The Power of Mental Illness and the Power of Love

The Power of Mental Illness and the Power of Love

Am I a mindless fool? My life is a fragment, a disconnected dream that has no continuity. ~Ross David Burke~

Recently I read Sam Harris’s Book, The Moral Landscape. I especially remember his writing about moral dilemmas and how we approach them. While I continued to digest his words, I attended a talk by David Kaczynski about his struggle to deal with the implications of his brother Ted being identified as the Unabomber.

David’s brother had been an exceptionally kind and thoughtful big brother despite his tendency since childhood to withdraw himself from most other people. In graduate school Ted began to have episodes of outright mental illness. He eventually withdrew to a cabin in the Montana woods and discontinued contact with his family including David. When David read the Unabomber Manifesto, he saw parallels with the letters his brother had sent to the family in the past. He was faced with the dilemma between reporting his suspicions about his brother to the authorities and its consequences for his brother’s life and helping to stop his brother’s suspected pattern of killing and injuring others. He ended up sharing his suspicions with the FBI.

I daresay that the choice is easier when considered objectively from outside the family. Fortunately not many of us with mental illness in our families are faced with decisions of such magnitude regarding mentally ill family members. Yet we are still faced with choices and questions not easily answered. How long do we stand by while our family members continue to act in ways not in their own best interests? Do we do what they want or what they need? How do we decide?

Mentally ill family members can disrupt the lives of those trying to help them or even cope with them. How much disruption can we tolerate? How do we set limits without abandoning them? Circumstances differ among families but these questions seldom have easy answers. When our own well-being starts to suffer, it sometimes becomes very difficult to be helpful to them or even to stay involved in their lives.

In addressing these issues, it is best to keep reminding ourselves that our mentally ill family members often do not think the way we do. When we try to act in their best interest, they may view us as undermining their efforts to survive. They may take personally our efforts to limit their disruption of our lives. They may not share their perceptions of their relationships with us and might not understand the effect on us.

Gaining some perspective helps us be clear at least about our own feelings for our family member. We can learn what is helpful and what makes things worse. We can seek comfort knowing we did the best we could. We can learn to take care of ourselves while trying to help. If you need help with these issues, call the Mental Health Association in Genesee County or in your community.

Life Lab Lessons

Try to understand your loved ones with mental illness.
If you get stuck, ask for professional help or seek a support group.
Don’t blame them for their mental illness.
Don’t blame yourself.
When the going gets rough, make sure you take care of yourself.

Joseph G. Langen is the author of 5 Ebooks, Commonsense Wisdom for Everyday Life, Young Man of the Cloth, Navigating Life, The Pastor’s Inferno and Conversations with My Muse. See more about his writing at or

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