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.

When You Love Someone Who has Depression: More than Overcomers

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It’s tempting to have that extra glass of wine. One more piece of chocolate cake. Sleep another hour, stay at the office late. There are different ways of coping, some adaptive, some maladaptive. We tend to find the things that will help us make it through. If I can just get through this day, this season, this year.

Cope. Most place its origin from the Old French couper, meaningto strike.” It’s a derivative of the word coup.

Coup. My dictionary defines it as: 1. a highly successful, unexpected stroke, act, or move; a clever action or accomplishment. Or 2. a brave or reckless deed performed in battle by a single warrior, as touching or striking an enemy warrior without sustaining injury oneself.

It’s battle language.

Depression is a battle, yes. That’s what we’ve been talking about all these weeks long: how best to fight. And yet, the Bible tells us we are more than overcomers. There are times when surrender is necessary. When, rather than cope, we sit down at the table with depression and look it straight in the eye, pour it a cup of coffee. No more hiding, no more dulling the emotions, no more fighting.

Surrender.

It doesn’t mean to give up. It means letting go of the notion that we can control any of this. It means accepting this is a part of the person we love and, hard as it is, we love them anyway. All of them. Scars, pock marks, dark thoughts, wintery ways. All. To surrender means to embrace the whole. Only then will we be able to let go of the disproportionate power depression has over our lives.

Surrender. Embrace. Let go.

Live again. Victoriously.

Practice:

~practice surrendering. When your loved one comes to you with all the broken parts of his or her day, resist the urge to offer solutions. Simply sit with him or her. Hold hands. Let your heart be filled with love and sit in this place of embrace.

~if you can, talk with your loved one about the cognitive distortions depression anchors them with. Don’t speak about it in a “fixing” kind of way, but rather, simply notice how it has changed the way they see events in their life. 

~continue practicing remembering. This will help as you practice surrender. Everything will fall in its proper place.

**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. We have one more installment to go. 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
Part V: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Stigma
Part VI: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Pray Together
Part VII: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Grow
Part VIII: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Moments of Light

When You Love Someone Who has Depression: Moments of Light

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There are moments of light. When she sees him once again in his purest self, young and carefree the way he was before the cares of the world burned down on him.

But sometimes, when the light comes, she doesn’t recognize his true self. It’s been too long and she has forgotten. She might offer the bitter; let the light shine right through her. Too bad, Mister. Too little, too late.

Yes, sometimes, she lets time and circumstances make her an amnesiac and she forgets that to love well is to remain awake to beauty. But most of the time? She tries to be ready. She is vigilant.

One time when she was young, she went hunting with a friend. They hid in the trees and watched. Sprung upon their prey unawares from their secret place. But to hunt the light is not like this. It’s more like catching fireflies. Sitting in the open with a watchful eye. Letting the moment light upon your skin. And then softly, oh, so tenderly cupping it in your hands, cradling it close before letting it fly away again, lifting its warm glow into the dark.

When she doesn’t remember how to love, she prays to remember. And light shines softly into the moments of life, revealing truth in a thousand many-faceted ways.

Practice:

~We have talked before about the research from Dr. John Gottman that I share in my book. He is known as “The Love Doctor” and 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. Sometimes, when I feel like giving up, I close my eyes and remember the beginning. I spend some time reflecting on why I fell in love with my husband, what made my heart resonate with him. Those qualities are still there, only sometimes I forget them under the weight of the days. Spend some time remembering today. Watch home movies, look at your wedding album, read an old journal. Remember.

~How do you respond when the moments of light cascade over the humdrum of every day? Sometimes we can smother out these tiny flickers, dismiss them in the midst of the busy. But when depression lives in your life, these glimpses of light must be celebrated. Reinforce the happy moments by being fully present with them. Let your beloved know how much you delight in his or her delight. Cradle the light close to your heart.

**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. We have two more installments to go. 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
Part V: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Stigma
Part VI: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Pray Together
Part VII: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Grow

When You Love Someone Who has Depression: Grow

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At night, the moonlight falls through my window, a giant spotlight in the sky, illuminating shining thoughts that will not let me sleep. In the morning, she still hangs heavy in the sky, watchful. I have been thinking about the changing faces of a relationship, about simple ways a life together can change things.

When my husband and I were first married he was a renaissance man, of sorts. The bloom was still fresh on his doctoral degree and his professional life was full and exciting. He was running about 40 miles a week, played guitar with a group of old friends in a blues band, and had just passed an exam to become a nationally recognized homebrew judge. He was busy and happy and in love with life.

Early on, I lost myself in his interests. I became the good helper his wide array of interests required. Only, I wasn’t happy. Good man that he is, he encouraged me to find my bliss, and so, with his blessing I began to journey. I took a painting class. Began a yoga practice. Remembered the joy in putting down the words.

I still helped him bottle up batches of homebrew; I still went running with him on the weekends; I still listened for his footfalls in the hall. But I was on my own journey. We grew into individuals, together.

In my book, I talk about self-expansion theory—that theory of love that says we fall deeper in passionate love over the years only when we continue to grow and learn new things together. Early in relationships, when couples are still learning about the other, passions run high. But as time goes on and we think we know all there is to know about one another, the wild tongues of fire usually settle into slow, steady burning embers.

Depression stunts curiosity, robs us of the continued growth that stokes the embers back into flame. Just as any crisis elicits protective behaviors, when depression enters a relationship, we tend to wrap our arms around the entire system—shut off the rest of the world in an attempt to defend against the pain that is found there. The relationship becomes insulated, shut off, co-dependent. When you tether your happiness to one person the world becomes very small. More than that, God becomes small.

What if, in depression, we opened our arms to the world instead? Instead of I just don’t feel like it today, what if we took that apathy as invitation? A sign that something new needs to enter the doors of our hearts?

Last weekend, when I traveled to the Nebraska plains to worship with over eighty women at the Jumping Tandem Retreat, I was reminded how time invested in my own growth refreshes. I didn’t realize how tired, how lonely, how hungry I was until I landed in the middle of that place. Stepping away from the ordinary moments of my life allowed me to miss them. To miss my husband.

When I returned home, I saw him with new eyes. And I was able to love him better.

Practice:

**What are you doing to continue to grow personally? When was the last time you went away by yourself? How about your Beloved? I have been known to tell my husband, “Go away so I can miss you.” It usually works. Space is a place where grace grows afresh. If an overnight trip is too hard, take a small sojourn alone or with a friend who refreshes your spirit. Go for a walk, to a museum, a garden center, do some window-shopping, take a class, learn something new. Encourage your beloved to do the same. He or she may resist. Fear is a powerful anchor. Continue to gently encourage and model for them by investing in yourself. 

**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
Part V: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Stigma
Part VI: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Pray Together

When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Pray Together

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She told him she would never, ever pray with him again. Not until he asked—maybe even begged—her to. They’d been praying together every evening for months, but during the holiday season when she’d planned special devotional time as a family, he resisted. Organized religion had not been kind to him and he was wary of such things. She was hurt and angry. How dare he set this example for the children? Did he not respect her at all? She acted out of offense instead of compassion.

So she told him to forget it. They didn’t need him there distracting from the lesson. She said a few other things too. Like she would never pray with him again.

She waited for him to close the space between them. She wanted him to want this as much as she did. But days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Before she knew it, a year had gone by and they hadn’t prayed together one time.

It became easy to forget. He had never been comfortable with it anyway. Did it really matter all that much? She prayed fervently. For him. For them. For their life together. She supposed he prayed too. About what, she didn’t know, but surely he prayed for the same things    she did.

When the depression came again, the space between them became a great, yawning chasm. Not only did she not know how to bridge that gap, there were days when she didn’t want to.

Then, one day, she was on a hike with a friend. This friend told her about how he and his wife prayed together in the mornings. And though they had been married for a while, this was new for them. He told how it was awakening in him a different kind of tenderness for his wife, making their love new in unexpected ways.

As her friend spoke, she felt God gently tugging on her heart. Remember? he asked. Why are you being so prideful? So stubborn?Don’t you know these things create a space all their own? A space so wide the way back to a heart is easily lost.

Suddenly, at the thought of praying with him again, her heart swelled with a new kind of tenderness. She couldn’t wait to see him, to tell him, to start anew.

They began to pray together again. Because she asked him to. And the darkness didn’t feel quite so lonely anymore. Each time she took his hand, their hearts were joined as one. Because when you pray for someone, your heart is tendered toward them. This is why our Lord tells us to pray for our enemies. But when you pray with someone, Jesus comes and stands in the gap between you and joins his heart with both of yours. You become one.
This is how to bridge the gap: Reach out, take his hand in one of yours.

And take the hand of Jesus in the other.

Practice

~Do you pray with your Beloved who has depression? I wonder what would happen to your heart if you did? I wonder what would happen to theirs? It may feel scary, risky, to do this. Do it anyway. And God, who sees your brave heart will be faithful.

~If praying is too hard right now, can you think of another way to join your heart intimately with the Beloved? Look into their eyes, hold hands, wash their feet. Try a new way to be together.

**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
Part V: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Stigma