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019 Interview with Aaron & Ellie part 2 {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 second episode of a 2-part interview with “Aaron & Ellie.” Listen in as they continue their discussion and hear their real-life stories about dealing with Bipolar Disorder and the people who “try” to help.  They also articulate their hope for these videos to further the conversation about this and other medical diagnoses and give people a framework for caring for a family struggling with these complex issues.  You can listen to Part 1 here.

Key Links

Craig Marshall:
Hello, and welcome to the IBCD Care & Discipleship Podcast. I’m your host Craig Marshall, and today we’re in Glendale California with Aaron and Ellie, who are in our latest observation video with Doctor Charles Hodges, dealing with bipolar disorder. We are looking forward to talking through with them their experience with mental health issues and how we can think about these things together as a church.
Ellie, in terms of working with people who are struggling with this, a lot of our conversation and even the approach in the videos there was a lot that’s directed towards the families or the loved ones of those who are struggling with bipolar disorder. Is that typically what you see in that the people who are struggling with it themselves may not be the ones who are seeking all these resources or seeking help or how does that work?

Ellie:
Yeah, I think … You had mentioned it a little bit earlier. Sometimes people are in such an overwhelmed state that even the ability just to take the next step … The desire’s definitely there, and maybe the knowledge of how to do it, but just the … Maybe the energy or the focus, the know-how is lacking. Having somebody, whether in a professional role, as like a case manager type person, or a family or a friend come alongside them is really vital. I think people get stuck when it’s left up to them. Some people can do it, and then we say great, go for it. Really, with support from others, I think that’s where people will thrive.

Craig Marshall:
As family members who are walking with someone who’s struggling with this, what are ways that the church can help you as family members care for someone who is struggling with bipolar disorder?

Aaron:
I would say for me as a believer, this issue in my life has been the most challenging and difficult thing I have ever had to face as a believer. It’s not one situation that happens, it’s a constant ongoing situation. When I was a freshman in high school … Actually, I mean … Just very briefly, I was heavily involved in the ministry and I was able to … The Pastor or church at the time, when I was only 21.

During that time was when my mother tried to commit suicide. She’s done it numerous times, but this was a pretty bad one. That did a lot in my head. When I was trying to get counseling about it, everything from the … This is just from that specific case, was very generalized, and “don’t worry about it. God will heal,” but I was so confused. Should I have been out there? Should I have been at home helping my mom? She was trying to move and under too much stress and all this stuff. Ever since that time up until now, it’s been the most trying in my faith. In my personal walk with the Lord, there’s a lot of questions.

What’s been the most difficult for me from the church body had been things like, “Oh, your mom’s just demon-possessed. She’s just demon-possessed, and that’s all you need to do. Just pray for her,” or they would say things like, “Yeah, just pray for her more. Is she involved in a small group? Is she involved in …” As if all of a sudden that’s the answer. That she’s going to … “Oh, if she was only doing this, then she would be completely better.”

I have gotten better responses from completely secular groups who are completely devoted to helping mental health. One of the best experiences that I’ve had was being a part of NAMI, because NAMI, they exist because it’s all mental health family members. You don’t even really have to share your story. People just get it and they understand and they try to help.

The best experiences I’ve had with believers who don’t have any background or experience in it whatsoever have been, “Oh my gosh, that sounds really terrible. I’m so sorry. How can I pray for you?” Then they actually follow up, and they’ll text me or they’ll say hey, or is there anything else I can do for you, or I feel so helpless. Just being honest and walking through with me. For me, that’s been the most helpful is when a believer does that. When they offer both, it’s the prayer and also just the walking through life and being a good friend like that.

Ellie:
I think for our situation in particular, having this family member with mental illness has been the most difficult thing in our marriage. Each couple probably struggles with something, but for us particularly, it’s been the thing that has been the most difficult to navigate. I guess it’s difficult too because it’s a parent. Not to say that if you have a child who has mental illness that’s going to be any easier, but it’s a different dynamic. There’s also a cultural element to that too, because clearly I’m Caucasian, he’s Asian, his mother is Asian, and he’s the one that needs to be taking care of her from the culture that he comes from. There’s that mixed in with it. Then there’s also … I guess …

Aaron:
Well, just the fact that Ellie is a social worker. You’d think that’s a good thing, but my mom has run into so many social workers. She’s had such bad experiences with social workers. That’s been difficult. It’s proven to be … Not harmful, but it’s more difficult for Ellie to help in that situation, because all my mom sees is oh, social worker.

Ellie:
Yeah. I think it’s been difficult too on a level, because you have an idea of what you want maybe a family member to be like, or maybe for a mother, what you wish your son would be like. For me, it’s what I wish a mother-in-law would be like, and that … What you have in your head and what the reality is is very different. It can be very difficult when the mental health, the medical side of it really is deteriorating the brain, and so there’s been times when I’ve been lashed out at. Then it will be within … By his mom, and then within maybe like a minute literally …

Aaron:
Complete shift.

Ellie:
A shift, and she’ll act very …

Aaron:
“Do you like the jewelry that I gave you?”

Ellie:
Childlike, or very … Yeah, I guess childlike would be the word. In a sense, almost dementia type, but it’s definitely been difficult. It’s like okay, it’s been difficult to try to work on the aspect of forgiveness when you’re very hurt and very frustrated by the words that were said, knowing that it’s probably said more from the medical issue that’s going on, but then it’s going to happen again, and it’s going to happen again, and it’s going to happen again.

Aaron:
That’s the number one thing that within our family we constantly tell each other. We will get so frustrated still, and even after no matter how many books we read, we have to keep reminding ourselves that my mom, Grace, is different than the illness that she has. She is a completely different person. When I get frustrated, initially my reaction is to get angry at my mom. How can you think that? Where is that … There’s no logic, you know? Get really frustrated with her, but I have to constantly remind myself that it’s the fact that she literally has a mental condition. This part of her brain isn’t functioning properly. The synapses aren’t working right. The different messages maybe aren’t getting through. She’s not able to process things regularly.

I have to really take a lot … Even still, all the time, really force myself to take a step back and be like, “Okay” and really see where she’s coming from and understand that that is her reality. Try to work with her in that, and it takes a long time. That’s how our family, I feel like, we keep going. My brother will just call me, and he’ll say, “Man.” He’ll be so distraught. “You know, I yelled at her again, and I feel so bad.” All these things, and we’ll encourage each other and keep going. My sister will say the same thing, and you just keep going. It’s nonstop, you got to keep … I feel like our family has been the most encouraging in that … Good friends.

Craig Marshall:
Aaron, thanks so much for sharing with us just what that’s like. I mean, as I sit here and listen to that, I’m just thinking through the intensity that any relationship has just in a fallen world with sin, just how difficult that can be in even the best of relationships. Then just listening to you talk really brings out, for me, the fact of the bodily component, of how much that’s exacerbating even those things that we struggle with normally, but just taking it to this relentless scale of having to parse that out and to have to seek to respond in love even in the midst of that. As I hear that, it’s really helpful for me thinking of how we can come alongside and walk with those who are seeking to walk with others, just realizing how trying of a situation that must be.

I’m so thankful that we were able to connect with you guys, and you were able to be a part of these videos and just willing to do that. I know it’s a huge investment of time and then also you’re on video, and that has its own weird dynamics, right? Things like that. Although, you wanted to be an actor, so there you go.

As you think about this project and just working on it and now seeing the resources as they’re done, what would you hope that these would do as people get to watch them? What would be a success for you in that?

Aaron:
For me, I feel like just allowing it to be okay to dialog about it, to talk about it. I mean, it’s really therapeutic in and of itself for anybody who’s wrestling with this kind of stuff to just talk about it, but also the more dialog that we can have … The more honest dialog we can have about the illness, about how it affects families and how families can better help those who have mental illness, the more dialog we have about it, the more we can all work together.

Craig Marshall:
Do you think a lot of people who are struggling with this feel very alone?

Aaron:
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Feels very alone. Everybody I talk to. I actually just started using Instagram this year.

Craig Marshall:
Wow. Congratulations.

Aaron:
I’m rolling with the young guys.

Ellie:
Welcome to the world.

Aaron:
It’s just a place where I’m trying to put up my photos and just express myself through cinematography and stuff, but one of the posts that I had put up at the time was just a picture of my mom. It took me like five seconds to write this little thing about her, but the response I got was overwhelming for me. It was the one that had the most comments on it, and people were just like thank you so much for saying this. One girl had commented on it who actually was in my old acting class from a couple of years ago. I didn’t know this at the time, but her brother had just committed suicide. He was wrestling with bipolar. She had said how she felt so alone and thank you so much for sharing this. She shared it on her page and everything.

I went on her page, her Facebook page, and then I found her brother on there. I went on her brother’s page. I followed his track up until his very last post, and his very last post he had posted a picture, a meme, of this guy. I forget who the guy was, but it was something like, “I wish people were more like money. You could figure out who the fake ones were a lot quicker.” Those last posts that he had posted before he committed suicide, but that’s literally where my mom is at. I’m not saying that’s where … I mean, that’s what we pray and fight for everyday, but they wrestle and they fight through so much on their own. It’s so difficult, and it takes a lot to figure out what is really going on, and why do you feel this way? It takes a lot of commitment from people to work really hard to understand them, as people. They’re wrestling through a lot, you know?

I think to dialog about it is very helpful and to have honest and open and caring dialog. To understand what the situation is, that in and of itself, is huge. It gives people a place to say I have this huge weight, and maybe there’s not an answer. Maybe nobody can take this from me. Maybe the Lord’s just given to me this right now, and we’re walking through it, but we need help. Just like everybody, whether it’s cancer or something, it helps to talk about it.

Craig Marshall:
Just having others bear that burden with you.

Aaron:
Yeah, yeah.

Craig Marshall:
Not seeking to take that burden away per se. I mean, that may not happen this side of Glory, right? We have a theology that gives us categories for what’s going on with sin, with our bodies, with the fall, with the curse. We have a theology that points to something glorious beyond, and then also we have the scriptures that give us the resources we need to walk through these hard things in our own lives, but then also with other people.

Yeah, part of my goal has been with this has been that people would watch this and see these struggles, they’d get a little better grasp on how the scriptures can relate to them, and then also how the Lord can use his people to take what we know and move towards those who are struggling and walk with them in the midst of it rather than having to either push them aside or think it just needs to be fixed, but to see this huge place to enter in with it. That’s the beauty of the church when we are shouldering the load together. The Lord’s glorified in amazing ways.

Ellie, any thoughts for you on this project and what would be helpful?

Ellie:
Yeah, I think you said it really well that I’m hoping that this project really starts the dialog. I think everyone wants to be able to help people and having an answer for them is … You feel really helpful when you can provide an answer and list off and those easy answers are pat answers that just might not work in all situations. I think that these videos have done a good job of confirming that it is a medical diagnosis, that it’s not just something that is maybe a spiritual condition that just needs fixing with prayer. While we all definitely need to pray and there’s all spiritual issues connected with it, there’s other medical issues that go along with it.

I hope that within the church, within the church community, the idea of shying away from people with mental illness or shying away from the topic … Maybe not the people themselves, but just the topic of psychology or mental illness. I hope that these videos help start that dialog that there is actual medical conditions, it’s a very complicated situation on all levels for the individual involved as well as the people around it. I’m really hopeful that these videos will do something like that.

Craig Marshall:
Cool. Well, it’s been so great to be able to be with you guys, hang out in your apartment for a little bit in the afternoon. So thankful for your willingness to talk about these things, to take the assignment, the job very seriously. I know there were a lot of conversations about what we would depict in these videos, and so far the feedback we have is that it’s been very accurate and helpful to people as they’re seeing it. I’m excited as people are seeing these and talking about them and just thinking how can we better think through and help in these situations. It’s just a really exciting thing that we’re excited to see how the Lord’s going to use that. Thanks for your part in that and the sacrifices you made to do it. Then also for having us over this afternoon. It’s been great.

Ellie:
Thanks for having us.

Aaron:
Thanks, Craig.

Craig Marshall:
Well, thanks so much for joining us for this edition of The Care & Discipleship Podcast. If you have not yet seen the Aaron and Ellie observation videos, they are available on our website. Also, links to relevant information that we’ve been talking about will be available in this post as well, as well as the hundreds of other free resources that are there. Thanks so much for tuning in, and we look forward to being with you next time.