By Audrey Hector
As a mental health therapist, I recognized the signs of depression in others—yet it was more difficult to detect them in me.
Depression is generally characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, inability to concentrate, difficulty sleeping, and low energy. I struggled to take my own counsel and implement the strategies I had taught numerous clients. I sought the help of my physician to determine the necessity for antidepressants or other medications. And I asked God to help me overcome feelings of hopelessness, change my irrational thoughts, help my feelings of self-pity, and change my focus. I wanted to realize God was at work, learn how to encourage myself, and serve others.
The Face of Depression
My husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s more than six years ago. He became mean, abusive, and threatening. “Will you ever be nice to me and stop saying things that hurt my feelings? How can you say such things and claim to love me?” I asked.
I’ve cried often, longing for what used to be, questioning God, wallowing in self-pity, and asking, “Why me?” When I explained my situation to others, rather than feeling better after the conversation, I felt justified in my frustration, anger, and sadness. I needed a different approach, a new attitude.
One day I prayed, “God, I’m tired of feeling sad and depressed. Every time I talk about what’s happening, I feel worse. I’ve tried to convince my husband he needs help. I’ve sought help from every possible resource, only to be disappointed. I don’t know what to do. It seems as though things will never get better. I would rather be in Heaven with you than to continue living this way. I hurt so badly.”
I reminded myself that according to Psalm 147:3, God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Since God is omniscient, he knew we would face financial difficulties, a strained marital relationship, and lack of help due to the effects of Alzheimer’s.
Reciting Max Lucado’s words from his book You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times reminded me of God’s omniscience and desire to rescue us: “You’ll get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime don’t be foolish or naïve. But don’t despair either. With God’s help, you will get through this.”
I exchanged hopelessness for assurance that God would handle what we couldn’t.
Changing Irrational Thoughts
Alzheimer’s looks different for each person. Although there are similarities, people’s individual personalities, perspectives, intelligence, and mental health issues have some affect.
During our 35 years of marriage, Darrell had been somewhat paranoid. The disease exacerbated this issue, and his delusions led to intense anger and accusations.
I longed for the old Darrell. I wanted the encouragement, love, and kindness we experienced before the disease. I wanted him to change, to cherish me—not berate me. The harder I tried convincing him that his beliefs and fears weren’t true, the worse it became. As Dr. Savell explained, “Audrey, when you fight against a delusion, the delusion wins every time.”
Eventually I stopped hoping Darrell would change, and instead I asked God to help me accept our situation. I replaced thoughts that Darrell must treat me the way he did before Alzheimer’s and that he should treat me with more respect and love. Rather than retaliate, I learned to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). I chose to love and serve despite circumstances.
Darrell had a stroke a few months ago and now lives in a nursing home. I visit him after work before going to an empty house. Because he rarely talks, our visits lack intimacy, and the closest relative lives more than a thousand miles away. My finances are strained, and I’m unsure of how my basic needs will be met.
When I focus on the negative aspects of my life, I fail to realize other families are affected by Alzheimer’s. I’m not alone; everyone suffers. I began thanking God for the opportunity to endure adversity, for my husband, and for Christ’s glory (1 Peter 4:13).
Focusing on the negative aspects of my husband’s disease and our relationship helped justify my anger, fear, and insecurity. I didn’t notice or enjoy the times when he showed a sense of humor, empathy, or the desire to be my protector.
One day I reminisced about our marital relationship, concentrating on the many ways Darrell had enriched my life through his love, encouragement, and sacrifice. Now he needed my help to experience the best quality of life possible. Instead of being despondent when he didn’t meet my needs, I tried seeing things from his perspective—the fear of losing his memory, not being able to provide for me, and becoming dependent. I remembered our wedding vows, examined my thoughts, and asked God to help me focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. I prayed for God’s strength to help me remain faithful to him and to my husband. Joy and contentment replaced depression and despair.
Realizing God Is Always at Work
My husband’s behavior escalated to the point that he hitchhiked, couldn’t remember he had eaten, and argued incessantly with everyone. The doctor encouraged medication, but my husband was afraid of being overmedicated or poisoned. I prayed God would give him a mind to stop hitchhiking, take prescribed medications, and trust me. I sought help from the Alzheimer’s Association, the chancery court clerk, and Adult Protective Services. Each time it appeared we’d receive the help needed, the door was closed. “When are you going to help?” I asked God.
Because I looked for miraculous feats, I overlooked small victories that displayed God’s faithfulness. He had given us favor with the police, protected Darrell when he hitchhiked, and provided unexpected blessings. He gave us periods of refreshment, allowing moments of intimacy and laughter.
A few weeks before his stroke, Darrell expressed his love and concern that I couldn’t fulfill my dreams when I spent so much time taking care of him. I, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to love and care for him. We sat on the bed, crying and longing for what was lost, realizing things would never be the same. God really was at work in our circumstances—even if it wasn’t in the way we wanted.
There have been times when I was so downhearted that I called several friends and relatives for comfort, but no one was available. I had to learn to encourage myself. I remembered God told the Israelites to recall the things he had done. As I thanked God for answered prayers and praised him for using people to bless us (stating their names and acts of kindness), my anxiety and hopeless feelings were replaced with confidence in God, who had always been faithful to me. Despite circumstances, I put my trust in him (Psalm 42:11).
When the aforementioned strategies didn’t eliminate the depression, I decided to encourage others. When I listened to others’ stories, invested finances, prayed, or spent time with them, I forgot about my problems. Seeing God meet their needs increased my faith. According to Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Joy filled my heart as others praised and thanked God for his blessings. God provided me more money than I gave. He allowed me to finish my responsibilities and tasks, even when I spent most of the day helping someone else. He blessed me with unexpected gifts I had admired. I received more than I gave.
The past six years have been complicated and challenging for Darrell and me. Winning the war over discouragement is a daily battle. Nevertheless, my hope and trust in God is restored every time I use biblical principles to overcome feelings of hopelessness, change my irrational thoughts, help my feelings of self-pity, change my focus, realize God is at work, learn how to encourage myself, and serve others.
Audrey Hector is a freelance writer in Corinth, Mississippi.
Mental Illness and the Church
“According to the National Institute of Mental Health and other experts, about one in four adults . . . suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year,” said Amy Simpson (Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission).
It’s not always easy to love people with mental illness. Their conditions are confusing and their behavior can be unpredictable. More often, though, our hesitation comes when we are trapped by our own fear, anxiety, and inadequacy. As a result, we ignore mental illness, referring suffering people to professionals and hoping their problems go away.
In her book, Amy Simpson shares ways that individuals and churches can show love to people with mental illnesses and their families. Here are some of her suggested resources: