Pres.W asked if I would be willing to speak at Stake Leadership and share our family's personal struggle with mental illness.... A physician, social worker and the LDS Family services coordinator would also be included in this training. He acknowledged the tender subject and asked that I please have Grant's blessing on whatever I felt I should share...then he asked that a participate in a conference call with the Stake presidency and the other three participants, so we would all understand the purpose and desired outcome of the training. "I'd be happy to do that...."
I hung up and shed a few tears...I was humbled and honoured by the request, but there was also some fear....I'm not a doctor, social worker or counsellor... Will my message be understood without the risk of added shame or judgement...the others would be sharing clinical experience, but my message was personal, the cost higher...
The conference call came in the middle of a crazy Sunday for me, I was emotionally tired and have to admit my dislike of such calls. When you're a visual communicator, not seeing facial expressions and body language is frustrating, but I did know most on the call well and relaxed quickly...
I was instantly touched as the Stake explained their desire for leaders to better support those who struggle with mental illness through compassion, love and understanding. Without the idea of healing. I was suddenly grateful I was on the phone and could easily hide my tears. It was as if all those times of misunderstanding, stigma and shame that have come since Grant's diagnosis were being washed away as these men and woman so kindly expressed their love and compassion for my family and so many others who struggle. Their words, my tears, my tender healing....Oh how I wish everyone who has every struggled with mental illness could have been on that call. Such a gift for me.
A few days later, I woke up with the words I should share leaping from my mind to paper, the worry had mostly subsided as I felt my heavenly fathers help in choosing just the right experiences I should share in my short 5 minutes....
I spoke on Saturday with the most normal pictures of my family now and my family as a child purposely chosen, projected behind me....
Dear Brothers and Sisters it is a privilege to stand before you today and share our family's deeply personal struggle with mental illness, I do so with our Heavenly Fathers help and my husband's blessing and encouragement.
One might say I won the lottery when it comes to mental illness...my mother a gifted teacher battled bipolar disorder her entire adult life, by fifty eight she had lost her independence and cognition, peace never came, the tragic circumstances of her death at 62 we will never fully understand.
My father an accomplished jazz drummer battled alcohol addiction. As he aged he sank deeper and deeper into its grasps. By 70 he lived in self imposed squallier. When Adult protective services stepped in six years later, we were finally able to get him into care. He died a few weeks later the effects of alcohol, dementia and malnutrition to great to recover from. I miss my mom and dad every single day.
My sweetheart and I married young and our five children came quickly. Looking back over those chaotic first years the signs of Grant’s severe mental illness were everpresent, but it wasn’t until a work injury and a pain killer addiction lead to a manic episode that the heartbreakingly familiar diagnosis of bipolar disorder came. He was 26.
We have waged battled this unforgiving illness ever since with the help of inspired physicians, psychiatrists, clinical counsellors, friends, church leaders and the never-endinglove of our heavenly father.
We know the agony of failed treatments, lost stability. We know that without education and understanding judgement, gossip, shame and stigma do indeed exist even in the church and have at times experienced the added burden of someone else’s ignorance.
But long ago, while still acknowledging that this illness is adifficult one, we choose not to focus on the negative.
Some of our sweetest, most sacred moments have come as my sweethearts illness has raged... most have been simple acts of kindness...
I think of a simple email from our stake president when he knew Grant was struggling. “You are loved, thought of and prayed for.”
I think of the time Grant sent an angry and frustrated email to a church leader. A message the leader could have easily taken offence to. Instead the leader saw the cry for help and simply responded “I hear you, let’s talk”
I think of our new bishop who showed up in a time of need in our home and simply said “Look Grant, I don’t just want to be your bishop, I want to be your friend”
I think of new home teachers who on their first visit asked
“Grant please tell us how bipolar disorder effects your life and how we can best support you and your family”
And then they just listened, never once giving a single word of advice...ending our visit with “we are here to love and support you”
I think of the time my dearest friend sent a text message in the middle of Elder Holland’s like a broken vessel talk in General Conference. “Robin, I’m shedding tears for you and Grant and all of those I love who struggle with mental illness” and together we wept.
Leaders and friends do not need to fully understand all the facets of mental illness to be a support to individuals and families. They only need to understand that the compassion and love needed looks no different than the compassion needed for any other heartache, just continue to love them like the Saviour loves you.
Yes I know the sorrow of mental illness in the loss of my parents. Yes my sweet husband’s illness will be our constant companion the rest of our lives. But there is joy in the sorrow. That joy comes in the absolute knowledge that this is part of Heavenly Father’s plan for our family, thatthe atonement is real and that, when Elder Holland’ssays...
“I bear witness of that day when loved ones whom we knew to have disabilities in mortality will stand before us glorified and grand, breathtakingly perfect in body and mind.”
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ amen
Such a sweet experience for me. I am so grateful to live in a stake that recognizes and validate our tender struggle. I will be forever grateful for my dear dear friends who truly run to succour us time and time again.