I’ve never been depressed. I’ve had my share of crazy, and sure, I have my bad times. I have those times where I start crying while brushing my teeth, and I’m not sure why. We’ve all experienced this to an extent. You go through a patch where staying in bed all day isn’t just the better option- it’s the only one. But as blue as things may look at that point, a lot of us are lucky enough to have the ability to say “I’m feeling depressed,” as opposed to “I have depression.”
There’s a big difference between those statements, and the key word is feeling.
Like I said, I’ve never been depressed. But I know a lot about depression. Over the past few years, someone very close to me who I love dearly became depressed. And I had no idea what I was getting into.
Let’s call my friend Hubert. Why? Because Hubert is a funny name, and nothing about this situation is funny.
Hubert went through some life changes. Some things turned out less than desirable for him, but all in all, Hubert would agree that nothing terrible happened to him. This is a common misconception about depression- you don’t have to have a traumatic home life or a horrible experience or a death of a loved one to become depressed. Depression has no rhyme or reason. It just happens.
I didn’t understand this at the time. I found myself wondering at times why Hubert was taking things so hard. “He can get past this,” I thought to myself, “all he has to do is just try.”
But he couldn’t. Because despite the fact that Hubert’s life mantra is “I can do anything if I try,” he couldn’t bring himself to. He couldn’t even bring himself to care. He couldn’t even try to try.
You know those commercials for the antidepressant, and the tagline is “depression hurts more than just you” or “depression hurts everyone” or something like that? It’s true. Loving someone with depression is almost as hard as having depression.
We’re not inside their heads. We can’t understand why they are doing the things they are doing. We can’t understand why they won’t listen to reason, and they don’t have the ability to articulate why.
It took a long time, but I finally figured some of it out. Strangely enough, a webcomic put a lot of things into perspective for me. It was hard, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but as hard as it is, your loved one needs you. And when you’re through the thick of it, your acceptance and help through that time will mean more to them than you will ever understand. Here are some of the things I’ve discovered along the way.
1. Your loved one isn’t depressed or sad.
Depression isn’t a state of being, it’s an affliction. Like a cold or the flu, it can come out of nowhere and hit them. Or think of it another way: your friend is in an abusive relationship with depression. Depression has cut off their ability to have other friends. Depression has crippled their social life. Depression is constantly putting them through hell, making everything more stressful, making them doubt themselves, making everything difficult. Depression has beaten them- to the point where they will have actual physical pain. Depression has taken control of their life, to the point where it’s easier to just feel nothing.
2. They’re not depressed because of you, so don’t take it personally.
It’s hard not to take things personally. It’s even harder to not wonder if you did something to make your loved one depressed. When you’re depressed, you feel this complete and utter inability to be yourself, and it makes it ten times harder when you’re around loved ones; ie. people who know the real “you.” Being with strangers can sometimes be easier for them: they get to put on a show. They get to pretend that they aren’t depressed for a short amount of time. It can really hurt you to see this, and you sometimes wonder if it’s just you causing the depression. But it’s not. If your loved one is acting depressed around you, its a good sign- in a strange way. It means that they love and trust you enough to share this with you. Sometimes they try to hide it- sometimes they’ll push you away. The only thing to do is just be there.
3. You can’t “fix” them.
I know you think that by being positive and following them around like their personal cheerleader, one day it might occur to them “yeah! life is great and things are awesome and I’m fixed!” But it won’t. Endless supplies of positivity aren’t helpful- they actually do more harm than good. It’s frustrating. It’s reminding them that they aren’t full of cheer. And most importantly, they aren’t sad. I know it looks like they are, and sometimes they can feel incredibly down, but cheering up won’t help. They’re experiencing a complete lack of emotion, and you can’t fix something that doesn’t exist. All the funny animal gifs in the world aren’t going to cure them. Just be there. Remind them that this is temporary. Don’t tell them to keep trying, just remind them that there’s a light out there. Listen and validate their feelings, but don’t try to explain them or cheer the person up. Don’t offer opinions or advice. You don’t have to walk around like a complete sad sack, of course- that won’t help. Just be normal, but be supportive.
4. Any emotion is good.
Sometimes when people start the long, long climb up out of depression, their emotions come back to them in weird ways. Some people get the crying, the breaking down and sobbing. Feel free to comfort them. Some people get the manic happiness that seems incredibly fake. Encourage this- but be careful. It can switch quickly. But a lot of people get the anger. Anger, for some unknown reason, seems to be the easiest way to vent the months and months of non-feeling that your loved one has gone through. So be prepared. They will get angry at you. They will scream at the cat and curse out their shoe. The strangest and sometimes smallest things will set them off. I know that this hurts more than anything, and it seems so backwards. But by getting angry, they finally have a way to vent their frustration. Encourage it, or at the very least, let them rage in peace.
5. Take care of yourself.
Your first thought will be to take care of your loved one- but loving someone with depression can seriously mess you up as well. You feel like you need to be in it with them, but you don’t. You need to take care of yourself- keep focusing on your goals and dreams. Sometimes you will feel like a horrible person bragging about your new promotion or going out with friends. You feel like you should hide it from your loved one, or downplay your accomplishments, because it seems like a smack in the face to them. But, I can’t stress this enough, don’t. They will still be happy for you. Your success and happiness might remind them of what they’re lacking, but you cannot sacrifice yourself. You need to go out and be with friends. You need to get fresh air.
In addition, sometimes you’re going to cry. Sometimes you’re going to hurt. Sometimes you won’t be able to handle it, and you feel like you need to hide it from your loved one. Don’t. Express to them that this is hard, but you’re in it with them. Don’t tell them that you cried yourself to sleep, but open up a bit. Find a healthy way to get the stress out- even if it’s ranting to your dog.
6. Be patient.
Depression sucks. Literally. It sucks the life out of everything, and you need to be careful to not let it suck the life out of you. Read about it, find out about it- it’s amazing how ignorant and misinformed we are about depression.
Check out this wonderful explanation of depression by Hyperbole-and-a-half.