Still hidden, still misunderstood

Ed Smith
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Sometimes I think I expect too much.

From those who love me, for example. I expect their love to be perfect and complete in every way without stopping to realize that the wonder is that they love me at all.

I expect them to be perfect, the way that chapter in Second Corinthians describes it. Love is this, love is that. Love is never impatient or envious and so on. It's a beautiful description of perfect love. The question is, who's perfect? Sometimes I think I am, but that feeling doesn't last too long. Those nearest and dearest to me see to that.

To be serious about this (and I am getting close to making a very important point), most of us expect too much of each other without stopping to think how much of an effort it may be for that other person to give anything at all. I expect my wife to be always considerate of my feelings, but when I don't consider hers, it's because I have something else on my mind, and she should know that.

I expect my children to remember everything that's important to me, but when I'm not aware of the important things in their lives, it's because my mind was on something significant to me at the time.

You see the problem? I expect perfection from everyone else, but I can always find excuses when I don't give perfection myself.

The fact is, we all have issues that we're striving to overcome or work around or work through.

Sometimes these are painfully obvious, such as when you're in a wheelchair or have missing limbs or your body is twisted with scoliosis.

If we have difficulty carrying on a conversation with someone who's in obvious pain, we can empathize with that.

The non-physical issues are not so easily identifiable. You could be chatting with an acquaintance for an hour before realizing that she's suffering the emotional trauma of her recent marriage breakup. Your immediate reaction is to commiserate with her.

Chances are, you know others who have gone through the same thing. Perhaps you have yourself. Whatever, you feel a closeness, a bonding which is without doubt helpful to her. No one wants to carry those burdens on their own.

But there's one huge exception to this commiseration and empathizing.

All too often, the person with a mental illness is misunderstood, treated with suspicion and seen almost as a pariah.

Worse than that, whatever form that illness can take - and there are many - it's not regarded as real. As one person (we'll call her Sharon) told me with a grin not long ago, a family member told her it was all in her head.

"Of course it's all in my head, you ninnies! When I've got seven different voices coming at me at the one time, they're all in my head! But I don't put them there, and I cannot get them out until they've run their course, or my medication kicks in. But it is not my fault! It is not my doing!"

What hurts most of all is that they're ashamed of her.

"If I had cancer eating away at my lungs, they'd understand. If I'd been in a car accident and broken my back they'd understand. But because I have this illness which causes my brain cells to go haywire, it's my own fault."

They say confession is good for the soul. If that's the case, I hope this confession somewhat eases my soul, or at least my guilt.

My father and I were as close as father and son can get. I admired him enormously and there was never any doubt in my mind about his love for me or my sister.

I often got spirited away from school to go rabbit hunting and shooting turrs. He taught me how to set a snare, wait for the right moment to fire at a trio of ducks and precisely where to place a .303 bullet in the front quarter of a bull moose.

Later, my father developed depression from a chemical imbalance and had to take early retirement from the ministry. It seemed that he was only happy when we were hunting and fishing together.

Other than that, he'd often just sit in his chair and say nothing. We used to get on him a bit for being a spoilsport.

And then one Christmas not many years before he passed, he and Mother came to spend Christmas with us. Dad was unusually "down," and we kept after him to cheer up, although it didn't have much effect.

On the day we went to get our Christmas tree, he was especially morose. The kids were enjoying this exercise as usual, although "Gumpy" was having a dampening effect on our outing. He sat in the car and said nothing.

Finally, I had had enough. I got in the car and spoke to him severely.

"Dad, why is it you choose to spoil Christmas for the kids and for all of us? You're nothing but a wet blanket."

I don't know if I expected a response or not, but there was only silence. Then I turned my head and looked at him.

He was staring straight ahead but two great tears were slowly falling down his face. At that moment, I knew how Judas Iscariot felt the night he betrayed Jesus.

I would not have hurt him for the world, but because I failed to see his illness, I expected him to be everything we wanted him to be. And he tried. I know he tried.

It's difficult to tell this story, but perhaps there's someone in your family or your circle of friends of whom you need to be a little more considerate, a little more aware that they have an illness - depression or some other personality disorder - that's difficult to control.

There's only one way for those of us who know and care for them to treat it.

With love and patience.

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His email address is


Geographic location: Springdale

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Recent comments

  • Laurie McBurney
    February 17, 2012 - 14:50

    Thanks for being so open, Ed. I needed this insight. Now I have a phone call to make.