(Note from Stephen: So as to not take credit for something I did not write, I was sent this article by one of our supporters who asked that it be posted anonymously.)
I recently had dinner with my niece who has several mental illnesses that impact her life in significant ways.
I was able to speak with my niece about her mental illness and feelings and the conversation was really revealing.
She told me about how she cannot always control her thoughts in her mind. Certain colors, the orders of items, the placement of silverware are all things that are difficult for her to deal with if they are not just right. This was something that was difficult for me to comprehend and I asked her to explain further.
She explained how she cannot always describe how she feels and why things bother her. “This color really bothers me. It really upsets me and I cannot control it” was one of several revealing statements she made. In her young mind, she was trying to describe to me the life of someone with a mental illness.
As someone who supports others with mental illness, I learned quite a bit from my niece. This is a little girl that has received a lot of help in her life, but still needs more. She needs me to love and accept her and understand when she cannot always control her thoughts, actions and behaviors. She needs me to listen and empathize with her. She needs me to help teach her when behavior is inappropriate and to accept her when she strays. In other words, she needs me to love her unconditionally. This is something I should be able to do.
I have a Father who loves me unconditionally no matter what I do. He accepts me for who I am and corrects me and guides me to who I want to be (to look like Him). God serves as the model for how I should treat my niece (and everyone). I need to love her and others with the love that God has shown me. That is the most valuable thing I can do as someone who supports those with mental illness.