This blog is going to be slightly different than usual. Most of the time when I talk about mental health and mental illness I am thinking about health on this blog. If I am talking about making decisions, I am often talking about how to think about how to make good decisions for health. This can mean resting and taking care of yourself and not going to parties. Or it can mean pushing yourself and going out. Both of these approaches are crucial when healing. But this post Is talking about another aspect of decision making which is important, how other people are doing. So please don’t read into this that you should never take your own health into consideration. But we always need to consider how others are doing too.
One of the challenges about being ill with a mental illness is trying to get out of your own head and try get some sort measure of objectivity. When I started to struggle with depression I made the decision to actively convince myself that I didn’t have depression. I knew I did because the symptoms were obvious, but I was determined to not believe it. For various reasons, I believed that only weak and/or lazy people struggled with depression. I don’t see my self as weak, so really struggled with this cognitive dissonance. I had two contradicting ideas that only added to my anguish.
Hopefully, it is clear to whoever is reading this that these beliefs weren’t helpful for me. What it entailed was that I needed to live as if my health was perfectly fine, even though it wasn’t. I constantly used energy that I couldn’t spare and put myself in situations that exacerbated my anxiety and depression because it was how I would have acted if I didn’t have depression. However, I did have depression. Acting like I did not wasn’t helpful at all.
The other side of the coin is that at times, I have not gone to things because my health has been bad. I have unintentionally isolated myself because I was scared and not feeling well. This meant that I might be avoiding things that could have been helpful for me, but I didn’t want to do, such as going to exercise. It is difficult to know what the right thing to do is.
When you are struggling with a mental illness knowing that the right decisions to make is really tough. Consider the following scenario. A friend asks if you can meet up at a coffee shop. Before I struggled with anxiety I would have been excited. Potentially a bit nervous, but excited. I love hanging out with people. Coffee shops would not be my go to choice, but I love spending time with people.
When I started feeling depressed I would have other thoughts that would accompany this. First of all I would start to dread how boring it would be. Then I would get annoyed at the futility of relationships followed by an unfair rant at the faults of UK culture. I would see going as a waste of time.
When I started feeling anxious this would become a scary experience. I wouldn’t use the words ‘scared’ or ‘afraid’ to describe my feelings. As a guy I am not, nor have ever been, great at expressing my feelings. But anxiety can really make me feel afraid and scared. I would be scared of the noises, the smells, and seeing someone else. The thought of going to meet the person would be off putting and worrying.
Do these feelings mean that I shouldn’t go to meet with the person?
There are times when I really needed to just rest or relax when perhaps I couldn’t manage a meeting in a coffee shop. But there are times when I should definitely go. Relationships still need to be built and meeting with others can be a crucial way of healing from depression and anxiety.
But there is another perspective that needs to be considered. When thinking about meeting up with the person, it is crucial to think about the perspective of the other person. Mental illness don’t only affect the persons afflicted with the, but the whole community. This means two things. First of all, the community needs to consider the needs of the person from the perspective of their health. Secondly, the person needs to consider the needs of the community in this light. This is what I want to talk about in this post.
When my wife and I celebrated our one-year anniversary, It was a joyous and challenging day. Both of our mental health hasn’t been great to say the least. It also doesn’t help that apparently there is a virus going round totally changing regular routines and more. One of the clear highlights and blessings that God has given us ins our marriage in this tough year. What a joy it has been to suffer through and enjoy this year. My wife is an incredible blessing. One thing we have reflected on is how much our mental health affects each other.
When I was struggling with anxiety and depression they affected every relationship I had. Definitely some more than others. But never before has my illness so significantly another person. Whilst it is no longer anxiety or depression, it is my depersonalization disorder.
We are each other’s best friends and closest confidant. More than ever my day to day state affects someone else. If I am struggling emotionally and stressed, she becomes dismayed. If she is anxious about her work, it stresses me out. If I am overwhelmed with God’s joy, it spills over and inspires her. When she devotedly prays, it reduces my anxiety. More than ever before how we are doing affects each other. If I make a bad decision which affects my mental health (such as staying up way too late watching Netflix) it will have an affect on her too.
It is crucial that we do not think of ourselves mor highly than we ought to. The bible says that we should “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4).
This is really hard to do when struggling with a mental illness. They often trap you in a thought pattern which is over focused on ourselves. It is not that they make you selfish, but perhaps a bit more trapped in though patterns which focus on ourselves. It is really hard to remember to think about others because we can get overwhelmed by our own struggles. This is not an inherently selfish thing, but does make it harder to look to the ‘interests of others.’
it has been a great year of learning for both my wife and I. We are both learning how to think about how our decisions affect each other. It isn’t as simple as ‘is this decision good for me health/spiritually/friendship wise?’ To truly do the right thing, and glorify God, we need to be always thinking of others.
This isn’t just the case for married couples. It applies to whole communities. When are struggling with mental illnesses, it doesn’t exclude us from thinking about the needs of the community. It has just been brought into sharp relief as the closeness in our marriage exposes our selfish tendencies.
Just as a wee caveat. I am just trying to make the point that when we are struggling with mental illness we still need to be thinking about the needs of others and not being selfish. It can be easy to slip into selfishness as we are overly focused on ourselves. This does not mean that we need to ignore our needs. This does not mean that we need to neglect our health. But we can’t just close ourselves off until we are better. As much as I love to think when I am ill I can just an indulgent mood, I need to keep others in mind.
The best way to think of others is to keep your eyes trained on God. This will create a natural outpouring of love which will help you focus o others. Although is extremely difficult given the struggle of daily spiritual battles.
Let me know if you have any thoughts, questions, disagreements or anything else in the comments.