When Your Depression Hits Your Family Like a Tropical Storm
Family is such a wondrous thing, isn’t it? We’re so interwoven with blood and memories and stories and even sometimes not with blood but with miracles or the precious gift of the resurrection of family by combining two. Our lives are swimming together in the same pool of life, sometimes in different depths and sections but in the same pool, nonetheless. So when good things happen or hard times hit, like ripples and waves in a pool, all members of the family feel the water changing.
In mine, it was like a big tropical storm hit our pool when depression reached its most severe for me a few months ago.
Like such a storm, there were rains that preceded its arrival and indications of the strongest part to come, but everyone felt it differently and some never knew what hit them when the storm came. It left messes in its wake and confusion in the midst. And the clean-up process is still ongoing.
I’m blessed to say that my family has supported me beautifully in this most difficult of difficult times for me and that our community has worked to support them as well. It’s often misunderstood or perhaps even completely missed that the family of someone suffering severe depression deserves attention, too. Here’s how this storm affected my family. Here’s how people have helped. And hopefully, here, in between the lines, you will find help for your family or loved ones if a storm of this kind makes landfall at your family’s pool.
Effects on My Spouse
At the time, things became clear that they were dire, my husband was faced with an ever increasing amount of worry and tasks before him. He had to research ways to help me. He had to consider financial costs of the help he wanted to get me. And, he had to consider whether or not I was at risk of taking my own life. He had to check in on me, like a lifeguard, a lot. All of this was on top of working and caring for our five children and household when I was unable to do so myself. These are heavy burdens to bare, some of the heaviest. But our community, friends and loved ones stepped in.
A group of women I meet with regularly brought meals to our family for two weeks straight while I was in an all-day outpatient treatment program. Our church family brought us money to help offset the cost of this program. My husband spent extra time with his disciple leader and men he trusts in order to make sure he had a place to share and get support. My mom flew in from Florida and stayed with my husband and our kids while I was in the hospital after I made an attempt to end my life. She hired a cleaning company to come in, she did laundry, she and my niece took turns picking up the kids from school so my husband could visit me in the hospital and be free of these duties during this heart-wrenchingly difficult time.
In these ways, our community lessened the blow to my husband’s whole world and lightened his load. He still had a lot of heavy weight to carry, but he had life preservers to hang on to when the waters got rough. He would also say that his faith was most definitely his life raft in all of this, and that is an unspeakable gift in itself.
Effects on My Children
Children are miraculous and resilient little creatures. Like new swimmers, they find they can do more than they thought they could when the water gets deep. We wouldn’t purposely throw a new swimmer into the deep end, but when they are forced in, most find they can actually keep themselves afloat. That’s kind of like what happened to my kids, but like a child who doesn’t really want to be in the deep end, some showed their distaste and some hid it.
My youngest went to be with family a state away for two weeks during this time. She is too little to understand what was going on at home, and she is used to having mini-vacations with them. They provided her with familiarity, great bundles of love and lots of stability. She was pretty good with this transition, but towards the end, I am told she asked for Mommy quite a bit. Our extended family provided a huge gift to us by loving on her and caring for her during this time.
My 10-year-old stayed afloat by expressing irritability, some irrationality and asking lots of questions. Thank goodness his favorite person in the universe was with him (my mom) during the hardest times because she answered his questions, was patient with him and provided great distraction.
The teenagers were different. Most acted like the cool kids going off the high dive. No big deal, right? But inside I know they felt unsure and scared. We were able to talk about things more as the storm passed, but what they wanted and needed more than anything during the eye of that storm were honest, upfront answers and to feel like everything was going to be OK. My husband and our extended family, as well as their peer groups, did this while I was unable to.
All the kids, on some level, internalized their fear and confusion. But with extra attention and TLC, reassurance that everything was going to be OK, as well as the ability to be open about it with others, they have come through the other side of the storm.
Effects on My Friends
Friends swim in our pool, too, right? Two of my closest friends in particular were dramatically impacted by this storm. They felt lots of fear and even anger. One expressed quite a bit of anger after my overdose, but we talked about it, acknowledged it, and I took ownership of the pain that it caused her. One made lots of phone calls and felt like she needed to check on me all the time. She really wanted me to talk about the nitty gritty of things with her, and that was a little too hard for me, but those were her needs. We were able to talk about that and then support each other’s needs. It had a deep impact on both friends, no doubt about it. Honest communication with me and with my spouse throughout the storm kept them in the loop and gave them a sense of hope and optimism.
The Rainbow After the Storm Has Passed
Like so many storms, there is beauty in the renewal that comes afterward. Sometimes it takes the clean-up crew a long time to get things back in order, but often there are glimmers of beauty even in the midst or immediately after. For us, there was beauty in the way our community, family and friends surrounded us while our family was trying to stay above water. There was beauty for my family in the reassurance of my presence when I came home from the hospital. And there was so much beauty as I witnessed endless supply of concern, love and patience poured out, on and to me. While many people were sad, scared and hurt, right along with us, there was beauty in the coming together — kind of like a pool party on a perfect summer day but maybe no cocktails or music! And there is definitely beauty in the healing process, for us all.
Follow this journey on Mommy Muddling.
If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.