Going back a few years, I remember having to sing hymns in high school Assemblies, three times a week. The hymn that springs to my mind right now is this one (well, this is the first verse):
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
I knew it was a hymn often related to the Navy, and I knew it was old (written in 1861) but I really had little idea of what the words we were singing meant. Wikipedia tells me it is something related to Psalm 107 about those being shipwrecked and calling for God’s mercy.
My thinking is that those in peril on the sea had no hope, and the issue of being no hope (sometimes) has been weighing heavily on my mind this week.
It was two and a half years ago that a man collapsed in my house and I had to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) on him in an effort to save his life. I did CPR for 20 minutes. If you’ve ever had to do it, you will know that it is an extremely physical procedure and in that time I completely exhausted myself. But I had no thought that there was no hope, and so I kept on. At one stage I heard a rib crack, and I thought ‘Dad is going to be really sore tomorrow with his cracked ribs I’ve just given him‘. Still, I believed there must be hope… and so continued.
Eventually paramedics arrived and took over. They continued to perform CPR for another 20 minutes before telling me (and my mother who was watching all this) that there was no hope. He had gone. My Dad had died.
What was I hoping for? I guess that the treatment I (and then the paramedics) were giving him, would revive his heart and bring him back to the person I knew. To bring recovery. I wanted him to be saved from his ‘peril on the sea’.
Then I started thinking about hope and how it applies to mental illness. It’s something I talk about regularly because I believe that having hope is what makes the difference to me getting through my mental illnesses. For me, there is hope of treatment, both pharmacological and psychotherapeutic. My main diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a little tricky because as it forms part of who I am (my personality) it can’t just be removed. For me, management of the symptoms of BPD is what I hope for, and right now I am pretty much achieving.
But is there that hope for all mental illnesses? Most of us at least have hope of management of symptoms , if not complete recovery but it’s occurred to me recently that actually that hope is not there for all illnesses. What if there is no medication known to treat the illness, and what if therapy is not known to be particularly effective? What if most sufferers actually aren’t motivated to seek treatment, even if it was available? While again, I need to emphasise that I am not qualified in psychology or psychiatry, and so I am speaking of my personal thoughts rather than proven fact, it does seem that there is little hope for those people. And I’m talking about four in every hundred people.
This fills me with sadness because it is hard enough to live with mental illness when at least someone can see hope. It also fills me with sadness because people close to me are in that number and I desperately want hope for them. My heart is also filled with sadness because these people perhaps struggle against the stigma of mental illness the most. I haven’t named the illness purposely, because as a society there tends to be little, to no compassion for these people. They’re hardly even treated as people. But what if it were us?
It’s not my role, or my desire, to be dictating who we should, and shouldn’t feel compassion for but I will tell you my own way of looking at this. Sometimes even people with mental illnesses (like me) do things that aren’t nice, aren’t acceptable and aren’t what healthy human beings would choose to do. I don’t like their behaviours one little bit. I don’t like it when innocent people get hurt. There needs to be appropriate punishment when crimes are committed.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the people with mental illnesses who did these things are human beings. Look at it another way. We were all once innocent babies, who needed and deserved the best care in the world. For a million reasons things can go wrong, but we all still need and deserve care and compassion. They’re not monsters, but babies. That’s my way of looking at it anyway.
I don’t write this post today because it’s a good topic to debate, but rather because it is something weighing very heavily on my mind right now… because of my personal experience. I can’t quite get my head around there being no hope for someone’s mental health, mostly because I had to cling onto my own hope (and others’ hope for me) for so long (and still). Maybe someone will tell me it doesn’t matter because the person probably isn’t motivated toward treatment anyway, but we all have families. While they might not always be perfect families, at least some of them would want hope for us. Some of them would not want us to be at ‘peril on the sea’. And I just can’t accept that these people should simply be left at peril.
“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
― John Bradford (1510–1555)
“It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.”
― Richard Evans