A great accountability partner who knows you well enough to notice when you are struggling is one of the greatest blessings a person can have in recovery from depression.
It is incredibly helpful to have somebody who will notice as soon as you need support, who will call you out with kind firmness, and who will push you forward without letting go of your hand.
As I have lived through depression that waxes and wanes in intensity, my dad has been my rock, an accountability partner whose abundance of wisdom is rivaled only by the abundance of love and kindness he possesses.
I will never forget the many moments when he gave up whatever he was doing to just be with me, to go to countless therapy appointments, to pray with me before taking me to the doctor, to prayerfully guide me in my decisions about medication, or to pull me aside and ask how I was doing.
There is no doubt in my mind I am infinitely blessed to have him as my accountability partner; but as I have grown, I have begun to learn even with an almost perfect accountability partner, my accountability relationship can only be as successful as my willingness to take on the responsibilities I have as a member of the partnership.
As my dad and my therapists can testify, it has taken me awhile to learn the first major responsibility I have as a part of an accountability relationship (and I am still working on this!) despite its obviousness: be open! Even the best accountability partner isn’t a mind-reader, and in an effort to try to normalize our lives and/or fight the effects of a lifelong exposure to mental illness stigma, many of us struggling with mental illness are masters at hiding away our struggles.
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While I am not suggesting we share our deepest struggles with every person we meet, we need to be willing to open up with our accountability partners and share the struggles we may feel ashamed of.
In an accountability relationship, we need to put aside our fear of feeling or looking like we are weak or ridiculous and open up about the things we are feeling at the first sign of trouble.
A big mistake I often made (and still make) is waiting until the pain was unbearable to open up because I was afraid of being annoying or wrong if I brought up pain that ended up going away quickly on its own. On a side note, it can also be quite helpful to talk about the good times as well as the bad, so when life gets really hard, your partner can remind you of the good times that will come back when you are feeling as if it will be dark forever.
I wish it was as easy as just being willing to share, but I think we all know sometimes the difficulty is not so much in being willing as it is in knowing how to put the abstract pain into words, which leads to the next responsibility we have in an accountability relationship.
From the beginning, discuss the ways that allow you to communicate best and get on the same page with your partner about what different words mean.
Perhaps you struggle to open up in person and find it easier to write your feelings down and give it to your accountability partner. Maybe it’s easier for you open up through a therapist–meeting with your therapist alone first and then bringing in your partner. It is also incredibly important to make sure you and your accountability partner are using the same words.
My dad and I came up with certain words to describe different types of feelings, so when I said I was tired, he knew I was just lacking sleep, or “sick” I was feeling physically sick, but when I said I was “down” or “depression-tired,” he knew my change in attitude was related to depression, not just sleep.
We also created a rating scale, so I could describe the severity of my symptoms on a scale from 1-10. Regardless of how you choose to communicate, it is crucial you set up regular times to communicate. Maybe once a week, once a day, once every few weeks–whatever you choose–stick to your schedule carefully (obviously increasing if you have to).
Even when you aren’t struggling as much, it is great to discuss your positive improvements!
I wish you the best in finding an amazing accountability partner (definitely read all the October articles to learn more about picking one!), and I urge you, no matter how great they are, to take on the responsibilities you have to make it a truly transformative relationship.
And remember, like all of depression recovery, this is a journey and improvement, not perfection. Don’t get discouraged if it seems like you aren’t able to “do your part” perfectly quite yet. It takes many years to fully master openness, but you have the chance to grow every day.
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