Mourning Mental Illness: Grief that gives way to God’s Grace

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The following post is by someone who has become a good web friend of mine. As you read her post, I think you will know why.  Thanks to Carmel Christine for this powerful article.


Mourning Mental Illness: Grief that gives way to God’s Grace
by Carmel Christine

A turn of events can catapult your life as you know it into a sphere so foreign, so cold, dark, distant and frightening that you barely recognize it. My teen son was diagnosed with Bipolar two and a half years ago. This disorder didn’t arrive subtly so we could slowly get our bearings and adjust to it. It showed itself as depression first. Our effervescent son of younger years was changing, becoming more moody, but as a teenager moodiness comes with the territory. Within a very short time, he almost took his life and only by the grace of God the attempt was interrupted. It was then life as we knew it changed.

At the moment his doctor told us we needed to get immediate help for our son, I felt as though my heart was being pulled out of my chest by hand. My head on the other hand was trying to take in the doctor’s words—very slowly: “. . . nurse is looking up numbers . . . treatment centers . . .” while also trying to process a mom’s to-do list: “pack suitcase . . . but what about his food allergies? . . . how far away will he be? . . .” Grief is setting in but there’s no time for it. I’m cold all over. I have to move. I have to make calls. Not just one call—many, because I discovered not all places were able to take a kid with life-threatening food allergies. The risk? He’s suicidal which means no sharp things, ties and strings off shoes, etc., but they can’t keep him from drinking a glass of milk. That’s all it would take since he’s anaphylactic to it.

The darkness gets darker and has pushed me toward an abyss, a chasm. I was led to pray in order to get to the other side of this. My inner prayer to God then was two simple words: “Father, God.” All I could do was repeat it over and over. God moved me to take this thing moment by moment. I made the calls, one at a time until finally the right doctor and the right help came. Now I could breathe. Not deeply, but enough to feel. I felt grief. This feeling was the same as what I felt for the passing of my parents the year earlier. I’m not comfortable with it, but then who is. My optimistic outlook, past losses and how God had used them for His glory, to show mercy and grace, spirit and life at the darkest of times, kept me focused this time.

As time went on and medical treatment began, each stage was met with another loss. Each new medicine tried was always a risk. Then there was school. You see, there was always hope he would go back to school but that didn’t work out. When I would walk into the building to pick up his books I see all the usual activity of a typical high school—banners on the walls announcing a school dance, the window case with the trophies of sports wins, students, his friends, laughing and going to class.

Walking through the school one day, I happened to look across the top of one wall where an academic banner stretched across with names of proficient and distinguished students from the previous spring. My eyes scrolled down the list and there was my son’s name. My eyes welled up instantly—mostly with pride but then an uncomfortable, overwhelming sadness—not because I didn’t think he could be there again, but that it wouldn’t be the same. With his bipolar (not everyone with bipolar experiences it the same) he needs more time to study, to read, to take breaks—basically he has to move “with” his disorder to take advantage of his more productive moments, which are unpredictable, so when the “lows” hit, he won’t be too behind. With that kind of pace, the way he goes about his education has to be different; a new normal.

Going to dances or even events like July 4th celebrations present more difficulties because of the sounds and lights. They affect him and without going into it, it’s just another reminder that his activities have to be planned out and can’t be spontaneous. My point is there is a loss experienced.

The difference between a mourning of death and this kind of mourning is it is excruciatingly private. Unlike mourning the loss of a loved one, there are no neighborly visits from family or friends. No covered casseroles lined up on the kitchen counter; no notes or cards of encouragement or any of the markings of cherished care that comes when death interrupts life. No service with a preacher offering words of love and comfort, or ending in prayers for God’s grace. Still when mental illness forged its way into my 15-year-old son, it did so cruelly, ripping into the effervescent personality of our fun-loving teenager.

Where was the church in all this? Well, the year earlier when my mom died, I visited a small church in my town. After services, I approached the pastor, told him that I was visiting and my mom had recently passed away. He stood there and said he was sorry but he needed to go catch someone before they left. I said, sure go ahead. I left too. It would be another year before we would find a church but that was ok. We still had God.

The beginning of our new path together as a family is still developing. We have learned to reach out to a few people and have found a church family which means everything. The amazing courage my son has shown throughout this has overwhelmed me and taught me so much. Some things just don’t matter anymore. It doesn’t much matter if the house isn’t picked up when he has invited a friend over. We have learned who our friends are and who not to invest time with. I personally have reached a new place in my faith. There isn’t a lot of time for wasting—time involved in the things this world thinks is important. My focus is on God’s Kingdom. My son is mine to care for here but belongs to God.

Our son is very open with his condition. Still, many people find it hard to realize all that he copes with because unlike other disabilities, with mood disorders or mental illness, you can’t “see” it. But one fine thing you can see is his fun-loving spirit is back, he found God and loves Jesus! Praises always to our One & Only.

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  • Goodness! Do I ever HEAR ya…and FEEL ya, Carmel Christine.  I grew up with a Bipolar/paranoid/schizophrenic mother.  My whole life was about this kind of mourning.  The kind that only you and God seem to understand.  2.5 years ago, the woman who was my spiritual mother–a beautiful Christian woman of faith–lost her adult son in a fire.  So far, that has meant that we (my daughter and I) have lost her.  I only bring it up because I have MANY TIMES written in my own blog and in other posts, that there is no ceremony for the loss of the living.  No one sends you a card saying, “I’m so sorry that your spiritual mother, whom you have loved as your own, is not emotionally dead and acts like she hates you.”  This kind of grief is lonely, and empty of all ritual.  No one but God and maybe someone who’s been there (if they can score the time to look your way) understands.  I am praying for your son this morning, Carmel Christine.  I am praying for you.

  • Sammy Abiodun

    I have a deep belief that God gracious. May He shine His face upon your son and bring you laughter, Carmel!

  • Thank you, Carmel… I have Aspergers but wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my 20s. However in my teens, the doctors diagnosed with severe clinical depression bordering on schizo-affective disorder. So many various drug cocktails, ECT, stuff going on around me I didn’t totally understand but was supposed to help me “feel better”. Big names to me, but my mother was crushed. You see, her father was not a terribly nice fellow. In fact, he treated his wife and children in ways I can’t imagine my parents treating me. No addictions, no alcohol in the house — untreated mental illness that mom’s family took the brunt of. The medical officials of the day tried to treat him, and at the time the pills had side effects that were nearly as bad as the condition itself… which my mother also took the brunt of. In her eyes, for the first while, I was her father. It was happening all over again… to her daughter. With what little I knew of Grandpa, I never wanted to be him… I didn’t want to turn into someone who would hurt my mother… but, with time and space for the grief you described so well, mom is beyond sure that I have never been nor will ever be Grandpa. In times I think I am, she knows better than I ever will. 

    As for church, I’ve been told that there’s no such thing as mental illness or PDDs. It’s mostly unconfessed sin or a refusal to rely on God. I can’t tell you how much stuff I’ve confessed… even made up stuff to confess just so I’d “feel better”… or at least look the part. But as for my parents, we have gone on a journey that defies dogma and enters into God’s kingdom. Mom was trained as a nurse, but is now a mental health therapist specializing in grief and loss. Imagine that!

    If the church as a gathering was more open to people struggling with mental health issues, perhaps it would be more “acceptable” to offer open support and genuine love. As it is, many of us need to keep things like this a secret, even though the person next to us is also struggling. I can’t talk about my AS openly… first because of the disbelief of believers, and second… sometimes people then expect me to become a performing monkey: doing “Aspie” things to amaze them or generate empathy within them. Perhaps that’s my bitterness and disappointment to own, but it’s a hard thing to swallow — every day.

    What I do know is that I have a Mom and Dad who are best cheerleaders. I fought them for years, drifted from them, locked them out, and hurt them. But I’ve been given a second chance. And I won’t trade that chance for anything. Preaching/teaching be sent through the wringer… my parents have sought to walk with the Christ, their First Love throughout their lives, and because of that choice, I have two of the best people in the world who see me as a creation of God, whole and very good.

    Thanks to Moms like you, people like your son and like me know in our deepest places that we matter… that we’re not perpetual sinners… that how we experience life is real and not made up. For all that long-winded response, my final thought is a heartfelt, mind felt: “Thank you…”

  • Carmel

    Yes, I would agree that no one but God knows… and thankful for people like you, Anne, Sammy, and Erin here have shown that by sharing your experience allows others to see God. Because that’s where God lives… in our stories. Keep sharing, people. ~ all blessings.

  • I was once depressed enough to be put into a hospital for it. Over the next year and a half I was sent to two therapists and on medication. Eventually I got better, but for the two years before I went to the hospital, I was a wreck and damaging to many of the relationships I was in. It might be hard now, but it gets better and with time, things can work out for the best.

  • Lorie Ham

    I would LOVE to have you write something about this for the mental health section of the magazine I publish Kings River Life–we have reposted some of Kurt’s blog posts. You can check us out at bipolar disorder is very close to my heart. You can email me at  Lorie

  • Kellen, thanks truly for yoyur words here. Hopeful indeed.
    Lori, I appreciate your comment and I emailed you. Have a great week, everyone!