When I was fifteen, my father decided that we needed to move from Oklahoma City to a 250 acre farm outside of Prague, Oklahoma. That decision was to have a tremendous impact on my life. Even though I was excited about having so much land for our horses, I wasn't completely sure that I wanted to move. I was a freshman that year, and I was expected to be a state wrestling champion within the next two years. That dream was hard to give up. I was also leaving friends with whom I had gone to school for 9 years. Everything that was familiar and important to me was being left behind.
It's never fun to be the "new kid" at school. On my very first day, one of the school bullies pushed me and we got into a big fight in the hallway. During lunch, he and I, along with about 10 other boys, went to the football field to finish our disagreement. Even though I won (?) the fight, I never felt so alone in my life. I was in a strange place surrounded by people I didn't know. It was kinda scary, but I wouldn't let anyone guess it.
I didn't realize how much my father's decision had impacted my life until a few years ago. I was going through my old school journals reading the entries written by my childhood friends, and this intense feeling of sadness and loss came over me. I suddenly remembered and experienced again how I had felt about moving to a new town and school.
Webster's dictionary defines impact as "the force of impression or operation of one thing on another." Often times we are unaware of how certain events or circumstances affect us. Crime, bad health, war, divorce, bad parenting, alcohol and other drug addiction, abandonment and failure all have an immeasurable impact on the lives of men and women. The question today is, "How does depression impact the lives of caregivers and other loved ones of someone who is faced with mental health issues?" Finding an answer to that question and discovering ways to cope may help to avert burnout.
About eighteen years ago, I went to see a therapist for a number of reasons, but one of them was anger management. I thought that, as a Christian, I had overcome that problem. Typically, I would become irritated at someone or some situation, and I would say to myself, "I'm a Christian. That doesn't really bother me. I'm in control." I didn't understand that my method of control was to "stuff" my anger down some place where it wasn't noticeable. Neither to me, nor to anyone else. The day would come, though, when some minor aggravation would cause me to boil over and spew my angry feelings over whoever was in range.
Here's the advice I received from the therapist. He said, "Stormy, your problem is that you are not acknowledging your anger. You are fooling yourself into thinking that you are impervious to the common irritations of life, and yet you continually stack them up like dominoes. After awhile, the stack gets so high that it doesn't take much to knock them over, and then you blow up. What you need to do is to acknowledge the moments when you become angry before the dominoes stack up."
That was some of the best advice that I have ever received. The cure mostly hinged on continuous awareness and immediate acknowledgement of things that bothered me. This awareness enabled me to not only know when I was being irritated, but to be appropriately assertive when someone had violated my emotional comfort zone. I might say, "I'm angry because....and this is what I'm going to do about it." Or maybe, "John, what you are doing (or saying) is irritating me." That new approach worked wonders. Now, I'm not always at absolute peace with everyone else, but I'm pretty much at peace with myself, my God, and my anger.
Living with someone who is often depressed can have a tremendous impact on you, yet you might not have an awareness of the issues or be able to resolve those perfectly natural feelings. Read the following statements, looking for those which seem to reflect your inner truths.
I feel guilty that I may be the cause of the depression.---I blame myself by feeling: "If I had done this or that..."---I feel embarrassed by his/her behavior.---This behavior is a reflection on me as a person.---I'm afraid that he/she may hurt me or someone else.---I resent being burdened with this problem (Why me, Lord?).---I get angry at this person because I feel like he/she could do better if he tried.---I feel guilty when I respond to this person in a way that I know is not helpful.---I now see many mistakes that I made in the past.---There are times when I dislike this person.---Sometimes I wish that I had never married him/her.---I get depressed myself about this situation that we are in.---I'm afraid that this person will get sick again.---The mental health professionals really don't seem to have any answers.---I am afraid to leave him/her without supervision.---I spend a lot of time feeling like I am "walking on eggs."---It has taken so much of our hard-earned money to take care of this person.---I am physically, spiritually, and emotionally tired and depleted.---I have no hope.---I wish that we had a normal life, like everyone else.
You may read the above list and feel like "bailing out." Yet, you might read the list and become more aware of how you honestly feel, and realize that you are not alone. Others have struggled with the same issues you have. Remember and read the blog on "Stinkin' Thinkin' (2/19/07). Sometimes things are not as bad as we believe. Sometimes they are, and we need awareness, an expression of our honest emotions and support. There is no doubt that mental illness has an impact on everyone connected, but it can be survived. I suggest that you speak with a counselor familiar with mental health issues, join a support group, and cling to God.
One of my favorite Bible verses is: "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy (Psalm 126:5)." I need to be frequently reminded that "this too will pass."
["I'm so low, I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]