A SAD REGRET
It has been more than 20 years…. Back then, dark enigmas were hidden behind closed doors. There was little public awareness or discussion on misunderstood topics, let alone numerous commercials highlighting symptoms and offering possible medicinal remedies.
Back then ….it was an unspoken dilemma that caused havoc amongst loved ones. It was a mysterious stigma that baffled families and left them feeling helpless and alone.
Back then… I was fighting this battle in total ignorance and isolation. It wasn’t a behavior I could relate to coming from a family of hyper-motivated extroverts. I thought my son’s behavior was nothing more than adolescent rebellion and at worse a deep character flaw that he would eventually outgrow.
I can still quote my most frequent admonitions:
“You’re still sleeping…just get out of bed.” “Go do something productive and you’ll feel better.” “Find a goal and achieve it—then maybe you won’t be in such a rut.” “Stop being a slouch.” “Maybe if you ate better.” “Why don’t you try working out, it might give you energy.” “Where are you with God?”
Those accusatory lines were a steady stream that flowed from my mouth in the hopes of getting a reactive response out of what I perceived as a lazy, disinterested teenager with a serious lack of motivation. It never occurred to me that there could be underlying issues that caused such behavior. It never occurred to me that it could be an illness.
Depression never entered my mind.
There’s so much we know and understand about depression today. Sorrowfully for me, it’s too late to make a difference for my son. John died December 15, 2005.
In reflection, I recall his incessant emotional lows and now I see them ever so clearly. They were uninvited, uncontrolled, and probably so overwhelming to his spirit. My mentality had not only missed the mark gravely, but more than likely my response to it diminished his self-worth. I realize now how much of his life was overshadowed by a pervading sadness because of the cloud of depression that hung over him. I see it in the freeze frame photos from a time long passed. The eyes can’t lie.
It wasn’t until much later after his death that I learned about such things as brain disease and the power of chemicals to regulate or disrupt our bodies. And sadly, even today--with all the scientific data-- there are still stigmas attached with anything associated with mental illness. We accept and empathize with every other type of ailment a person may face. But with mental issues the mindset still shifts to embarrassment and fear of being judged. If we were told a loved one had liver disease, we would never imagine saying just ‘get over it,’ or ‘how is your relationship with God?’ We would never respond to a cancer diagnosis with ‘try exercising more.’
My heart cries at the thought of his misunderstood struggles. In life, there are no do-overs. But thankfully, in Christ, there are makeovers. And this newfound knowledge has put me on a mission to encourage families that are struggling with depression, mental illness, addiction, and bi-polar disorder. I can share my mishandled moments. I can ‘come out of the closet’ and encourage others with the hope of Christ and remind them that ‘ we are fearfully and wonderfully made,’ which means that even our physiological and mental predispositions, our brain make up, and our illnesses pass through the hands of a Sovereign God whose purposes may never be understood on this side of heaven. (Psalm 139) That doesn’t mean we don’t seek help, but it does mean that the outcome may never be what is hoped for.
I am reminded that some of the most precious Bible verses were penned when the writer was experiencing strife, grief, or heartache. And so I want to encourage you to remember to always lean on the Lord, do everything in your power to get your loved one help, but then rest that our God has the outcome in His hands.
Proverbs 3: 5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”
Andrea Maher is the former editor-in chief of PARENT ABC’s, a monthly magazine dedicated to helping parents navigate the everyday concerns of family life. She is the author of the newly released book, SLAMMED: Overcoming Tragedy in the Wave of Grief, A Survival Guide She has been married to her husband, John, for 40 years and are the parents of four sons, and enjoy their six grandchildren in Cape May, New Jersey where they reside. You can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.