Untreated Mental Illness and Addiction: Holding Out and Holding On are Two Very Different Things

Filed under: Pondering, The Opposite of Gravity

It seems that lately, I’ve been exposed a little bit more than usual to the frustrated conversations of people dealing with the effects of untreated mental illness and addiction. What I’m noticing with these dialogues is a range of emotion. At one end of the spectrum there is compassion for those who are so obviously in need of quality medical support–a whole hearted attempt at kindness and understanding. And on the other end of the spectrum there is shock and rage directed at the cruel things that are side effects of a person who is no longer grounded in their original essence. I often view these people, behaving so destructively, like a plane falling out of the sky. They are trying to make an emergency landing but in the process are leaving a large swath of collateral damage in their wake.

I’m all too familiar with the ping-pong of emotions that comes with people who are crashing planes. I’ve had ill people in my life, who’s behavior leaves me feeling like I have a split personality as I try to cope with it. On a good day, when I’m in a good place, I find I’m charitable, forgiving and kind. I can see the bigger picture of the monsters of mental illness and addiction and I can separate the person who needs help from their actions. On my bad days, when their behavior is reprehensible and it threatens to crush me, I pull this quote up off the desktop of my computer…


I don’t know why–but this quote is like a life jacket for me. It’s funny enough to make me laugh (which I usually need if I’m digging for it) but it’s also true enough to remind me that I can’t fix everyone. No one can be helped who doesn’t want to be and I find that a very hard thing for me to accept when I love someone. I have that tendency to believe if I try a little bit harder, if I love a little bit more, I might make THE difference. I don’t want to feel like I’ve given up on someone I care about. But then I’m reminded that it isn’t fair for me to be someone else’s collateral damage, even if I love them. I’m supposed to love me too–and all the other people in my life who need me.

And while it’s never pleasant to watch a soul slowly stop breathing the sanity around them, I’d like to remind all those people who are feeling all the feelings right now, that some things are out of our control. When a plane is going down, the best chance you have at saving someone one else, is to put your own oxygen mask on first. You put on yours. Then you put on the mask of the people around you who want it and then you hold that last remaining mask in your hand and you hope that before it’s too late, that last person will decide they want to breath again.

And then you understand that holding out and holding on are two very different things.



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12 Responses | TrackBack URL | Comments Feed

  1. Wow, Kim – this is so well-said and so true… thanks for your courage and candor to write about such a sensitive and controversial subject that probably affects many more people than the statistics show. Your metaphor of crashing planes and collateral damage and oxygen masks is so great, and I am sure will come to mind often…

  2. Kim,
    Thank you for this. So we’ll said.

  3. Hmmm. I too have some of those people in my life. It took me many, many years to accept (not give up) that I could not fix them. It’s so hard when someone you love is falling and they don’t even recognize they’re not standing on the ledge any more. It was once explained to me like this: If you were standing on a table it’s much easier for them to pull you down than it is for you to pull them up. I want to be the puller-upper. I want to DO something. It’s hard and humbling to admit I can only fix me. And Kim, as someone who loves ya, you’re not aloud to be collateral damage. Ever.

  4. Perfect analogy. It took me many years to realize I couldn’t fix everyone in my life. Probably why I switched to writing books with a “fixer” for a protag, come to think of it.

    • It’s kinda creepy what our subconscious does to us writer types LOL! It is the Perfect Fix then. <3

  5. Thank you so much for this post. I have been on both sides of the experience and can really relate to a metaphor of a crashing plane. The point about putting on your own mask first is genius and I’ll always remember that for the future.

    • I’m so glad that so many people can relate to this post–I think a lot of people are dealing with similar type situations. I always think that transparency is helpful. Problems like to hide and isolate people but if we have an open dialogue I think it helps. (((((hugs)))))

  6. *hugs* Beautifully said. Sometimes, walking away and letting them know you’re there when they need you is the best choice.

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