Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace

One of life’s great challenges is learning to lift up our eyes and actually see those around us.  To see them in all their frailties and faults and weaknesses and learn to love them for their whole selves.  I am not particularly good at this.  I don’t think many of us are really pros, frankly.  But every once in a while life arranges for you to look up.

I’ve spent the past couple of months home in bed and on the couch and back in bed again with an unfortunate series of events.  None so serious, just crappy luck.  I’m gearing up to return to the world and the thought of jumping back in is simply overwhelming.  I can hardly bear the thought of an exhausting return to emails, and meetings, responsibilities, and the series of emergencies and deadlines that so often accompany my job.  I’m even dreading the return to my active social life.  I’m tired and it all seems like too much.  My introvertedness has crusted over into a comfortable cave, but an ultimately unsustainable one.  Karen H. has gotta pay the bills.

It occurred to me today that this is likely similar, in a very small way, to my loved ones and colleagues who struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges.  It is making me realize that I could do more to ease their burden, to help them deal with the sometimes overwhelming challenge of simply engaging with life.

For some reason, the prayer of St. Francis popped into my head when I was thinking about this.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

For those of you with loved ones struggling with mental health challenges, how do you support them?  For those of you who struggle, what kind of service would be most meaningful to you?  What help do you need?  How can we love you better?

Comments

  1. What a good question! I had a serious bout of depression back in grad school days. My bishop and RS president strongly encouraged me to get help–psychiatry and therapy help–and that, to be quite honest, is probably the best thing anyone could have done for me. Print out a copy of Pres. Holland’s talk, reassure them that they are not weak or sinful, let them know that depression is really, really treatable, and encourage them to see a professional. If you and the friend both feel comfortable with it, take the initiative to find someone that accepts their insurance and set up an appointment. Navigating the mess that is modern health care felt really daunting to me when I was mentally unwell. If someone had volunteered to do it for me, I would have been so grateful.

    Invite them to low-key stuff occasionally (a movie, eating dinner at your place, sitting on your couch and petting the cat) and let them know that you’re fine with them not accepting if they don’t feel up to it. I worried I would lose all my friends, because for a long time I didn’t feel like doing anything, and because I felt like I was terrible company, so people who were understanding when I didn’t feel like going out earned extra points. But, even when I did turn down the invites, I always really appreciated them. And it was good to force myself to get out sometimes, especially if it was something where the expectations were low (like renting a movie and getting take-out).

    Take them a meal. This is so cliche in Mormon culture, right? But I had no energy to cook, and not much of an appetite, so I’d go days with nothing more than the occasional bowl of cereal and buttered toast. If someone had shown up on my doorstep with a casserole, I would have eaten it, and I’m sure I would have felt better. You could also offer to do some grocery shopping for them, focusing on easy-to-prep stuff that’s still pretty nutritious (canned soup?).

    My thoughts. Sorry so long!

  2. Laura, this is such great advice. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

  3. Thanks for this post, Karen.

    As someone who has struggled with mental health challenges in the past (not so much currently), and as someone who has watched family members struggle with it, and as someone who would like to help other people but isn’t very good with people, I have often wondered these same things. What can I do? What can I tell other people would help me? For me, personally, it helps to have contact with the outside world, even when I’m purposely withdrawing from it. Just knowing that other people care enough to ask how I am and how they can help, even when I don’t have an answer, is comforting. I also appreciate when people make specific offers of help–“can I do [x] or [y]?” because sometimes x or y is something I haven’t thought of. Maybe we should take a page from the missionary handbook and pray for opportunities to help people who are struggling.

  4. As someone who has various issues in extended family, I know this might sound simplistic, but:

    Get to know the person well enough to know their individuals issues – and their triggers – and their coping mechanisms, if they have developed them. Depression and other issues do not manifest in the exact same way for each person, so don’t assume you understand based on what you’ve heard or studied.

    Having said that, research their issues, then ask them if they mind telling you about how they feel and what they do to cope – specifically so you can help them in the way they want and need to be helped, not just the way you want to help them.

    Realize that, in some cases, help means never-ending help – and, therefore, be willing to help more than you might think necessary at first, for the long haul. This is like Home and Visiting Teaching in one important way: it works worst when it is like an assignment – done for a while and then ignored once the assignment changes.

    Understand that there will probably be ups and downs – days when the help you offer is accepted and appreciated and days when it is rebuffed, sometimes forcefully.

    Finally, and this one is a bit peculiar, perhaps, but refer to the Plan of Salvation and not the Plan of Happiness. “The Plan of Happiness” works for lots of people, but “The Plan of Salvation” works better for others – especially those who have a hard time being and/or feeling happy and are acutely aware of their need to be saved. “The Plan of Happiness” can be a hammer for some people, reinforcing their belief that they are outside blessedness – that they are failures, instead.

  5. I’ve struggled with severe depression for decades. At its worst, it felt like a thick darkness that overshadowed every aspect of my life, choking out any hope or happiness. I was so miserable and desperate that it felt like there was only one way to be free of it all. It’s been eight years since that awful time. I took medication for years, and now I have several coping methods that help me keep things under control most of the time. But there is one key thing that helps me when things are at their worst and I start feeling hopeless again—it’s recognizing that I’m not always going to feel this way. I wish there had been someone to tell me this eight years ago, to save me some additional pain, but at the time I just thought this was how it would always be, that I would feel this way till the day I died, and because of that, death began to seem like a good option, even the only option.

    It may seem like a simple or trite thing, but when someone is struggling to have hope, sometimes a reminder that they’re not always going to feel this way can help them hang on until the darkness lifts. And encouraging them to get medical/professional help, taking them out to dinner or a movie (something easy), or finding a way to make them laugh can all help them find those moments of happiness and remind them of what they’ve had before and can have again.

  6. Antonio Parr says:

    This is such a wise and compassionate post. Thank you for the opportunity to reflect upon such an important issue.

  7. The more we learn about St. Francis, the more we come to understand and be amazed by Francis I. His vision includes not only the individuals who suffer, one at a time, but the entirety of mankind. We can make a difference both one individual at a time, a difference where our inputs and those of others can be more easily seen, as well as in society at large.

    As I look back on the decades of my life since WW2, I see our “blessed” nation making war, not peace. Making war is relatively easy. We think more of ourselves and less of other nations. How is that different from our personal dealings with others? Not much! But if that rock cut out of the mountain without hands is to roll forth covering the entire earth, if we are ever to beat our swords and spears into instruments to heal the whole earth, thereby smashing the kingdoms that have studied war for millenia, we need to get the complete picture, one person at a time and one nation at a time. Francis I sees this. Do we? Study peace!

  8. I’m going through this very thing right now. I have just finished school and now must take to the awful task of re-entering the world. School was definitely stressful, but it alternately acted as protector and excuse to keep me safe(ish) from the world around me. My anxiety disorder has gotten exponentially worse over the past few years to where even a small family holiday sets me into a panic attack. Now I have to reacquaint myself with public transportation, people, moving, travel, coworkers, landlords, etc… and it is leaving me spinning.

    I would say the best way to treat those who have issues like this is to simply believe them. We know ourselves best, and while instinct may tell others that if we just had someone cheering us on we could do (insert activity here) it often feels just like more and more pressure. I wrote a post a while ago about how hard it is specifically to be a member of The Church when suffering from a stress-based anxiety disorder. Anyone interested can check it out: http://rationalfaiths.com/a-hospital-for-the-sick/

  9. Antonio Parr says:

    EOR –

    Heartfelt prayers for the deep peace of Christ to be with you now and always.

  10. I’ve had moderate to severe depression most of my life. Events and stressors can exacerbate it, but it’s (almost) always been there like a wet blanket over your shoulders that is both numbing and heavy. Others have given advice for what they needed or what they suspect others needed. I needed to be believed – to be seen as strong in spite of my weakness. I needed someone else to see me as fighting a valiant, if perhaps losing, fight against an incredibly powerful, invisible enemy because that’s how I saw myself. I needed to see things this way because the depression had to be outside of me. It just had to be something external that wasn’t part of my eternal self or else oblivion was the only tenable ending. I needed someone else to recognize that I wasn’t faulty, but afflicted. Years of being treated as (and told!) I was like Eyor – just a ho-hum kind of person – made my behavior easy to explain away for others but terribly damaging in my own belief in myself.

    I can only imagine how hard it was for someone else to actually see *me*, as the depression twisted the better part of 3 decades of my personality – who could see past that to the hurting human underneath? Finally someone, perhaps the only one on earth who could *know* I wasn’t what I appeared (my mother) convinced me she truly saw what was happening and that was enough for me to seek help. Medication and therapy have probably saved my life, and perhaps my soul. I tremble to think how many are never ultimately seen and begin to believe the ever-present and oh-so-convenient-for-everyone-else lie that they are simply, fundamentally, defective.

  11. Thank you Antonio, I appreciate the thought.

  12. I’ve had a lot of experience with my own depression and those around me throughout my life. My brother committed suicide when he was 18 (I was 22). Three of my other siblings struggled with depression over the years. More recently, my oldest son was released early from his mission for depression and anxiety. Within a year later he was hospitalized twice for depression–once for a suicide attempt and once for suicide ideations. Shortly after my son’s first hospitalization I went to therapy for the first time in my life and was diagnosed with depression; I’ve probably had it for 20+ years. And one of our teenage sons is also currently struggling with depression.

    The Saturday of Elder Holland’s talk a close friend of mine (and one of the few people I’ve confided with all of this information) texted me and asked what I thought of Elder Holland’s talk. I hadn’t seen it so that night I watched it and then sat in stunned silence for 5 minutes. Then I watched it again. I was shocked that the taboo to talk about this in church had been broken. For me, my friend’s text was perfect. In that short message he said that he cared and wanted to help without being judgmental or overbearing.

    It would take too long to explain the toll this has taken on me and our family. For us, depression is something that we’ll probably have to battle for the rest of our lives. However, in a church culture that equates righteousness with happiness, it is difficult when you’re doing all the “right things” and you still feel miserable. I hope that Elder Holland’s talk can open a dialogue within the church about mental health issues and start to remove the stigma associated with them.

    I know my wife would have appreciated a phone call, a note, a hug, a meal, or any similar sign of love in recognition of what she was going through (especially when our son was in the hospital). But unlike other diseases, we aren’t comfortable being fully open about these issues because we don’t want our son to be stigmatized. So only her closest friends even know about the depth of these issues.

    It’s even more challenging for others to know how to help either me or my adult son. My son wants everyone to treat him like they do others…he doesn’t want to be the ward “project.” He has been relatively open about his depression, and he has a good group of friends at school who have been very supportive. His friends don’t bring up his depression unless he brings it up first, but they are willing to listen when he needs to talk or to go do something when he needs an activity to cope.

    For me, I’m blessed with an understanding wife and a great therapist. It would be nice if I had a more people in my life that I could talk to that I feel wouldn’t be judgmental. I think it might also help if I knew who else has similar struggles (outside my family) so we could support each other.

    A few months after our son was in the hospital and after I had started therapy, a woman in our ward who knows the details of our situation heard that I love her homemade cookies. Within a few days, she dropped off a big plate of cookies with a note that they were all for me (not the kids). I was very touched by her thoughtfulness and understanding. So if all else fails…bring cookies. Cookies are always a great answer. And, in case you were wondering, I ended up sharing a few of the cookies with my kids.

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