Tag Archives: recovery

Finding faith in recovery

Throughout my healing process I have been drawn to the Buddhist religion, finding comfort in Buddha’s teachings on sorrow and how to live a life full of gratitude, compassion, and love. I was in awe of one of my friends who has a strong, unwavering faith in God. I asked him, “Why is it in our deepest sorrows we seek comfort in a higher power and when everything is joyous we shy away from it? Does my sudden interest in faith make me a hypocrite? Am I unworthy of holiness after such a long absence?” He reminded me that spiritual strength grows over time and that it often rears its beautiful head during difficult times because it is a complement to our healing process. Whoever or whatever you believe in, you will be guided.

I have been particularly drawn to the Tae Te Ching which says that for every 10,000 joys there are 10,000 sorrows. In this teaching Buddha defines compassion as “the enduring emotion of pathos” or enduring the emotions of life, whether it’s from joy or sorrow. He teaches that when we embrace the joy and sorrow of living it becomes our greatest strength because it is the “surest way to divine Oneness and to healing.”

I find solace in these teachings because it provides meaning and purpose to the difficulties we face. Buddha didn’t deny that there is happiness in life, but he pointed out it does not last forever. Eventually everyone meets with some kind of suffering.

There is happiness in life,
happiness in friendship,
happiness of a family,
happiness in a healthy body and mind,
…but when one loses them, there is suffering.

I have found that the greatest challenge in practicing my faith is being able to find gratitude in the difficult things – my diagnosis, a friend’s hurtful comments, a devastating heartbreak – but somehow making an intentional effort to practice gratitude towards those situations has brought a kind of grace and love to my life. For every difficult situation you face it will inevitably teach you something about yourself. Now, even if I’m not feeling particularly grateful, I will offer up thanks.

For example, the other day I was irritable and angry with a friend for the insensitive, hurtful comments he made about my diagnosis. I stewed on it all day only making myself more angry. On the quiet drive home, I reminded myself of Buddha’s teachings on cultivating compassion and gratitude. So I said out loud, “[name of friend], I am grateful to you for being a jackass because I have learned I cannot give more than I can sanely give right now.” Obviously, my use of the word jackass and the need to repeatedly say those words shows my practice needs some work, but the very act of offering up gratitude instantly brought a sense of calm to my demeanor. I felt my heart opening up with compassion. We both deserved to heal and recover without bringing the other into our own pit of darkness. The kindest thing to do for both of us was to part ways. I understood what my limitations were. I understood what his were. In that moment I learned in every situation there is the potential to meet Buddha or God or whoever/whatever you believe in. You only have to open your heart to the possibility.

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Filed under buddha, buddhism, compassion, faith, healing, mental health, recovery, sorrow

6 ways to support a friend or family member with a mental illness

Friends and family play an important role in my recovery. For the most part, people want to help but may find that starting a conversation with me about my mental illness is hard to do. They may feel uncomfortable or unsure of what to do or say, which is normal. Over the last couple of months I’ve had a lot of interactions with friends and family related to my mental health and what I’ve learned is that it’s often the small things you do or say that make the biggest difference. Based on my own experiences, I’ve compiled six ways you can help a friend or family member with a mental illness (including me!):

Reach out and take the lead. Include them in everyday plans like going to the movies, dinner, or on a hike. If they resist ask again or offer to pick them up. When suffering from depression, I am more likely to isolate and alienate myself from friends. I end up spending more time alone than I do around other people. However, being around people and engaged in activities is important to recovery. Sometimes we just need a little push to get out the door.

Don’t just talk about their illness. Mental health is only one part of their life. Don’t define them by their illness by only talking about this one subject. Talk to them like you’ve always talked to them. While I need to talk about my mental health I also need to talk about everyday things like work, school, a funny story I heard, or the boy I like.

Educate yourself. If you feel awkward or uncomfortable or have no idea what to say, the best thing you can do is read about the mental illness. Not just medical information but books and articles by people who live with that mental illness. Doing so will provide understanding and insight and perhaps make you feel more comfortable talking about it to them. Two books that have helped me are The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon and Crazy by Amy Reed.

Don’t avoid the issue. If they come to talk to you about their mental health, don’t change the subject. If you ask someone how they are feeling the response may not always be “Good” or “Fine”. Sometimes it may be deeply depressing to listen to but doing just that, listening, can make them feel better. This is particularly true if they are in self-harm or crisis mode. In moments where I’ve been overwhelmed and tempted to self-harm again I’ve called or texted my friend Jesse to distract me. I know I can be honest with him and that he won’t avoid the issue, which helps me be open in the first place.

Be mindful about the comments you make as they can come off as insensitive,  particularly if they are in a vulnerable state of mind. A few comments that have hurt me are: “We all go through times like these,” and “You were depressing to be around; it brought me down,” and “I wish you would have told me so I didn’t feel alone,” and “My situation is more dire and important than yours.” It would have been more helpful to hear, “I may not fully understand how you’re feeling but I am here for you and I want to help,” or “I’m glad you’re getting the treatment you need,” or “You’re important to me. I love you. I’m here for you.” Some people may be in a more dire situation than others but everyone’s difficulties are relevant. Be careful not to belittle their situation.

Show support but don’t be intrusive. Ask what you can do to help them right now. This could be cooking meals, doing an activity together, or just letting them know you’re there to talk. Be patient if they don’t respond right away. If they want to talk they will. Sending a card or email to let them know you are thinking about them every once in a while is a gentle reminder you are there for them if they ever need you. Sometimes just knowing is enough.

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Filed under advice, bipolar II, mental health, mental illness, mindfulness, recovery