I seem to be between battles in this lifelong war with depression, thanks be to God, which gives me the time and energy to help other fighters. In a strange role-reversal, I have often lately found myself the caretaker of one who for years has looked after me. Often I’ve had to call to mind what she has done for me, so I can do it for her.
I thought you might like a few pointers, and I even made up an awesome mnemonic device to help you remember these steps. (Yes, I’m very pleased with myself.) PLAN!
P is for Pray
Prayer has been my lifeline through years of this illness, but maybe not in the way you’d think. When you’re depressed, it can be difficult to feel the Spirit or receive any comfort—even when investing the time to study, pray and worship. Still, I have come out of these years with a burning testimony that prayer works.
When I'm in danger of drowning in despair, I call on my primary caretakers to pray for me; it always makes a difference. My burden gets lighter, or I get stronger, or I see evidence of the Lord’s love. Almost immediately. Take the time to pray faithfully over your loved one who is struggling. Pray specifically for blessings sought on his or her behalf. During the day when you are reminded of the struggle, instead of worrying, take just a moment to pray in your heart.
L is for Listen
Some of the greatest healing comes when someone is willing to sit and listen without judgement. Hold your loved one and ask questions. Allow them, even encourage them to cry—thinking of tears as a cleansing agent, a way for pain to exit the body so your loved one feels lighter.
Listening to someone dealing with depression can be confusing sometimes, because our logic is often skewed by our feelings. Resist the temptation to correct thinking that you see as clouded judgement. There are times for advice, but we all listen better when we feel we’ve really been heard. Save it for when your loved one has the strength to hear and take counsel.
A is for Advocate
When the time is right, be an advocate for your loved one by helping her find the next step in her healing process. Know what helps her individually and help her to do it. Know what helps others and when she’s stuck, get her moving in that direction. This takes research, talking, listening, thinking, counseling, watching and especially praying. And then comes the pushing. Depression can cloud our judgement and impair our ability to act—which often stymies even the best intentions for progress; so if you have earned the trust of someone who’s been struggling, be a strong voice for the next step. Help them call a therapist. Point out flawed thinking, especially as regards their own worth and value. Help them find the right medication. Get out and exercise with them. They will thank you for it, right after they finish whining.
N is for New Thinking
In most relationships, the more you put in, the more you get out. In other words, you may be accustomed to seeing real results every time you invest in a person you love. However, if you’re the primary caretaker of someone struggling with depression—that is, if you are the person closest to them—you may feel a sense of hopelessness and futility when even your best efforts can’t get so much as a smile.
Think long-game here. It’s extremely important to be able to give as much as you can and trust God with the rest. Sometimes you won’t see any immediate results, but that doesn’t mean your efforts are wasted. Your goal is not to change circumstances anymore, but simply to be there and give support. Start measuring success by how much love and effort you’ve invested. At the end of the day, give yourself a pat on the back just for being fully present and helping as much as you can. Lather, rinse, repeat.
As Elder Holland famously taught,
“Don’t assume you can fix everything, but fix what you can. If those are only small victories, be grateful for them and be patient. Dozens of times in the scriptures, the Lord commands someone to ‘stand still’ or ‘be still’—and wait. Patiently enduring some things is part of our mortal education.”
God bless you patient spouses, siblings, parents and friends. As I said, I’m new to this caretaking business, but I’ve watched my loved ones master the art over years and years of patient loving care. They have, perhaps, saved my life. They have definitely made it worthwhile. God bless you for being there and sharing the burden.