Living with Demon Days

Last night a friend who’s dealing with long term clinical depression came over to hang out. It’s a rare thing when someone who is deeply depressed can do that, I know it was hard for them and I am grateful for the time with my friend.

For those of you that don’t know my fiance Derrick lives with clinical depression, yesterday he wrote a blog about his depression called “Demon Days“. I invite you to read it. A few years ago I also wrote about demons in a blog post called I Am Not Jesus which may give you some other context about the demons reference. We call the voices that arise in our heads “demons” some people call them the saboteur. We all have them, but depression amplifies them a thousand fold.

My friend is single, and during the discussion there was some reflection on how it is that we, as a couple, navigate my fiance’s depression. More specifically there was a bit of worry, “will someone really love me if I have clinical depression, is that really possible?”

Because Derrick talks so openly about his depression others often find it helpful to talk to him, as I do other partners. I’ve been thinking for a while, about starting a Facebook support group around spouses of people with clinical depression. It’s important to talk about depression, but not just from the people who are experiencing it. There is another side, there are the people who live with the people, who love the people, experiencing it. And just like depression itself, there are healthy ways to navigate our relationship and unhealthy ways.

I have experienced depression, but mine is situational. Only a few times in my life have I been very depressed, it is not the same as clinical or chronic depression. However, those periods of my life have given me enough understanding to not only have sympathy but understand that this is not the same and I can never “completely” understand.

If you are a person who experiences clinical depression or partnered with someone make sure you educate yourself. Set aside the stigma, depression is part of the deal, it’s not going away. Medication helps, there’s nothing wrong with medication, but finding the right one is most important. Also, therapy! Derrick and I have individual therapists and a couples therapist. Remember what you’ve learned about co-dependency, you can’t fix this.

There’s nothing you can do to “make it all better” but there are certainly things that can make it worse or hurt the relationship. I will say too, that I have a partner who is active in managing his depression and it is a different conversation if your partner is not. Our relationship is built on trust that both of us will continue to manage our mental health and that means we sometimes have to say hard things to each other.  How do I do that? Here are some thoughts.

CwQcFbvXEAAuNOL

Take Care of Yourself. I am a natural caregiver, I can go down into the pit of depression with him if I’m not careful. I often describe living with someone living with depression is like a dark grey cloud over my house. But the thing is, the cloud doesn’t just follow him around, if I have any compassion or empathy with my partner at all, when he’s depressed I am affected too. There are lots of articles out there about caregivers for people with physical illness, the rules apply here too.

I used to focus all of my care-giving on him, after all, he needed it more. Depression is a selfish beast, it wants it all and it will only take from you. If it does give, it gives in half-truths and hurtful projections. Depression demands isolation, that’s how it can control the person best. So as his partner I reach out to others who will listen and understand, whom we trust. I ask them to reach out to him. I cannot do this alone, I have to love him after all (says the demon). Friends want to help, they’re there to help, but sometimes they just don’t know they can until you let them know. I also reach out to friends for myself, and ask them to meet me for a drink, and get me out of my cloud.

You Have Needs Too. So, can someone really love someone with clinical depression and get their needs met? Absolutely. However, it takes a lot of self-confidence and a lot of confidence in the relationship. If you’ve entered your relationship knowing about your partner’s depression or it was undiagnosed (or they simply stopped hiding it) things will change when they have an episode.

I get a lot of my emotional needs met through Derrick. When I was new to the whole living with someone who lived with depression thing I put my needs on the shelf and thought I would wait it out. I thought this was the most helpful thing for both of us. Which is fine if it’s a bad day, is another thing if the episode goes on for a week/month or two or more.

This is where the trust in the relationship comes in. Be confident in yourself. By putting my needs completely aside for long periods of time resentment would build, because Derrick didn’t notice my needs weren’t being met or all the extra responsibility I had taken on and then I would break down too. (Guess what’s not helpful?) Depression sometimes looks like the person is being really selfish, when in reality it’s not selfishness, but there is a real inward focus. The demon demands constant attention and the rest of their energy is spent just trying to function.

So I trust that we have a good relationship, I trust that my needs are important, but I triage. I’ve learned to name my needs and ask for them when I really need him. Usually he can muster up enough energy to listen and love me, after all he wants to do that deep down, even if it’s hard. I also modify my needs. What is it that I really am missing?

The other day I was missing connecting with him, I wanted to talk about how sad he was and how I wanted to help, and how are you really doing? Yet, that wasn’t actually productive for either of us because he couldn’t tell me the thing he really wanted to say and I really wanted to hear: I feel all better. So I started to talk about something completely non-related, for us it might be football, a new Star Wars theory, something funny the kids did, his garden. We talked, smiled, even a laugh. Distraction is a wonderful thing. I got the one on one attention I needed, and he got to get out of his head for a minute.  Sometimes it’s just putting on a movie or binging a show we love and snuggling.

Timing is Everything. Do I really need to talk about the complicated intricate issue RIGHT NOW? (If you know me, you’ll know that yes, yes I do…) but do I?

If the depressive episode is lasting a long time or an issue can’t wait, simply mention it. We have a shared journal. Just a composition notebook, that slows down our collective processing. For the one not depressed some things can’t wait, or some things are hurtful. Write them down, tell them how you feel and what happened. They can write back after they’ve had time to process. It just makes things less urgent.

Not all things are written down, sometimes we do talk. The other day we were talking about an issue and it was triggering a demon. I stopped talking and asked if we could talk about it in therapy this week. I could settle my feeling of urgency to have resolution by knowing the time and place it would be resolved and he knew he could think about it at a time that he had the energy to.

Love Through the Pain. This is the most complicated one. Look for triggers. I often know Derrick is depressed before he can recognize it. I know because he’ll respond differently to a “normal” interaction or he’ll get quieter than usual, and sometimes it’s just a look in his eyes. I try not to project my sadness about it onto him (hello, therapist…). I also refuse to believe his demons when they get voiced. The demons create such a complicated web of self-loathing.

I refuse to give them power. I keep loving him as deeply as I would on his best day. I tell him twice as much how much he is loved, how grateful I am for him, and acknowledge even the slightest way he helped. I can do this because I am confident in his love for me and our relationship even if he can’t voice that in that moment. We have spent time talking about how Derrick really feels about me and how I really feel about him we’re both clear and I hold tightly to that truth.

When the demon rears its ugly head I can say to myself and to him, “I know that’s what you think right now but it’s not true.” When he’s not depressed he can unpack if I was helpful or not during the depression, each episode we can learn from each others needs how to love each other better.

This is neurological. If he could “be normal” (yes, I use in quotes, because depression just is part of their life) or “snap out of it” then he would (again, I’m assuming they’re taking care of themselves). They are not doing this on purpose and you certainly didn’t do anything wrong. There are certainly things that can make depression more manageable, like therapy, medication, and exercise. There are things they can do to make it less manageable like alcohol, drugs, and continued isolation. Most of the time something triggers it but it simply is a biological issue. If Derrick isn’t taking care of himself (like drinking too much) I say something. This is also love. At first I would recommend doing this in the context of therapy until you’ve established trust. Remember the demon will rile at the idea of being expelled so sometimes you have to learn to trust each other in a new way while they’re depressed.

And Be Thankful. Love and gratitude gets us through. Each day, depression or not, we talk about the things we are grateful for. I love Derrick. Derrick is both who he is depressed and who he is not depressed. I do not have to love the demons nor be grateful for them, but I do accept that they are part of him. Living in a posture of gratitude has changed my life for the better in every way.

I have demons too, but they look different. They’re a little more manageable and I know it takes time to tame them. I also know they appear at the most inconvenient times. Those who suffer from depression you are not alone. Those who love those who suffer from depression, you are not alone either. Soon I will set up a Facebook support group. Let me know if you want to be part of it.

Edit: the FB group has been started, DM me on FB if you would like to join.

Belonging

This last year has been horrendous. I can’t even tell you all the things. The people that know every story of the last year are sick of me (they just have to be). They love me and say I’m not a burden, I am SO grateful, but this year has been more than “drama” it’s been nonstop pain, sadness, depression, circumstances that could have been prevented and some not. Loss after loss after loss.

Every week my therapist braces himself. I don’t think a week of this year has gone by without him tearing up at least once a session. Do you know what it’s like to have your life so broken that your therapist cries for you? Consistently!?!

For the last 2 years I have waited to fall part. I’ve been worried about myself. I’ve had to let others worry about me. I’ve had to let others help me in ways I couldn’t refuse. I worried, they worried. How long can I handling being under this amount of stress? How much more can my body take? Physically? Emotionally? Spiritually? When will this end? The most hopeful and promising things the people closest to me have said is, “I will not be the next thing.” (*Deep Breath*) “May it be so,” I pray.

This past week the Jenga tower fell.

477395855_e1aa3d92cf_b

Over the last two years pieces have been removed one by one slowly, the tower was close to falling over and over and over again, but this week, finally, the piece that held the tower up, tipped the scales. I have never felt so hopeless. Ever. Where did I belong? To whom did I belong? If one more thing happened I can’t handle it. Where would I go? Who would I lean on? Then, in full traumatized fashion, there was a moment of needing to push those people away before I had a chance to get hurt. Then I stopped.

When a Jenga tower falls it never completely falls, there is at least the base, maybe one or two left on the second level. I reached out to the base when the tower fell. The people that will never leave, the people that will never betray, the people who will take me seriously when I say “it’s bad.”

Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die– there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

I am a complicated woman who has had a complicated life. Like Naomi, I have lost much. Not everything. But enough. People have left as it got too hard for them. I let them go, some freely and willfully, others with gnashing of teeth and covering myself in ashes. But to those Ruth’s in my life, I say thank you. You have bound yourself to me, and deserve more than I could every repay.

You have bound yourselves to me in the worst of times. I am a child of God, always, but you have proven and insisted that I also have other family. No matter my name, no matter my city, no matter my heritage. I am my beloveds and my beloveds are mine. God help them, as they have insisted: they will go where I will go, they lodge where I will lodge, their people shall be my people and their God, my God. They will not be the next thing.

I am not alone, I belong.

Binding Up the Brokenhearted

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners… Isaiah 61:1

In the 3rd chapter of Job, he curses the day he was born. He curses the countless celebrations and miraculous joys of conception and birth of a new born child. Not any child. Him. His life, anyone or anything that took pleasure from this event. And anyone who helped make it happen. God, his parents, the community, everyone. He curses the day, the people, and the miracle.

When I counsel people in the midst of depression I have them read this scripture out loud during a session. Now, when someone is going through a tough time, especially to the point of feeling they are better off dead than alive, it is not unusual to turn to the book of Job.

The story is misunderstood, the book is avoided in so many ways like the plague. Next to the book of Revelation we avoid Job. It’s messy, and even more complicated than you can imagine when you study it from as a scholar, which I have not. But when I talk to my friends who are specialists the nuances are unbelievable.

I am not a Bible Scholar. I am a practical theologian and pastor. So I will not speak to the historical context and meanings of the book, what I want to speak to is how we have turned this extremely complex book into a guide on how to be humble in the midst of suffering, and how to “chose happiness” and how to hold on to hope that “all will be restored in the end.”

No, No, No, No, No, No, NO!

So why would I point a deeply depressed person to the scripture that talks about feeling hopeless? Because the world wants us to get over it, to give us- “it all happens for a reason” “it’s your choice to feel this way” and “time heals all wounds.” And the response I get is this, “This is exactly how I feel, how did I not know that this was in the Bible.”

I had a dream last night that I was sitting in the courtroom as a young African American man was put on trial. He was innocent, yet was convicted. In the dream I had the sense that he was one of the hundreds of young African American men killed by police. Yet he wasn’t dead, he was on trial, and was convicted for a crime he didn’t commit. The hopelessness overtook him. Later I went to see him get transported and he started to run.

I stopped him, I promised to come visit him in jail. I told him we would study Jeremiah together. I told him to read Job 3 before I could get to him, that he was not in this alone. He asked me if I was a teacher, “no,” I said, “I’m a pastor.” He collapsed into tears and I held him.

I assured him I would see him as soon as possible and put him on the transport. Then, I couldn’t find my shoes, because, dream…

We like to tell the story that Job was a good man, horrible things happened to him. His friends came along and in their attempt to be supportive told him to “buck up” then God teaches him who is really in control. Job, “in his faithfulness”, stays true to God and in the midst of terrible, terrible pain, he endures, and in the end he remarries and proceeds to have the same number of male and female children, he becomes rich again, and all live happily ever after.

What? NO.

You cannot replace the death of a life, the death of a marriage, the death of children, the loss of everything you held dear, including the ideal of prosperity gospel. That if you remain true to God, God will reward you. All is NOT restored. All is NOT healed.

There are some wounds that cannot be healed, there are some things you cannot will into existence, you cannot force someone to love you, or just “get over” your depression, or protect yourself from betrayal if you are in a relationship. You can, as Job does, sit in it.

You can “remain faithful” as Job was, and how did he do that? By cursing and rejecting the crap, and allowing the Spirit of the Lord to sit with him. To allow God to tell and scream at him too. To recognize that life is hard and sad, and really, really sucks, that God is in control, sure, and that too sucks for Job. By holding God accountable, by holding his friends accountable.

Nothing was restored for Job, but he was able to move on. The pain of life could not outweigh the goodness that he knew was out there. However, it is not that he moved on that is the point, it is how he was able to. He grieved, really, really grieved his losses. And that, that is the true message, the true grace, and the part that (just might) hurt the most.

Japan_Earthquake_0e749