To know how to help someone with depression you need to understand a little bit about what it feels like to be depressed. As I mentioned here, depression can feel a little bit like there are two people in your head, the regular one and the depressed one. The regular one is having just about the same reaction to the depressed person that most people outside your head have. Thoughts like: Why can’t you just get over it? Go get a hobby/keep busy/exercise and you’ll feel better. People have way worse problems than you do and THEY aren’t depressed, have a little perspective. All these things you are saying to yourself all the time. So none of these things are really helpful to have someone else say. You know what, if you’ve thought it, we’ve thought it. Thanks but no thanks on the obvious answers. Often someone will make these helpful suggestions and the depressed person will respond angrily or defensively, and stubbornly seem to refuse to the see the apparent wisdom of the remarks. This is why. We’ve already given ourselves this advice and it didn’t work. If you think you’re irritated by that, if you think it’s aggravating to be around someone who can’t seem to get control of themselves, we are stuck living with that person all the time. You think you’re sick of it? You can’t even imagine. And you do get sick of it. That’s natural. It isn’t healthy to be depressed. It isn’t normal. Nobody wants to feel like that and even empathizing with someone going through it is exhausting. So first, forgive yourself for feeling aggravated by your loved one. Then, please please stay patient. . .
When it feels like you’ve tried everything you can for them and nothing has worked, be patient. When you’re ready to throw up your hands and give up because you’re obviously not helping, be patient. Don’t ever doubt that noticed or unnoticed your efforts make a difference. I like to say that the keys to surviving depression are love and responsibility. . . Being depressed is incredibly lonely. Love is what pulls us into the human family. All those acts of love from all those caring people kept me going. I was clinging to hope by my fingernails. It was so easy to disappear into my own head, and my own room. Each time someone reached out and touched my life they were keeping up my connections to the rest of the world. And this is the greatest help you can be. Don’t let your loved one disappear. Don’t let them think they’re pain is unnoticed. Don’t talk about their pain non stop. Just keep checking in.
Note from Ruby: I have put my own emphasis on a few sentences in the first paragraph, because they resonated so very deeply with me.
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Shame. Let’s haul out the dictionary and look it up to make sure it’s the word we’re looking for. Dad taught me that that’s always a good place to start. Shame: noun meaning “distress or humiliation caused by consciousness of one’s guilt or folly”. Interesting. And apt. It’s part of the definition that the one who is ashamed is actually at fault. That belief is definitely at the heart of the problem, at least for me. Being depressed, feels a bit like having two people in my head. One Cait feels crushingly sad and lethargic, and the other one is watching that Cait and saying, “what the heck is your problem?” I think I then take this self criticism and project it onto others. After all, if I can blame me, of course anybody not actually living in my head must also. . .
I also feel frustrated by my lack of control. Nobody likes to feel they aren’t in charge of themselves. My pride is offended by the idea that I can’t just pull myself out of a funk on my own. And most of the things I struggle with look an awful lot like character flaws, vices rather than medical symptoms. The Cait watching sad Cait is quite suspicious that the whole depression theory may just be an elaborate excuse for plain old laziness, or ill temper. Even my distinterest in activities I once enjoyed could be put down to intellectual sloth. Incidentally, this was the area where I felt the most relief after medication. The fact that I suddenly had more energy and could write again, or think about interesting things, showed me quite clearly that there was a chemical element to the problem. It also left behind the things that were actual character flaws, making them easier to identify and work on. . .
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Over the years this getaway to the magical land of shower has served me well. I can spend a little time with my own thoughts, sort through things, and when I slide back that door and return to earth I’m refreshed. I’ll even follow through on a couple of those grand schemes or an approximation thereof. But just like any travel to other worlds, there’s always a touch of danger. When I am struggling with depression I often try and escape it through the door to my shower. Now and then It manages to come through too. The Thing that sits on my chest and makes it hard to breathe. Or hovers behind me so that I see it out of the corner of one eye. Or weighs down my shoulders. Then the deep powerful sadness stands between me and the way home. I am frozen by it, unable to make even the smallest decision. I can’t see the happy future, just this aching inexplicable despair going on forever. I want to get out, to go back to reality, but I can’t find the will. Reality is so hard! Fingers go pruny and the water goes cold, sometimes I even manage to turn off the taps, but I cannot muster the strength to open that door. Somehow I’m a million miles away from home, trapped in four walls inside my own house.
Once in college I was trapped by my own mind for two hours. Eventually the fact that somebody would need that bathroom and the potential shame of being caught out as seriously depressed got me out of there. Even now that I’ve publicly admitted to it, the stigma of depression, or the fear that someone won’t understand, is a powerful motivator to behave like a rational adult. At home though, I don’t have that working for me. Now maybe I can call out. If my husband hears me I’m saved, but sometimes even the decision to do that is too hard. Then the only hope is that someone will come rescue me.
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