How to Love a Loved One with Mental Illness
First published by Christianity Today
When Raul watched me walk down the aisle on February 6, 1999, he knew it was the beginning of a new journey. However, he had no idea it wouldn’t be an easy one. On July 30, 2000, less than two years married, he would find me in a parking lot, inebriated and in the middle of a suicide. The two years that ensued would require tireless hours of counseling, doctor visits, medication tweaks and lifestyle adjustments to get us restored and moving forward again.
Thankfully, we did.
But barring a miracle from God (and I do pray for one!), I am still a spouse with mental illness. When I have the opportunities to travel and speak, I am so thankful because it allows me to honor the end of my deal that I made with God the night I was admitted to a psych ward for attempting to take my life: “Lord, if you can get me out of here, I will spend the rest of my life helping others not end up here. I am also thankful that it allows me chance to communicate the true hero of my story: Raul. It’s one thing to have mental illness; it’s another to be married to one. Raul is the hero because when he could have thrown in the towel so many times over the last fifteen years of marriage, he hasn’t. He has chosen to stay.
Recently I asked Raul to share with me the four things he’s learned over the years on how to love someone with mental illness. Without further ado, here they are. Raul and I both hope this encourages someone today.
1. Loving them doesn’t mean understanding them.
Love them, tell them you love them, and show them you love them, but don’t feel that love also means, “getting it.” Numerous times, I have had to literally say, “Heather, I don’t understand, but OK.” Heather has learned to respect that and receive that because it is the truth. And the bible says that the truth sets us free. My truthfulness has played an integral part in setting us free from having to be “perfect” despite her frailties.
2. Consider counseling for yourself.
There is no shame in needing someone to talk to who specializes in the field of psychiatry or psychology. I have saved myself a ton of guessing by just going to a counselor to educate myself on Heather, her brain, the way she ticks, her diagnosis and how to handle it.
There are many great books out there that explain, in simple terms, the condition your loved one has. At the onset of Heather’s comeback in 2000, I read “Boundaries,” by Dr. Henry Cloud, and “The Power of the Praying Husband” by Stormie Omartian. Reading is learning. If Heather had ANY kind of ailment, because I said “in sickness and in health,” I would want to learn as much as I could. Her mental sickness is no exception.
4. Don't Quit.
I have had many tough seasons with Heather, and the bipolarity. There have been financial strains, stigmas to contend with, things I have wanted to do, but we couldn’t because of her state of mind. And if I was really honest, in the first couple of years, there was standing with her, when others didn’t know what to do with her. But I have never given up on our marriage. The last thing I have learned to do is to honor the words I said when I DIDN’T know she was bipolar: “till death do us part.” And by the grace of God, this February, we will celebrate sixteen years.
Together, Raul and I are committed to our marriage, our family and our ministry, but we both acknowledge that it is our commitment to Jesus that has made this possible. Apart from our personal relationship with Him, our relationship to each other would have been a marriage casualty. Raul and I earnestly believe that "with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."(Matthew 19:26). Even sixteen years of marriage (and many more!) to a spouse with mental illness.
This post is by Heather Palacios. Heather is married to Raul Palacios and together they serve at Church by the Glades. Heather is also founder of "WondHerful" an online venue dedicated to encouraging people with mental affliction through daily, one-minute blog posts (http://WondHerful.com) and social media (@WondHerful). Heather explains that she is a diagnosed manic-depressive.