When You Love Someone Who has Depression: Stigma

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This morning, I sit in the white chair in the white room and listen to birdsong outside the window. Light spreads slowly across the gauzy sky, muted by early rising clouds. I close my eyes and listen. I hear the robin first, then the cheer cheer cheer of a cardinal. I listen deeper and the bright song of a goldfinch enters. I know these other voices too: song sparrows, house finches, and the pure, sweet notes of a black-capped chickadee.

A name for every voice.

When my husband and I first discussed whether or not we were ready to share this part of our story, he wondered aloud, “Am I just going to be ‘that guy with depression’?”

Depression is an illness. It is a very real, treatable disorder. But it is also a label.

We live in a culture consumed with feeling good, always seeking the next product or movement or exercise routine that will secure our place among the happy; while depression is whispered about in the corners of our lives, discussed in hushed tones, with backward glances.

The stigma of mental illness is still very real. And it will continue to be unless we speak the names behind each voice. A name is a powerful thing. It is the story of a whole person. My husband is a person who has depression. He is much more than any label.

He is a man who loves the ocean and a good, hoppy beer. He plays a mean guitar and loves the blues. His heart melts at the sight of a puppy and his family means more to him than his own happiness. He’s a runner, a man of deep and troubled faith, a great cook, who appreciates bold flavors. He loves to kiss his wife, long and slow. Laughing with his boys is one of his favorite things, as are long drives on a sunny day and listening to good music. He is the best man I know and through his love for me he has taught me how to love myself –and thus others—well.

His name is Jeff. He is more than “that guy with depression.”

By naming him, we fight the stigma. This is why we share our story.

Practice:

**In my book, I talk about the research of Dr. John Gottman, who has studied love and marriage for years. He says that by observing a couple for as short as five minutes he can predict with significant accuracy whether their marriage will last. One of the factors he has identified in determining this is how they remember. Has the person you love become the label? Spend some time remembering how you fell in love. List special, individual characteristics of your loved one in your journal. Name the name behind the label.

**Do the same for yourself. Perhaps you have become a label too. Name the qualities you love about yourself. If you have trouble with this, ask your loved one for help.

**Are you praying scripture?

**This Friday series contains reflections on loving someone who has Depression. If you are in this place, or know someone who is, I hope you’ll join me in this journey. These words cannot replace medical or psychological treatment, but I hope they will be a source of encouragement.

Part I: When You Love Someone Who has Depression
Part II: West Virginia Morning: When You Love Someone with Depression, II 
Part III: Good Friday
Part IV: Interview with Dr. Michelle Bengtson

 

Comments

  1. says

    Every anniversary, D and I would rehearse those early days and first dates that now were so very long ago. Some things now (not of that time but of times since), one or the other of us has forgotten. We need to help each other remember. We need to plan more rehearsals. 🙂

    He’s the guy who laughs and scratches his arms when he’s embarrassed or teased. We joke about him being “insensitive” (family joke), but he’s one of the most sensitive people I know. He’s the one who would get up in the middle of the night and run out for whatever I was craving at the moment. He’s the one who brought home another stray while I was in Haiti the first time, who falls asleep on the couch with dogs on his lap and cats draped around his neck. He has never, not once in 43+ years, called me a name or criticized me or made me feel less than. He doesn’t read my writing, I don’t think, unless he’s pointed to something specific, yet he pours on the encouragement and pours out the book money. He is a rock for our kids and the grands. He’ll turn 69 this year and still works–usually leaving by 7 and not coming home until 10 or 11–and his coworkers love him.. On the weekends, he does chores… in the summer mows our acre and then goes to mow our daughter’s. He loves to hike or bike for hours. Life hasn’t always been perfect, but he practically is. 🙂

  2. says

    Laura, my heart is hurting for you and your family. I’m honored to pray for Jeff, by name. Our Lord puts a high value on names, as I’m sure you know. And I value what you’re sharing here, my brave, soft-hearted friend. Thank you.

  3. says

    Thank you for stepping out into the light from the shadows. I can’t help but think of David, a man after God’s own heart, who lamented many times from a place of “clinical” depression. I’ve struggled since I was a young child and only in my twenties, away from church and my family, was I able to see my incurable sadness as something other than sin. I will be praying for your dear husband and your family.

  4. says

    Laura, thank you for these posts! I understand how you feel. My husband, Eric, has struggled with depression and anxiety for almost 24 years. He collapsed from a severe panic attack on the first day of our honeymoon. So in all our years of marriage, I’ve lived with his condition. God’s grace is sufficient for each day…each moment. Difficult and challenging, yes! Blessed and growing, definitely yes! My husband is a man/husband/dad after God’s own heart. He loves God and loves people. He’s very passionate about God, God’s Word, and evangelism. Sometimes, it seems that I’m not very sympathetic because I’m such an upbeat, cheerful person (pretty much all the time). I truly care. I just wish I knew how to help him more/better. I’ll keep Jeff and you in my prayers.

    • says

      Bless you and Eric, Urailak. It is a difficult journey, but one that deepens love I am finding. I think your husband must know how much you care since you have been together so long. It sounds like you have been a strong source of encouragement to him. I’ll pray for the two of you as well, my friend.

  5. says

    Laura, I’m surprised the stigma still remains, since I know so many people with depression. Is it just in the church?

    Thank you for writing this series and encouraging all of us.

    • says

      I think the stigma still exists especially for men, Megan. And especially when you are in a mental health profession there is a fear that you might be seen as compromised in some way. But, yes, a lot of churches don’t like to talk about mental illness. Though I am coming to see parts of it as a spiritual struggle. It’s good to see you here. We need to catch up soon, I’m feeling out of touch.

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