Am I the only one?

I’ve never been fond of drinking games. It’s not that I didn’t, in my younger days, put away more than my share of alcoholic beverages, but I haven’t needed to add to my youthful ignorance of what the results of that drinking might be. The first such game I even can think of was based on The Bob Newhart Show. As partiers watched the TV, everyone who entered a scene with Newhart and said, “Hi, Bob,” would take a drink. Harmless enough unless the crowd was binge-watching a series of Newhart re-runs.

[Facebook.com/itiswhatitis.softfire image]

[Facebook.com/itiswhatitis.softfire image]

But I found this Christmas drinking game rather hilarious. It’s not that I am interested in actually doing it, but it’s more that I discovered that I’m not the only one. I’m not alone in my frustrations over gift wrapping. With each package being wrapped, the idea is to take a drink each time I lose the scissors or tape or if a cat walks onto the scene and plops down into the midst of the wrapping project. That’s the chronicle of my life in gift-wrapping.

It’s good to know I’m not the only one. It’s good to know that others share my experience or can relate to it.

I’ve never written much about my older brother’s schizophrenia. I’ve spoken of it, but putting it into writing has always seemed a bit too public.

But this week, I found myself talking with a young man, only 25-years-old, who has schizophrenia and, perhaps, other depression-related mental issues. He feels so alone in the world. He says he has never been able to get help, only diagnoses and only in circumstances that have found him thrown into mental institutions because law enforcement didn’t know what else to do with him. As we talked, I could see a very intelligent person, but because of his speech impediment, a stutter, too many people have told him he is stupid. In his view, his family seems to feel the same way and they want nothing to do with him. He would alternatively chuckle with me as I tried to lighten his burden and then he would burst into great sobs. His hurt was so evident.

After I had listened for a long time, I told him about my older brother and some of his experience with schizophrenia. The young man’s interest was clearly piqued and he looked me straight in the eye as he asked questions and listened for answers. It’s not that I had answers that would lead to his cure (there aren’t those), but it was as though he was talking for the first time with someone who might understand his dilemma.

I asked him if he heard voices. When he answered in the affirmative, I asked how many he was hearing right at that moment in addition to mine. “Two,” he answered. I said, “Are they friendly voices or unfriendly?” “Unfriendly,” he quickly said.

And so the exchange went. I was drawing on conversations I have had with my brother both alone and in the presence of his therapist. With each new addition to the conversation, this young man seemed to find some relief in knowing there was someone who might understand and who, if nothing else, cared about him.

We gathered ourselves together to see if there were avenues to pursue to get some help for him but before we left our quiet retreat, he started sobbing again. “I’m never going to have a girlfriend,” he said. “Why on earth not?” I inquired. “Because of my speed impediment.”

[Internet image]

[Internet image]

So I relaxed back into my chair and I confided in him that my brother had a speech impediment too. He used to stutter. He passed up opportunities in school when he was a youth because he didn’t want to be put in a situation where he might have to speak publicly. But, I said, at some point I noticed that his stutter had disappeared. Somewhere in his life as an adult and probably with the help of therapy and medications, the stutter disappeared. I said to this young man, “You know, you are clearly a very intelligent young man. My brother is probably the most intelligent of all four of us siblings. His stutter was no indication of intelligence or lack thereof. It may have been related to his mental illness. It may have been related to his feeling that he just didn’t measure up to everyone else’s expectations. It may have been the product of some terrible things that happened in his life. Just like you. But his stutter disappeared.”

All of these experiences in my brother’s life mirrored those of this young man. I finally said, “You two share a lot. The only difference is the color of your skin.” He smiled then.

Well, that’s probably not the only difference. My brother came from a stable home life and had parents who did everything they could to get him the help he needed. This young man who emanated from the south side of Chicago has never known what a real family could be (even with its warts). This young man doesn’t have anyone to be his advocate, to help him along the way, to make certain he feels safe and loved.

So before we left our quiet space and after I asked him (without goading) if he had a relationship with God, I asked him if he would like to pray. He nodded and I took both of his hands on top of the table and we prayed for God’s help, for God’s continuing protection, and for answers that seemed to be impossible to find. When we stood up, I gave him a hug – a hug that a mother might give to her son. It was longer than one of those we get in church or even meeting up with a friend.

Later, as he was relating his issues to a health professional and I was standing by listening, he told her, “You know, I never knew what family was like. But I feel like I have family with you two. I feel like I can trust you.” And then he paused and nodded his head in my direction and said softly, “That hug. That hug was wonderful.”

He has had a long row to hoe in his life and it’s even longer ahead. There’s no way for anyone to know how this will turn out.

But what I know is that I found myself thanking God for my brother. I can’t thank God for his schizophrenia. I don’t believe God caused that to happen to him. But I can thank God for opening my brother’s life to me so that in meeting others like this young man I can put together some semblance of understanding.

I know that when I look into my brother’s face, I see the face of Christ. And when I looked into the face of this young man, I saw the face of Christ as well. Both experiences are a strange combination of love and respect, but also bring an unsettling feeling to my heart. When I look into the face of Christ, I want to be there, to be present, to do whatever is required. But when I look into the face of Christ, I shudder at what is required of me and I am tempted to run away.

Running away would be easier. But there’s something about that face that tells me that while the going may be difficult, it will be worth the journey.

I hope I can either be an advocate for this young man or find a proper advocate for him. He would like to run away from it all too, but he doesn’t have that option.

Wrapping Christmas presents with a cat lying in the middle of them is a small problem compared to those who are burdened with mental illness. Regardless, it’s reassuring to know I am not alone in those frustrations.

We all must realize that we are not the only ones, not alone in the world, that there are others who have experienced many of the challenges we have experienced. God puts us into one another’s lives for a reason. God gave me my brother who has taught me enough to help settle the hurts of another man if only for a day. And God has put others in my life to help settle my own hurts for a day and for a lifetime.

Oh, that we would not run away but see the face of Christ in one another. No one ever promised it would be easy. It can be thoroughly exhausting. Sometimes it will hurt. But knowing that love is beyond comprehension.

 

44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” – Matthew 25:44-45

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5 comments for “Am I the only one?

  1. Susan Hurst
    November 30, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    Seeing the face of Christ in brother Bob has enlightened me to more compassion and empathy, most certainly. Loved your blog, love you.

  2. Janice Minardi
    November 30, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    Thank you for encouragement to find the ways in which each of us could reach out to another.

  3. November 30, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    God has given you a beautiful ministry! It is so amazing how God brings just the right person across our path. Sounds like both you and the young man were blessed. Thanks for your blog.

  4. David Deutsch
    November 30, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    Gretchen, your empathy, compassion, and acceptance are essential to living and faith. These qualities are also key to coping with the challenges of mental illness. Too many lack patience or understanding. From someone who has coped with issues of mental illness among my family and friends, I appreciate your insight.

  5. Susie Thornton
    December 1, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    Wow! I went from grinning as I read your opening scenario to fighting back tears as I read the rest of this excellent post. We, too, had a family member who was diagnosed with schizophrenia: Rick’s older sister Beth, who sadly passed away several years ago at the age of 63. Since we lived 900 miles away, it fell upon her older brother and sister, who lived nearby her, to be her caretakers after Rick’s parents passed away 20+ years ago. We had little personal knowledge of her day-to-day existence, but were kept informed by Rick’s siblings. Basically, if she stayed on her meds, she did well. When she did not, she would begin an “episode” and usually end up in the hospital for a while. It is heart-rending to think of the number of other similar patients across the country, even though Beth was lucky enough to have a supportive, intact family, as did your brother. I will remember this young man and hope you might be able to update us on his status from time-to-time. God bless you for your empathy for him… and everyone God puts in your path!

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