“We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness.”
This is what Ashley and Wynonna Judd said publicly in response to their mother’s recent death. Much of the world was surprised. Much of it wasn’t. Naomi Judd was a brave and outspoken advocate for mental health awareness, particularly, sharing her own trials with depression.
When we live with someone who suffers with significant depression part of us is on alert wondering if and when ’the illness wins’ (as Congressman Jamie Raskin said when referencing his son Tommy’s death). We are always aware that it’s a possibility. We live with two levels of awareness: a hope that it will not happen and the recognition that it may. I have shared my thoughts about this before. It is a difficult and often lonely balancing act.
The person who lives with, loves and/or cares for someone who has depression needs to take care of themself in ways that help to keep them centered and grounded. Why? Because we need to understand that we have no control over the response or experience of the one we love. What we do have control over is how we “show up” for that person. And every situation is different.
We can attempt to show up without judgment, without insisting that the person change their mood (“snap out of it”) while recognizing our own frustration, helplessness, disappointment, and perhaps resentment. When we show up in this way, our presence is more likely to be welcomed and perceived as a comfort. Rather than say “I know how you feel” we can try to convey that we want to understand how they feel. And if they talk, we need to listen carefully without offering opinions or advice. We needn’t feel compelled to “fix” the person or “change” their experience.
By being with them in their suffering we can tap into our own compassion and identify what we are feeling which can help us feel empathy for them. Listening compassionately can offer a safe space for healing to begin. Sometimes, just being in the same room with someone if they will let us in, is enough because that, in itself, is an act of kindness. Because people who are depressed are often self-critical and judge themselves harshly it can be helpful to remind them of ways in which they have made an impact on us and our lives or our family. We can be the positive voice they do not hear from within, and because they trust us, our words may resonate.
I have found that sharing what the person means to me can be very helpful. Sometimes people who are battling depression are just exhausted. The smallest task can appear overwhelming so offering to help do something or organize some aspect of their life may offer them relief. We can try to see ourselves as an ocean of calm where this person can safely stay afloat. Our role is to be there and to recognize (and perhaps articulate) how difficult this time is for them and to remind them of their value to us and our life.
After 2 and ½ years of dealing with COVID, some of us are expanding our boundaries and “getting out.” Many of us are accepting invitations for social or work events that require a return to travel. We are eager to see people and places and resume whatever our new normal will be for now. In our eagerness to “be out” some of us are experiencing fatigue and a feeling of being overwhelmed. The pendulum may be swinging too wide, and we are overcommitted to activities and invitations. We feel happy but also drained. We realize that we have precious little time to sit with ourselves to discover what is needed to replenish. We can easily feel frustrated that we are not living in a way that emphasizes our priorities because we may not have realized that we need to rethink and reset them now that we are changing the way we live.
As we are more out in the world it can be very helpful and healthy to seize the opportunity to make choices to spend our time engaged in that which is meaningful and purposeful. This is a three-step process.
First Step – Keep the Lens in Focus
During our stays at home during COVID we may have become acquainted with ourselves through a different lens and now we need to keep that lens in focus so that we emphasize through our thoughts and actions that which is important in our lives. We can do this by setting aside personal time every day. We can schedule time in the calendar to pause so we can revisit our priorities. We can sit and write how our daily life reflects those priorities through our attention to family, wellbeing, volunteer activities, work, etc. Writing down what is important and devoting time and energy into getting clear about what we value can help us structure our time more effectively and meaningfully.
The next step can be more challenging.
Second Step – Prioritize
We can assertively prioritize activities that energize us. To do this well, we consciously structure our lives in such a way that our interests and priorities align with the time we have allotted them. This requires clarity regarding why we are doing something and what its purpose is. We benefit by examining and weighing the cost of each option we have and what choice we make. When we do this, we can live our life more alert, curious, and with more energy. We may be surprised with the way we feel and the things we learn and the opportunities that present themselves when we consciously live our daily lives in sync with our priorities.
Third Step – Set Boundaries
Finally, we can work on establishing boundaries that promote our priorities. By saying YES to one opportunity, we must say NO to another. This critical discipline is worth the assertiveness and social skills required. It is made more difficult when we become embroiled in another person’s drama or agenda and we lose sight of our purpose and priorities. Depending on our patterns and habits and the people in our lives, this can be challenging. It is, however, a way to effectively own our lives.
The goal is to feel vital, not depleted. If we are clear about how we want to live our lives, we can be intentional about the way we use our precious time in ways that that deepen and enhance each moment in our life.
Much has been written about the power of affirmations. What is an affirmation and why is it powerful? Basically, an affirmation is a positive assertion or statement that offers encouragement or emotional support. Who doesn’t want to hear one of those? And who won’t benefit from some positive talk? Well, it seems that we all can, and we can offer this very effective messaging to ourselves in the form of “self talk.”
I am a great fan of positive self-talk. Ask any professional athlete whether, just prior to taking a shot or swinging a racket or a bat or whatever, they say “YOU CAN DO THIS” OR “YOU’LL NEVER DO THAT”. Believe me, it is the former.
Because it helps us to focus and gets our mind ready to help us move in a positive direction.
Each of us can start our day with encouraging words whether it is to achieve our goals, overcome fears/anxiety, be healthy, feel content, be kind, or live out our purpose. We can visualize the good things that can come to us each day as a way to help us overcome negative self-talk.
We can create affirmations that align with what we want to accomplish and who we need to be to accomplish our goal. We can say them daily so that each becomes part of us. Regular self-affirmations can change our brains in positive ways because our neural pathways are “fired up” and we feel more positive. Our aim is to affirm and visualize the things we want to happen and prepare ourselves for taking action.