THE TAKE AWAY
An Allegory of Mental Illness
By Kersley Fitzgerald
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Continued from Page One
"It's too crumbly!" she shouted.
"Then keep walking until you find a better route." The baker's face disappeared.
TJ tried hard not to roll her eyes. She pushed off, but when she tried to stand, she fell back down. It wasn't her heel, although her heel did look swollen and red. It was her other leg. She touched it gingerly but then drew her hand back with a yelp. Broken.
Above her, the children's voices grew faint. They were moving again. And if TJ didn't get up and get moving, she'd be left behind.
She found a stout stick, and with a little practice, learned to use it as a crutch. To avoid the boulders, she had to go through more nettles. So many she stopped pulling them out, leaving her skin on fire. The cold water felt good on her sore foot and broken leg, but left her shivering in the damp chill. Still she walked on.
Meanwhile, various travelers would check on her. "Walk to the light from the castle," they'd say. Lovely, but she couldn't see the light. In fact, she was beginning to wonder if the light had ever existed. "Walk faster," they'd say. How was she supposed to do that with a broken leg and a thicket of nettles? "Just climb up the wall," they'd say. And then scurry away again before she could ask for a rope.
The quicksand didn't arrive all at once. First, TJ realized her crutch was sinking into the sand a little too much. Then she was having trouble lifting her feet. The voices grew farther away. The crevasse walls drew in narrower, letting in less and less sunlight. TJ stopped to catch her breath. This isn't working, she realized. I've been down her for years. I can barely move. I need to figure out a plan, but I'm so tired. My head won't stop pounding. It's getting colder every year.
As she looked up at the narrow strip of sky, she realized something. Where the moist sand reached her legs, the nettle bites didn't hurt. She reached down and took a handful to spread the mud higher up her leg. A small relief from the pain washed over her. She grabbed more, covering her arms, and breathed out with relief.
Enough relief that she thought she could get going again. She pulled her leg to free it from the sand and screamed. Stabs of pain impaled her shin. She sat in the soft sand, panting, until the pain subsided to throbbing, like someone taking a mallet to her bones.
And so she sat. Slowly sinking into the sand. Occasionally trying to dig her broken leg from its tomb. Watching the ground harden around her. Trying to fend off the nettles that managed to gather in tumbleweeds and roll down the crevasse floor, stopping only to attack her arms and face. Loved ones shouted down: "Just concentrate on the light from the castle! Just get up and walk! Just climb!"
While she yelled up, "I need someone to come down here and help me gently dig out and help set my leg and listen to me!"
Or bring a blanket.
Or set up a mirror to reflect the light from the castle so she could believe again. Just a little.
I am absolutely no expert on personality disorders, chronic depression, or clinical anxiety. This is just what I see. A young woman overwhelmed with frustration and pain, physically, emotionally, and spiritually broken, repeatedly being told, "Just be happy! Just trust God! Just forgive and live in freedom!" Those aren't bad things, but most days they're not what's needed. Instead, try, "Tell me what's wrong. That sounds horrible. How do you want me to help?" Always, "I am praying," but never, "If you don't see the light, you're not trying hard enough." Everything looks so manageable from the lip of the crevasse. The way through the crevasse is clearer. The nettles and boulders are flattened. The drop doesn't look all that high. It's easy to fall into platitudes — good, effective, right platitudes. But requiring someone to climb who can't walk isn't inspiring or helpful; it's shaming and demoralizing. Even sending down a rope doesn't help if their broken body is buried in quicksand.
If you love someone with a mental illness, hold their hope. Reflect God's light. But be real. Don't tell them how to climb the mountain when they're struggling to see the sun.
Image Credit: James Saper; "In the crevasse"; Creative Commons
Tags: Christian-Life Depression Hardships Health-Wellness
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