Mark: January was a rough month for me. My construction business slowed down, winter closed in, and the darkness of depression returned. I felt like God was a million miles away.
Jill: I knew Mark was struggling. We talked about it but I didn’t know how to help him.
Mark: I worked hard to stay steady emotionally and spiritually. I knew I had to stay in God’s Word even when I didn’t feel like it.
Jill: When I suggested that we drive over to Peoria to see our counselor, Mark didn’t want to give up any work time he might have. I decided I needed to sort through my thoughts and feelings so I went ahead and made an appointment for myself.
Mark: It had been a couple years since things have been that dark for me. I had a mix of emotions rolling around on the inside.
Jill: When I settled into the comfortable chair in our counselor’s office, he asked me what brought me here. It had been several years since we’d been there. I told him that Mark was struggling with depression again and I needed to know how to best help him when things get dark. I shared with him a conversation we’d had just a couple days earlier where Mark said, “I don’t see God at work at all.” I responded, “I see Him at work in so many ways.” That was when my counselor reminded me of the importance of validation. That’s one piece of “loving well” I had forgotten.
Mark: When we validate others we let another person know their thoughts and feelings are understandable. When things are dark, we don’t need answers–at least not right away– we need understanding. We need to be heard and cared for.
Jill: The counselor reminded me that my response “I see Him at work in so many ways,” should be my second or third response only after validating his feelings with empathetic statements like “I’m so sorry for how dark it feels to you,” or “I can see how the circumstances feel difficult and make it feel like God feels so far away.” Another powerful response is to say, “Tell me more. I want to understand what you are thinking or feeling.”
Mark: I’ve come to understand there are some important steps for me to take when the darkness settles in. If you struggle with depression at all, it’s important to:
1) Stay steady. It is so easy for my emotions to wrestle my thoughts into submission. I’ve come to understand emotions are not always truthful.
2) Ask for prayer from friends. Be honest and specific in your request. Our tendency can be to vaguely ask for prayer, “Will you pray for me? I am struggling.” I’ve found the more specific the request, the better the response. When I reached out to one friend I said something like, “I am freaking out, I’m afraid and I feel like God has abandoned me.” That better described what I was feeling than “I’m struggling.”
3) Talk to friends and counselors–don’t try to go it alone.
4) Stay in God’s Word and journal your thoughts if you find that helpful.
5) Keep doing the right thing even when you don’t want to. Don’t forget to make exercise an important part of your day.
6) Trust that God really is a good good Father. In my case my fear was that God was abandoning me just like my earthly fathers had done. I realized I was putting all of my past father figures’ actions, their neglect, rejection, and abandonment upon God.
7)Don’t forget to meet with your doctor and be honest and specific. Don’t hesitate to take medication if it is prescribed. In my case, medication has been very helpful.
Jill: If you’re loving someone who struggles with depression, it’s important to:
1)Be fully present. Hold their hand. Listen with your ears and your eyes.
2) Listen and reflect back. Respond with “What I hear you saying is __________.” This lets your loved one know they’ve been heard. You don’t have to agree with what they’re saying. You just need to be able to repeat what they are saying.
3) Tune into their possible emotion. This might sound like “I’m guessing maybe you’re feeling _____________.” If you guess the wrong emotion and they correct you, don’t take it personally. You’re simply helping them to sort through their emotions and whether you guess right or wrong, your comment/question helps them to narrow down what they are feeling.
4) Feel first. Fix later. Feeling builds a bridge and speaks compassion. At some point, logical “fix it” steps may need to be suggested (like making a doctors appt or setting up a time to talk to a counselor) but those come after validation. The often used statement, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” applies in marriage too!
5) Pray. Pray for your spouse intently.
Mark: I think we’ve underestimated the effect of my depression on our marriage until the past five years. While we’re still learning how to navigate it in our relationship, we’ve definitely experienced improvement in the past few years.
Jill: Don’t dance around it, don’t sweep it under the rug, and don’t minimize it. If you or your spouse struggles with depression, call it what it is, get the help needed, and keep the communication lines open. Mental health is just as important as physical health.
What about you? Do you struggle with depression? Does your spouse? Which of the practical points do you need to put into practice?
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