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.
**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