Loving Someone Who Hurts

What’s the right way to help those who battle depression?

I am no expert on depression. In fact, I often feel uninsightful in conversations surrounding it. Especially since these conversations arise regularly, given that many of my closest friends either suffer from depression to some degree or have within the last five years.

But the topic took on a much different and more personal bent when I started dating my now husband. He’s not on the extreme end of depression—and he’s on medication, which has made his once prominent “down cycles” much more subtle—but for someone who hasn’t experienced depression firsthand, my husband’s condition, and particularly his choice to be on medication, has been a stumbling block for me and a challenge in our love. So often, what the world calls depression, I’ve interpreted as either selfish introspection or an unwillingness or inability to face what’s happening beneath the surface.

Every night my husband takes one and a half little white pills to quicken and regulate the chemicals in his brain. I’ve wondered if it’s really solving anything, or if it’s just quick-fixing or covering up "the real problem." I would guess I’m not alone in having that concern—if you've ever loved someone who's struggled with depression, you may have had the same thoughts.

Since he’s started on meds, I’ve seen my husband’s energy and intentionality return, and he’s been freed to think with clarity, to not be swept out to sea. He describes what medication does as making him “emotionally capable.” He tells me the shadow that used to come over him, that was unrelated to particular circumstances, has abated. He is now open to feel the emotions that appropriately coincide with what’s happening in his life and he’s able to carry them. He’s not plagued with crippling anxiety.

All of this is real. Yet even seeing such vast improvement in him, I have periodically brought up the possibility of my husband going off his medication. I’d start the conversation casually—just a whim in which I’d seem to have no real investment. But as soon as he’d hint at resistance to the idea, I’d push it further, not masking some of the accusation I had: that somewhere in me, I didn’t believe in his depression. I didn’t believe he needed the meds and the doctors. I’d been convinced of the spiritual and psychological nature of his struggle, not the medical.

This was our conflict: my husband would describe to me the torment of his depression and the subsequent clarity he experiences with medication. He longed for me to believe him and to seek further understanding of his condition. I’d listen to him and want to understand, but I’d not be able to shake the threads of doubt that something else—something deeper—needed to be unearthed. He could describe his experience all day long, but sometimes it seemed like nothing could bridge the two places from which we were each coming. He felt alone, and I felt alone.

A quick aside: If you’re in a relationship with someone who suffers depression, I'm sure you’ve at least known some of the conflict, isolation and inner dissonance it can bring. I think the concerns about medication are valid. And those concerns are certainly worth discussing as you purpose to make peace with depression’s place in your relationship.

There is no exact formula for treating depression. Not everyone chooses to help it with medication, and prescriptions vary for those who do. For people whose depression does appear to stem from particular circumstances, medication can still be helpful for clarity in dealing with these issues but is most beneficial in conjunction with therapy.

But making peace—accepting what depression is and seeking greater understanding of it—is crucial for growth and solidarity in your relationship. In my case, finding peace and understanding of my husband required me looking more closely at my own reactions to him.

I began to ask myself Why? Despite the evidence of stability in my husband from his medication, why didn’t I willingly celebrate with him the blessed new normalcy in our lives? Why did I insist on there being some hidden root—something beyond a medically treatable condition? Opening myself prayerfully to these questions revealed much I had not seen before.

I saw that I wanted a deeper explanation for his depression, because if there was a root within my husband that could be dug out and exposed—a root of sin or fear or woundedness—we could untangle it and dissolve it. If there was a root to be unearthed, we could know what was then unknown. With a history of hiddenness in my family growing up, the dread of learning a secret about which I had been clueless felt sickeningly near and always possible. If I steeled myself for excavation, anticipating what I’d find, at least I wouldn’t be ignorant. At least I would feel I was in control. Somehow that seemed less hurtful.

Realizing my own fears at play in my marriage has brought so much healing to me and my husband. Because, of course, there isn't always an identifiable "root." At least beyond realizing that each of us is broken. None of us brings the same fears into relationships; but whenever there is conflict and distance between two people, it’s always worth opening yourself up to what might be revealed about you that can bring freedom to the one you love.

I can say now that I’m grateful for the anti-depressants my husband takes. I’m no longer afraid that they’re merely a mask. Because I can simply see and accept their benefit to my husband and to our marriage, I can receive them as a gift from God and be thankful for them. Understanding that in this fallen world our minds can be susceptible to sickness, just as our bodies can, actually encourages me to extend more patience and care towards my husband.

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If someone you love is struggling through depression, I hope you'll remember that each of us is broken—just in different ways. And rejoice that God has given us tools to help, whether that be medication, counseling or something else.

As I sat in our Ash Wednesday service last week, I saw on every forehead the imminent withering that marks our earthly existence. The sickness of depression is another mark of that frailty. I also heard of the God who cares for our dust and deigns to save us. In him the frail will be blessed. In him the dark will be light.

Sarah Scherf lives with her husband and puppy in Illinois. She also makes onesies that predominantly feature vegetables and birds.



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iheartlove commented…

Quite a topic and discussion! It is great to hear people coming out and talking about the issues of psych problems themselves, as well as within a christian/community context. So much of what I would comment has been said, but i'll add my perspective.

My fiance 'came out' after a few weeks and told me about his depression, previous episodes, treatments, etc. It was hard because I wanted to be supportive, but had no similar experiences and had to overcome my 'fixer' instincts *and the ensuing despair, confusion, frustration when all that I was 'doing' wasn't 'working' to fix the problem. Since then, he's had therapy, is on meds and doing better. Open communication and lots of reading have helped us both!

A few points I think it's important to remember (from the perspective of a loving observer)

-A huge part of depression is anxiety, self-doubt, guilt and frustration. So many times there was a guilt for not being happier/getting better faster. So many times the thoughts: 'I don't have any real problems...I have a good job, enough money, a good relationship, health, etc.. Why do I feel so horrible? unmotivated? etc.' or apologies for feeling depressed.

And so many times feeling better meant accepting the fact that we are damaged. Sometimes he feels depressed. Its ok. Its ok to feel anxious, scared, frustrated. We all have those times and God can use them to teach/mold/love us. it's not something a person does 'on purpose' or because he 'doesn't try'. NO reason to feel guilty! I can't imagine how much worse it must be to be surrounded by people who tell you you just haven't tried hard enough or have strong enough faith.

-another thing that's been pointed out, but deserves to be repeated (also in connection with above point): antidepressants are not uppers. They will not magically make all of your anxiety or stress or sadness go away. Based on our experience the negative feelings are there in him as much as in anyone else. He is just as aware of his shortcomings as anyone else and is no more self-reliant (or med-reliant) than anyone else I know. Maybe even less, since he has so tangibly experienced his potential for dark feelings, ideas and his own weakness. I feel like the idea behind doubting traditional medical treatment (therapy/meds) for depression as opposed to prayer and healing through faith is a fear that the person is not laying his or her dark side before God and somehow replacing a need for and dependence on God's grace for happiness and healing with medication. Medication just brings people with depression back onto a level playing field. They are no more immune to God's reminders that they are small in this world yet great in His sight than the rest of us!!!

-one more last thought on medication...Jesus created water out of wine, yet we would never refuse to run to the grocery and pick up a few bottles of red to go with out bible/study spaghetti dinner. I firmly believe medicine and faith are compatible and blessed by God.

Let's hope no matter what we or people around us are faced with in life, love is the resounding response.


meds+jesus=balance commented…

If you were a diabetic and needed insulin to maintain balance within your body, would you question the need to take that insulin? Would you consider it a sin to be diabetic or assume it is associated with something you had done wrong? Or something in your past you needed to resolve? Chances are, you would gladly take the medicine and know that you would try everything possible to help your body maintain the balance that it needs to be as healthy as possible.
Mental imbalances are no different... Yes, you can exercise, eat right, get good sleep. Yes, you can read the Bible, pray and trust in God's healing power. But thank God there are medicines that help balance those who would otherwise not be able to overcome the imbalance.
Chandra Pierce, a well known Christian comedian, talks openly about depression...


Nausea Remedies commented…

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Holly Polly


Holly Polly commented…

I would add, that the feeling of not accepting mental illness in a loved one, is also due to the stigma of medications in our society. I would posit that recreational drug use is less stigmatized than long term mental health medications. I also believe the all natural back to basics trend we're surrounded by as young adults is in direct conflict with medicating mental illness. Realize how the world around you shapes how you interpret all things. Medication for mental issues balances out imbalances. When my mother finally got help for her schizo-affective disorder and started taking medications, there was a small part of me that also thought, well, you're better, maybe it's time to stop taking the medication. This is exactly the problem with most mental illness. They feel better, and stop taking anything. It is so so so so important that the "support system" doesn't fall into the same false beliefs that once the issue is treated it's gone, or that there must be some other natural/spiritual fix. Maybe there's just not, And that's ok.

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