During our text questions after the sermon on Depression from our Top 10 Series last Sunday, we received a question of which our time on Sunday really didn’t allow time for us to complete. I asked Greg & Leslie Jarvis to write out more thorough answers to the question, so here is their response.
I’ve lived in a home where deep dark depression has ruled over a loved one’s life, how do you help breathe new life into their life when they are so chained down by their past? They know Christ is good and right, but can’t get beyond their past. How do I deal with this when I am so weary of it?
Leslie – Click here for contact info
Sharing that you are weary of the depression and your loved one is chained to the past exposes a good deal of your situation. Compassion fatigue is common when living with someone w/depression. Figuring out how to “invite” a loved one toward change while not taking responsibility for their change is hard.
People who have a difficult past sometimes get stuck in their experience. It is similar to a learned helplessness. They don’t believe they can change or that their world can change. And in a paradoxical way, the person believes that this reality works for them. Helping them see and understand reality from God’s perspective is possible.
I would recommend encouraging your loved one to get reassessed by a psychiatrist. There may be newer medications, or non pharmaceutical treatments that may help alleviate the depression. Asking the question, “Is this as good as it gets?” is a good way to assess whether their mental health could be better.
Then I would also encourage you and your loved one to seek some counseling so that you could become aware of the boundaries you could put in place so your weariness can end. Your loved one could explore the pain they are clinging to and begin to see a different way to live.
Of first importance, especially when living with an individual experiencing difficulties and/or illness, is self care. If you start off depleted and ill equipped or find yourself in that state along the journey with someone it is important for you to get support. This may come through a simple respite where you take a break or it may come from expressing your feelings to a close friend or family member. It may also come from trusted clergy or a professional counselor. Whatever the source of your support system, it’s important to be at your healthiest before assisting or continuing to assist another. It can be likened to saving someone from drowning. If you are not at your best and well equipped to handle the situation then the drowning person is very likely to take you down with them. This may seem obvious, but is often neglected.
You can be at your best by making sure you’re healthy in some basics areas. These include proper nutrition, adequate sleep, exercise, quality interpersonal relationships and, most importantly, a healthy relationship with God. If any of these are compromised then seek assistance to get these areas functioning optimally. Take necessary steps to protect these areas in your life (i.e. designated nights to sleep in another part of the house undisturbed.)
“I’ve lived in a home where deep dark dark depression has ruled over a loved one’s life. How do you help breathe new life into their life when they are so chained down by their past?” – You’ve chosen the responsibility to provide care for this individual. That is a tough and sometimes thankless choice, but may God bless you in your effort. That said, it is not your responsibility to “breathe new life” into them. Allow yourself the freedom to move away from that feeling without shame or guilt. Otherwise, you will feel that you’re not doing enough along with a host of other feelings (frustration, anger, contempt) and feel those based on the individual’s progress or lack thereof. You’ll be a relational hostage. It is assumed that the individual is under a doctor’s care and seeing a therapist. If not, this needs to be addressed and sought out. If they are involved in care and are not getting better then revisit this with the doctor and the therapist. You should see some improvement with treatment.
Medication should provide a comfort zone so that other activities that aid in improving their functioning can be utilized. Medication, if it helps, will not be immediate and will only help to a certain degree. The individual, in time and as they improve, will need to work on the basic areas (mentioned earlier that are also important for you.) Be patient and flexible.
Patient and flexible, yes, but it’s also important to provide clear expectations of the individual. If the person’s past is severe then it may be better for a professional to be the one to discuss this and work through this with them. Continue to be caring and considerate, and for the individual’s benefit and yours, simply provide structure that can be counted on. This might be consistent meal times, activities of daily care (hygiene), outside activities such as walks or drives, and inside activities that would provide an opportunity to practice healthy behaviors. Be encouraging and be honest with what you are able to discuss with them (their current needs) and what you are not (their past). Exemplify healthy living in the basic areas to them and invite them to participate. Do not make their “dark place” the focus of conversation nor the sum of their identity. Through your behavior and activities you may be able to encourage them to see and experience life beyond their pain and past difficulties. Continue to pray for them, allowing others to do so too (and for others to pray for you.)