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Mental Illness is Not a Death Sentence


For the majority of my marriage, a monster has haunted my wife and me: Bipolar Disorder.

I really mean “Borderline Personality Disorder” (BPD), but Bipolar is the more well-known of the two mental illnesses, and they share common symptoms.

It is a wild roller-coaster of a story to tell, how we went from not knowing she had it at all to coming to peace with it, but that’s not in the scope of this post. I don’t know if I’m ready to tell it yet, either.

Going through those difficult years, though, left me with bits of advice I wish I could share with others going through the same thing – whether to those struggling with BDP or those living with someone struggling with BPD.

Mental illness can wreck a marriage. It can ruin lives or take them altogether. Or it can make everyone stronger, more resilient, wiser, and more compassionate.

Here are a few of the things I learned along the way.

Therapy + Medication

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Studies show that therapy in conjunction with medication are the best 1-2 combo punch to mental illness out there. It is not a sure thing. These are not magic, but together they are typically your best option.

Therapy was not fun for my wife. Dredging up years of abuse and painful memories never is. But every time she came home from a session, she was more at peace.

Medication is frustrating. Sometimes it’s hard in the beginning to find the right cocktail. It gives her brain-fog, and for awhile there, it felt like she was another person taking them. Her spark was a little dimmer.

But she has control of herself now. And over time, her body and mind adjusted to the medication.

Emotional Handicap

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If your spouse was in a wheelchair and asked for help getting something on the top shelf in the kitchen, you would not think twice. If your friend was on crutches, you would make sure you slowed down when you walked with them.

Mental illness is an emotional handicap, but that’s hard to see because it is invisible. Those of us who are healthy wonder why one moment our friend with bipolar is doing just fine and at another moment is falling apart. But that is the nature of it.

Asking a person in the throws of depression to snap out of it or to go about their daily life like nothing is different, is like asking a paraplegic to go on a nice swim. It is easy to do if your body is functioning right, but those with mental illness can feel emotionally paralyzed.

Knowing this can help us be more compassionate to those wrestling with it and more compassionate with ourselves if we are the ones suffering.

Diving Deeper into Faith

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Studies also show that diving deeper into a person’s chosen religion is beneficial as well. I would love to hold this up as one more reason to become Catholic, but it apparently works with a host of religions.

You might be surprised at this, but why have Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity taken root and flourished? It’s a little callous to say it was just forced on everyone. They could have died out.

This might be hard to swallow, but there is something healthy about established religions. They offer a structure to life that acts like spiritual and emotional scaffolding.

Call them crutches if you want. Some of us could use a couple crutches. Or, in the spirit of Steve Jobs, a bicycle for the soul to help us get where we need to go.

Patience, Patience, Patience

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Whether you are the one with a mental illness or the person caring for one, be patient with yourself.

My Catholic faith teaches me that God assumes I am going to fail often. There is a reason the church requires Catholics to go to confession at least once a year and why the US bishops counsel us to go once a month. They know we are going to fall, and God’s forgiveness is always a sure thing.

Part of having a healthy understanding of ourselves is realizing this and accepting it as part of life. This is frustrating when we, or the people we love, are the ones who have to suffer for our failures.

But as Victor Hugo says, letting people love you for who you are – and even in spite of who you are – is the supreme happiness in life.

More than that, the only we learn to be compassionate towards those who need it is by being shown compassion when we need it. We love because others loved us first.

Not a Death Sentence

BPD, depression, Bipolar Disorder, and whatever other mental illnesses are out there are not death sentences. They do not mean that a marriage is going to fall apart or that friendships are going to get blown up – at least they don’t have to.

If you or someone you love is dealing with this, get help. We know a lot more about how to deal with mental illness now than we did decades ago.

And if you are Catholic and struggling with mental illness, while you are getting all the help mentioned above, hold tightly to your faith.

Now is not the time to run from God. Now is the time to run to him.

©2020 Catholic Anonymous

My points in this post are mostly informed by The Catholic Guide to Depression. I highly recommend it.

Check out videos, this podcast, and stories I’ve written, along with other posts on this site.

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