I should have been more considerate “. This mantra was trying to serve as some sort of process that attempted to make sense of an incomprehensible situation and, for me, desperately trying to gain some element of control, to feel that there must have been some rationale. Now for the resentment piece. What I was truly resenting was the illness in and of itself, the misfortune. But the way in which my resentment manifested was anger, blaming others, frustration, bitterness and pain…. which led me straight back to the guilt, guilty for being mean, cold and self-centered, and thus the cycle perpetuated itself.
So how does one break out of the cycle and what can be practically done to help oneself in order to help your loved one. If you are the type of person that has to find a way to make sense of a situation I suggest reading, researching and equipping yourself with the knowledge to fight this thing together. Research, most importantly, allows you to comprehend what is happening from a scientific approach, therefore allowing you to normalize this experience and, in one way or another, come to terms with the fact that your loved one is a victim of a statistic, just if they were to have cancer or diabetes. Moreover research imparts a feeling of hope because there are a plethora of new studies, medications, therapies and techniques that are gaining attention and recognition for their effectiveness. If you are able to genuinely convey a feeling of hope that the situation will improve, they will pick up on this positive sentiment. Your loved one will feel that they have a partner in this often times, lonely journey. Via research you will also be exposed to others success stories and the varied and creative ways which helped them get well and stay well.
Sources I have found helpful are things such as biographies, autobiographies guides to therapy/treatment of individual’s accounts through their journey such as; An Unquiet Mind – Kay Redfield Jamison, The Gift of Therapy – Irving Yalom, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness – Elyn Saks. There are also monthly magazines pertaining to the topic of Mental Health, one created by a Canadian who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia in his mid 20’s. He started the magazine SZ (Schizophrenia Digest) not without many challenges but the process of putting together a source of support and hope for people like himself and others gave him the strength to recover. Here are just a few compelling videos found on TED Talks:
Lastly I would strongly recommend getting involved in a support group for families or friends supporting a loved one. These groups provide respite, normalization, hope and friendship. They also provide practical coping tools for yourself which can and need to be employed in order to best support your loved one.
I was thinking about what would and has helped me in my recovery from depression. I started comparing the situation to when I was sitting shiva for my father in 1997. I felt that there were a few people who sincerely put my best interests at heart. Most, at best, were clueless as to how to assist the mourners. Most people came to visit us due to a sense of obligation. During the remainder of the mourning period there were some people whom I felt sincerely comforted me. My boss encouraged me to go to Synagogue whenever I felt it necessary. My therapist helped me address my emotions related to the family situation.
In regard to assistance for mental health patients, I have positive and negative “commandments”. Be a good listener. Do not impose what you believe is best for the person, acknowledge that, as an outsider, you dont have a clue, but let me tell you about it. Be an honest person. When I was in hospital I appreciated the support that people provided by just coming to visit and sit with me.
Looking at the ‘mourning’ period, I think that the rules in Jewish Law provide helpful guidelines for conducting oneself, but best to act in the way you feel most comfortable. For those of us with mental health problems, there is not one answer which suits for all people. Each person’s path to recovery is different.
A Poem by Yehoshua
Forget not the man that carries on his back
and his heart, the weight of lowliness and tear
Without waver – with honor
without weeping – with joy
just a pat on his shoulder
and perhaps, “good going”
to give strength
to him, to go further and further
The broken soul that stands and bleeds
the joy and sorrow, the ugliness and the beauty
between drowning and swimming, and between death
and living – between impurity and purity
between living and mourning
Two paths you shewed me
Hashem, my G-d
and to choose between them, I ask but
a pat on my shoulder
על תשקח את האיש שסוחב על הגב
ובלב, את הכובד של שפלות ודמעה
בלי הסס – עם כבוד
בלי בכי – עם שמחה
רק ליטוף על קטפיו
“ואולי, “כל הכבוד
כדי לתת יותר חוזק
לו, להמשיך עוד ועוד
הנפש השבור שעומד ומדמדם
השמחה והעצוב, המחוארות והחן
בין טביעה להשחייה, ובין מוות
לחיות – בין טומאה לטהרה
בין חיות לאבילות
שני דרכים לי הצגתה
רק לטיפה על קטפי