The August/September issue of Grace will be inserted into The Day this Wednesday, Aug. 17. It was a privilege to talk at length with our cover story subject, Gracelyn Guyol of Stonington. The founder of Clean Up Sound and Harbor, she has also published two books on healing mental illness through natural therapies.
Mental illness has to be one of the most difficult hurdles that life can set before a person. It seems like a cruel joke – an illness that convinces you that you aren’t sick, when all around you, your relationships and hopes, the things you’ve built and worked for, keep crashing to the ground.
Loving someone who is struggling to keep their emotional health together is also a tall order. It is painful to see someone you love in pain. It is frustrating that the pain is needless — unasked for and undeserved. It is difficult to come to understand that the illness is more powerful than you, more powerful than the connection you share, the promises you both intend to keep. You want to fix everything and you can’t. You want to find ‘the cure’ and it doesn’t seem to exist. You want to shake your fists at the sky.
For a long time, I loved someone who was struggling. This person is deeply good. He was kind to smaller things; animals and children. His eyes were green with a bluish flecks, that shined like light on the water. He was easily, effortlessly affectionate. He laughed with his whole body and heart.
But an unassailable sadness would take him over, and he would remove himself from the world, from the reach of any comfort anyone could give.
During the times we were apart, I would dream of him. It was my mind’s way of coping with his absence. I would dream about an ordinary moment between us — him moving a chair aside for me, or pushing back my hair as I read. I remembered thinking at the time, how thoughtful he was, how gentle and considerate was his way in all things. That would be part of my dream too.
I learned a lot during our time together. I learned how to appreciate the great elements of bad movies. I learned that math is not terrifying when you have a good translator. I learned what it is like to be seen and loved for who I am. I learned what it is like to be in love with my best friend.
I learned some dark things too. I learned that the way depression kills people is by getting them alone. It convinces people to stay in the dark so it can talk to them. So it’s the only voice they hear. So it can lie. So it can say “See? Everyone is better off without you. All you do is hurt people. You are hopeless. You deserve to suffer like this. You deserve to die.” So it can say “Sure, maybe some people will be sad, but they’ll get over it. You’ll be doing them a favor, at long last.”
In trying to come to terms with what was happening, I would read our old correspondence. If I were anyone else reading those letters, I would think, “These two know what they’re about. They have their eyes open. They cannot fail.” Did I fail? I don’t know. It’s possible I’ll never know.
What I do know is that for people suffering, the search for answers and effective treatment can be daunting. Medications work, but it can take awhile to find the right one or a working combination. And then even the right combinations can need frequent monitoring and adjustment. The journey to health, ironically, can turn into something only a healthy person would be ready to undertake.
Gracelyn Guyol was up to the challenge. When the antidepressant she was taking began to have alarming side effects, she conducted an exhaustive search for non-pharmaceutical answers and has shared her findings and her hope in her books and on her website, www.crazyrecovery.com. An autumn speaking tour is also planned.
There may be people who resist her message, although her approach is not an attack on traditional medicine. She warns her readers over and over not to abruptly stop or change any course of treatment without consulting their doctors. But she also emphasizes that recovery is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. People who are not responding — or not responding well — to conventional therapies need to know there are more things they can try in their search for health. Their loved ones need to hear that too.
At the beginning of this column, I wrote that illness can be more powerful than love. Certainly, loving my friend, as much as I did, did not heal him. But the experience did deepen my own heart. It brought my priorities into radical perspective. It gave me a new appreciation, and a bittersweet understanding of how limited our time truly is, with the souls whose company we seek. Loving him helped me to understand myself. It strengthened my compassion and resolve.
More importantly, living with illness didn’t diminish or defeat my friend. It takes a strong person to not give in to that voice in the dark. It takes a mighty soul to bear crushing pain and not be made bitter or resentful. Illness made his life very difficult, but it did not alter or touch his generous heart.
Love gives us a glimpse of the eternal sunlight which is the only kind that matters in this world. And that is all the triumph I could ask for, in the end.