Being in the Room: Part 1
I’m posting this as an update. I realize this is a long post, but read and learn. My friend George is on new medication and is doing great. It isn’t a perfect fix, but it really works for him. I’m also posting this as a 1 of 2. I’ll be adding to this blog.
Today I discovered something about my kitty Princess Penelope: she needs me to hang around while she eats. The reason for this is that when ’Roo and Bob (my other cats) were alive, I supervised the eating process so that they did not mooch off each others’ food. I guess she got to like the secure feeling my “anti-mooch” presence provided her.
After Bob died, I took to placing Princess’s food down and letting her eat. I’d go about my business and I thought everything was fine. It wasn’t.
This morning when I fed her, I stayed in the room and sat at the table. She’d eat and come over to see me, and then return to her eating. Just like a two-year-old!! I thought about this and realized that her time of adjustment by my being in the room while she eats is part of her process of building a new life without Bob. For 15 months I was in, and out, of her daily life. I’d better remain present now: she still needs me to be in the room.
Lately I’ve been thinking about being in the room for those who need us. It isn’t always easy, and sometimes it can be frightening to watch someone you know and love suffer either physically or emotionally. So, how often do we remain in the room for those that need us? How often are there enough people in the room? Rarely. Sometimes people run from friends and family because they don’t know what to do, or are just scared. They run from perceived rejection, which can be very real. People turn from the room because of the anger and resistance that are present there. In all honesty, who needs any of that anger, rejection and resistance-to-help stuff? However, the person in the room needs you.
Yesterday I had a talk with my mother and she asked me about someone who I am presently “in the room” with. I’ll call him George. Her comment to me was that George is really suffering. Yes, he is, and I hurt for him. Both my mother and I have known those who have suffered in life, and it is hard not to hurt when you see this type of emotional pain in others. Seeing this type of pain isn’t a highlight of life, but it is what life is made of, and I have chosen to not run from it.
George is suffering from depression, and despite the fact that there is a treatment team in place for him, he feels very much alone within his life. He feels many things: some are rational and others not so rational. Depression is a blood-sucking alien that distorts every aspect of life. For some there is no escape from the daily ravages that depression can cause. George is one of those people who, despite medication, is not helped as much as he’d like to be helped.
Here is something I found to be very valuable in my process of remaining in the room with George (full lecture). This is a great lecture and explains depression well. It is well worth your time to listen and learn.
Staying in the room is challenging, heart-wrenching, and at times frustrating. It takes work on my part to remain supportive and present. I remain a friend to George because I am committed to our friendship. True friendship entails being there for the fun, the good, the bad, and the hard stuff. True friendship seems to be a dying art.
We each know someone who needs us. If your circle does not include such a soul, look deeper into your circle and you will find your own George, or Georgina. If you say that you have looked and there is no person with needs, then ask yourself WHY? I promise you there ARE people who need you this way in your life.
What George teaches me is to show compassion when it is hard to do so. He teaches me to remember that there is hope. I learn each time with him to search within myself for understanding. He teaches me that I can’t fix it, but that I can listen. He has taught me to be a better therapist. Knowing George has enabled me to look at the way I deal with my own struggles in a more honest manner.
What I hope George is learning is that I will not leave the room. What I hope George is learning is optimism in his daily life. He might never be completely rid of the depression, but it can be far better than it is now.
We all know a George. This is someone who struggles with something that causes you to question what you can do for them. Sometimes the feeling is that you don’t know what to do, so you do nothing. You feel embarrassed, or clueless, and feel as if you can’t relate to this person. You might not want to admit that you are truly ignorant about what to do with someone facing a particular challenge in life. But don’t walk away!!! There are many ways of dealing with those in need. There are things you can do to learn how to remain in the room.
Getting into the room may not be easy. You might find resistance at first. That is because there is going to be disbelief and shock and skepticism inside. At first you may not be welcomed with open arms. Keep your heart in the right place and things will happen.
Here are some things to start with and to keep in mind when entering the room. It isn’t a complete list; it is meant to get you to think of what you can do if someone needs you.
If you don’t know what to say at first, be loving and kind and tell them that you aren’t certain of what to say. Tell them that you will listen a great deal. The fact that you care enough to be there is a grand beginning. Once you have started to earn their trust as someone who will remain in the room with them, offer to help. Ask them what they need.
One woman I know sat for hours and did some needlework while her friend sat, slept, and then wanted to eat. Just being there opened a door so that her friend could learn that there was someone who cared.
People with depression suffer from low energy. Don’t challenge them physically. Let them set the pace. While you can see the benefit of getting out and walking, the thought of putting one foot in front of the other might be too much of a task for them. Reassure them that it can get better. Don’t expect them to move towards anything rapidly. At this point in time, my friend George manages to walk for five minutes on the treadmill. That is all he can do and it is enough for him.
Try quiet things. Keep it low energy. Sit and talk. You might try giving them a back rub (if they are comfortable with your doing so) to help stimulate the body. Music and other quiet, soothing activities can also help. You might discover other things that are easy and low energy. Don’t try to overstimulate someone; let them set the pace. Think about doing things that take little concentration. People who suffer from depression have brains that are often offline.
Make sure they eat. Meals are great. Lack of energy and lack of ability to keep nutritional things on the table is an issue for many with depression. When your brain and body aren’t working efficiently, the ability to make good choices becomes difficult. Easy, fast, and low-energy consumption is how many people with depression function. Grocery shopping takes time and energy. Everything takes energy! Thinking takes energy, so a depressed person might try to avoid activities that entail complex thought processes. Cooking and cleaning are two such activities.
Commit to being there. You might get hurt. You might get told to “get lost.” You might wonder why you bother with this person. You might want to leave—don’t leave. The more you listen and learn, the more you will know what to say to your friend when they feel as if there isn’t hope. Don’t promise them things you can’t deliver. Deliver what you say you will do, and be consistent about it. If you are honest with them, they’ll be honest in return.
Your friend may be feeling embarrassed with the situation. This isn’t easy for either of you to deal with. Your friend might not be totally honest about what they truly need. They may feel as if they are not deserving of your time. Your friend might think that the only way they are going to get through the ordeal is to go at it alone. Let them know that they aren’t alone by showing them that you are with them.
Depression sucks the life out of its victims. The depressed person may attempt to drive you away by creative means. THAT is the DEPRESSION talking. Realizing that you are actually having a dialogue with an illness will make hanging in there easier to deal with. You might not be thanked at first, but hang in there, as eventually the tide will turn.
You may see how important it is for your “George/Georgina” to get professional help. They may understand the need for help as well, but might be too worn down to help themselves. Offer to help them get the help, but make certain that they are still in charge of the situation. They might need reassurance, they might be scared, and they might not be able to understand how bad it really is. Point things out gently and don’t push. If you are kind and gentle, you will have an easier time being successful.
Imagine that you have a laundry pile that needs doing. You walk by hurriedly because you are running out the door and can’t get it into the machine. When you return home, you go put the laundry in the machine and simply get the wash done. That is what normally happens. Now, in the mind of someone who is really depressed, this is what happens: they see the pile of wash, walk by and think, Oh, I must do that wash and I will do it later. The next day they still see the wash and think the same thing. This goes on for some time until a crisis, or something else, triggers the wash having to be done. In simple terms, the brain is switched off. One of the plusses regarding medication is that it can switch the brain back on.
I am just scratching the surface, but my goal here is to get you to think of remaining in the room.
I want to talk briefly about suicide and medication use. Suicide happens because there aren’t enough resources to bring to the situation. Most people want to live and move on. Most people, even when they do have feelings of suicide, don’t want to act on them. This does not mean that a person won’t act, but rather they are driven to act because they feel that the resources have run out. I’ve known family friends who did act. They are now beyond my voice. For them I wish that there might have been a way to help. I wonder what went wrong. What could have been done to bring the needed help to each of them?
The most dangerous time during depression is when a person has the energy to act on the impulse to suicide. It takes energy to kill yourself. A person with a lack of energy can only think about a plan, but once their energy rises, they can carry the plan out. You might want to know what your friend is thinking as far as a plan, and to be prepared to “suicide proof” the house. Make a protection plan in your mind. Don’t be afraid to ask directly “How suicidal are you right now?” I’ve asked this at times, and been told what I needed to know. George says that my asking lets him know I’m in the room.
Medication is a tricky thing. It isn’t the answer for everyone, but for those that it works for, it can be truly helpful. Medication is a process of hit-and-miss, and it takes some time to get it working well. A good psychiatrist will work with you to find a good drug, or combination of drugs. The best results for treatment combine medication and talk therapy. But, don’t expect the problem to disappear in one to six weeks!!!! Be gentle with yourself and work with your mental health professionals for the best possible outcome. Think of those involved as part of a treatment team. Help your friend to understand this, and to be gentle, and realize that it will take some time to see results.
Penelope is now sleeping here on her blue table by the window. She seems content to sleep and enjoy life. I smile at her lovingly because she is acting better and feels my love for her. Okay, I assume she thinks all of this. Meanwhile, George continues to learn about his depression and how he can strengthen himself. Life does go on, and each day that I am in the room with him is a day that is good. Now, if it would only rain chocolate. AHA, there’s a thought.