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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sometimes There Are No Cures

There are times when the limits of being human become very apparent. Sure, the easy comment after that previous sentence could be something like "yeah, as in we can't carry a load 100 times our own weight, like ants do" or something like that, but that's really not what I'm referring to. No, I'm thinking of something a tab bit more subtle, as in our very difficult time in grasping the finality of certain situations. I personally think (well all of this is what I "personally think", but for some reason I need to constantly qualify myself, as if some alien species is going to read this and wonder "Wow, are all humans this messed up?") that Americans are among the worst at simply accepting things; it seems to be part of our collective genetic code to want to "solve" and "fix" things. In reality, some things just can't ever be "fixed".

No where is the above more apparent for me than when the subject of mental illness comes up.

Now to be fair, I don't think that any family member who deals with a loved one suffering through mental health problems is ever told that person will be "cured". No, far more subtle words are chosen to describe the treatment and expectations for someone who has this kind of illness. Still though, that's what family members want to hear, namely that "all we have to do is wait for ____________ to kick in and he/she will get better". "Better" is the relevant term in the previous sentence. If someone is suicidal, "better" can mean that they don't try to harm themselves (at least not in an overt manner) any more. "Better" can also mean that they are able to walk around and seeming function. "Better" though doesn't mean "cured".

It's all in managing the expectations: not for the loved one, but for yourself.

Yes, one of the most difficult things about dealing with someone who suffers from mental health problems is getting past the notion that "better" means "cured". Even then, once you intellectually accept that there are real differences between the words "better" and "cured", it still negatively impacts you when that person seems to digress. How could it not? For me, it's not just the dealing with the digressions that just seem to happen from time to time, it's the notion that you then always end up looking at that person and then seeing all of these signs that you interpret as being indicative of the digression. It's as if you are in this movie, where you are given all of these subtle, small clues that all point to some kind of grand conspiracy. You lose the ability to not interpret the actions of the person, with then everything they do now being subject to your interpretation on the mental health scale.

All well and (not so) good, but what does all of this really mean? It means that some of the work associated with dealing with mental health issues belongs to those around the person. It's about managing our own expectations and learning to really, truly accept those things for which we really can't change. I don't think that the previous sentence is unique to the subject of mental (or any other kind of) health issues, but instead it goes to the core of the limits we have as human beings. It is painfully difficult to simply say to yourself "yes, there is a problem, and no I can not solve it" because that seems to make us powerless to respond.

If you look deeper into the notion of being "powerless to respond" I think you find that the notion is not actually correct. I once heard a line on a television show that went something along the lines of "the true test of a warrior isn't from grand battles, but it's from within", which I interpret as meaning that the toughest struggles we face aren't purely from the external forces we have deal with, but rather are how we deal with those challenges within our own heads. No where is that more apparent, literally and figuratively, than when you consider dealing with mental health issues. No, you can not respond by making that person "better", but you can respond by making your self better. Maybe that's really what a warrior does.

Coda...It's interesting in that most of the time when I write something it literally flows from my head through my arms to my fingers onto the screen. Sure, I do some editing (or more correctly attempt to do some editing, as evidenced by the numerous typos that are usually found in this stuff), but by and large how I think about things are how they appear on the screen. This entry was different in that it was something of a struggle to get it out. That's okay I suppose, because this is a difficult topic to even think about, let alone somehow translate those thoughts into coherent words. The struggle really is on the inside.

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