As I have said many times, families dealing with mental illness are not alone. In fact, one in five families each year are impacted by mental health difficulties. There are a few who also write about their journeys. For example, I have found Maree Dee’s blogs a great encouragement to me and I appreciate her willingness to share one of her insights with us (below). Read more of her thoughts at Embracing the Unexpected.
Do you categorize people based on differences? I honestly didn’t think I did until it hit me smack dab in the face at a recent convention. It got me thinking: What might happen if we stopped putting people in boxes?
Arriving at the National Alliance on Mental Illness Convention, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to hear from leading experts in the field. I was also eager to meet others walking the same path. After all, this conference was about “us” coming together to help one another, and I knew firsthand what it was like to fiercely love and care for someone with a mental illness.
I began mingling, and after a few awkward exchanges realized this was not at all what I had anticipated. I was looking for the “me too” associated with connecting with people on the same journey. However, when I asked, “Who is your loved one with a diagnosis?” many times the answer came back, “It is me.” At first I felt as if I had crossed a line or put my foot in my mouth until it dawned on me … the “us” of this gathering was all of us, not just the ones in my “box” of caregivers. This conference was for individuals and families impacted by mental illness—firsthand or secondhand!
I had agreed to co-present a mock class the next day to demonstrate a course called Family Connections.* It was a program that had changed my life, and I was extremely passionate about it. The skills from the class were useful for everyone. But I had always taught it to family members. This time the class would include an array of people. I began to fret about my approach, not wanting to perpetuate the great divide and put people back into boxes.
I knew the place to start was with my own words. In the past, my words alone had divided people into “those with the illness” and “those without.” And so I carefully adjusted my own vocabulary so the participants could see what was now in my heart and what I now believed.
It was an astonishing few days as I began to see us all become one group, together looking for ways to conquer, educate and live with mental illnesses.
Now I know we were never meant to focus on our differences. And while it is healthy to find groups where we get the “me too” feeling, if we make a habit of fitting people into our predetermined boxes we will miss out on seeing each other from God’s perspective.
As in so many things, Jesus modeled for us how to love people just as they are and who they are. He still brings people together from every walk of life, every culture and every kind of need to show us His love, mercy and kindness. He sees that we all have qualities and limitations regardless of the condition of our mental health. When we learn from Him, we start taking people out of boxes and can begin to see what can bring us together, live how God intended and love one another well.
Maree Dee is a writer, speaker and advocate who is passionate about “Embracing Life in the Midst of the Unexpected.” Maree knows the deep, abrupt pain of watching family members struggle with mental illness. She wants others to know they are not alone, and that together with God we can find hope, peace and joy.
*Family Connections™ is a 12-week course that meets weekly to provide education, skills training and support for those who are in a relationship with someone who lives with borderline personality disorder.
To read blogs by Catherine Downing click here.