The road I live on is very dark. When I pull into my driveway, the motion detector in the light mounted on the edge of the roof knows I’m home and the light comes on. On nights when I’m out late, I am so thankful for that light. Without it, I would stumble my way up to the door and fumble around, trying to get my key in the lock to get inside. And while I know there is nothing there to be afraid of, I am.
There’s something about walking around in the dark alone.
Once I’m inside the house, the first thing I want to do is flick on the lights. Even though I know where everything is and could make my way around without the lights on, I want them on. The last thing I want to do is stumble around in the dark, not knowing what could be there. Fear wins out over common sense every time. And I think I may know the reason why.
Just for fun, I googled the word darkness. Pages and pages of ominous, frightening images came up. Scrolling through the pictures, an occasional illustration of the moon shining over a still lake, or something else like that, came up. But most of the images were disturbing and evil-looking. No wonder we’re afraid of the dark.
It’s kind of how I feel about mental illness.
Ever since my son’s diagnosis, I’ve been stumbling around in the dark. We get a diagnosis, meds, and things are okay for awhile. Then things are not okay. This is when the dark becomes darkness. And believe me, there is a big difference between dark and darkness. For those of us moving through life with a child or family member who struggles with a severe mental illness, like depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, or OCD, not having that light to guide us is unnerving. Stumbling around in the dark is not fun. And that’s exactly what I feel like I’ve been doing for the past decade. Because the truth is, unlike cancer or diabetes, mental illness is viewed in a negative light in our society.
And for those of us who are walking around in the dark and the darkness, that negative light is worse than no light at all.
In a 2014 conference hosted by Saddleback Church entitled, “The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church,” author Amy Simpson spoke about growing up with the stigma that surrounds having a family member with a serious mental illness. One of the many inspiring things she said was that “even a small light can make a difference in a dark place.”
That small light is hope. Not the kind of hope that the dictionary defines as the feeling that everything is going to work out and be fine. But the kind of hope that comes from knowing that someone gets it and knows how you are feeling. They are not judging your parenting skills or the way your family member acts. They know that he or she can’t just walk it off. They may not know what to say or do, but they are there. They are that small light that helps you find your keyhole so that you can go inside and be safe.
If you don’t have that light, my advice to you is to find it.
There are a lot of us out there. Go to your church and ask if there is a support group for families and friends of people struggling with mental illness. Call NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Health, or go to their website. Find Saddleback Church online and watch their conference videos about living with mental illness and how hope helps.
Or find one person in your life who understands. You can be a light for each other.
You don’t have to stumble around in the dark alone.