Family: Trading Understanding for Acceptance
Mothers Day is a touchy holiday for some people. I know it was for me.
I didn’t always get along with my mother and, actually, there was a time in my life when I wanted to disappear without a trace because I was sick of all the fighting and painful feelings. But that was many years ago and now I have a pretty good relationship with Mom. It’s not perfect, but no relationship is. I’m just happy that we are friends and as my mother ages, my instinct is to draw closer rather than run away.
When I told my parents that I’d been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I knew it wasn’t going to go well. I knew the conversation was going to tank. I thought about not telling them at all, but it seemed like such a big thing to skip over. I didn’t want one of them to read about it before I told them about it, either. As I expected, they didn’t believe it at first. They didn’t even believe that BP was a real disease. You pulled yourself up by the bootstraps and dealt with life, you didn’t give it a scientific-sounding name and take a pill for it – that was for weaklings! For years, the topic would never have come up had I not brought it up myself, and when I did, my mother did everything she could to steer the conversation in another direction.
I’ve never wanted to be a mental health evangelist, believe it or not. I believe the Lord tried very hard for many years to get me to write and speak about it, but I wanted nothing to do with it. I especially didn’t want to be the mental health evangelist in my family because it was so frustrating and disheartening. I just wanted my family to understand it and have my back, and I wasn’t sure that would ever happen. Ah, but relationships are about compromise, aren’t they? If you go into any relationship thinking you can change somebody, you will be sorely disappointed.
Sometimes, you have to trade understanding for acceptance. That’s what has happened in my family. I’m not holding out for my 70-something parents to become mental health experts. I know that when my mother hears depression in my voice, she’s going to tell me to smile and “cheer up” even though I can’t. It’s irritating sometimes, but I can handle it because they don’t pretend that nothing is wrong anymore. They actually use the words “Bipolar Disorder” now. It’s not just “my problem” or “my ups and downs.” No more arguments over the necessity of medication, either.
I’m sure so many of you have been in my position – you have a family that doesn’t get it and I’m sure a lot of them have no intention of opening their minds. That sucks, and I understand how you feel. I want to encourage you to be brave and to be willing to talk about your illness, but I also understand that sometimes it’s too exhausting. Being misunderstood and dismissed doesn’t help mental illness. So, if you’re in a good place and you’re feeling strong enough, be open about your struggles. Consider acceptance a blessing, and don’t plunge yourself into a darker place by insisting that everyone understand it as well as you do.
If there are people in your life who refuse to open their minds, don’t lose yours trying to convert them. Your prayers are stronger than your words, and sometimes the best way to drive home the point that you are legitimately ill is to back away during “sick times.”
As I get older, I realize more and more that the word “family” has many definitions. Sometimes you must build your own. You must find people that rally around you and embrace you for every bit of who you are. It’s not about your loved ones “getting it” – it’s about their willingness to try to.
Incidentally, that’s what I want for the Church, too. Churches doesn’t have to be full-service psychiatric care centers, they just have to be filled with people who are trying to understand and want to make a difference.
Find a group of caring, open ears and be honest about who you are.
If you don’t find it on the first try, pack up and set your circus down elsewhere. God will never leave you an orphan.
Woman refusing to listen image available from Shutterstock.
Fidler, J. (2013). Family: Trading Understanding for Acceptance. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/amazed-by-grace/2013/05/13/family-trading-understanding-for-acceptance/