One of the things he always does when he is working with a new dog is making sure the doggie parents know they need to be trained too.
Guess what? I think Cesar's method of including the entire family in his training is genius. I don't always agree with all of his methods, but his idea of training not only the one that needs help the most but also those around them seems downright stupid simple. One of those, "why didn't I think of that?" moments.
So when my husband came home from his 3rd stay at a partial hospitalization program, I swore to myself, "It will be different this time."
The last two times he went into a PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program). I was relieved he was getting help but I thought my responsibility was in making sure he got to the program and had what he needed. When the door closed behind him that was my cue my part in his recovery was done. I got the GOLD STAR for fulfilling my wifely duty. If they needed anything from me, they would just ask. Right?
In my naive mind, the mere act of transportation to a doctor was all that was needed to "fix him." I'd drop him off and then I'd expect him to be "all better" by the time I picked him up.
So I just went about my day and when I picked him up I asked how it went and then we proceeded home to our evening routine. Wash, rinse, and repeat. No change in routine. No interest in learning what he learned. Just back to "normal." Us humans love our routines, don't we?
My husband was taught Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skills during his stay at the partial hospitalization programs. I didn't realize how much I needed to learn WITH him until I started getting angry at him when he seemed to be ignoring me. Only to find out later that he wasn't ignoring me but he was trying to apply his new skills to regulate his emotions in order to prevent an argument (all while dealing with a distraught wife - Oi!).
I'm not 100% sure when I realized I needed to try a different approach but maybe it was at the time of his birthday dinner in March 2017. A time when I really started to listen to his needs and began to understand that I needed to shift from mindless routine to mindful participation in his recovery.
When a family member is dealing with severe depression and anxiety or any emotional disorder, they are never alone. They FEEL like they are alone and lost in a dark, suffocating void but we, the caregivers, are always there. We feel their separation from us and events keenly. We sometimes even know the millisecond their moment of being in the moment is snatched away by false beliefs.
A quick uncertain smile. A nervous tick. Fingers rubbing in quick circles. Eyes darting. A strained conversation. A flair of a temper.
They do not want to be a burden to us. We need to be the ones who make it known through our participation in their recovery that we've always been by their side and we'll always be there. Like the magical guardians written about in the story books, we'll never leave our charge, because love has no bounds. Even when it is shitty and incredibly hard. Even when you feel like you're doing more harm than good.
We cannot "fix" them - no matter how much we want to. No matter how much we'd love the opportunity to take away their suffering. We do not have that power. What we can do is give our love by just sitting nearby them non-judging and quietly.
Just being there to give a hug or tell them, "It's all gonna be ok" is an amazing gift. And, sometimes, it is all that is needed to help them, or you, through the hard times.
But, it isn't always enough. When your loved one is dealing with severe depression, just being available for them is great but are you participating in their recovery? Are you working to learn what they are learning in their therapy so you understand where they are coming from? If not, that's OK! Just being aware is the first step to making changes.
Bad days can and WILL happen. Sometimes just knowing that the bad days are temporary can help you or your loved one through them. The bad days can also be used as a learning experience to improve the way situations are handled by recognizing triggers and planning ways to manage them in future. How you or your loved one react to stressful situations can make even the bad days have value. Because it means you can apply what you learned from that day to reduce down days in the future. You have so much more control than you realize.
If you're wondering how you can start participating in your loved one's recovery the first step is opening communication. Make sure they know you're in it for the long haul and you are willing to learn whatever they are learning in their therapy, support groups, or partial hospitalization right along with them. Some therapists even support having a family member come in on sessions occasionally and it can be very helpful.
Change isn't easy. When a loved one is working on making positive habit changes to their routine it sometimes seems 10 times harder for them (literally, their brain is telling them it is impossible for them) but if you commit to walking the road to recovery with them it will be SO much easier when they aren't doing it alone.
1) Check in with them occasionally and ask them to label their current emotion - this helps them be more aware of what they are feeling and start to realize not all moments are bad. Using an app like Pacifica can help with this
2) Help them get outside more and exercise by walking - exercise is extremely helpful to combat depression
3) If they need help remembering to do self-care - sometimes just a gentle reminder to shower or eat lunch can do wonders for their outlook for the day
4) When they are struggling for days and you find your patience thinning - take some time for YOU and do something that makes you happy. Something just for you. I know it is incredibly hard to stay upbeat with a depressed loved one because their pain causes you worry, but just like on an airplane you have to take care of yourself first in order to help them better.
We've seen tremendous improvement in our mental health and our relationship because we are now working on recovery TOGETHER. We have a long way to go on this road to recovery but seeing positive changes in our relationship and habits have made every hard day worth it. This is why we felt compelled to share what we've learned here.
Recovery doesn't happen overnight and your loved one will need to do most of the work on their own but, just like in Cesar's training, we believe the entire family needs to learn the skills of recovery. This whole family approach will create a supportive base and mutual understanding of the new behavioral skills your loved one is learning. It can aid in a faster recovery and encourage compassion and empathy.
I hope this article helps give you some ideas on how to become a co-recovery warrior with your loved one. I hope you are energized to now know you can help them battle depression through full participation and compassion for their struggle with mental health.
What other ways can you think of to help become a co-recovery warrior for your loved one? Please share in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you and try out what you find! :)