My son attended our family Thanksgiving gathering. It was good to see him; but that’s about all that happened.
He didn’t interact much, only responding when asked questions. Kept away from the crowd of people. Ate little. He was here, but he wasn’t.
It’s not uncommon for our ill loved ones to be mentally and emotionally separated. James Pavle, Executive Director of Treatment Advocacy Center, put it this way,
“There are many barriers to keeping in touch for those with severe mental illness. . . . in these severe instances the term has a double sense: 1) physically separated from family and friends and/or (2) cognitively separated from reality by virtue of the condition anosognosia, or lack of awareness that they are even ill.”
Anosognosia is what separated my son from the family this year. He knows he has been diagnosed with a mental illness, but he lacks awareness that it is affecting his life and his relationships.
Xavier Amador describes this condition as “lack of insight” in his book I am not sick I don’t need help A book I highly recommend if your loved one doesn’t accept or seek help.
This type of separation is hard for families. We see the poor condition our loved ones are in, and there is nothing we can do. Sadly one of two things often happens.
First, we push; we badger relentlessly for them to do something, anything. We explain how their life would be better. We may even talk in glowing terms of another person who is in recovery.
Second, we ignore, or even reject, our loved one. More often the rejection is from family members who don’t understand the situation.
Neither of these is helpful. With the first approach, our loved one may avoid the badgering by cutting off contact. The second, well, no one wants to be around others who ignore or reject us. Our ill loved ones don’t either.
What can we do?
Accept that our loved ones cannot fully understand they are ill or recognize the symptoms. Think about it: If you don’t think you’re sick, you don’t think you need treatment.
Encourage any step toward recovery your loved one may take. Sometimes that won’t look like what we think recovery might be. But, any positive step is important.
Talk with other family members. Many of them who are not seeing the effects of the mental illness just don’t get it. They may not even after a chat, but it can lead to a little more sympathy with the situation.
Accept your loved one. No matter the illness, God has great plans for each person. Your loving acceptance can be the stepping-stone for your loved one to reach for those plans.
Pray. Not just for your ill loved one, but also for other family members to understand. Pray for God’s plan to be fulfilled.