Monday, May 24, 2010

What is Love?

Recently I posted a touching story about the "Sting of Stigma and Unconditional Love" here.

And for the longest time I've thought about writing a post on the idea of "What is Love"? Well, Mel's story about her friend Julie's journey and death following her diagnosis of "mental illness" seemed the right prompt for this post as we approach the end of "Mental Health Awareness Month" for 2010.

There are two things that truly suck about this struggle to maintain psychological integrity - the first is being given that free, lifetime membership to "Club M.I." without asking for it. That stigmatizing "mark" that goes with the label of "diagnosis" that often leads to discrimination or being treated differently, sometimes as "less than".

The second is how this label affects relationships with the people who could make the biggest difference in the life of someone who is struggling with mental health issues from family and friends - to Medical Providers, Doctors and Therapists.

These are often the people we turn to when we are needing that "soft place to fall" when life's journey hits a rough patch. Unfortunately these are oftentimes the same people who can compound the problem by offering "conditional" love and acceptance vs the unconditional love that Mel gave her friend, Julie, as she was dying from a disease that may have been curable - had she not been labeled "mentally ill" and her physical needs gone unmet. (In the comments of this post you can read how Suzanne nearly died when her physical complaints were attributed to her being a "hypochondriac" and "delusional" - click here to read.)

In Mel's story I noticed first her attitude toward Julie as being one of acceptance of Julie as she was with no inkling of judgement or attempt to minimize Julie's experience or effort to influence her in order to make Mel feel more comfortable...

"She was so amazing. Funny thing was I always told her I didn't think she was bipolar, some would view her as acting crazy at times but strangely I saw it as being in another dimension or something."

And I saw compassion for her friend's situation...."I never told her that seeing men in trees was her imagination, just that I couldn't see them."

So what is "love" - I mean true, selfless love? Love that put's another's needs before my own?

It's the love that says "in all your muck, your crap, your issues....I will stand beside you through it all..."

Q: What does "unconditional love" look like in your world?


Patricia Singleton said...

Unconditional love is standing beside your friend, your sister, and loving them through the rough times as well as the good. It is continuing to love them even when you are angry with them. It means telling a friend that if she commits suicide, you are right behind her. I scared her enough that day that she came to her senses because she knew that I meant it. She scared me that day. If she hadn't come to her senses, I would have found another way to stop her.

My sister has a mental health label put on her. I recently told her that if she is in pain to not stop until someone believes her and finds out what is wrong.

Patricia Singleton said...

I forgot. I love the picture of the two ladies, especially their bold lips and the rainbow eye shadow. Beautiful. Full of fun and character.

Susan said...

Thanks for your comment,Patricia!

I thought this photo was a good example of loving someone right where they are... Acceptance of someone who may be different than me but stll worthy of being respected as they are. That conditional love that says "I'll love you as long as you conform to my standards is so hurtful.

I appreiate what you are saying about the love you show friends and family. I'm beRing "I love you and won't let you hurt yourself" and"I support you in your journey and believe in you".

I'm so glad you dropped by Patricia!

Rebekah said...

Sometimes I feel sad, because I never knew that people can love other people like that...much less that anyone could or should love me that way...but its a learning process right? We learn a little as we go, and now that I know how people should love me, I can look for the ones that will...and I can love me that way too.

This is the kind of thing that I never knew I never knew, and no one tells you because they assume everyone knows it and wouldnt accept anything less...thank you for posting this :)

Susan said...

Rebekah- what you describe was my own experience too. Many of us from all backgrounds only know "love" as it was modeled to us as we grew up. The result is that we developed a tolerance for that conditional live... And personally, along with this came the belief I was somehow deserving of this kind of "love".

I'm so glad you found some of your own truth in this post and I share your sadness around this issue. This was something that I Iearned to grieve as one of those things I missed out on. The good news is though that now we "see" what love isn't and can now love ourselves and accept others into our lives who truly love us as we are.

Thank you for sharing your I sight with us here Rebekah.

We are not alone:)

Suzanne said...

Unconditional love is a gift of immeasurable proportions. It is the man who falls in love with you, knowing your family is crazy, you are crazy and you're bound to drive him crazy, but he loves you for the person inside, buried under genes, environment, and upbringing. He says, I love your spirit. The rest is all things we can face and deal with, after all, we have the rest of our lives to do so. In turn you fight to heal, so that when he is in need of your support, you are there to carry him in return.

Unconditional love is when that precious little puppy tears apart your couch, eats all your underwear, dig 3 foot deep holes in the ground, but you don't mind. They love and accept you with all your mistakes and faults and give you everlasting devotion that makes you feel truly "Touched By An Angel." And when they are old, peeing where ever they can, no longer playful, your only concern is how you will live without them.

Lastly unconditional love is seeing your children though life forgiving the oops and poops to the arrests and addiction or hysterical rages. It's spending every last dime to insure they are safe and receive the best help. I don't mean spoiling them; just protecting them from themselves. In turn they, grow, heal and look back at the hard decisions you made, all you gave up and say, I just hope I can be as good of a parent as you were to me. And when you say, I’m sorry my problems caused you so much grief, they say you were their role model in overcoming the darkness and thriving; and you know your life has been truly blessed.

Marian said...

Towards the end of my therapy experience, my therapist once asked me if I thought, my mother had loved me. "No," I answered. "Love is accepting the other as the other s/he is." - "Yahhh, if you see it that way..." That's the way I see it, yes. Love is always unconditional, non-judgemental, 100% accepting, or it isn't love.

Interestingly, 3 1/2 years earlier, at one of the first sessions, my therapist had told me that she, "under these circumstances", didn't expect me to neither be able nor willing to ever forgive. In the end, she couldn't quite live without the forgiveness anyway, making conditions... And, surprise surprise (NOT), her question made me incredibly angry, not forgiving.

It took me almost three more years to get to a point where I feel all the anger and grief slowly turn into forgiveness and love.

Susan said...

First - I apologize for not responding to comments sooner this week. If you hadn't heard...there was some flooding in my building and the server/system had to be completely replaced over the past few days.

Suzanne - I love the way you are able to paint a picture of the idea that love is standing in the muck, right next to you, mud up to my armpits and I won't leave you.

Yes; and in the end - we are truly blessed when our own can say....thank you for being my light and showing me the way.

Marion; it sounds like in spite of how others view what love it, that you've been able to define it for yourself....and then once the dust settles and the pain recedes a bit...offer exactly that to those who hurt you. True love never fails.

thank you for sharing that with us here:)