Today I am so excited to welcome a special guest to Embracing the Unexpected. Please meet Catherine P. Downing. She has a beautiful way of encouraging others to see God in the midst of caring for a loved one with mental illness. Maree Dee
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, though for one out of five families, so are the other 11 months. We are one of those families.
Our son Douglas was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 22, but it wasn’t until he turned 34 that he was able to accept that diagnosis and receive treatment. During those 12 years, and even in these better days, my own awareness of mental illness has grown, evolved, and matured.
One of the main things I became conscious of early on is that we are not alone. A wide array of people, organizations, support groups, and fellow-sojourners are already aware of the mental health landscape and can walk with us. For example, The Grace Alliance and the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI) have both support groups and training/resources. Books like Troubled Minds by Amy Simpson and Grace for the Afflicted by Matthew S. Stanford provide terrific information and insights.
On the other hand, I also had a growing awareness that stigma is real and ignorance abounds. That means that our family has had to be prepared to speak up against prejudice and to help inform others of the medical basis of mental illnesses. We’ve also learned how to talk about the realities experienced by those who live with mental health disorders and their families.
Perhaps the community that has most needed a greater awareness about mental illness is our own church family. It seems a part of our ministry to our clergy and friends is to help them become aware of our needs and to share how to pray with and for us. We’ve been able to explain how to ask appropriate questions and to coach them on approaching families with mental health difficulties with non-patronizing compassion. We have tried to help them learn that severe mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression are persistent illnesses, and “to love us well, they must love us long.”
But across the years, by far the greatest awareness I have developed is a deep and abiding recognition of the goodness, faithfulness and generous mercy of God. He is, indeed, ever present in times of trouble, and He truly never leaves us nor forsakes us. His wisdom has always arrived at the right time, His provision consistently shows up at the moment of need, and His comfort encircles us day and night in the most difficult of times.
During this month of Mental Health Awareness, I also look back at all the other months that have been filled with mental health challenges. I can see how our family has not only survived but has thrived with the help of support groups, with the prayers of our church family and with the daily evidence of God’s redemptive grace.
Catherine has captured her family’s mental health journey with her son and her God in a powerful little book, Sparks of Redemptive Grace: Seeking and Seeing God Amid a Loved One’s Mental Illness. She also blogs regularly to offer hope and spiritual insight to families on the same journey. 31 Days, 31 Ways 2 Pray 4 Families, is the prayer guide she developed to help church friends know how to keep families’ needs before the Lord. And be sure to follow Sparks of Redemptive Grace on Facebook where Catherine regularly posts helpful articles and links to resources related to mental illnesses.
Leave a comment to be entered into a drawing to receive a beautiful copy of 31 Days, 31 Ways 2 Pray 4 Families. I will contact 5 winners at the end of the month. Maree Dee