Parenting a Child with Major Depressive Disorder
“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26, 27).
God is in control.
God’s ways are good.
God has a plan.
God will use this for our good and His glory.
This story is different than the one I had in mind, but I trust that His way is better.
I am not in control.
These are the truths I have stood on for the past three and half years as we have attempted to parent a teenage son with major depressive disorder. The chaos, conflict, failure, helplessness, hopelessness, despair, and angst that have pervaded our home were not welcome, but had to be embraced. We were not equipped or able to solve this problem. Nor could we create systems to control or fix the situation.
Believe me when I say we tried.
Depression, or any type of mental illness in a family member, is a nightmare. There is little if anything that can be done to prepare or prevent it. Much like cancer, it is a disease that ravages life as you know it. I could go into numerous statistics about the lack of money being spent on mental illness and suicide research, versus the amount of money being poured into other diseases. I could give you hours of testimony of conversations with health insurance representatives that deny coverage that actually works, because it isn’t in the plan. I could give you scenario after scenario of what doesn’t work and what not to do.
What I still cannot give you though, almost four years into this, is any real advice other than pray. That doesn’t seem adequate when, for most situations in our society, there is a protocol that we know how to follow in order to get the optimum results. Insufficient as it often seems, prayer is more that adequate. It is the connection to our Heavenly Father that will give us everything we need. It is not pretty. It is not immediate. It is not painless. It does not necessarily make everything right (according to the standards of this world).
We are called to trust a Holy God. That often means the picture of life that we have envisioned (and are hard at work to create) is destroyed. We have to trust that what God has is better. We have to trust that what He is taking us through, what He is taking our child through, and what He is taking the rest of our family through is better than our Facebook, Instagram, Christmas card picture-perfect image. And we have to trust that all of it is for our good and His glory.
Pray when you go to bed and when you rise.
Pray without ceasing.
How do I show this child the love of Christ in this scenario? How do I do what is best for my child when I cannot get him to eat, to bath, to take his medication, to go to the doctor? How do I love my husband when I just want him to fix this? How do I care for the rest of my children when this is taking up every ounce of my energy and being? How do I leave him here so that I can go to work? What about school? What about friends? What about the future? Will he ever leave our home? Will we be caring for him for the rest of his life? Will he ever be able to function? How will we afford the care he needs? Am I going to need hospitalization before this is over?
Seek the Lord.
Stand on the truths of His word.
Know that He loves you and He loves your child.
Get help – not to fix the struggle with which you are faced, but to navigate it. Get help for your child: medication and therapy. If the medication doesn’t work, insist something else be tried. Get help for yourself. You as parents will need guidance and you will need a support group. Get help for your other children. They do not understand, and are equally ill-equipped to deal with this. There is an immense amount of loss associated with mental illness that you will need to grieve.
Pray for perseverance, for wisdom, for friends who will walk through this alongside you with grace and compassion.
Expect people to say the wrong thing. They will. Be prepared to forgive them. They truly do not know any better. I was once talking to a school counselor about my son not being able to get out of bed and she told me, “That sounds like a discipline problem to me.” She would not have said that to a parent of a child with cancer. There truly is a complete lack of understanding of the darkness that engulfs individuals struggling with depression, or the challenges facing people with mental illness. I often liken it to a child with special needs, only the special needs are not visible.
There are moments, glimpses of hopefulness; scenarios when the shell that is my child resembles the person that I know is in there. Those moments are like diamonds, beautiful and rare. I find myself fighting and striving to drag that person out. That always backfires. I am a slow learner because even though I know it is not effective I find myself going there in desperation rather than trusting and relying on my Heavenly Father. It is much better if I have no expectations. Then I can receive the real gift of a smile, the rare hug, the offer to take out the trash or join the family for dinner.
There are days that I have driven around in my car yelling at God rather than crying out to Him. I have been angry. I have felt betrayed. I have accused God of not being fair. I have told Him that we don’t deserve this. I rant, I weep, and I eventually remember that He is faithful, that He is just, that He loves me and He loves my child.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). God has commanded that we be strong, that we take courage, that we step confidently, that we focus on Christ, knowing that He is with us, He will not leave us or forsake us. In the midst of the storm, in the depths of the valleys, in the emptiness of the desert God is with me. He is with you. He is with my child and He is with your child. He is faithful, He is good, and the victory belongs to Him! We have a Savior who suffered, died and rose again so that we might live. Praise the Lord!