When You Love Someone Who has Depression: The Long Journey

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Every evening we sit out back, give to each other the bits and pieces of our day, and listen. The meadow behind our house is lush with new life and, neglected, it has become a forest. Birdsong and spring peepers call to us somewhere from within the thick brush. The silences are full.

The other night, a sudden, pounding spring shower chased us indoors. It left as quickly as it came, as these flash storms do, and we resumed our post, wiping away clinging raindrops with old towels from the rag pile. The air was heavy with moisture and the perfume of the wild, flowering rose haunted us. But the most amazing thing about the washed-clean grasses and leaves was how they were alight with fireflies. Something about the dewy atmosphere must have been invitation to living starlight and it was a gift to watch their shimmer.

How many nights have I missed the fireflies showing off?

For ten weeks we’ve been talking about depression—about loving someone who has depression. I think you know that just because the series has come to an end doesn’t mean this journey is over. Many things have gone unsaid. There will be many more difficult days. And there will be light.

The many ways depression infects a life are insidious, stealthy. When I look back at our beginnings, I sometimes wonder how we ended up here. It is a slow takeover. One that requires attention and deliberation to overcome. Depression is a way of seeing the world, and its many distortions narrow the vision. If there is one thing I pray you leave this journey with it is this: never stop looking for beauty. The kingdom of heaven is in our midst but we lose sight of it every day.

When I was in Nebraska, my friend Michelle and I were talking about this depression journey. “Why is it that negativity seems so much more contagious than the opposite?” I asked her. “Why can’t a positive attitude be more influential?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I don’t know.”

We have found the treasure in the field but we’ve forgotten where we buried it. So we must leave no stone unturned to recover what we know is already ours. When life becomes one big treasure hunt, the positive attitude becomes more powerful.

It is not easy. We grow tired. I grow tired. This is why we need each other.

So, to sum up our ten week journey, when you love someone who has depression:

Never stop looking for beauty. Foster a community of support.
Surrender. Make letting go a regular practice.
Celebrate the moments of light. Cultivate opportunities for them to happen.
Nurture your curiosity. Encourage your beloved to explore new opportunities to grow too.
Pray together.
Remember together.
Seek professional help.
Choose love.
Pray scripture.
Talk about it.

Your companionship on this journey is a gift to me. Thank you for sharing your stories, for letting me create a safe place here for heavy hearts. I hope yours is a little lighter for this walking together.

All my love as you continue on.

Comments

  1. says

    I’m coming on the end of your series, but so grateful to read your beautiful writing and know so many who have family members facing depression ..I will pass on your link! Thank you for the courage to write about this important — and still too far neglected subject. The stigma of mental illness must be busted!

  2. says

    In ” never stop looking for beauty” and other wise words shared here, you offer inspiration, encouragement and hope to us all. As daily exercises these are things which have lasting positive benefits on our health and well-being. Thank you, Laura, for being our guide and mentor as we seek to live better in a broken world, with our own broken minds and lives. Bless you for your insights and the beautiful way you share them. 🙂 x

  3. says

    A big thank you to both of you for sharing this journey in this space, with all of us. This is such an important topic and you have handled it with grace and skill.

  4. Carol says

    I have a dear friend who’s daughter sniffers from depression. Right now she is in the midst of a very severe episode. The problem is that we live in south Africa and her daughter is on a two year contract in Berlin, Germany. I’m a Christ follower and although the mom sometimes goes to church I don’t think that her daughter does. What I’d like to know is how can one pray into this situation and to know that the outcome is in God’s hand’s. How can I suppor my friend. Thanks

    • says

      Carol,

      Bless you for loving your friend so much. What a difficult situation–I’m so sorry for this hard place. Does your friend have connections where her daughter is? Can she reach out to a community there who will support her? It’s such an isolating illness. I can’t imagine how worried your friend must be. As for how you can help, would you be comfortable praying with your friend? I truly believe in the power of praying God’s word. Do you think you can find a couple scriptures to encourage your friend and write them on notecards and give them to her? Maybe pray them together? It’s so hard to give advice without knowing the parties involved. I will be praying for you and your friend, as well as her daughter. Much love to you, my friend.

      • CAROL says

        Dear Laura,
        God is so good. This morning my prayer partner and I were praying and as we finished someone else who is also praying into this situation phoned to say that she has a friend who has a daughter and son in law who are young missionaries in Berlin!!. I was blown away that God was answering as we were praying. I have just spoken to my friend and she is going to be in touch with her daughter to see if she will be willing to allow these people to visit her. So now my prayer is Father God draw this precious person close to You, open her heart to receive Jesus.
        I really believe that this is all in God’s wonderful plan. Thank you for praying with us. Its awesome to see how people who don’t know each other all the way on the other side of the world care enough to offer up a prayer.
        Bless you
        Carol

  5. says

    This was on The Writer’s Almanac yesterday about depression, writing, alcoholism. I found it very interesting. Here’s the whole long entry:

    Today is the birthday of American novelist William Styron (books by this author), born in Newport News, Virginia (1925). Styron’s novels often addressed messy, unwieldy themes of crime, punishment, and redemption against the backdrop of history: Nazi death camps in Sophie’s Choice, the rebellion of slaves in The Confessions of Nat Turner. As a child, he read voraciously. “I read everything I could get my hands on,” he said. “I read poetry, I read drama, I read novel after novel. I read until I realized I was causing damage to my eyes. It was a kind of runaway lust.” After a stint in the Marine Corps, he found himself miserable in New York, editing at McGraw-Hill. He managed to get himself fired, which left him free to compose his first novel, Lie Down In Darkness (1951), about the suicide of a young woman. The novel received the prestigious Prix de Rome. He was compared to William Faulkner and James Joyce and was vocal about his disdain for creative writing classes for young writers. “It can be an awful waste of time,” he said. “I don’t think even the most conscientious and astute teachers can teach anything about style. Style only comes after long, hard practice and writing.”

    Styron moved to Europe, drank a lot of cognac, married Rose Burgunder, a poet, and befriended several other young American writers, including George Plimpton, James Jones, and James Baldwin. In 1953, the group founded the influential literary journal Paris Review. Baldwin often bunked on Styron’s couch and was an early reader for The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), rightly predicting the controversy that would surround a novel written by a white man in the voice of a black man. He told Time magazine, “Bill’s going to get it from all sides, from whites and blacks.” The Confessions of Nat Turner won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize and was a best-seller.

    Styron wrote in the afternoons, in longhand, on yellow sheets of paper. “I like to stay up late at night and get drunk and sleep late,” he said. “The afternoon is the only time I have left and I try to use it to the best advantage, with a hangover.” When asked if he found writing enjoyable, he answered, “I certainly don’t. I get a fine, warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day.” In 1985, shortly after he turned 60, in Paris to accept an award, Styron abruptly stopped drinking, a lifelong habit he had relied on to keep his mood swings at bay. He suddenly plummeted into severe, suicidal depression and was hospitalized for over a year. It was the beginning of a years-long battle with mental illness, one that culminated in the publication of his memoir, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (1990), which helped destigmatize the subject of mood disorders and depression. The response to the book, he told Charlie Rose, was overwhelming. “It was just by the thousands that the letters came in. I had not really realized that it was going to touch that kind of a nerve.”

    Styron spent the remaining years of his life as a reluctant advocate for mental health, admitting that depression had sapped his writing. “Clinical depression is the antithesis of creativity; everything in the mind is in a deep stagnation. It’s like having a fog over the intellect.” His advice to aspiring writers was not to listen to critics. “There’s only one person a writer should listen to, pay attention to. It’s not any damn critic. It’s the reader.” William Styron died in 2006, at the age of 81, at his home on Martha’s Vineyard.

    • says

      That is very interesting, Megan. Thanks for sharing it here. I’ve never read any of his stuff, haven’t even seen the movie Sophie’s Choice. This makes me curious. He sounds a little like someone I know–I mean, not just the depression part but the way he cuts to the chase.

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