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018 Interview with Aaron & Ellie part 1 {Transcript}

About This Transcript

In March of 2016 we filmed our 6th observation case featuring Dr. Charles Hodges who offered counseling care for a couple struggling with the complexities of Bipolar Disorder. Recently we sat down with the real-life Aaron and Ellie for the CDC Podcast to talk about their unique perspective on this particular medical diagnoses.  This is the first episode of a 2-part interview with “Aaron & Ellie, in it our host Craig Marshall discuss with them their background with Bipolar Disorder and why they were uniquely qualified to accurately portray a couple struggling with Bipolar Disorder.  They also offer from real life experience advice for the average Christian in how they can best come alongside and do life with a person who may have a medical diagnosis and their family.

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Craig Marshall:
Hello, and welcome to the IBCD Care and Discipleship Podcast. I’m Craig Marshall. I’m excited to be here today with Aaron and Ellie. For those of you who have noticed, our latest observation video features them seeking help from Dr. Charles Hodges in dealing with the struggle of bipolar disorder. We’re excited to spend some time talking with them and hear a little bit about where they come from, what their experiences have been, and how they ended up being part of an IBCD observation video. Aaron and Ellie, glad to be with you.

Ellie:
Likewise.

Aaron:
Glad to be here.

Ellie:
Glad to be here.

Craig Marshall:
Wow. It’s been a while since we filmed the video and it’s cool to see it all done now on the other side of it. Wanted to talk with you. One of the questions that we get a lot is just, who are these people that are acting in these videos? First of all, people wonder if it’s acting. We try and explain that on the one hand it is, because we have a scenario we’re working through, but a lot of times for the counselor it’s very much not acting because they’re just responding to what’s coming out. I was wondering if you wanted to let us know a little bit about who you guys are and your experience with bipolar disorder, and we’ll just talk from there. Who wants to start?

Aaron:
I’ll go. I felt like when you guys had asked us to do it, it was … My initial reaction was, “Yeah. We’d love to be a part of this.” I actually, a couple years ago, I wanted to be an actor, so it was interesting. I tried starting off acting and then I realized I couldn’t handle the lifestyle of an actor, so I just stopped pursuing it. I’m still doing film, though. It was really a lot of personal stuff for us. I think we mentioned it before. I don’t know if we did. Just because my mom has schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. There was a lot of stuff that was currently even happening even when you guys had asked us to be a part of it. I was acting, but in a sense I’m not really, because it’s just what we’re experiencing not only in our marriage but just in life, trying to help our mom and trying to figure out what are the best solutions and stuff for her. That was my experience with it.

Craig Marshall:
How about you, Ellie?

Ellie:
I was really excited, actually, to hear about this project because I’ve been working in the mental health field for about nine years now. I’m a social worker. I have a master’s in social work. I originally started out my career working at a local mental health authority for the county, basically. A lot of the people that I worked with either had depression, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Then, I’d worked there for several years and had seen the ins and outs and what the system really is like and the pros and the cons of all of that. Then I transitioned more into a crisis role. When people were suicidal or homicidal, I’d go out and do assessments on them to see if they needed to be hospitalized involuntarily or voluntarily if they had insurance or that type of thing. That was quite an experience.
Then, since I moved here, since we got married, I’ve been working in mental health but more from the foster care side of things. Kids with a lot of trauma in their background. Right now I work with kids from infants all the way up. I’ve had kids as old as 13. I definitely have seen it and seen the repercussions of it, seen how the system works, and I’ve seen some families who have been in the church and how the church really has come around them. I’ve seen people just trying to do it on their own and just get stuck in the cycle and cycle and cycle and cycle. Not to say people who are in the church don’t get stuck in a cycle.

Craig Marshall:
Wow. I thought that was one of the amazing things about this project. We knew with Charlie Hodges we had wanted to do a video with him, and he said he wanted to do one dealing with bipolar. That’s the immediate question that came to mind, is how are we going to find people who can pull this off and have a realistic experience for him in the counseling scenario? It was just amazing. Ellie, you’re friends with Christina Henson, who does lots of stuff for us with IBCD. How long have you known her, or what’s your relationship?

Ellie:
I can’t even … I’ve known her longer now than I haven’t known her. I think we were 10, maybe. Over 20 years.

Craig Marshall:
That was amazing. She put me in touch with you. Then you guys were interested in it. I was just amazed to see how much it intersected with both of your lives. I wasn’t aware definitely of the details of it when we initially reached out to you. Christina had said both of your lives had intersected with this. I was really thankful for how willing you guys were to enter into this and try and go into that experience. What was that preparation like for you as you were thinking through what parts you would want to depict? How was that process once you said yes to this idea?

Aaron:
I think it was, for me, it was a relief, because I felt like I could help. A lot of friends and a lot of other people ask me, “What is it like?” “What exactly is the problem? It’s hard to understand.” For me it was like, “Okay. Cool. There’s an opportunity to actually get to try and hopefully pull off what we deal with in our family.” A lot of people, even with the disorder, it comes out differently and they behave differently. There’s similar behaviors. That’s how we can somewhat categorize it. My mom, for instance, is a lot more anxious. She talks really fast, even when she’s not manic.

For me, it was trying to pick and choose the different moments in the dialogue, like when it would come out, and then also just trying to figure out what is my mom’s rationale or logic when we’re trying to be rational and have a rational and logical discussion? Why is she so adamant in her beliefs and how can I honestly try and bring that to life? That was what I was trying to think through and hopefully trying to bring to life there.

Ellie:
I think I was thinking of it maybe more from a clinical perspective, being on the intake side of people going into the hospital. What reasons do they go to the hospital for? What does a suicide episode really look like? What are common ways that people attempt suicide? What are common symptoms that people see? What are frustrations that family members deal with? Those were really important, I think, for us as we crafted this story together to make sure that we included some of those things. In the story, there’s a history of hospitalizations, because usually at his age he would have at least had one hospitalization normally. Sometimes not. Then just the symptoms and making sure that we try to accurately portray what it was.

Aaron:
I think that was also the difficult thing, too, was portraying the symptoms with that particular stage, because there are so many different behaviors even that my mom does. You can tell, “Okay, it’s leading to this thing here. Okay, where are we at in the story? How are we trying to craft this thing? Okay, so these are probably, in our situation, probably the way that she would be behaving.”

Ellie:
I think one of the things we also wanted to include was how family members felt about it. I was the one that was representative of that, as well as how the church community interacted with us, and then the outside community. Because, we’ll probably talk about it later in the podcast, but those things, I’m sure everyone who’s dealt with someone who has a family member who has mental illness has received a lot of different reactions from church members, from community members. We’ll talk about that more.

Craig Marshall:
That’s one of the questions I had for you guys. Maybe not directly down that track of the church even component yet, but in particular what are some of the, as you’ve interacted with people struggling with this, what are some of the most significant parts of the struggle for the family members, in particular for the individuals? What are some things that you think it’s helpful for people to just be aware of that are involved in these situations?

Aaron:
It’s such a complex issue, having a mentally ill member in the family. I think anybody on the outside who’s just looking at the situation … Actually, this is happening right now.

Ellie:
Currently. As we speak.

Aaron:

It’s really happening right now. It’s so incredibly frustrating, because the tendency of our mom is to make friends real quick through sympathy stories and also because she’s just trying to get people to help her. She’ll go through people like just so fast. People initially will just hop on board and be like, “Oh, I want to help you.” Then they’ll listen to my mom and be like, “Oh my gosh. Your story is so difficult.” And it is. “Your kids are so far. It’s hard for them to do something. Here. Let me help you.” Then they’ll start doing all these things without really understanding that we have tried so many different options. This has been years, years in the process.

I would say for anybody just hopping into a situation and being like, “Oh, let me help this individual who needs help,” to really get to know what is the family doing? How is the family really trying to take care of the situation? If an individual really wants to help, I would suggest that they connect with the family and say, “Hey. I want to help. This is what I can do.” To understand that once you even begin to help in this situation it can suck so many hours. If you try to even talk to our mom, she’ll … Just knowing that the family is, a lot of times, unless they’re really not doing anything and the situation’s like that, where it’s just been completely exhausted, but that the family is doing something. To actually have an open communication with the family, and to really try to understand what the situation is, because their reality is many times a completely different reality than what’s really going on. But yet they’re convinced in their heads that it’s happening.

Ellie:
I think, just to expand on that, what Aaron is saying, that his mom’s reality is often very skewed. That skewed reality elicits those sympathetic stories. People will help in the way that they think that they want to help without necessarily knowing that that’s the best way to help. A lot of times there is a family member that is a primary caretaker. For example, in our situation, Aaron has some legal responsibilities with the durable power of attorney as well as the advanced … What’s it called?

Aaron:
The healthcare directive

Ellie:
Yes, that. Advanced healthcare directive. People try to come in and make decisions maybe about selling something or where she should live, or this or that, without talking to someone who actually has the real authority over that scenario, I think, including family members. Maybe not necessarily all family members, because some of them can have their … That’s where it gets difficult. Some of them may not necessarily be looking out for the best interests of the person with the mental illness.

Aaron:
A lot of people try to take advantage of them. It’s so easy to.

Craig Marshall:
It seems like there could kind of be one of two extremes that probably aren’t helpful. Sometimes in the church it could be, “This is different,” and we stay away. Then there can be this naïve just jumping in of just listening to the person, not checking with the family, not realizing the depth of probably what’s going on.

Aaron:
Right.

Craig Marshall:
Starting to come to understand some of the complexities of this, for sure.

Aaron:
Right. It’s very complex. For somebody to say, “Oh, I want to help you.” In some sense, you really got to know what you’re even … Just educate yourself and even just whether or not you can actually have the time to help. What’s really interesting I feel like with a lot of mental health cases is that my mom is convinced that she’s doing a lot of what she’s doing because she wants to help us. Her attention is on us and her attention is on other people, and she’s trying to help other people. But she fails to realize that if she really helps herself then she’s helping the whole family. A lot of times, too, it’s understanding that their intentions in their heads, they’re really good intentions. It’s just learning how to communicate with them and navigate through them and bring them back to what is reality, I guess.

Craig Marshall:
What are some things that you’ve seen in people seeking to help, in particular, in the church? What are ways the church could do better, do you think, in engaging in struggles of this sort?

Aaron:
You already talked about the extremes, I think. I would touch upon that again briefly. It’s just to not minimize the mental health issue in the church. I think it can be easily dismissed and, “Oh, just pray about it.” We’ve been involved with numerous … In our family there’s a lot of different members in our family who come from different denominations. Charismatic. Reformed. It’s just different denominations. It’s understanding that it can’t be just as easy as just praying about it and not doing anything. Sometimes it is. I’ve heard cases, too. I know people who struggle with or who have mental health issues and they’ve been healed. I knew one girl at the church I used to go to, and that’s amazing. The Lord completely healed her, and that’s totally awesome. The majority of cases and in my case it hasn’t happened.

To dismiss it so easily, I think it can be very harmful, especially for my mom. When other people tell my mom, “Oh, you just need to pray more. You just need to read the Bible more.” She’s been told to spend up to four or six hours a day in the word. That can be great. It’s so mentally taxing and exhausting for her when she’s not able to do it. The burden is just multiplied, because now not only is she not able to think rationally, but then, when she’s not able to do something that she’s told, “If you just do this, you can be better,” she falls way more into depression. Especially if she’s not taking her medication, it can really speed up that process.

I would say that. To not minimize and just to really take the time to understand and walk alongside family members. I would also say to educate themselves and to figure out who in the city and who in the local community is involved with mental health issues to actually maybe just even if some of the church leadership, if that’s the direction that they would want to go to, sitting down with them. Figuring out, “Okay, what do you guys do? How can we help in certain situations?” Figuring out maybe if that’s a good resource. Some of them aren’t. But if it’s a good resource to send families to, because they need as much help as they can get.

Craig Marshall:

Along that line, Ellie, especially as you’re involved with many organizations and helping people in different ways, what are some thoughts you have of how the church, how people can better utilize resources in helping families who struggle with this?

Ellie:
I think really, especially if, as a biblical counselor, if you’re going to have a client come into your office, whether it’s a family member of someone who has the mental illness, because definitely as family members of someone who has mental illness I know we could definitely benefit from that type of counseling, or whether it’s the person with the mental illness themselves. I really think the onus and the weight of identifying those resources needs to be on that counselor, because you may be the first touch point. You may not be, but you may be the first touch point that this family has had to have a gateway in to know what those resources are.

It’s really going to be different for every state, which, it’s a little frustrating, because I wish I could say, “Go to this one website and it’ll all be … You’ll find everything there.” I know in a lot of states they do have something called 211 that can be a number that you dial or a website that you go to that has a lot of local community resources. Something that I tell the interns that I work with often is, when you’re looking for a resource, whether it be housing or maybe some sort of social service resource or something to do with food, transportation, something like that, medical, if you start at the federal level, usually there’s some sort of organization at the top top level that’s dealing with that thing.
Just do a quick Google search to identify that primary government hub of that, and then filter it down to your local state and then your local county if there’s a county version of that. Sometimes it stops at the state. You want to try to trickle it down to the lowest, most community level type of resource that there is. Then that will really help you identify what’s in your local area.

I think it’s really helpful to know what those resources are. Especially if somebody in the church to know you don’t have to be afraid or scared to use something that people really specialize their life around these types of things. Finding somebody housing. Finding somebody legal resources. Utilizing them and having people within the church walk alongside the person with mental illness as they access these resources. Oftentimes as a case manager in many situations, I find that it’s not necessarily that the resources aren’t there, because oftentimes the resources are there. It’s identifying the resources and helping someone navigate their way through the messy application process. Because that is really difficult often. That is a big deterrent for people to access those resources.

Craig Marshall:
That’s really helpful. I love how you mentioned the walking alongside with it. It sounds like in the complexities of these struggles there is so much that’s there and available that we don’t need to learn all those things ourselves. It’s just being there for someone else, directing them there, especially as they’re often in a very overwhelmed state in the midst of this and not really knowing where to go, what to do. Caught in that cycle.

Aaron:
Even for us, Ellie, she’s a social worker. She does this for work. She did a lot more back in Texas specifically for mental health. We, just the other day, we had to contact … We found a third-party resource specifically for seniors. We asked them and we hired them for a specific job, but it was because we couldn’t. There are just so many things that we don’t know. Then they came back and said, “Hey. This is a couple different options here for this, and there’s a couple different options here for this.” We’re like, “Oh my gosh. Thank you so much.” We don’t have the time or just even the know-how before we even begin. We just know that there’s a lot to do. It’s very helpful.

Craig Marshall:
Thanks so much for being with us for this edition of the Care and Discipleship Podcast. We look forward to being with you next time for part two of our interview with Aaron and Ellie.

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