Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Spiritual Prescriptions

My mother has a rare form of schizophrenia. When she overextends herself, her brain simply refuses to shut down - like a computer that freezes up and won't shut down unless someone unplugs the power. She took "sleeping pills" for years, we thought, but they actually functioned as a shut-down mechanism.

Everyone who has met my mother sees her as a spiritual giant, perhaps the closest things to pure love incarnate they have met. That was true for nearly forty years as she raised 8 children, specifically because my father took on all of the "normal" responsibilities of both parents so that his wife could "be herself". My mother literally goes crazy if she worries about things that she can't control, so my father shouldered the burden of EVERYTHING to shield her from that worry. (I wrote more extensively about this in the post "My Niece Died This Morning".)

I realize now that my father was the spiritual equal of my mother - and that what he taught me about forgiveness and acceptance and withholding judgment (my formative paradigm) was influenced immeasurably by the insight he gained from loving someone who was such a combination of extremes. My "who cares about the peripheral issues" and "focus on the basics" mindset comes from his reconciliation of the divinely sweet woman he married and the monster she became after the birth of my twin sisters - her first breakdown.

This world is full of good and bad, and each of us, as a part of this world, is complicit in that condition. What matters is not that the combination exists; what matters is the "medication" we take to suppress or eliminate the bad and let the good shine. If that means ignoring the bad completely for some, then so be it. Far be it for me to dredge it up and force them to consider what might destroy their peace of mind and cause a breakdown. If it means deep and difficult contemplation and reconciliation, then so be it. Far be it for me to take away that potential path of resolution. If it means actual, pharmaceutical medication, legally prescribed, then so be it. Far be it for me to discourage that kind of resolution by stigmatizing its use. The best thing I can do for someone is to allow them to reconcile what they see as difficult in whatever way works for them; the worst thing I can do is insist that my way is the right way for everyone.


The first comment asks for input and help dealing with a family member who has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Anyone who reads this and has experience with bi-polar disorder (or schizophrenia or any other condition that might fit her description), please share any advice you can provide.


Christy said...

I am amazed that you wrote this post. I have a family member that has been diagnosed as bi-polar. He has become very religious, embracing our church for the first time in his life, but in my opinion (I guess I'm judging here) he has gone too extreme, believing that his diagnosis is the work of the devil. He claims he has visions and revelation every two minutes. I believe he needs to go back on medication. So does the rest of my family.

Where do you draw the line between withholding judgement and neglect? We are all struggling with this in our family.

Any additional insight will be greatly appreciated.

Papa D said...

He is delusional without his medication. I have no doubt of that whatsoever. The claims of constant visions and revelation are one thing, but the belief that his diagnosis is of the devil . . . I can't even categorize that as anything except delusional paranoia. That's quite scary, frankly. In my opinion, he needs to get on his meds ASAP.

When it comes to medical conditions like bi-polar personality, schizophrenia, paranoia in general, depression, etc. I would go with the medical diagnosis almost every time if there are issues of obvious paranoia. My own, personal feeling is that medication can blunt or alleviate the problems immediately, after which the person (with the help of a well-qualified expert) can pursue and consider alternative, non-pharmaceutical options - always keeping in mind that there is NOTHING wrong with medication.

Christy, in a very real way, refusing to use medication that has been developed specifically to increase our ability to see clearly and strengthen the exercise of our agency (in my opinion) is rejecting a part of the Atonement and insisting on saving ourselves. It is arrogance ad ego, pure and simple.

It really is that simple to me. He is delusional without his medication, and bi-polar disorder is a serious condition that should not be ignored.

Papa D said...

As to your actual question, the command to withhold judgment is NOT a command to stop judging situations and using our minds to figure things out - even when they deal with others. It is a command to not attach condemnation or judgment of someone's worth. If you and your family are positive he needs his meds, and truly are concerned about his welfare without those meds, do whatever it takes to make sure he uses them.

Remember, when he is NOT on those meds, he's not exercising "agency" in its truest sense - since he is not in control of his mind when he decides to stop taking them.

Oh, and one more thing:

Given what you have shared, I am skeptical that his disorder is limited to being bi-polar. There is a strong whiff of paranoia that sounds more like some form of schizophrenia to me. That's not a professional diagnosis by any stretch, but the people I know who are "just" bi-polar don't fit your description.

Kevin said...

I have a son, my youngest, who suffers from anxieties and depression, which went undiagnosed for a couple of years. Medication has made a huge difference for him. He is less subject to falling into pits of despair (that is the only way I can describe his state of mind one evening a few months ago), but not completely free of the problems. Without medication, he may have become a danger to himself.

On the other hand, he is taking a somewhat cynical view of the fact that medications can so significantly alter his mood. He takes a medication for attention deficit disorder, which he calls his "smart pills", and another for depression, which he calls his "happy pills". As such, he is struggling with his relationship to divinity, and what his real persona is and ought to be. Counseling has been helpful for him, and in my experience, is often crucial for the long term.

The interesting thing in all of this for me is that without his medication, he is less likely to have a desire to make the atonement work for him in his life, yet the meds cause him to view it with more skepticism.

Ultimately, I feel that the atonement plays a huge role in the eternal prospects for people saddled with these emotional and mental challenges, as it often truly represents a mountain that they can't climb for themselves. We can do a lot to be "Saviors on Mt. Zion" for these folks, but we can't deny them their agency, nor can we always know just exactly what their capacity for making truly informed decisions really is.

Papa D said...

Thank you, Kevin, for that input. Wonderful insight.

Thanks for checking back in.

Tasha said...

Ray, I love you! We struggle with this in our family too. Only we are not allowed to discuss it. Earl's dad gets mad if we do.
I cannot understand how a father could not want to help his children.
now i guess i am judging.

Christy said...

I think you've started something here, Ray. I really appreciate your comments. I saw him yesterday and he was calm and reasonable, which makes me begin to doubt my opinion on his condition. (But then the next time I see him may be another story.) He is talking with the bishop regularly, which is good. Unfortunately, he is 23 years old and knows his rights. At this point he is not harmful to himself or others, and our hands are tied. Any mention of taking medicaiton and he immediately shuts us out. (He was on medication for 5 years, then decided to stop.) Your description of him and his delusions is spot on.

Anonymous said...

The hard thing for me and my mother's issue is that she knows she is sick but she won't admit what her problem is just out of pride. Therefore she won't do what is right for her (and our relationship). Then she wants to force me (and my sisters) in her way to be and see things to be justified in not getting the help she needs.
This is why I am angry. Not because she is sick, I am sure that in the end we will find a medical reason for her condition. Because she will die and destroy everything that is important rather than admit something such as "I am sick and I did wrong because I am sick, and everything I blamed on others actually came from me".
It is ok to have done everything she has done because it was not her fault as long as she really ignored her condition, but I know she knows is and this is why I have such a hard time with her.

Papa D said...

backandthen, that, in a nutshell, is why not judging is SO hard to do. We really don't know exactly what anyone else actually is capable of doing - what really is in their control or not when push comes to shove.

I know a wonderful, sweet lady whose family is a dysfunctional mess. Her husband passed away some years ago, and it pains her deeply to see the lives her children now lead. There are some really interesting manifestations of dysfunction in those lives.

The kicker is that all of them, to some degree or another, blame her for the way their lives evolved. They blame her for not standing up to their verbally and emotionally abusive father - not realizing that he was scarring her every bit as badly as he scarred them. Her husband destroyed her self-confidence and self-worth, to the point where she agrees with her kids and also blames herself for her family's current situation.

I don't know why I felt like sharing this with you, since I know NOTHING about your mother. I just know that our challenge is to accept the fact that we cannot know fully why people are who and what they are, which is the beginning of true charity, imho.

PLEASE, don't take that as criticism of any kind. It's not meant to be - not at all. Take is simply as an observation from someone who has dealt directly with dysfunction for many years and has reached a degree of peace with it.

adamf said...

Claiming one has visions and revelations every two minutes or believing the work of a doctor is of the devil seems like mania to me.

Diagnosis or not, thoughts and behaviors speak for themselves. Sometimes the only reason for a diagnosis is to get a certain type of treatment, or to qualify for insurance. They are just labels to categorize a certain set of thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, etc. A psychological diagnosis is NOT the same as that of say, diabetes, or lung cancer. Mental illnesses are on a spectrum. That being said, there is no reason to be threatened by a diagnosis.

If your family member becomes a threat to himself or others, you must take action, obviously. Otherwise, it is just a really hard situation to be in. On top of that, medication does help in many cases, but it's not a perfect science either. Be mindful of any extreme behavior when he is manic (such as what you already described), like excessive spending, grandiosity, increased sexual activity, etc. Also suicidal ideation crops up during the depressed phases. Good luck.

Jami said...

I did, in fact, read this. I've been much busier since school has begun and don't always have time to comment, especially when sensitivity ought to be exercised. I am sorry that your mother and your family had to endure the pain of mental illness.

Everyone in my family of birth, no exceptions, suffers from depression. I have chosen to use medication which has made a big difference for me. I still suffer from time to time, but not nigh unto death.

I've got an amazing network of friends. And I find God to be pretty awesome as well. Nobody can fix me quite as well as he who created me.

Thanks, Ray.

Papa D said...

Thanks, Jami. Please read the post I just wrote that will publish on Friday. It obviously was inspired by your comment.