Today is a guest post from my very favourite person on earth.
Two of the dearest people in my life suffer from depression. I don’t. Quite the contrary, I’ve been blessed with an absurd mental resilience to shit. I can’t comprehend the mental state that makes a person want to take their own life. But when you care about someone immensely, you work to understand their heart and mind, perhaps more so than your own. So I’ve learned a lot about depression. Today, I wanted to share what I know. I hope this can help you understand and support your loved ones at their darkest.
Some of Lucy’s mental issues manifest in crippling social anxiety. But when we invite her to go out, instead of deciding whether she feels well enough to do so, she always tries to figure out what’s best for other people. That’s because depressed people are notoriously bad at looking out for themselves.
“Shouldn’t I stay at home and hang out with Jenny so that she is not alone?”
“I should probably go, because if I don’t the evening will be awkward for Alex who doesn’t know the rest of you well.”
“I probably shouldn’t go because it’s a long car ride and I’ll make it really tight.”
Part of the reason this is a common behavior for depressed people is that not a lot feels very good to them, so it makes sense to try and make decisions based on other factors. But that’s an unhealthy habit and a self-fulfilling prophecy. They end up not doing things that make them happier, thus they don’t get happier. So every time, I try to break down to Lucy that she should do what feels good for her, and that that’s what would make everyone happy. I do it by helping her discard the reasons that don’t have to do with her and focusing on whether she feels she would enjoy herself. If you realize your depressed friend is doing this, you will want to look out for her instead. It can be tricky not to come off condescending. Focus on minimizing the pressure to make a decision and on not expressing your disappointment if it wasn’t your first choice.
Speaking of choices, people going through a depression episode often don’t know what they want. As I see it, that’s one of the major differences between depression and being really really upset. When I’m really really upset, I still know what would make me feel better. Sometimes it’s impossible, but I can picture it. Comfort of my husband, night in bed with popcorn and my favorite show, company of people I like are some of the more common remedies. Other times, I may feel down on myself but I can picture a long-turn solution in mind. It could be getting a rewarding job, becoming good at a game… or losing weight, or making a lot of money. They are not all admirable, but they are tangible.
The terrifying thing about depression is that there isn’t anything a depressed person can picture that will make him feel better. That’s what brings about the utter hopelessness that can be fatal. As a result, when you ask them what they want, they usually won’t know. And proposing various activities won’t help, and will often just leave both you and the depressed friend frustrated.
So about the best you can do is three things:
– Help the depressed person into her comfort zone. It can be a location or a show or a food that always makes her happy.
– When you can’t know how to make it better, just focus on not making it worse. Make sure you eliminate all unnecessary sources of stress, from unfinished chores to loud noises.
– Just be there with him, and wait for it to go way. It means more than you think.
It’s easy to give hugs. Giving support and comfort is far from a selfless act, because it feels good. It’s a deeply rewarding experience: you get to bond with another person, you get to feel important. It’s a lot harder when your depressed friend/spouse/child/sibling needs something completely different. When seeing you is actually detrimental. When they don’t want to be touched at all. When they don’t want to talk, or when they want to talk to someone else entirely, perhaps a friend who understands how they feel.
That’s when you exhibit the true strength. That’s when it’s crucial that you remind yourself to not make it about you. Remember that this is a person you treasure going through something really bad and just be glad that something is helping, even when it has nothing to do with you. And let me tell you, it can be insanely hard not to take things personally. You can feel scared, or sad, or even hurt. And of course your emotions matter, so it’s okay to feel those things. Further, it’s okay to share it with your depressed friend or sister or SO. In fact, sometimes when Ben is depressed and it brings me down, comforting me helps him feel better, too. But over time, you can and should learn to reason with yourself that their desires and needs when they are depressed are due to their illness, and getting hurt by them is like getting hurt by someone with a broken leg needing to skip your ice skating party.
Speaking of parties, depressed people will need to cancel plans, and they will feel guilty about it, and you must help them not to.
It’s not only the people unfamiliar with depression that don’t understand that it’s a serious mental disorder. Countless people who suffer from depression struggle to really think of it as a disease rather than something they are responsible for. So use my ice skating analogy if you must. Repeat that it’s not their fault they feel that way. Make the necessary calls. Place the sushi order for delivery. Download a movie. Snuggle in.
Take care of each other.
Everything else can take a raincheck.
Thank you for reading.