People who experience brain disorders have a common complaint. They say they have no friends. They want just one person to stick by them through thick and thin. Someone who suffers from a mental illness has mood shifts that cause him or her to be cranky, moody, defensive, and negative. These behaviors are not usually intentional, but rather symptoms of their illness. We expect our friendships to be an equal amount of “give and take” and find it annoying to be on the “give” most of the time. It takes patience and unconditional love to befriend someone who may not be able to reciprocate our friendship at all times. Most people are simply not willing to stick with someone who has many vicissitudes and requires a great deal of maintenance.
I find those who suffer from a disability to be some of the most compassionate and loving people. However, I must be willing to befriend them long enough to witness those wonderful traits. Yes, sometimes they appear bitter, but I must remember they have suffered much emotional pain, embarrassment, humiliation, and rejection. I must put myself in their shoes for a while and consider how their disability might affect their behavior.
There were times when I too felt discarded by friends and relatives who did not understand my plight with mental illness in our family. Thank God, that one devoted friend remained with me during my most chaotic period. She was my prayer partner and compassionate confidant for twenty years. She suffered from unipolar illness (chronic depression), and the first five years of our friendship were rocky. There were times when I felt dumped on or misunderstood, but I am sure she felt the same. We worked through our issues and remained best friends until her death at the early age of 41.
My friend and I had good reasons to pray for, and with, each another every day. For the last ten years of her life, she battled cancer and dealt with surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy, along with depression. I was battling the unknown enemy of mental illness, dealing with ongoing turmoil in my family, accompanied by discouragement and situational depression. We became accountable to each other, always admonishing and encouraging one another to persevere. We shared our laughter and tears, our deepest fears and sorrows, and our greatest victories and joys. Our friendship was closer than that of blood sisters. Our struggles knitted us together like David and Jonathan in the Bible. Her twenty-year friendship is one of my most treasured gifts in life.
For everyone who either suffers from a mental illness or is a caregiver for that person, today I wish one thing for you – a friend who sticks closer than a brother (or sister). When you have that kind of friend, you have a precious jewel!!