Written by J. Greenwood
Two years into marriage, I am technically still a novice. But this hasn’t been an ordinary two years: shortly after we said our vows, mental illness swept into our lives like a tsunami.
It was a crude introduction to married life. Today we are newlyweds but we often feel old, worn, and humbled. Our lives are dotted with flecks of silver wisdom that have come from learning the hard way. There have been many lonely nights, and we are not done yet. At this point in my life, my greatest hope is that we are able to survive through mental sickness and health.
Throughout this experience, I have found comfort in the fact that there are others like me. If 1 in 5 Canadians suffers from mental illness in their lifetime, there is a good chance that there are other spouses in my same boat, desperately bailing out water in the same way as me.
Even as the stigma surrounding mental illness fades, the struggle of friends and family remains enshrouded in a foggy silence. Many veterans who have bailed out their boats for years are tight-lipped about their experiences. While I do not have their years or their wisdom, this series offers a handful of lessons about trying to make it through mental sickness and health.
Grace is a fitting place to begin this conversation. We often use the word grace to describe the effortless flowing motions of a dancer or the way long grasses blow in the wind. The virtue of grace is not well understood, and this is partly due to the fact that it defies concrete definition.
I see grace as a loose cocktail of patience, compassion, and joy. Grace is when we soften our harder edges, when we let beauty sneak in through the cracks of our ordinary lives. Maintaining a sense of humour, we may be deeply moved by the pains of the world and our lives, but we do not take ourselves too seriously. We are once burnt but not twice shy. In grace we watch our world with wide open eyes and engage in it with a wide open heart.
Caring for someone who is mentally unwell takes a tall order of grace. They might be feeling good one day and miserable the next. Hurtful words may arise from places of despair and fear.
Loving our support networks will also require gracious hearts: they will rub our backs, make us meals, and say the wrong things despite the fact that they care so deeply. In our relationships, spousal and otherwise, grace is water in the desert. Stabilizing, hopeful, and life-giving relief for both the giver and recipient.