How do you feel when you expect a $100 tax refund and the IRS finds a mistake in your favor, so you get $1,000 instead?
How about when you expect to wait for 10 minutes and you end up waiting an hour?
The way that things turn out compared to how we expected them to turn has a lot to do with how we feel. Understanding the impact of our expectations can help us deal with the pain and frustration of loving someone with a brain-based (mental) illness.
For example, living with a person who has clinical depression is hard. We want to help, but we don’t know how. Sometimes our efforts make things worse. The same is true when you live with a person who suffers from anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder or the spectrum that is schizophrenia.
All of them have an intense need for love, but they often have trouble being loving in return.
What would an expert in the psychological community expect from a person with clinical depression? Low energy, for one thing. The depressed have so little energy that they rarely can think about other people. So they seem self-centered. The depressed person can feel an inner anger that life isn’t fair. Yet, getting in arguments to try to talk them out of their hopelessness doesn’t work.
A person with bipolar disorder is expected to show signs of the illness. The mood swings between mania and depression, with long or short periods in between, may seem as if they don’t have a rhyme or reason. The reason is chemical, and it needs treatment.
Living alongside someone with borderline personality disorder is a true roller coaster ride. One minute you are the best, and the next you are seen as a monster. “Walking around on eggshells” is a common description of daily life in that household. People with this illness are in emotional pain almost all the time, and they project issues on others.
In short, people with mental illness are expected to behave in ways you don’t like. They can no longer meet many simple expectations that we had for them before the illness. One of the toughest issues family members have is deciding what the new expectations should be: Can he work? Can she do chores? Can he join us for family dinner? Can she take a shower without prompting?
This change has more impact on us that we want it to have. We experience deep pain as we try to adjust, as one thing after another becomes too much for them to do. Grieving this loss is tough at the beginning, and it’s just as tough as time goes on.
You can measure stress by the difference between what is happening and what you think should be happening. So your stress will be intense, unless you change your thinking about “what should be.”
At the beginning of a loved one’s mental illness, a psychologist suggested to us, “Why don’t you try not having any expectations at all?” Easier said than done, and hard to hear.
But we learned to keep our expectations as low as possible. To fill in the gap, it’s wise to turn to God’s promises. God is both sufficient and faithful, walking with us through this valley of the shadow of death. Abiding with the Lord can give you expectations of peace and comfort.