Friday, October 29, 2010

Accepting Each Other for Who We Are, Not Just Who We May Become

I have mentioned this in a tribute post to my father, but my mother has a rare form of schizophrenia. Growing up, all we knew was that she needed “sleeping pills” to function properly.

My mother was an amazing example of Christ-like love and acceptance throughout my childhood. I never heard her raise her voice in anger; I never heard her say anything (not one word) negative about anyone else. She was amazing. She was active and aware and fully-functioning in the life my father built for her. Nobody other than my father and her own parents and siblings even knew there was anything wrong with her, since mental issues were not discussed openly at that time.

A few years ago her medication finally stopped working. For the few months it took to find a new combination that would work for her, she was a totally different person. She was paranoid; she had horrible hallucinations; she swore without provocation, using words we didn’t even realize she knew. Once the medication was adjusted properly, she was back to her normal condition - a sweet, incredibly spiritual woman.

“My mother” is the woman I knew while properly medicated, not the monster she became without it. She had a degree of agency during those years that was absent when her meds stopped working. During those months, she literally could not control her mind or her actions - and what came out of her mind and her mouth would have horrified her if she had been aware of it. She literally was not accountable during that time - not at all.

I don’t pretend to understand mental illness, nor do I pretend to understand how such illness interfaces with agency and the interaction of our spirit and body. That is so far beyond my ken that I would be shooting in the dark at a moving target if I tried. All I know is that we have been commanded to judge not, and that I have been told I will be judged as I judge others. I know how desperately I desire mercy and meekness at my own day of judgment, so I try as hard as I can to be merciful and meek myself.

If we truly understood the Atonement better, I think we would understand this issue better - and much of our stress and guilt and heartache would melt away. If we also allowed for those who can’t understand it better (for whatever reason), much of the pressure we tend to apply also would vanish - and we would be more able to accept and love others and ourelves for who we are amid our struggles, not just who we will become once those struggles have ended.


Matthew said...

"She had a degree of agency during those years that was absent when her meds stopped working."

This one of the most confusing things for me about the whole concept agency.

We enshrine agency as a fundamental law of intelligence, and yet our agency is often greatly impaired by mortality. Those who die before the age of accountability (some 20-30% of the population over time), those who have mental illnesses and other medical conditions.

As we learn more about the brain, and as we begin to see correlation between specific conditions and physical structures, one wonders if in fact we really understand what agency is at all. I read an article recently about psychopathy being linked to dysfunction in the amygdala. This raises interesting questions about accountability.

Most often we look at accountability from an innocent's perspective: tiny children, people with mental disabilities, and so on. However, the idea that a psychopath who commits terrible crimes might be as unaccountable as an infant is somewhat disturbing to me - unaccountable and powerless versus unaccountable and powerful.

Thoughts that come to mind in the face of such conclusions:

Christ's Atonement is, in fact sufficiently powerful to redeem us all, if we so choose. It is also sufficient to heal every injury caused by others' abuse of agency.

We are all judged according to our capacity - if our capacity is impaired, our expectations are respectively reduced.

Very intriguing post, Ray. I think there is much more to be understood about agency as our understanding of the brain increases. I also seek to be merciful, as I am in great need of mercy myself. I am very happy to leave the judgement in God's hands - no way am I competent to do it myself.

Papa D said...

Yeah, Matthew, I've thought of that exact same example with regard to agency. I believe we understand ourselves FAR too little to be good judges - and that our 2nd Article of Faith is FAR more powerful than even most members realize. Read it in context of your comment, and substitute "those things we inherited without conscious mortal choice as a result of Adam's transgression" for "Adam's transgression".

I believe that is a fair alternate translation, and it is fascinating to consider the ramifications.