reflections on feeling limited by mental illness

You may have encountered the news story a week or two ago about a man who climbed to the other side of the railings on a bridge and contemplated jumping. The photos within the story struck me quite powerfully in and of itself, as images can often do. This man threatened suicide but was “talked down” by passers by. The most moving aspect of the story was that to ensure he didn’t fall they tied him to the bridge with rope but also clung to him before emergency services could lift him down. Ordinary people who didn’t know him held onto him like this for two hours and the photos captured this and became, to me, a dynamic and vivid picture of what, I think, can be a big struggle for those with a mental illness.

mental illness is limiting

We don’t like to be limited. Yet most of us are in several ways at least at some point during our lives. Some more than others. So why do we struggle with this normal aspect of life? This man is literally limited; tied by ropes and held at a time when he is desperate and has been driven to the edge. Perhaps your mental illness means you don’t always want to go out. Or never do. Perhaps it makes you exhausted all the time. Perhaps you have to cancel things at the last minute. Perhaps you can’t hold a conversation. Perhaps you can’t sleep. Perhaps you can never do anything remotely risky. Perhaps you can’t be understood. Perhaps you can’t be happy. About anything.

Despite its bad press there is opportunity in limitation. Opportunity to change, opportunity to learn, opportunity to be vulnerable, and therefore…

Opportunity to connect at a deeper level with those around us.

Yes, there can be unspeakable pain. We have to fight for our self-worth. It’s hard. But we have to find our way to being ok with our limitations.

we don’t like to limit others

What impacted me most about the image was reflecting on the people holding him for that length of time. Without commenting on this specific situation, I can certainly relate to feelings of guilt over the impact of my mental health problems on others around me. Any long-term illness can generate these feelings. It is hard to be the “needy” one. It pokes fun at our pride, that’s for sure.

But also, there is a genuine cost for those close to us and I think our frustration with this reality stems out of our ingrained belief that life should be easier than it is; that we are somehow owed that. If I believe this about myself then I believe it for others too. So I struggle to deal with my issues making life difficult for more people than just me.

But this is the heart of community and connection; bearing each other’s burdens. One day you’ll be the strong one and you’ll consider it a privilege to prop up your friend who propped you up during your struggle.

Did you ever have to do that exercise in P.E. at school, or perhaps as an awkward trust exercise with a stranger at some training event, where you lean against one another? If you both lean all your weight on each other at the same time you should both remain upright (assuming you’re not completely opposed in height and weight). If one of you leans too heavily, the other will buckle and fall. But here’s the thing; you both fall. This doesn’t just speak of one of you putting too many burdens on the other, it also speaks of the other not sharing any of their own burdens.

You never know, you may have a friend who is desperate to hear some of your struggle as they know it’s what connects you at the deepest level. They want to know you and you deserve to be known.

If you’re a parent it can be a real source of guilt and pain to feel like you are limiting your children. However, it’s very hard to avoid struggle and so it begs the question:

What life are we trying to create for our children?

Because this is life. Your struggle and it’s impact is just life doing what it does.

risky thing to live

By letting them feel the impact of our struggle and helping them through we can raise children who are not knocked for six by struggle but are emotionally resilient in the midst of it. How do we help them through?

Well I’m no guru but I try to help my kids just as I would want to be helped myself:

  1. Let them feel and express pain (verbally and/or through tears) and really listen.
  2. Don’t take it personally and end up telling them off for being sad because you feel guilty.
  3. Empathise (“you feel sad because Mummy is too poorly to take you out today, I understand, that must be disappointing”).
  4. Help them to choose a positive outlook (“staying at home could be fun too, shall we build a fort/bake a cake” – whatever you might be able to manage).
  5. Teach them that struggle is an opportunity to learn and grow (perhaps tell them about your struggle and what you are learning, if appropriate).

Learn and change quote

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