Let’s Stop Ignoring Grieving People



It’s February – we are in the middle of winter. The winter I’m having is not as cold as many but it has been fairly sun-less and snow-less. Last month I read an article that debated a day known as “Blue Monday.”  Some say it’s the most depressing day of the year.  It’s a combination of winter weather (for those of us in certain areas of the world), the realization we have already failed at our New Years Resolutions (what? I haven’t lost the 20lbs yet? It’s been 19 days!), post Christmas blues (I haven’t got the outdoor lights down yet and I’ve already lost a new earring).  Sounds pretty horrible doesn’t it? As my husband would say in a moment of deep sarcasm, “No one is suffering more than me right now!”

Although I can see how someone might feel particularly down mid-winter, declaring one day to be the most depressing feels like a tidy way to put everyone’s grief in a neat little box. We declare the day here and now it’s over.  Should our sadness be over now because “Blue Monday” was a few weeks ago? Should we be yelling,  “Cheer up folks, Spring is around the corner!”?

Considering how I’m feeling right now, with the weather varying between “dark grey vs light grey” and “mist vs rain” I’d be up for renaming the dreaded holiday “Blue Winter” but for most people grief is not that simple.

Ironically, mid January is my least favorite time of year. I’m sure the fact I’m a California kid living in a rainforest doesn’t help but it’s the anniversary of all sort of sad events in my life.  This is why every January, I’m more aware of my own grief and that of others.

One of the hardest things about grief is that we tend to avoid grieving people.

Why do we avoid grieving people? You know how it goes.  We avoid because we think we can’t do anything and, at some level, we don’t want to even think about their situation because we know, in many cases, “it” could happen to us. We don’t want to think about children being hit by cars or dads getting serious cancer because there are children we love or a dad that we miss. We avoid people who are grieving instead of acknowledging them because it is easier on us.

What if, instead of avoiding, we acknowledged the grieving person with an appropriate level of contact or connection.

I’m an introvert. Trust me, I don’t want perfect strangers harping on my grief but I also know, it’s easier to avoid grieving people in your life because you don’t have the right thing to say or you know you can’t even begin to fix them!  Guess what, no one does.  Often times the person grieving doesn’t even know what they need.  How about you try this: “I don’t really know what to say but I heard about ____ and I’m so sorry.”

People who have gone through loss will attest to the stress of wondering if other people know about their situation. Do them a favor and simply acknowledge that you know.  This will help the people who worry about this kind of thing.

I made a friend while in seminary whose dad was dying. A bunch of us were ironically taking the course “Pastoral Care” with him while he was grieving.  At one raw moment he expressed anger about the lack of care he was receiving from his friends.  When I asked him what he would want from us he said, “I want you to just acknowledge what is going on. No one wants to even do that.”  Step one: acknowledge the person and what they are going through.

Another reason we avoid grieving people is because we don’t think we can do anything for them. And you know what? You’re right, there may not be much you can do. You can’t bring people back from dead or heal people of cancer. But no one is expecting you to do these things.

You may not be able to do anything at all, but isn’t it better to ask?

I would also encourage you to ask realistically and consistently if you can help. “I’m making a big pot of soup today, can I drop some off for your family?” is easier for a grieving person to answer than “Let me know if I can help.”  Or ask them, “Is there something specific I could help with? Kids? Food?”

Lastly, remember to listen well. If someone says, “No, I don’t want to talk about it right now,” then please respect that. But leave space for them to speak.

Listen to hear what is being said, not simply to reply. Listen to learn about them, not to fix their situation. Often times a listening ear is exactly what someone needs. And you will never get to that point unless you acknowledge them first.

Whether it’s Blue Monday, the winter blues or the daily trials we encounter, acknowledging grieving people is an important first step.



Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – Justin’s story


I Still Live In His Shadow: Living With Someone With Mental Illness

I have so many questions…


Did he love me? Was his abuse part of his mental illness? Was it because there, was darkness in him? I’ll never really know the answer to these questions because you see…my father is dead.

April 8, 2003 my father killed himself. In that short span of time that we knew my father was bipolar before he killed himself, I had only just begun to reorient myself and my understanding of his past actions with the new knowledge of his mental illness. And now, 11 years later I’m still more full of questions than answers. Every day I’ll remember the hurt I felt and the times I hated my father, but I’ll also remember those moments when he said “I love you,” and I know he meant it, when he hugged me, and when we laughed together.

To live with someone with mental illness can be a constant question mark. You’re never sure the person you’re going to get. My father had two faces, the father I know loved me, and the father who was always angry with me, was verbally and sometimes physically abusive.

To blame all that on bipolar disorder though is to dehumanize many good people who struggle with bipolar disorder but show no signs of abusiveness or hurtfulness. I think if anything, and realize I say this uncertainly, that my father was on the more manic spectrum of it. He had it very strongly. He also had faced many losses in his life, from a wife and daughter killed in a car crash, to a girlfriend he’d proposed to killing herself, and a struggling marriage with my stepmom.

I don’t know enough about bipolar disorder to really pick up the pieces of these experiences and make any sense of them. I don’t know what was him, and what was his illness. All I know is that these experiences happened, and I still carry the wounds, the pain, the hurt, and the fear that comes from living as a child in such an uncertain family environment.

There’s a saying, a french proverb, “to understand all is to forgive all.” yet I’m not sure if it’s as easy as all that. Many times we’re not given all the pieces with which to understand enough to forgive, and often understanding makes it harder to forgive. I’ve forgiven my father hundreds of times, sometimes feeling more understanding than others, and sometimes just knowing it was what I needed to feel at peace that day, to let go and step outside of the shadow of so much broken past.

Yet sometimes that shadow is so hard to get away from. I want to remember my dad, I want to still love him, to have memories, and it’s hard to remember the good things without slipping into some of the bad as well. To remember my father, to admit how deeply his existence molded my own is to admit that there is very little room between the good and bad, and the mold is so deeply intertwined of both of them that if I was to try to pry apart I’d end up losing him altogether.

And I won’t do that.

For some they have to, for some even a family member needs to be completely let go of…for some love of the enemy is to just simply forget they ever existed, and not desire their eternal torture. For me forgiveness and love of my father means knowing the darkness and the light…letting it sit there, with all its questions and uncertainties, and just be. He was my father and I will always love him, even the jagged edges which cut me.

Most of all, when looking back on that suicide, I see the hope for healing. I’d seen my father descend deeper and deeper into sadness. He was less angry and more just deeply depressed, like all he’d loved was slipping through his fingers, even me. Even as I sat there with him, not knowing what words to say, I knew he felt he’d lost me too. And I hope whatever came the other side of death is healing all that pain.

I don’t pretend to understand it all, and I never will. It just is. Living with someone with mental illness doesn’t come with a manual. It is a daily uncertainty, and more questions than answers. But there is hope too, even if it’s a dim hope. Many people find a sense of peace, and healing, even this side of death, and I think that the medical field is making great strides in helping people cope.

For me I’ll probably never get those answers or resolution many others find. I have far too many pieces of a past that was cut off far too soon to do so. I can’t talk to dad now, or hear his voice, and mostly what I have is a jumbled mess of feelings…but to be honest, I’d rather have that than to have never known him at all. His shadow will always be over my life, a presence always there, in good and bad ways, and I am glad to have known him.

579886_716572302406_1763017609_nJustin is a writer who lives in Washington State, and is studying to be a librarian. He blogs at in his free time.

This concludes the series Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness. Thanks so much for reading and witnessing the brave writers share their stories!

Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – Aaron’s story


It’s more than grumpy.

It’s the panic attacks we have lived through. It’s the darkness of the depression. It’s the cutting. It’s the days I have missed work to be home with her because I was scared to leave her alone. It’s the irrational arguments. It’s the stress and anxiety. It’s more than just grumpy.

My wife is diagnosed with general Anxiety disorder, PTSD, agoraphobia, OCD, and depression.

It is hard sharing a house with these illnesses. It’s hard sharing my wife with these illnesses. But that is the reality of living with my wife who has a mental illness. I have to share her with her disease.  It’s hard sharing my wife with such an invisible illness.

I forget that her anger is not always at me, and sometimes is just there and irrational. I forget that she lives in a more heightened state of anxiety than I do. I forget that she has trauma to work through. I don’t mean to forget, but I do.

I love my wife. Even with the hard stuff, I am determined to be a better husband. See, I have to share her with her mental illness, and she has to share me with mine. We are both living with someone with a mental illness.

Sometimes our moods clash and we fight. Sometimes my apathy feeds her self-worth issues. Sometimes I don’t know what to do when she is having a panic attack. Sometimes my mood swings drive her up the wall. It’s all part of navigating living with mental illness.

There are always good times. My wife is an amazing mom, and I love seeing her play, teach and love on our boys. There are dance parties, Lego building, and coloring. It’s not always this hard, oppressive thing to live with my wife and her mental illness.

Understanding mental illness has meant that I know there is no quick fix to make my wife “better”.  There is treatment, therapy, medication, and healthy lifestyles that contribute to her health and fight the hard stuff. It’s a long term thing though, and that means that we live through the hard stuff knowing that it isn’t forever, no matter how much it feels that way.

The hard stuff will come and go, and it has gotten easier over time, both with us learning how to navigate her mental illness and because of the ongoing treatment and therapy she is involved in.

No matter how hard it is in the moment, it gets easier.  I don’t want to paint a bleak picture of living with someone with mental illness, but the reality for me is that it is hard. Not impossible or too much, just hard.

I need the support of family and friends, just as Sarah does, as we live through this illness.If you know someone who is living with a mental illness or living with someone with a mental illness, please be there for them.

It’s a tricky, rough road to walk, and the love and support you can give is important. Don’t cut them off. Instead, be there as Christ would be. I love my wife and I wouldn’t trade her for anyone in the world. Even with her mental illness, she is one of the best people I have ever known. Her mental illness can’t change that, no matter how hard it can be to live with.

13135602724_81a94d47fc_zAaron is a husband, father, believer, writer, nerd, coffee chugger. Just a typical Jesus obsessed, question everything, bipolar, poet-punk. You can find his blog here and he’s on twitter @culturalsavage

A new post will come out every Monday. Never miss one by signing up here:

Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – Caris’ Story


I Have to Try


It’s the dreams that remind me how much I’ve been affected. The frequent dreams where I am yelling, but it’s hoarse. Where I’m trying to explain, but no sound comes out.

I rage and yell and cry, but I stammer and the worlds barely squeak out, and it’s so frustrating. It’s like the dreams I have where I put my contacts in but still can’t see. I can talk but I have no voice.

I wake up shaken, feeling as though I’ve been through battle, but of course I haven’t. Nothing has changed. I’m still affected by my past, my present, and she has no idea.

The daily habits I grew up with, the events that make my memories aren’t even blips on her radar because they didn’t matter to her like they mattered to me.

She is the center of her own universe and I orbited her, pulled in by a force I couldn’t seem to resist.

Coming to realize that I grew up in the shadow of someone else’s mental illness made me realize that my normal isn’t everyone’s normal, that my normal wasn’t normal or healthy or safe.

My dreams – even nightmares – remind me that the panic and fear I grew up with are still in me, and maybe they won’t ever be rooted out.

They are a reminder of how hard it is to claim my voice, of how hard it is to fight the fear and the darkness.

But if having a parent with an undiagnosed mental illness has taught me anything, it’s that I know I have to try.

A new post will come out every Monday. Never miss one by signing up here:

CarisProfilezoomCaris Adel is a recent transplant to the Tidewater region of Virginia. She homeschools her 5 kids, and is on a constant search to disrupt her status quo. She writes at and tweets @carisadel

Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – Esther’s Story


When Jane invited me to write for this series I shot back a long list of things that I couldn’t possibly write about. Whole sections of my childhood are marked out in red pen. I thought I might post anonymously, but then I found it hard to disguise my voice. I thought about writing theoretically, in broad and general terms, but that didn’t seem to do justice to Jane’s vulnerable post last week.


In the end, I decided to tell the truth, as best I can, about my mother.

Many people know that my mother was a writer. She was a public figure. She was funny on TV. She had amazing gifts. Her vulnerable and courageous writing still touches people’s hearts today, even ten years after her death.

Not as many people know my mother’s struggles. She was a person for whom the boundaries of reality and fantasy were permeable. She lived with fear, and her fears were often things no other adult could understand to be true. I later came to call them by the name delusions.

As a child I was intensely close to my mother. I knew how to spot her moods coming. I comforted her. I used what skills I had to keep our family in safe situations, to cover for her when I could, and to prevent the knowledge or intervention of CPS.

As a teenager I broke free. I was fully independent at age 16 and didn’t speak to my mother for years. It was a deep struggle for me, to make sense of it all. It took years of personal work, including professional help, to throw off my mother’s version of the world and see instead with my own eyes, which are not clouded (or gifted) in the same way as hers.

I have walked through anger and confusion. I expected mental illness in myself, and when it didn’t come, I felt relief but also a confusing sense of wrongdoing on my own part, even betrayal. I have not expected others to understand these things. I have kept my secrets well, and felt lonely in them.

I don’t believe there are easy answers, in the question of privacy and someone else’s mental illness. Confidentiality is no joke in the realm of mental competency. These assertions can lose people jobs, right to self-determination, mutual respect. They can bring on criticism, public shaming and disdain that could trigger dangerous episodes of depression, rage, and violence.

But what I most want to share is none of that. It is not the story of loneliness or even confusion. I think loneliness and confusion are nearly universal in the human journey, don’t you? What I want to share is the gifts I have received, being the child of a guardian with mental illness.

These are complicated gifts, but also precious ones. They are tolerance, patience, and compassion. They are the ability to see deep, through the brokenness of the day to day into the beauty of the heart within. They are a nuanced understanding of able-ness, the wisdom that an intelligence that doesn’t fit inside the box of “normalcy” is an intelligence that brings alternate, challenging and possibly much needed perspective.

My mother’s readers were touched and blessed by the very same vulnerability that made it hard for her to sustain relationships, intermittently impossible for her to put a meal on the table or keep a job.

Today my own readers are touched and blessed by the very same depth and compassion I learned from her, being her child, her dependent, her human companion.

My mother came with lots of jagged edges. She wasn’t always a safe place for me. In fact, often she wasn’t. I grieved what mental illness took from her (and by extension, from me) long before she died.

But it never took her humanity. And humanity is a bottomless and never ending gift.

These days I hear often that I look like my mother. Except, actually, not so much after I cut my hair. Still, I hear that I write like my mother. I am radical like my mother. I love words and dirt and animals like my mother.

I am like her, and yet I never could or had to go the places that she went. Now I carry her in my body, like all daughters carry their mothers: sometimes an encouragement and sometimes a devastating weight.

This was the woman that was my mother: human, flawed, extraordinary, vulnerable and loved.

A new post will come out every Monday. Never miss one by signing up here:


estheremerywriterEsther Emery used to be a freelance theatre director in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. These days she is pretty much a runaway, living off grid in a yurt and tending to three acres of near wilderness in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life on her blog. Connect on Twitter @EstherEmery.

Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – My Own Story


This is the first instalment of the series. You can read the introductory post here.

I struggle writing about someone else’s mental illness because it’s just that, someone else’s.

Mental illness, unlike the more visible ailments (for good or bad) feels more personal and private. After all, it’s his life, not mine. But that’s just the thing. It isn’t just his life, it’s our life.

But I’m still not interested in sharing his experience (even though when we have a good story to tell, he always lets me tell it).

My husband Dane doesn’t just “get all OCD” about this or that, he actually has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  He doesn’t just “worry a lot and get sad sometimes,” he battles with anxiety and depression every single day. Yet, most people would never guess it because in some ways he’s got this mental illness thing figured out. Dane’s medicated, supported, loved, fairly open about it. Not to mention he has an excellent sense of humor.

But in other ways, it’s not that easy for him, or me. I worry about his depression getting worse (as we know it can do) and how hard that would be for him (and our family). I worry about the inevitable day he will have to change his medication. I worry about whether or not our boys will inherit Dane’s mental health like they inherited our fair skin and love of macaroni and cheese. But most days I try to focus on who is right in front of me.

You see, unlike the title of this blog series, I don’t actually live with someone else’s mental illness, I live with someone who is mentally ill.

This diagnosis is intrinsically part of the man I married. In sickness and in health, for better or for worse — these marital quips never feel as real they do in the midst of a panic attack. I’m married all of him and he’s all I’ve got. And the fact that his mental illness is all of him is the trickiest part for me.

Where does the mental illness begin and end? How can I tell if his behaviour is ‘him’ or if it’s his mental illness. If Dane had a perfectly typical or “normal” chemical make up in his brain, would he still sleep way more than me and would he still have trouble getting up everyday? Perhaps. Would he still incessantly worry about the safety of our kids? Possibly. Would he have trouble trying new food or eating in dark spaces? Maybe.

So am I allowed to be stark raving mad after the fifth attempt to get him up? Should I resent the fact we can’t just eat at any restaurant? I don’t know.  I can’t tell where it begins and ends because it is completely enmeshed in who he is.

And this is bang-your-head against the wall frustrating some days. Am I justified in my frustration? Should I blame Dane or blame his mental illness?

I don’t know, but what I have to keep asking myself is does it really matter?

I didn’t marry the mental illness, I married Dane. I don’t love OCD or depression but I love Dane. I may get frustrated or discouraged by the way he acts, but it is all part of who he is. It doesn’t matter which part of his brain is causing this behavior because I love all of him. Yes, it can be maddening at times but I would rather have the mentally ill Dane than anyone else. Talk about perspective!

There is no one else I would rather be with and I will gladly take OCD alongside generosity, faithfulness and a rather prolonged obsession with all things Sylvester Stallone. 

There are even parts of his mental illness that make my life better.  Let’s be honest, sometimes I wish his OCD caused him to clean the house more. Why can’t he obsess over dust bunnies or soap scum? But one of the things Dane’s brain causes us (read: me) to do is slow down.  And by slow down I mean do about half of what I would normally try to cram into a weekend.

And for this, I’m (mostly) grateful. I watch families go from soccer practice to a birthday party to some festival downtown and back home to host friends for dinner on a single Saturday and it exhausts me to watch.

I know that will never be my life, yet it might have been if it weren’t for Dane.  This pace of life means we can’t be doing something every night of the week. We can’t go to every interesting lecture or every church event. It’s means sometimes our son skips soccer practice or we miss someone’s birthday.

It means we have to be home with each other, trying to eat dinner slowly, reading books, playing lego and cleaning up the dust bunnies.

But when we do have friends over, who makes them feel incredibly special and cared for? Who offers them a beer before they even get their coat off? Who has inside jokes with people that make them feel known and loved? Who dubbed 2012, “The year of Jane’s vocational wholeness” because he was on a mission to see me love my work? Who? The guy I love (with the mental illness).


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Living With Someone Else’s Mental Illness – GUEST BLOG SERIES


A few months ago, just after the death of Robin Williams, I read this intriguing tweet by Luke Harms:

Hey friends. Let’s start a conversation about the intersection of faith and mental illness. It’s obviously needed. How about ?

I then read the hundreds of follow up here is one of my favourites) of people sharing their experiences of mental health and faith. Some people were incredibly hurt by the church and many felt silenced by the stigma of mental illness.  A few offered hope in the help and love they received. As I continued to read I did what I often do, I thought about my own story.

My story is that I live with someone else’s mental illness.

It’s mainly an untold story because it feels like it’s not mine to tell. But those of us who live with someone else’s mental illness have our own stories of the experience that need to be told.

It’s easy to minimize our experience  because, after all, we’re not the one with the diagnosis! We’re not the one on medication! We’re not the one who regularly battles getting out of bed etc.  And for these things we’re grateful.

However, without minimizing the others’ struggles, we still live with our own story of how the mental illness affects us.  We’ve been affected by it, we’ve struggled in our own way and we often keep it to ourselves. As hard as it is, I think it’s time we share some of our own stories.

By sharing our stories we offer support and hope for those who finds themselves in a similar way. We also help to de-stigmatize mental health by courageously sharing our experience of living with, loving and supporting those who are struggling.

After stewing over my own story and avoiding the deep down nudging to write about it,  I took a deep breath, asked my husband if it was ok with him for me to share my experience of his mental illness. Even though it’s my experience, I knew I needed to ask him. He agreed and I began to find other people who have journeyed down a similar road.

Thus this series was born: Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness.

For the next several Mondays, my blog will be a place for people living with someone else’s mental illness to share their stories. Some posts will be anonymous, others will share current or past realities. We won’t be speaking for those with whom we live (or lived) but we will be sharing our own experiences.

I hope you will join us here each week and support the writers who are bravely telling this part of their life. Trust me, we need it.

Don’t miss a post by adding your email below.

Hang Up and Feel


This video of Louis C.K. on Conan O’Brien has quickly gone viral for obvious reasons. Louis C.K. has become a funny yet poignant critic of our culture over the last several years (not to mention he basically made Tig Notaro famous and she if freaking hilarious!). The video went viral because of his “slam on smart phones,” as he repeatedly says he hates smart phones and doesn’t want his kids to have them. I’m sure most of us saw the link on twitter, facebook etc. on our smart phone. All irony aside, his basic premise is smart phones give us an out on feeling our emotions because they always give us something to do instead of pausing to experience how we feel. 

He offers a brilliant commentary on our avoidance of emotions. He talks about how people don’t want to be alone but instead choose to avoid those quiet moments where we actually begin to feel our feelings. He argues that we want to avoid those moments so much that we text and drive. He reminisces about a time when he was alone in his car and he began go to that dark place where he realized our world is really sad (of course a Springsteen song brought him to this place). He talks about reaching for his phone to text and catching himself about to avoid the sadness. Instead he pulled over and wept (apparently he “cried like a bitch” – which I sure just means “a lot”…).

If you think of those times when you are meeting a friend for coffee and you arrive first and are forced to sit alone at a table. What do you do? Take out your phone. It is so hard to be alone or appear to be alone. What if we actually let ourselves be alone and feel what is going on? The wise CK says we should, …”stand in the way of [the sadness] and let it hit you like a truck…you are lucky to live sad moments.” He goes on to talk about how his sad moment was met with profound happiness. In a way, allowing our sadness to be felt, we clear the way for our happiness.

Working with me often results in facing our emotions head on. I give time to let the emotions wash over us. By taking the time to do it we say this is good and worthwhile. We acknowledge what we don’t want to feel and that we would rather avoid. And then we wait for a shift. Sometimes the shift happens within a few minutes, other times it is weeks or months. But when it happens we realize it is worth it. Going “there” is worth it. We shift to a new place and gain a new perspective. Sometimes a good cry just makes us feel better. Other times we actually begin to feel healing take place.

Christians especially have a lot of trouble with this. We think if we rely on God our sadness will dissipate or that we “shouldn’t” feel sad because God is here with us.  In fact, this is just the opposite.  God is not only here with us, he is right there in the midst of the sadness. Who knows sadness better than Jesus himself? No one.

When you work with me we don’t just give time to sit through sad moments but I also take time to celebrate and be delighted in the moments that deserve celebration. Coaching is about the being (sitting in emotions – emotions of all kinds) and doing. People get a lot done when they work with me. They achieve their goals, they start new businesses, they gain satisfaction and joy in their lives. These are reasons to take time to celebrate! To say, yep, I did it! I am good at this.

Is it time to put down the phone (or not pick it up) and get real with what is going on?