“UNDERSTAND the Impact of My Suffering.”
The first two areas of impact we examined were how the experience of depression-anxiety impacts you. Now we are going to examine how your experience of depression-anxiety impacts those around you. You happen to those around you as much as they happen to you. Overcoming depression-anxiety will have social implications and it is good for us to begin considering those now.
This is a point where it is easy for many people to lapse into self-pity and shame. But considering how your emotions impact others is vital to godly change. The best response is effort towards progress rather than an emotional apology. If confession is needed, that will be covered in step five of the sin-based counterpart to this study. For now your objective remains to understand the impact of your depression-anxiety so that you can be equipped to battle it most effectively.
In her book Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, Amy Simpson lists twelve ways that family and friend are affected when their loved one experiences significant mental illness (p. 60-80; bold text only). As you read these, ask yourself two questions: (1) when may these be present in my relationships, and (2) how can I minimize their effect? But do not allow these to distract you from your pursuit of hope and peace; which is the best thing you can do for those who care about you.
1. Special Rules: When one person does less others must do more or suffer the consequences. When one person becomes emotionally fragile those around him/her learn the “rules” to keep things “normal.” Whenever certain subjects or activities become “off limits” they become life rules people must follow to stay in good relationship. When some things are “not public knowledge” this creates an artificial social system. All of these are ways that depression-anxiety can create special rules for those around you.
2. Resource Monopoly: Therapy, medication, hospitalization, and missed work all cost money, time, and attention. They may be a very good investment, but they still consume resources. Other family members will do without certain things because of this investment. If you are a parent, the most costly of these resources is attention. Make sure you set aside time to invest your attention in your children. It will bless you and is vital to their healthy development.
3. Confusion: With depression-anxiety there are no bruises, scars, or broken bones; there is not a rash, skin discoloration, or bumps. There is nothing that makes it obvious that something is wrong. This is as confusing to others as it is frustrating to you. Children are especially prone to self-incriminating interpretations of your down mood as being their fault; they need something that “makes sense” of what is occurring in their world. You can love others well by listening for and patiently correcting their confused guilt-interpretations of your emotions.
4. Anxiety: Confusion (previous point) breeds anxiety. This is true for you. If you do not understand what causes your emotional fluctuations that feels unpredictable and stressful. Alleviating this stress is the reason for the amount of assessment work you’re asked to do in this study. The same is true for your family and friends. When you can tell they are confused by your mood changes, acknowledge that you are confused as well. This can let them know they are not “missing something” that is obvious to you and should be to them.
5. Guilt: The quickest way to control and make sense of something emotional is to take responsibility for it (whether it is accurate or healthy or not). The answer to the question, “What can I do to help?” can easily be misconstrued as an answer for the question, “What should I be doing so you would not feel this way?” The former seeks to provide support and gives grace; the latter assumes responsibility and assumes guilt. When this mistake is made it makes your unpleasant mood a tarnish on their clean conscience. Your sadness is perceived as their deficiency. Saying, “You haven’t done anything to make me feel this way,” can be important.
6. Maladjustment: This is particularly true for children. When mom or dad is more internally focused on themselves than externally focused on their children, the children have to adjust to this culture change. It will be the “normal” that they know and from which they form their relational instincts. Spouses also adjust as they accommodate their social and home expectations to the possibilities allowed and environment created by their spouse’s emotions. The best way to account for this factor is to fully engage with pursuit of healthy emotions and demonstrate awareness of when your mood is affecting others in an unhealthy way.
7. Role Reversal: Children can become caregivers or emotional supporters, spouses can become parents, and friendships can become one-way relationships when depression-anxiety dominates our life. These reverse what is healthy for each of these relationships. Resist this most intensely with your children. Kids should be allowed to be kids and not asked to carry the emotional load of their parents. With spouse or friends, overtly acknowledge if there is a role change, which can be helpful, but also keep them informed of the steps you are taking to make this arrangement short-term. Allowing these role reversals to become long-term is what accounts for the “special rules” described in the first item on this list.
8. Instability: When your emotions change the plans of others you introduce instability into their lives. They become less able to prepare for future events and implement reliable patterns for managing basic life tasks and interests. Beyond sensitivity to others, you begin to teach them that your emotions are the top priority and final arbiter of schedules and decisions. Following through on commitments is not just about preventing the passivity that is hospitable for depression-anxiety, but also about loving others well by limiting the instability in their lives.
9. Medications: How to make wise decisions about the use of medication is covered in Appendix A. But, as you likely know, finding the “right” medication is hard. How to identify which medication will be most effective for a given individual’s depression-anxiety can be difficult. In this effort, family and friends’ view of medication and doctors can be affected. Some may grow cynical when results are not as immediate. Others may grow overly-reliant on the role of doctors-medicine for healthy emotions. The resource www.bradhambrick.com/mentalillness is intended to balance these expectations.
10. Grief and Loss: People who love you will experience sorrow as you struggle. This is right and good (Romans 12:15). It can feel awkward or guilt-provoking when your emotions have this kind of influence on others. But when you see this influence simply say, “Thank you… Thank you for caring about me enough that what happens in my life impacts you. I want you to know that my emotions are not your responsibility, but it is comforting to know that I am not alone in this experience.” Affirm their character while releasing their sense of responsibility.
11. Shame: Unfortunately, there is still a social stigma associated with depression-anxiety. It can make other’s knowledge of what you’re experiencing feel like a secret. Secrets create a sense of separation and, with that separation, shame. We face a cultural battle to corporately understand depression-anxiety better so that this stigma can be removed. The removal of every stigma happens when courageous individuals will talk openly about their experience and use it to educate others. This seminar is intended to help you, and thereby strengthen the entire church, in this process.
12. Spiritual Crisis: Depression-anxiety generates many God-questions; for you and those who love you. Share what you learn with those who love you. This will help reinforce what you are learning and help them process the corresponding questions they are also asking.
Read 1 Samuel 1:3-8. It might be easy to conclude from this section that family and friends are innocent by-standers affected by your emotions. That is not always true. Often our “support network” can be less than helpful. Look at the example of Elkannah (v. 8). His “support” revealed that he clearly did not understand. Hannah’s sorrow made him uncomfortable and he wanted her to feel better. But God would have to comfort Hannah in spite of his words instead of through them. Part of the comfort we take from Scripture is the examples of how God was faithful even when his people were clumsy with one another.
Read Galatians 6:1-5. Notice the different ways that God describes how relationships should work when one person needs other to bear their burdens. First, notice that you should go to those who are more mature in their faith (v. 1a). Second, notice that these individuals are instructed to know their own limits (v. 1b). Third, notice how you are providing them an opportunity to fulfill the law of Christ (v. 2). Fourth, notice that even those who are spiritually mature are prone to the same struggles (v. 3). Finally, notice that, while this person comes alongside you for encouragement, each of you maintain responsibility for your own lives and struggles (v. 5).