Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Helping a Friend During a Depression

Thanks to everyone who's commented in the last few days: JayPeeFreely, Mariposa, Meredith, Danielle, Gianna, Nanci, Tony C., KJ, and Pixie. It's been nice coming back from an absence and having such interesting discussions.

As I've been visiting a few blogs in the last few hours, it seems like depression (and mania) have hit a few dear readers and friends. Trying to help people who are despairing is a difficult task even for those of us who have been there ourselves, and feel that our own pain and suffering should give us the insight to provide comfort or counsel. If we can't help our fellow sufferers, who can?

I read the most amazing example of someone who "can," not in a book about depression, but rather in Parker J. Palmer's book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

Palmer wrote that when he was depressed, most of his friends who visited (and many didn't) made him feel worse. They would either recommend that he do activities, which he couldn't; tell him what a good person he was, which pointed out the disconnect between how he felt and how others perceived him; or try to "fix" his pain, which was not possible.

He writes, "Blessedly, there were several people, family, and friends, who had the courage to stand by me in a healing way. One of them was a friend named Bill, who having asked my permission to do so, stopped by my house every afternoon, sat me down in a chair, knelt in front of me, removed my shoes and socks, and for half an hour simply massaged my feet. He found the one place in my body where I could still experience feeling--and feel somewhat connected with the human race.

"Bill rarely spoke a word. When he did, he rarely gave advice but simply mirrored my condition. He would say, 'I can sense your struggle today,' or 'It feels like you are getting stronger.' I could not always respond, but his words were deeply helpful: they reassured me that I could still be seen by someone--life-giving knowledge in the midst of an experience that makes one feel annihilated and invisible. It is impossible to put into words what my friend's ministry meant to me. Perhaps it is enough to say that I now have deep appreciation for the biblical stories of Jesus and the washing of the feet."

I must admit that this is the most extraordinary story I've ever read about receiving help during a depression. When a friend or family member is unhappy, I, who should know better, always try to "fix" the situation. On the one hand, it is inconceivable for me to think about being there and feeling so helpless. On the other hand, I think that we would all hope to have a friend like Bill and be a friend like Bill.


my life with bipolar disorder said...

Thanks, Susan, for this post. Truly, sometimes the best help and support one can receive when hurting is just to have a friend being there, and assuring him/her that someone cares. Thanks for dropping by my blogs and your encouragements. Thanks for being there :)

Danielle Says Hello said...

Excellent post Susan!!

Gianna said...

that was really beautiful it made me cry...

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Nanci,
You're welcome. I hope you're getting the support you need from the blogosphere as well as your friends and fellow church goers in Singapore!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Thanks Danielle!

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

You and I tend to cry over the same kind of posts! I think that's a good quality!


Syd said...

What a beautiful post, Susan. I too pray that I can BE that kind of friend. And for the record, I know from experience that you ARE.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Syd,
Actually, when I found this post I thought of our friendship. In the months when I was truly despairing, you were like Bill, only thousands of miles away. You were supportive, caring, non-judgmental, and kind!


Annie said...

Susan, The post was lovely. I am new to your blog and will look forward to returning.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Annie,
Thanks for dropping by! I hope to hear more from you.


marja said...

One of the rules we have at my Living Room support group for people with mood disorders is Parker J. Palmer's rule for the "Circle of trust" groups he led: "No advising, no saving, no fixing, no setting each other straight." To help each other the main thing we need to do is to be loving towards each other and to listen with compassion. I believe this rule is a big reason our group has become so successful.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
I imagine that's an important rule, and I can understand why you've implemented it.

I guess one of the main reasons I try to help or "fix," is that I sought help for so long and no one even tried. I remember my first therapy sessions with a psychiatrist, who spent most of the sessions writing things down and repacking his pipe. I talked and talked but made no progress. I finally quit because I knew I wasn't feeling better, and he was contributing nothing.

And I must admit that these days when I'm feeling blue, I sure do appreciate advice that has worked for others.