Tuesday, July 1, 2008

When To Let Go

There were a lot of comments yesterday about my post Wanting Wellness, and I appreciate everyone's participation. Toward the end of the day, Marja left a comment, which I would like to address today, and I'm hoping you will weigh in with your opinions as well.

She wrote: "I believe wholeheartedly in what you said here Susan. They are things I try to help others see as well. But how do you tell someone who you're supporting that she needs to work harder at improving her life? How do you tell her that without coming across as judgmental? And how do you know whether she's simply not able to work harder at it than she is? How do you keep encouraging a person to do better? How much should I stand by her and how much should I back off?

I'm not one to turn my back on a person who is suffering and needs support. I've spent hours with this person in the ER. And I feel one day we're going to lose her altogether."

Marja, I don't believe that any of us can "save" other people. I do believe we can reach out to help them. I think it's great to volunteer to take someone to a psychiatrist's visit or to see a counselor. I think it's helpful to let them know we care about them and are available to talk. I think it's important to recommend books, blogs, mental health associations (in this case) or other resources that might be helpful. And I think it's wonderful if we can offer to take a walk with someone, pray with her, listen to her, or offer her succor and solace during difficult periods.

But, I don't believe we can make someone want to live. I don't believe we can or should shoulder the lion's share of responsibility that should be hers. I don't know anything about co-dependency, and maybe some of my readers do. But I believe people truly have to participate in their own healing, and want wellness for themselves.

In my own experience there are givers and takers. And I've known takers that continue taking until I have nothing left to offer, and am so exhausted that I feel ill. In the past, I was willing to help them when I was hypomanic, but had to drop them when I was depressed. I no longer have people like that in my life (unless they're related to me). But even then, I set limits.

So, I guess my answer is that I believe the woman you're talking about needs to find professional help. And she needs to "step up to the plate" so to speak. If you continue to allow her to "take" from you, you'll have nothing left. And if she decides that life isn't living, ultimately that's her decision.


marja said...

Thanks, Susan, for addressing this. Actually I have backed off some and now wait for her to call me when she's in trouble, rather than me "staying on top of where she's at."

This person is getting lots of professional help, so that's good.

It's just kind of frustrating to see her let her life go like this when I know what she needs to do. Wish I could "make" her see it. Guess you're right. It has to come from within herself.

I'm just hoping she'll read my new book when it comes out. Hope it will inspire her as I intended it to inspire.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
I don't believe any of us can "make" anyone else see what they're not looking for.

Having been severely depressed, I know what it's like to give up hope. In my case, since the feelings were medication-induced, I'm very grateful that my husband kept on reminding me that if I could just "wait it out," I'd feel better. And my son was always my lifeline because I would never "leave him."

But, if people don't have a strong desire to survive, and if there aren't people in their lives who matter so much that they are willing to go through unspeakable pain to continue living, then I'm not sure what can be done.


Annie said...

Susan, another healthy post about taking charge of your life to find wellness. I once worked with a few folks who had mental illness and were homeless. They stayed on the streets of the Twin Cities and yet they had a daily plan to survive. One young man talked about his friends and how they had a routine with each other and knew what they needed to do to get meds and food. They knew what time to go to the shelter to get a bed. They had a life. They had strength It was humbling to work with them and be part of their life. Thanks Annie

Jazz said...

Susan and Marja--
I've had to deal with this very thing with my brother. I am very concerned about him, but I have had to learn that his happiness and his health are NOT my responsibility. And I've had to back off a bit, because watching him do what he's doing to himself is too stressful for me.

It's hard. I love my brother, and I miss the relationship we used to have. But I cannot do anything for him until he decides that he needs to do it for himself. I just hope he figures that out before it's too late.

Bradley said...


Well said. This post is one of those I will save. Thank you,


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Annie,
I think that's kind of amazing. It would seem that while these people were homeless, they weren't victims--perhaps just people who were down on their luck.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

It's got to be difficult when it's someone you love! But, I've found that you can act as a role model, talk about what's worked for you, and most people still don't "get" it. Instead, it's like their situation is "special" and they just can't get well because of their circumstances.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Thanks Bradley!

"Dootz" said...

As a parallel situation, when I was in AA (still am sober, by the way), they used to say that the program is not for people who need it...it's for people who WANT it. Gotta want to get and stay sober. Same with wellness.

Danielle said...

As a mental health professional you have to write on your heart that you cannot help those that do not want to help themselves. It is just impossible. You can give an individual all the tools they need to build a life of mental wellness but you can't make them open the toolbox much less make them use the tools unless they want to and if if they do, they will have to reach in of their own accord and grab the tool they need. This is perhaps the hardest thing to deal with as a counselor. Well said post Susan.

Mariposa said...

I'd love to think the answer to your title is "never"...yet, without getting too much involved that you hurt/ neglect yourself in the process.

I always believe we can only give what we have...so that every time I meet a person needing something, rather than telling that person what needs to be done, and where to go...I try to journey with that person and makes myself "involved" at some point until he/she gets to do it...and as it becomes a habit...I can let go.

It's not easy...but it helps to visualize that person to be well everytime I wake up...

My bf, whom I always refer to as IT Guy was a bit radical as far as my spiritual life is concern, as I am Catholic. We share some aspects of our faith yet most of the time, we don't agree...but I never recall a moment I asked him to embrace my way of faith, yet I did not stop my way of faith with him...so I don't just pray for him like how others would just put it...but I pray with him...and it was not too soon that we started praying together...

Same with a friend who seems to be falling apart with depression...rather than telling her to go out and do something to preoccupy herself...I invited her to jog with...go shopping with me...and attend counselling and other talks...now, she invites me!

It worked! It was a long fought battle...it was hard yes...but I believe we all have that one thing that would make things easy and bearable...other call it patience...understanding...I call it love and compassion.

So, when do we let go...I say never. I don't want my friends to let go of me...

Susan, thank you for this very inspiring post...you made me feel good with 2 posts in a row!

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Yesterday Bradley mentioned the similarities between AA and depression wellness. Interesting! Thanks for dropping by!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Danielle,
Thanks for sharing your perspective as a mental health profession. As far as I know, you, Annie, and Gianna all have that perspective (there may be others) and it's helpful to hear from you.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Mariposa,
And your posts always make me smile. Thanks for your comment. It's something to think about. That's a terrific commitment you make to your friends and rewarding to think that it truly helps them.


Gianna said...

Hi Susan,
I came to your post late today...don't have much to add, but yeah, as a mental health professional one of the first things you learn is you can't help others unless they want it.

I think it was my heroine addicted friend from grade school that really made that sink in for me though----at the beginning of my career---it helped me be a better social worker. I couldn't do a thing for a woman I loved very much and I did have to cut her loose.

I don't have people in my life anymore who just take and take. I haven't had that for many years. I do sometimes watch friends do things that I wish I could change though. I have a friend going through an antidepressant withdrawal right now and her ears are shut. I could help her process be so much easier for her...

sometimes friends are the last to recognize our expertise. ---sorta like family.

woops..I did say a lot after all...in somewhat rambling fashion...hope that's okay!

very good post!!

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Gianna,
Thanks for your perspective--as a professional and a friend. It's hard to see the people we love refuse to listen when we feel we have such good advice, and can genuinely help you.


marja said...

Me back again:

I kind of feel like Mariposa. I don't like to really let go. Of course the person I was talking about in my initial story is not a close friend, but I offer peer support to her. As a support group facilitator I feel that's part of my role.

I try to take time out now and then to go for a walk or coffee with the people I support. And when they're going through a hard time, I call now and then.

Something that Harold Koenig wrote in one of his books has always stuck with me: What people with depression need more than anything is to know there's someone available for them. I'm just glad my friends have been available to me when I've gone through depression. Now I feel I need to and want to make myself available to others.

Perhaps I'm going to have to write my own post on this topic.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
I applaud you and Mariposa. Personally, I know my limitations, and I have learned not to go beyond them.

Perhaps both of you have a greater capacity to have people depend upon you. But, I have found that there are people whose neediness becomes overwhelming. If it's not one problem, it's another. They don't learn from past experiences, keep on repeating the same patterns over and over--whether it has to do with work, relationships, or even our friendship.

I have infinite patience with people who are trying hard to get well, but I have very little for those who just talk, but don't take positive actions.


Coco said...

I think sometimes that people are not always ready to make postive changes when we would like them to. Sometimes it takes a very long time, and that's where the patience of a good friend comes in. Like God is patient with us. Admittedly it is very hard to watch someone not helping themselves; I have my limits for sure. But I also think it's very important to be compassionate and nonjudgmental, just because I may be able to see something that they cannot. We are all blind to some things I think.

Wellness Writer said...

I, too, believe it's important to be compassionate and nonjudgmental. However, I was sick for 15 years. I have a finite time left in life--whether it's 20 years or more--and I don't plan on spending the rest of my life expending energy on people who won't help themselves. But to those of you are willing to, God bless!