I have been truly overwhelmed by the number of people who have reached out to me since I started writing this blog saying that they can relate to my battle with depression and that they are happy that someone is talking about it. It is a fairly common diagnosis, yet majority of people who are battling it feel very much alone because no one wants to talk about it. So today I am speaking from the collective perspective of We. This is what We want. What We need. This is what We find helpful. I know it’s hard for those who don’t suffer from it to understand it. Maybe because the symptoms aren’t as obvious? Maybe because they can’t physically see the effects? Maybe because the treatment varies so greatly?
Maybe this will help. Try this: think about the saddest thing that has happened to you in your life. Think about how you reacted to that. You probably felt at least temporarily depressed. You were weepy, exhausted, unmotivated. You probably had trouble sleeping because you couldn’t stop thinking about. You probably had trouble getting out of bed. Now take away that sad event, but keep all of the symptoms and extend the time period over months, years, decades. Think about waking up with all of those symptoms for no reason, no sad event, when you were perfectly fine the day before. That, in a nutshell, is the best way I can describe what depression feels like. One of my previous posts, My Struggle, goes into more detail about my symptoms and their progression.
But today I want to focus on how those who love someone battling depression can help. What they should say and do and maybe more importantly what they should not say or do. We know that we are not the easiest to love, so thanks in advance for being there.
What to say: Are you ok? If there is someone you know who you think might be suffering from depression, stop and ask them if they are ok. Sincerely ask them if there are ok. Do not ask them in front of anyone else. Do not ask them at work, a night out or a family gathering. Find time when the two of you will be comfortable talking and look them in the eye and ask them if they are ok. And then be ready to listen. Listen intensely. Be sympathetic and try to understand what they are going through and how you can help. If you ask and they open up to you, you have the responsibility to support them. They have chosen to trust you. To be vulnerable in front of you. If you think it’s scary for you, think about how they feel.
What to say: Let’s go… Often times people with depression are unmotivated and exhausted. They don’t want to partake in normal activities, but usually doing those things are part of what helps them recover. They need connections and to spend time with loved ones. So figure out what they are up for and make them do it. Don’t leave things up to them. Make plans and encourage them to show up. Ask them repeatedly, even if they keep turning you down. Be understanding when they cancel, but be relentless in getting them out of bed. Motivate them.
Do not say: Feel better! I know. I know. You have the best intentions when you say this, but it makes it sound like we have a cold. That if we take two Advil and get some rest we will be better in a few days, when the reality is we may never be better. We might be dealing with a lifelong battle here and even if it’s not, it certainly feels like it when you are going through it. So “Feel better!” actually feels like an extremely overwhelming task.
- Try instead: “I hope tomorrow is a better day for you.” That is more digestible and gives us hope that tomorrow will be easier.
Do not say: Can’t you just snap out of it? Stop thinking about it? Move on? Change your attitude? The answer is no. No, we cannot snap out of on demand and if we could, we would. Sometimes it might appear that we snap out of it because it is unpredictable, we don’t know when it is going to hit. Things can change from day to day or hour to hour. But no, we cannot “snap out of it.”
- Try instead: “Have you tried…?” I am going to caveat this, because this can be horrible as well. Please just don’t throw every solution at your loved one, but if they don’t seem to be helping themselves and you are genuinely concerned about them, then offer up some solutions—talking to someone, talking to a doctor, yoga, meditation, natural supplements. If they are open to receiving help, then help them find it. They are probably exhausted and lacking motivation and could use a GENTLE push.
Do not say: What happened? What aren’t you telling me? What triggered this? It is human nature to believe in cause and effect. In order for a person to be sad something bad must have happened to them. This is not the case with all people suffering from depression. It is a chemical imbalance. It is hereditary. It can be triggered by hormones. Again, it is unpredictable. It just happens, I can’t stress enough the importance of understanding this.
- Try instead:
- “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day. Is there anything I can do to help?”
- “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day. Here is a video of a puppy rolling down stairs.”
- “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day. I’m just going to lay here next to you and not talk.”
- Do not say: “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well.” Again, this isn’t a cold.
Do not say: You’re Lazy. Why are you so tired all of the time? You look tired. First of all, just never say you look tired. To anyone. It’s not sympathetic, it’s mean. Just scratch that from your vocabulary now. “You’re lazy” is very harsh and actually Evelyn was the one who said it to me. All that she saw was me lying in bed with nothing wrong with me. If adults can’t understand this illness, how can a five-year-old? I am still working on that one, but adults should know better. We seem tired for so many different reasons. We can’t sleep at night, it’s exhausting to fight an internal battle constantly and we’re scared to leave our comfort zone. I don’t know what to say instead, just know that there are a million reasons why we are exhausted, so please don’t ask.
Do not say: You’re Crazy! (or any of its synonyms) This sounds like a given, but apparently it is not. Just don’t. We already feel really fucking crazy, we don’t need anyone else reminding us. I don’t care how frustrated you are with us. This is absolutely unacceptable. Wrong on so many levels. And it only emphasizes the stigma that we are battling in addition to a mental illness.
- Try instead: To be quiet and self-reflect.