My husband, Nelson, asked if he could share a few thoughts with you. Nelson is often my “silent partner,” the one who speaks softly and thinks deeply. As I mention in the opening of Sparks of Redemptive Grace, we believe our lives “weren’t supposed to be this way”; but Nelson has taught me over and over again that we never misplace our faith when we anchor it in the One who prepares our path.
Locusts’ Aftermath By Nelson Downing
Years ago, when our journey with mental illness began and we started to understand the severe, chronic and persistent nature of bipolar disorder, we also learned that it is common for a person to become “stuck” at the psychological and emotional maturity of their first episode. Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled, describes it this way:
When we avoid legitimate suffering that results from dealing with problems, we also avoid the growth that problems demand from us. It is for this reason that in chronic mental illness we stop growing, we become stuck. And without healing, the human spirit begins to shrivel.
In the beginning, this “shriveling”—bleak, incessant, imperturbable, interminable; a terminal cancer of the soul—was all I could imagine for Douglas’ future. All I could see ahead was hopelessness. NO HOPE! No hope for Douglas in his illness. No hope for Catherine and me in caring for him and successfully mitigating the devastation of this wicked disease in our lives! No hope for having any reserves or crumbs of attention to throw toward Douglas’ siblings. Job’s lament was the company my misery loved:
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle
and come to their end without hope.
Remember that my life is a breath;
my eye will never again see good. (Job 7:6-7 ESV)
But God is a God of hope and several years ago He began to help me envision a new future, a good future, a hope-filled future for Douglas. For our family. It was a presentation by Mary Moller at our NAMI state convention that God used to radically change and reorient my outlook.
The presentation description began, “The onset of psychosis is an overwhelming and frightening experience for the patient and family members alike.” CHECK—our experience, exactly.
It continued, “The potential for relapse is unpredictable and can create uncertainty regarding how to proceed with life.” CHECK, again! How had she seen so clearly inside my thoughts and feelings, angst and despair?!?!?!?
Then in 50-odd minutes she deftly unfolded a map to navigate the future. “From the Couch to the Bus Depot to the Mall to Work: Understanding the Relationship of the Post-Psychotic Adjustment Process to Recovery” offered four phases of a process comprised of 50 emotional, interpersonal, cognitive and physiological markers that needed to occur during the three to five years after a psychotic episode to indicate treatment progress. In less than an hour I saw a way forward, I understood how to align my expectations to likely scenarios and I began to get my head and heart around a new journey.
About this same time, subsequent to a focused time of prayer with friends and pastors, we began to see God intervene in Douglas’ life. The changes have been steady and gradual and glorious (from the couch to the bus to the mall …). Catherine and I are now proud in-laws and grandparents. Douglas is rising to the challenges of marriage and parenting in ways, and with stamina, that Catherine and I see as miraculous! In those early dark years of his diagnosis we NEVER could have imagined, nor hoped for what we now see. Yes, Douglas lost 12 years of his life to untreated mental illness, but by God’s grace he does NOT and will NOT be consigned to a lost life!
Rather than perishing in Job’s lament, I now join the prophet Joel in clinging to God’s promise of hope:
I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.
You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame. (Joel 2:25-26 ESV)