Many family members get stuck in the Denial Stage, never moving on to really dealing with the mental illness of their loved one.
Leaving Denial means believing this terrible thing has really happened. While in the Denial Stage, it is easier to think all the bad symptoms will magically go away, or there’s some other reason for them. Leaving Denial is often scarier than staying put.
Once you believe the diagnosis is true, the next stage is frightening – it is the Anxiety Stage. Being here brings three typical responses.
Constant disquietude. This is a state of general uneasiness. Even when you aren’t consciously thinking about your loved one or the illness, it is looming there in the background. You may be tense and uneasy all the time and not really know why. Others will notice this change in you. You can best handle the disquiet by talking about it rather than slinking back into the shell of Denial.
Worry. The major reason for the disquiet is apprehension and concern for your loved one and yourself. When I first learned that my son had this brain disorder, I had no idea what it meant. What was the near future going to mean? What about ten years from now? Although I now know more about his illness, and I know recovery is possible, I still worry. I call it a knowledgeable worry.
During the Anxiety Stage, many don’t know what is to become of their family member. Worry seems to be humans’ favorite reaction to the unknown.
Sense of Foreboding. This is also part of the disquiet you feel, that sense of something bad going to happen. Something bad has already happened and the future looks even grimmer.
With all the news reports of people with mental illness going on murderous rampages, how else can one react? Without knowing what the future can really hold, there is nothing left but bad feelings.
The more you worry, the stronger that sense of foreboding becomes, and the more disquiet you feel.
Often, as a Christian family, we were advised to just let God handle it. That is very true. God is not surprised by the details of my life, or my son’s life. But, for humans the unknown is not a normal state. I worried, I fretted, I cried out to God for answers – for miracles. Until I moved through the anxiety stage, I wasn’t in a place to recognize God’s hand in this terrible thing that had happened.
Like the other stages, this one may last a long while. I hope not. The constant anxiety is unhealthy emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Just as you need to move through Denial, you need to move through Anxiety.
Each step through the stages brings you closer to dealing with your loved one’s illness.