“Before you can break out of prison, you must realize you are locked up.” – www.healthyplace.com
Everyone is affected by a terminal condition called “life”. In every family, there are emotional or physical Illnesses that affect one member – the sufferer – yet also affect others – spouses or partners, parents, children, or siblings. To a lesser degree, friends, co-workers, or neighbors may also be affected. Disease and genetic disorders like Lyme disease, asthma, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy or cancer are chronic conditions and are lifelong disabilities physically but emotional disorders, many linked to genetic predispositions, traumatic physical events or lifestyle choices can can radically change the family dynamics no less permanently.
In most cases, there is no preparation. no schooling or a “recommended reading list” in one’s formative years, for family members when a loved one has a mental illness like anorexia, depression, bipolar or anxiety disorders like agoraphobia. These can also accompany or be elevated by an addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs, or other substances. A casual relationship may not reveal the extent of a sufferer’s condition. But in a long-term relationship, marriage or one with frequent connection or intimacy, between spouses, or parents and children, clues early in a person’s life may exist. Of course, everyone experiences an illness, accident, depression or difficult circumstances that are temporary. It takes long-term observation to note patterns that may indicate unhealthy behavior.
When a participant (an active observer, or even a co-dependent personality type) is not a professionally-trained counselor, experience, level of empathy and often spiritual foundation are the only tools available. Behavior that later manifests in addiction, mania and depression mood swings, obsessive-compulsive activity, hyperactivity, sleeplessness or its opposite, and emotional disconnection may be subtle at first or have sudden onset. With PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, a life event such as death of child, a combat experience, a severe accident, sexual assault or abuse can severely damage a formerly healthy individual and ripple emotionally through a family. Triggering events may be a tone of voice, a certain time, a season, a smell, sounds or a characteristic that one person displays. For someone in a relationship with another who experienced a traumatic event -even years in the past – “walking on eggshells” becomes normal. Often in hindsight to a failed relationship, injury or death of the sufferer, particularly when a victim was unwilling or unable to seek help, guilt may emotionally affect those in the victim’s circle for years. Yet PTSD is not a terminal condition, but requires compassion, professional treatment, cooperation, and ongoing engagement on the part of the sufferer and her close personal relationships.
For many, when it is a close family member, in late adolescence or early adulthood, it is a natural response to think the behavior including addiction, is just a “phase” he or she is “going through”. From the outside looking in, the addict, when rational and sober, seems to be functioning individual – but it is a ruse. Some are able to hold a job for a time. They may frequently change jobs due to work stress or the addiction’s toll on a person’s performance. It is a natural self-defense mechanism or social response for people not to ‘get involved’, or to overlook indicators, but these are not compassionate responses of family and close friends. However, an addict can also mask his or her problems by being outgoing but shallow, and very reserved (personal details) to coworkers, family members or others in his or her circle of acquaintances. One sort of behavior that may be due to embarrassment, or pride is a need to appear to be “holding it together”. Limited engagement, that is, keeping visits short with family and family friends at holidays or other gatherings.
When the sufferer is an adult, who arguably is not a “danger to themselves or others”, there is little one can do more than to suggest, advise, or urge the sufferer to seek professional help. The longer the addiction continues, the more the addict does damage to themselves physically and emotionally. Hospitalization and treatment of the symptoms may give the addict an opportunity to be sober for a short time.
Treating the problem – the addiction – without a sustained, professional program to treat the emotions or physical underpinnings, is a temporary measure. In the meantime, the family and close friends have to endure their own emotional pain to partner in their loved one’s recovery. For some, replacing the destructive addiction with a positive one particularly through physical activity can be successful when partnered with professional counseling. It may well be a lifelong activity. A new ‘normal’.
For those who are willing to consider a spiritual component to ongoing wellness, study of the Bible offers examples of successful lives though suffering from illness, depression or anxieties. The Bible offers hope in illustrations of several figures who suffered from depression. King David is lauded as one of the most devout leaders in the Old Testament, but his Psalms are full of outpouring his anxieties, fears, troubles, and anger to God.
11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God – Psalm 42:11
Elijah, one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament is another. In 1 Kings 19:4
4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush,(A) sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life;(B) I am no better than my ancestors.”
the passage illustrates his depression. Job also battled depression. Examples: Job 3: 26
and Job 10: 1:
“I loathe my very life;(A)
therefore I will give free rein to my complaint
and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.
While these figures went on to have great impact in the Bible and to adherents for thousands of years, there is no indication that they were freed from the emotional and physical ailments that people still endure today.
One of those who has been successful in ongoing recovery from anorexia, BeautyBeyondBones, offers her personal experience and resources that are instructive for eating disorders and other communities who are seeking support with emotional and physical disorders.
In the following article, there are some good tips for families dealing with the various demons affecting their loved ones. But it is only a starting point.