When I’m clinically depressed, I pretty much can’t work up the energy to care about anything. It feels as though the air is as thick as chocolate pudding, and because of that it takes a lot more effort to do even the most basic of things. All I want to do is get fetal in bed with the lights off and the sheets drawn up over my head while I weep and beat myself up mentally.
This is my tried and true pattern, and it has been something I’ve struggled with my entire life. Yes, I’ve seen therapists, and they really do help, but they’re hard to find thanks to this pandemic. But I hope you’ll still find the strength to try. There is help out there for you, in the form of psychologists, psychiatrists, support groups, and suicide prevention, and it is said that 90% of the people who seek this help find that it does make them feel better.
No two people have the exact same type of depression, so I hope you won’t use this as some sort of yardstick. It’s a moot point, though, because today my focus is not on me, but on the people I suck into my depressive undertow. This is not something I could effectively contemplate in the throes of depression, because I can barely focus on self care, so stretching the old compassion muscles is a bridge too far. (And trust me, I beat myself up about that, too.)
Frankly, I’ve never really had to think about how my depression impacts others, because most of the people in my life are also prone to depression, so they get it. They get me. I do derive a small bit of comfort from that. It is such a relief to be understood even if you feel like you can’t be helped. There are no atheists in foxholes. Or something. Whatever.
It’s been my experience that those who have never suffered from depression seem to have a whole host of incorrect assumptions about it, such as:
- You should be able to snap out of it.
- You’re doing this to get attention.
- You’re doing this to manipulate someone else.
- You’re lazy.
- You aren’t even trying.
- You just need to toughen up.
- You are just selfish and don’t want to carry your own weight.
- You’re being a baby/brat/b!tch.
- You’re making a big deal out of nothing.
- You’re using it as an excuse to do nothing.
- You’re whiny.
- You’re Needy.
- You’re acting like a victim.
- You’re weak.
- You’re irrational.
- You are trying to make me miserable.
- You just want an excuse to take pills.
- You just don’t want to go to work.
Let me start off by saying that none of these statements, not a single one of them, improves the situation when they come out of the mouth of someone you love. In fact, they make you feel a million times worse, because you know they don’t understand. And there’s nothing quite so draining as trying to justify yourself to someone who doesn’t get it.
Loved ones who say these things don’t get that you’d love, love, love to snap out of it. You’d give anything to not bear the insurmountable weight of being the you that you are when you are sucked into a depressive spiral. You know that they view you as broken and f**ked up, and deep down you can’t really argue with them, because you feel broken and f**ked up. But it still hurts like hell to see the pity and disappointment and irritation in their eyes.
It never occurred to me that someone could find it impossible to comprehend depression until I met a “normal.” (And it’s rather interesting that it took me 50 years to meet one.) They can no more understand depression than they can relate to the persistent ache of a badly healed broken bone if they’ve never broken a bone themselves. They must think that if you slap a figurative splint on your depression, you’ll be as good as new in no time. Easy peasy. Cheer up. Get over yourself. And then you get to spend what little energy you have trying to convince this normal that you aren’t a freak, and instead you convince yourself that that’s an impossible task, right along with all the other impossible tasks that define your life-in-downward-spiral. But there I go, focusing on me again.
It’s got to be pretty awful, living with the human equivalent of a black hole. It’s got to be exhausting. It’s got to be irritating. “Oh, here she goes again. Great. I guess I’ll cancel all our reservations for the next two weeks.”
If it’s any comfort at all, deep down, depressives know the crap they’re making you put up with, and they feel horrible about it, and genuinely want to make you happy and be happy themselves. But these tools just aren’t in their toolbox at the moment. Most of us can’t even express how we’re feeling while it’s happening. But inside we scream, “Please don’t leave me. Please just listen. Please be comforting, not critical. Please. Stop telling me how messed up I am and just hold me while I cry. Please make it stop.”
It’s like we’re begging for a lifeline, but the message doesn’t quite make it to its destination. Our nerves are on the surface of our skin, so any judgment, any implication that we must not be doing something right if we “insist” on feeling this way, any impatience or frustration, no matter how justified, just piles pain on top of pain on top of pain until we are crushed flat from the sheer weight of it all. Sometimes we get angry and cruel, in an attempt to protect ourselves. We are the epitome of a wounded, cornered animal.
Many of us are not always this way. Depression, for me, tends to come in waves. I’m old enough now to truly understand that, and know that it’s just a matter of time. I can do this. I’ve come out the other side a million times before. I can be pretty darned fun and optimistic when the wave isn’t washing over me. All I can do is hope and pray that the person who means so much to me is willing to weather the stormy seas and remember the person I am when the sailing is smooth. I hope he or she can learn not to see “broken” as my primary trait, because there really are some good qualities mixed in there amongst the detritus.
But I know that’s asking a heck of a lot. I really do know that. And yet here I am, asking. And in response you might ask, “How do I help without getting sucked under myself?”
I wish I knew what to tell you. Bleh. I’m not explaining this very well. But if you are reading this far along, it’s probably because you genuinely love the depressive in your life, and you want to learn how to cope and help without losing yourself. That’s a legitimate, perfectly normal desire, and nothing to feel the least bit guilty about. So I urge you to check out the following resources.
First, I suggest you see the movie Nell, starring Jodie Foster. Not only is it a great movie, but you get to see how the Sheriff in the story deals with his chronically depressed wife, whom he loves very much. He leads with compassion and validation and support without judgment, and for that, he’s my hero.
Then, check out one of my favorite songs to listen to when I’m overwhelmed. It’s called “Tomorrow.” Maybe if you listen to it, your depressed loved one will overhear it and take it in on some level.
After that, I urge you to hop on over to an online game called Depression Quest, which is, frankly, no fun at all. But it might give you some insight into depression that you have been lacking heretofore. Knowing what you’re dealing with is the best way to deal with it, in my opinion.
And there are a whole host of helpful articles online. Just a lazy Google search yielded some interesting articles that explain things much better than I ever could. So check out “21 Things to Ask When Your Partner Is Depressed,” “Is Your Partner Depressed? How To Tell and What To Do About It,” and “How to Help a Partner Living With Depression.” I’m sure there are many more good resources out there, but when I read these three, I wanted to shout, “Yes! What they said!!!”
I can’t speak for depressives the world over, obviously, but if I were in my right mind while depressed, the things I’d most like to say are, “Please be patient with me. Please know that I’m scared and that this sucks, but I will get past it. I always do. Please believe I’m trying. Please let me cry without shame. Please hug me unless I want to be left alone. Please don’t think I’m irredeemably weird and not worth the effort.”
And most of all, “I’m sorry.”
If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline through this hotlink, or by calling the new short dial, 988, that will be available all across the USA, effective July 16, 2022.