The Sorrow of Mental Illness
After a shocking outburst, my son James came to my room to talk with me. As he curled up on my bed I could tell his heart was broken. Though just moments before he was filled with rage, with his fists pounding on the walls and his feet kicking violently toward me, he now was meek, broken and utterly crushed in spirit. “I don’t know why I do these things…I don’t know what happens in my dumb, dumb brain.” As he spoke tears streamed down his cheeks and his hands formed once again into tight clinched fists. Before I knew it, those clinched fists were rapidly pounding on his head again and again. The brutal blows one after another landed. The sound of each thud landing is still imprinted in my mind and heart. Deep blue bruises began to surface quickly as I pushed my arms between his head and hands to stop the blows from continuing. The combination of autism, bipolar and a life time of rejection often adds up to scenes like the one I described above in my home and the homes of countless others day after day. Tired moms and dads sit confounded. Confused siblings wonder what true stability feels like. Those afflicted with mental illness struggle for inner peace and often don’t find it. This is the painful reality for those it impacts directly and indirectly every single day. Where there is mental illness…there is sorrow.
Finally, the blows stopped, and as he sobbed quietly in my arms, James commented that at least he knew he was alive because his head now hurt. Tears now streamed down my face as I pondered his comment. What does it feel like to be my sweet James? That the pain of a bruised and swollen forehead helped him feel alive? The empty pit in my stomach that I live with grew deeper and wider in those moments. The vortex of hopelessness that is mental illness pulled even stronger that day.
The painful truth is, this side of Heaven, there are no human answers that ease his suffering or my pain. Yes, there are medications that help stabilize James and every moment of stabilization is good. I am indeed so thankful for each that comes our way. Still, I live life braced for the moments where everything unravels; the moments when the medications don’t work, when the voices return to his mind, the tormentors return to his soul and darkness fills the landscape of our lives devastating everything around us. During those days, there is only a choice to trust God and believe He holds us tight in the midst of our many questions; that He sees, understands and sustains even when nothing makes sense and our world us utterly turned upside down.
Oscar Widle once said, “Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground” He also said, “How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in?”
There is great sorrow this side of Heaven when mental illness invades a family. I have experienced that great sorrow and know it all too well. In the midst of that sorrow though, I have also experienced a holy encounter with the God of never-ending love that carries me through the confusion, sadness and my mother’s grief. This God is soft, yet strong; mild, yet mighty. He comes with the gentleness of the lamb and strength of the lion. He whispers calm into my often fearful heart and reminds me of the hope of Heaven — where James will finally dance free of all of his earthly afflictions. He inspires me and renews my strength by pouring His own into me so I can carry on through all the storms. His grace holds me. His peace sustains me. His mercy uplifts me. His forgiveness redeems me. It is this God of never-ending love that indeed carries this utterly broken mother through the most heart shattering experiences that mental illness brings. Without Him I can only imagine how lost I would be.
So today, broken, bone weary and often afraid, I curl up in my loving God’s arms and say hold me and my family tight. Never let us go. We have no idea what tomorrow will bring – whether the monsters of mental illness will rear their ugly heads again or whether they will be quieted again. Whether they do or not, I find comfort in the arms of a God who sees, hears, and understands my fragile mother’s heart — and even more so — a God who deeply loves my precious son no matter the broken state of his mind and confusion in the depths of his soul.
Where there is mental illness…there is sorrow. “Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.”** Where there is holy ground…there is the God of never-ending love. Where there is the God of never-ending love…there is inexplicable peace.
No matter the sorrow, may we all discover His inexplicable peace.