Strengthening through Pain

So often it seems too hard to breathe, and impossible to believe that we live with so much heartache. We wonder, How could this have happened to our family? How could that happy, sweet little toddler have grown to be such a confused and despondent teen? How could my precious child want to take her own life?? And of course, What did I do? What did I NOT do?

Our hearts are in turmoil.

The sad truth is, we may experience years of piercing darkness and worry and feeling numb and hollow.

The journey may be fraught with many questions, frustrations, sorrows, and griefs to bear. Some of the pain we share:

  • Faced with the task of tending to a seriously distressed loved one and nurturing positive living intentions, we still have our own feelings to manage. We may be encountering many different and even conflicting emotions; this is completely normal, and it is okay. We are human!
  • It can be very challenging to accept reality when our child is diagnosed with a serious psychological illness. We have no idea what lies before us. We may feel overwhelmed.
  • One of the most agonizing struggles for some of us is trying not to look back and compare to how things were just a short while ago. Ruminating can suffocate us.
  • We may be struggling with feeling limited or helpless.
  • It’s excruciating to watch someone we love hurt so much. It is exhausting, too.
  • We ache with a pain that cuts so deeply… we grieve. We grieve our losses, feeling them keenly.
  • We’re scared.

We don’t have the luxury of falling apart. Our kids need us! We are called to task as we endeavor to help and encourage our children through such darkness. Somehow, we must strengthen ourselves. We need energy for the sprint AND endurance for the distance…

Positive forward motion requires that we: work, wrestle, rest, and restore.


-Most of us know about work. And everything we do becomes so much harder when we have a child with mental illness. In addition to caring for spouses and children, we still manage jobs, care for aging parents, and tend to broken washing machines… Yet our work in this arena extends to farther reaches. Beyond the love and care we offer our children, we may find ourselves working hard to find a therapist, manage medications, drive to appointments. We work to help our hurting children as we study about the diagnosis, learn about therapies, and educate our families and friends. We work when our children’s behaviors or attitudes are self-destructive or conflict with our family values.


-We wrestle with the diagnosis, we wrestle with our child’s suffering, we wrestle with our child, we wrestle with our own emotions, we wrestle with reality and acceptance, we wrestle with deeper personal issues, we wrestle with balancing it all. These throbbing wounds drain and sap us, yet require intentional attention.


-It is very hard to rest when we are worried and stressed. We are affected by the pain our loved one feels, and by our own heartache, as well. Yet, we must tend to our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. We must nourish ourselves, body and soul, and allow ourselves to rest. We surrender what we cannot do, and we rest. For ideas on how we do this, read Tending to Stress and Anxiety.


-We gain strength when we have done our work, taken steps toward healing, cared for our bodies, found some degree of balance, and rested. Then, we determine what we can do, and we do it. Restoration may be enhanced by reaching out. Perhaps we need deeper healing and help; we reach out to a professional counselor. We seek support, and we reach out to friends, support groups, and our faith community.

The path to health and strength involves acknowledging our emotions, accepting our circumstances, and allowing ourselves to grieve. We feel. We ache. We cry. Oh, do we cry.

And that’s part of living with someone who is ill. Then we rest and recover and try to regain strength and restore our hearts to continue doing the good work we need to do to love our hurting children and build up our families.

Our family has sought strength and wisdom from many sources. Surprisingly, two seemingly small truths have proven to be especially soothing and supportive, enabling us to persevere.

As simple and overused as this may seem, there really is meaning and validity in the instruction:

Take it one day at a time.

It seems to be upheld by almost every religious and psychological counsel we’ve found.

And in our worlds, where the manic can be so dangerous and the depression can be so deadly, it really becomes a healing remedy. We cannot predict tomorrow. We can only live today. We can pursue professional help and medication and books and groups and take walks and scented bubble baths and pour out love and try our best, yet with all that, even if we could do absolutely everything, trying to live in the best way possible, we can only take it one day at a time.

That’s it.

Years ago, very early in this journey, the most healing words that ever came to us were spoken by a beloved counselor who grew to be more like family, and knew us well. She leaned in and tenderly said, You are doing the best you can do. The power of those words is breathtaking. They have comforted and strengthened and carried us many a weary mile.

We’re doing the best we can do.

These words build fortitude, sustaining us as we press on with love and hope and kindness, which are universal needs and gifts.

Our hearts are big enough. We can do this.

Overview of strengthening measures:

  • Practice self-care.
  • Accept and deal with what we have.
  • Continue to tend to stress and anxiety.
  • Continue to cry (it releases toxins).
  • Grieve. Grieve fully the losses and changes.
  • Know that this all takes time.
  • Engage in small, pleasant activities, if possible.
  • Take advice from Dr. Ilardi’s book (see Vital Books).
  • Remind ourselves we are doing the best we can do.
  • Take it one day at a time.

This is how we keep striving and hoping. We carry on in love. We do not give up. We continue to do the best we can do. Because at the end of it all, no matter what has happened, no matter what our children or anyone else does or says, we have to be able to live with ourselves.