How to Love Someone Who Has Depression

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with thoughts of suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

We moved a few years ago, and I was thrilled. Not because of the great neighborhood (though it was great), not because the new house was nice and big (though it was nice and big), not even because it came with its very own trampoline (boing!).

No. It was the garage. More to the point, it was the garage ceiling.

See, in my old place, the garage had one of those ceilings with exposed rafters. You know the kind: perfect for shoving stuff that’s not quite nice enough to actually have out, but not quite nasty enough to throw away. Keepsakes and mementos from some birthday you half remember; boxes just in case you move again; kids’ toys the next one in line will probably use.

The new place didn’t have the exposed rafters. Which meant no more extra storage. The boxes would stick out like a sore thumb, right in the middle of the new garage. The keepsakes and mementos would have to find new homes – or be thrown away outright. Old toys would be given away.

But I was happy. Because in the old garage I spent hours looking up at those rafters, wondering which one would be the right one, the heaviest one, the strongest one.

Which one would be the best one to hang myself from.

Now, in every important way I have a pretty great life. I have a wife who is better than I deserve. I have children who fill me with wonder, and who make me laugh. I have a job that most people would kill for. So it’s not like I should be trying to escape.

But I also suffer from major depressive disorder with psychotic breaks.

 

This last part sounds scary. But don’t worry. It just means sometimes I’m utterly incapable of understanding my proper relationship to the rest of the world. I can’t conceive of a universe where I in any way belong. Of an existence that needs me, or where I have anything but a negative effect.

So I would go to the garage. Or maybe I would stand in a corner and slap myself, because some dim part of my brain hoped the physical pain would drive out a small bit of the far greater mental and emotional torment.

The new garage doesn’t have those rafters. It’s just blank ceiling.

Although I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I still get that way sometimes. Sigh.

Chances are that anyone reading this either suffers from or knows someone who suffers from depression. What do you do to help someone like that? Someone who has forgotten this one basic truth: that we all have value. That we all are special. That in our humanity lies a kernel not just of greatness, but of inestimable beauty.

I will tell you what my wife does. She isn’t just my Dream Girl – I could never have dreamed up something like her. She’s my Better Than Dream Girl. And when I’m at my worst, this is what she does, this is her magic: she follows me.

She goes with me to the garage. She stands with me in my corner. She holds my hands firmly so I can’t hurt myself, but not so tightly it hurts in and of itself. She whispers how she loves me, how she can’t let me leave because that would be a wound to her and to the world. She says things she knows I cannot believe, but that I will look back on and remember – things that will build a reservoir of strength for the future.

She stands with me.

She eventually puts an arm around me and leads me to a couch or a bed. Still embracing me, she helps me to sit or to lay down. She holds me. Perhaps scratches my back in silence. The words are done. There is only the fact that she is there, that she is not going anywhere. The silent reminder that in this moment, in this small now… I am not alone.

The great tragedy of depression is a crippling loneliness. A conviction that we are not and never can be worthy of anything but isolation. That the world has cut us off from all human connection – and that that is a good thing, because any other person coming in contact with us would simply suffer.

What to do then?

Stay with us.

When we are ready, hold us.

And in so doing, show us that we have that spark of worth, that potential for beauty.

Depression will not allow us to believe in our value. It forbids us any hope.

But…

But I have found that – with the right help, with the right friend – it will allow the hope of future hope. And in that we may walk away from the rafters. We may move to new, safer places, and find brighter paths.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

This piece originally appeared on annabash.com.

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To the Man Who Suggested My Friend Was 'Faking' Her Depression

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As an inpatient, I met a woman who had been sent all over the country for treatment to provide relief for her severe depression. We became fast friends. Psych wards will do that. We meet each other at our lowest and most vulnerable points. Our month together passed, and we were discharged to our respective lives on the outside.

My last text to her went unanswered for days. When I got a response, it was a brief one telling me that she had been re-admitted. She had only been out for a couple of days when her doctor suggested that she “voluntarily” go back into the hospital. 

In our brief conversation, she spoke of how her ex-husband had hired a lawyer to keep her kids away from her. She is a terrific mom, but I’ve learned that such actions are commonplace, despite the fact that people with mental illness are more likely to be harmed than to cause harm.

Her ex told her that if she quit “faking it” and got her life in order, he would think about letting her see her kids. Sadly, the assumption that those of us with a mental illness are faking it is not unique. We’ve all heard it, and it certainly contributes to the chip most of us tend to carry squarely on our shoulders. 

In an effort to curb my own anger toward my friend’s ex-husband, I wrote him a letter he will never read. Unfortunately, as the words hit paper, I came to the realization it could be addressed to any number of folks we encounter in our own struggles.

Here’s what I would want him (and others like him) to know:

To the man who suggested my friend was faking it,

Does minimizing somebody else’s struggle bring you the gratification you seek?

Does dismissing somebody’s clinical diagnosis help you get through your day?

No good parent should have to fight just to see her kids, but she can’t fight you until she fights the much bigger battle against a much deadlier foe.

You can make the active choice to put a stop to the harm you’re doing to her. She, like many of us, doesn’t have the same luxury.

If control is what you think you have, don’t flatter yourself. The culprit in her life is something much tougher, much cleverer and much more legitimate than you — though equally as frightening.

Her fight against depression is a fight for her life.

When you say things like “depression isn’t an excuse,” you are minimizing the struggles of millions of us.

I wonder if you would tell somebody with a freshly broken leg they should just walk on it. Would you say something like “a compound fracture isn’t an excuse to use crutches”? Do you recognize what a strange juxtaposition that is — to be sympathetic toward a broken leg that will heal over time on its own, yet be completely inhumane toward a broken brain that has to be repaired with constant hard and unforgiving work?

While you have no control, it’s important that you understand your words do hurt. Like punching a bruise and compounding the hurt that’s already there.

That’s it, though. Don’t give yourself more credit than you deserve. Her condition is a biochemical one. Your opinion doesn’t make her more depressed, nor does it give her the strength to keep fighting.

Zero sum game. Pointless.

Your words are the equivalent of ripping off a scab. No new damage, just a little more bleeding and a few days longer to heal.

Your opinion is not unique, nor is your approach Earth-shattering. Most of us who have been diagnosed with a mental illness have been accused of faking it by loved ones and strangers alike. And in an effort to choose compassion over anger, I have to believe people act like you do to mask their own insecurities.

Many of us have learned to feel sorry for you rather than let your harsh words and actions contribute to our own plight.

But understand that while your words have no power over her, people like you do contribute to the deadly nature of mental illness.

The stigma that everybody talks about? It’s the fault of people like you.

One opinion like yours doesn’t matter, but many? Different story.

People like you are the reason people like me sometimes think it’s easier to take our own lives than to face the ridicule that sometimes comes with seeking help. Those of us who suffer from mental illnesses sometimes already struggle enormously with self-esteem problems and oversensitivity as symptoms.

Our default is to assume that even those who love us the most are going to leave us.

That default is reinforced by people like you.

You say we’re faking while we’re taking a regimen of medications with unpredictable and sometimes torturous side effects in an effort just to remain at baseline.

You tell us to get over it while we’re spending hours in therapy sobbing or angry or numb or lost just trying to figure out how to deal with our lot in life.

You tell us mental illness isn’t real while the woman you insulted sits in a hospital, isolated and hoping for some relief just so she can live.

For you, living might come easy. For many of us it does not.

If I had a choice between having a mental illness and having an easier life that afforded me the opportunity to be an insensitive jerk, I would choose the mental illness every time.

And I think she would, too.

She’ll no doubt get the treatment she needs and the medicine adjustment that will aid her recovery.

She’ll get better.  

You’ll still be a bully.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Follow this journey on Dad; diagnosed

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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15 Things You Should Know About People Who Have Concealed Depression

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1. Their personalities are not dreary in the slightest.

People with concealed depression might be some of the charismatic and alive people you know, prone to having a sharp tongue and hyper-creative mind.

2. Their biggest challenge is to shut off their brain.

I’m able to process the world around me at rapid-fire speed — the good and the bad. It’s like my brain is a sponge soaking in everything causing me to be hyper-aware and highly intuitive.

3. Subsequently, I’m more vulnerable to numbing myself with alcohol or drugs.

It can provide a temporary off switch for my brain, putting a halt to the never-ending flow of thoughts and ideas.

4. That is, until the hangover.

My hangovers make me extremely emotionally vulnerable — my worry often centers on a fear of being judged by others. The next morning I’m left in fear of what I could have said to that one person.

5. They have the most agony about other people’s agony.

My moments of breathtaking emotional pain are often triggered by seeing other people suffer. I’m very in tune with other people’s feelings. When strangers cry, I can’t help but feel their pain.

6. If I do something to hurt someone, it feels like a stab wound to the heart.

When I say “I’m sorry,” I’m really sorry — what you will never see are the hours I spend going over every single detail of the fight.

7. Concealed sadness has a lot to do with the ways people try to personally conquer their own demons.

For many, it is “self-regulating” their thoughts. Brain: What meaning does life have? You: Damn it, this again? Homie we went over this a million times and – Brain: Yeah, but there’s just one more thing I still don’t – You: … It’s 3 a.m.

8. They have many friends or acquaintances, but very few people who they truly share their world with.

I hate meaningless small talk and avoid it like the plague — having unauthentic conversations can feel overwhelming and exhausting.

9. They are very difficult to truly get to know.

I come across as being larger than life — many are easily drawn to me and perceive me as being extroverted, only to be confused later on when they realize I’m also very introspective, with moments of isolating myself to recharge my social batteries alone.

10. Finding someone who I relate to on an emotional plane is rare.

I hang on to the people who are stimulating enough for me to stop over-thinking for dear life.

11. They are wicked smart.

A high intelligence is linked to depression — smarter people can envision all sorts of worst-case scenarios, and while this is stressful, it means I know how to handle or respond to each one, making me a great problem-solver.

12. They are uncomfortable seeing people in pain…

and will do everything in their power to ensure other people don’t see them struggle. I don’t want to be pitied, or to bring anyone down because making the people around me feel loved and special actually eases my sadness greatly.

13. Their sadness can actually make them driven.

Since my sadness is often perpetuated by my constant search for a purpose, I will always attempt to do more to satisfy something inside of me that’s always hungry for more.

14. They often feel like they have no control…

so I compensate for fear of the unknown.

15. They make situations worse for themselves by trying to conceal their sadness.

I am a very expressive person, but it’s difficult for me to express anguish. I feel like people won’t understand what I’m going through and I feel like I have to protect myself — my heart, the people around me and the success of my dreams.

Many of you reading this will be know how easy it is to feel lost and alone. The truth is, no one has to hide the darkest and most unpleasant parts of themselves – the world we live in encourages this, but it’s those darkest parts that also have the most light in them. All that pain produces understandings that create a new level of living.

No matter how complicated someone is, it’s important for everyone to understand that person is searching for love and acceptance. We all are. Open your heart to someone even if it scares you to death. People will be in love with you regardless of your most comfortable state.

Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences depression in the same way. This is based on one person’s personal experience. 

Follow this journey on annabash.com.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When I Wept at Work About My Daughter’s Depression and Anxiety

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I see you out there. You’re suffering through something you feel is extremely private. It’s no one’s business. It’s too painful. You don’t want to bare your deepest fears out for others to pick through. You don’t want to cry in front of others. You definitely don’t want to seem weak. And what if you tell someone and they tell people?

And you’re right. Whatever you’re suffering through is no one’s business. Some people won’t understand your experience and will seem unsympathetic. Others will question your decisions and feelings. Still others will be angered by how you’re handling this fight or flight situation because it will hurt them. And these will be people you thought truly cared about you.

Here’s why I think you should share anyway.

When my daughter first exhibited signs of depression and anxiety, I thought we could quickly fix it. Therapy, relaxing, a little time away from her stressors and I just knew she’d be fine. Two years later, I realize that I don’t know anything. This diagnosis is the only thing I know with certainty. Details about how she will handle events, when the anxiety and depression will present themselves, how long the symptoms will last — these are all unpredictable.

This is where sharing comes in. There are people out there who can help. And they may not even be people who are in your life — yet.

One of the things I’ve always wanted to change about myself was my inability to stop tears when I’m sad — or laughing really hard — or touched by some kindness. I’m a weeper! It always seemed so weak to me. And no one wants to see you cry. Some truly get uncomfortable around it. I’ve gotten good at joking about my tears, but they’re real and as far as I can see — unstoppable. But being a weeper actually has helped me find the people who can help my daughter and our family through the valley on our climb back to the mountain.

As soon as we realized my daughter was in trouble, my family knew that meant we all were. I knew with complete certainty that I couldn’t perform the job at the company I working at to expectations and simultaneously handle all that was starting to happen at home. There was no way I was going to let my family suffer so that meant work would, and I couldn’t have that. Luckily, I was able to find a new job that I knew I could give my best to and would still allow me time to take care of my family. It was a gift.

There were a lot of people I didn’t know at my new job. I kept up a very professional front at first by not talking about my home problems. No one wants to hear about that, right? But after a particularly bad night with my daughter, the weeper came to work.

And guess what happened? People asked me if I was OK. I didn’t explain my dilemma — that my daughter was self-harming, not doing well in school for the first time ever and was a completely different person than she had been for her first 14 years. Many people just smiled and didn’t pry. That’s polite, right? Nothing wrong with that at all. A few people did press the issue with true concern. And so I made a brave decision. I decided to share what was going on because I needed to talk to someone about it.

As it turns out, the people I shared with all had something in common with me. They understood my situation because something similar had happened to them. They had stories of their own, words of wisdom, ideas, love, caring and hugs. The gifts were endless. And yes, I’m crying right now thinking about it!

One person in particular had a great idea. “Help her find something she can put herself into that makes her feel needed.” I pondered this, not sure what next step to take. But then a solution presented itself. Another friend I had shared with needed volunteers to help with students who needed homework help. She shared my story with her boss who welcomed my daughter.

Now, because I bared my soul and shared my deepest pain, my daughter and others struggling with a variety of situations have a place to go to help others. They’re doing an amazing job, are thriving and the students they work with are, too.

That friend who helped my daughter find purpose is a soul mate now. She stopped by the other day to tell me she hadn’t seen me cry in a long time and how happy she was because I seemed happy. So, of course, I wept. Because of kindness!

Now I understand my weeping is OK, and that it has served an invaluable purpose. Weeping led to sharing, which led to solutions and healing. So don’t be afraid to share with others because someone out there gets you and gets what you’re going through and can handle your tears. I embrace all the people I’ve met through this life-changing experience with a huge, weepy bear hug.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a conversation you’ve had that changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The Unlikely Discovery That Helped Me When I Googled 'How to Beat Depression'

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My mind sinks into the darkness like a drowned corpse in an abyss. It’s November 25. I haven’t seen the sun in three days. And for the hundredth time this week, I think about ending it all. Fall asleep and never wake up. My eyes flit to an overhead light and focus dully on its brightness. None of it matters, I think. I am a dog, and someone should put me down.

My therapist tells me many people suffer from depression or anxiety. I fall into that lucky percentage struggling with both— and believe me, more is not merrier. Still, I hide it well. Throw in a fake smile here, an “I’m fine” there. Depression is my burden. And yet I am not ashamed.

Admittedly, I’m just a white girl from Suburbia. Aside from the calories in my macchiato, my concerns are few. I have amazing friends. Loads of opportunity. And to the outside world, I have it all together. The reality is that I am surrounded by darkness

One can easily understand why.

When the average Joe feels sick, he gets the sniffles and runs to CVS. I, on the other hand, endure an all-out mental assault. My mind goes rogue and shrieks that I’ll never get better. Instantly my anxiety soars. For several days the screams continue, reminding me of every possible escape. And as my world slowly fades to gray, so does the possibility of hope, and any chance of healing. In this desperation, life becomes a daily hell, and death a welcome escape.

This is a dangerous lie. I know because I’ve believed it.

It’s easy to write that suicide is never the answer. We’re reminded on posters and television commercials, told that someone cares and to call 1-800-GET-HELP. But in spite of all the logic, a person with severe depression fails to bridge what he knows with what he feels. At first he fights, but scolds himself along the way. Why should I want death, he thinks, when I have X, Y, and Z to consider? Yet by constantly rebuking himself, the depressed grows exhausted. Pain and fear begin to choke his sensibility. And as he gasps for hope, he views suicide as a kinder mercy than slow suffocation. What he forgets is that others — family, friends, and doctors — can help break the chokehold.   

I wish I could promise his fight feels easy, but nothing strays farther from the truth. Rather, depression is a struggle of countless prayers. Tears. Exhaustion. Willpower, pain and true grit. But this battle, while uphill, is worth it.

I was diagnosed the day before Thanksgiving — a fact I’ve always found ironic. While everyone else indulged in the upcoming holidays, I struggled just to be. My existence had become a prison, my mind its warden and I the inmate. Consequently, I viewed everything behind bars of grayscale. I grew desperate to escape. I nearly tried. Yet within this abyss, love saved me. 

As the fibers of my body longed to die, I reflected on my life. My thoughts drifted through my trip to France, flitted through past Christmases and finally settled on something a friend texted me that week. “It’s hard to encompass why you matter to me,” he’d said. “You’ve been someone I could count on when I didn’t think I had anyone…I couldn’t imagine being here without you.” And in that moment I knew I couldn’t end it. I had to live for him. For all of them.

Yet the following month dragged on, and I grew increasingly disheartened. My mind continually posed the same question: what makes life beautiful? I searched in frustration for the answer, considering self-harm multiple times in the interim. And then one December night, I found my response through an unsuspecting Google search.

How to beat depression. I had suspected the usual advice: be active, socialize with friends, take medication if necessary. Instead, I discovered two unlikely figures. Their names shocked me.

Winston Churchill. Abraham Lincoln. Both suffered from severe depression that, at times, rendered them suicidal. Yet in spite of their pain, these men became two of the strongest leaders the world has ever seen. Arguably, neither could have achieved their greatness without depression. Having experienced great emotional strife, Churchill and Lincoln could process and relate to the suffering around them. Darkness, therefore, was no deterrence. And as a result of their mental tenacity, both could do what others could not: inspire nations in periods of great sorrow.

The same applies to us. Without darkness we fail to seek light. For this reason I believe God uses the most broken people to accomplish incredible feats. In fighting our obscurities, we improve ourselves. We use our pain for good. And as such we move forward.

I know because I did.

After finishing the original copy of this essay, my psychiatrist rediagnosed me with an unspecifiable subset of bipolar disorder. For me, that has made all the difference. I have accomplished more in the past 10 months than in all 20 years of my life. Challenges no longer daunt me. Stress does not restrain me. Dreams I once viewed as impossible I now relentlessly pursue. I have denied Death to its face; as a result there is nothing Life can keep me from doing. 

Today I work two jobs, make straight A’s, and am pushing myself towards Harvard Law School. That is not to say that having chronic illness is easy. It isn’t. I can’t deny the anguish depression has caused, nor ignore its mental scars. Yet I am not weak, and my bipolar disorder does not define me.

Rather, I am empathetic.

Driven.

Strong.

Because of my pain, I can help those around me.

Because of my pain, I understand true joy.

I still struggle. Some days the black clouds never lift. But if I have learned anything, it’s that hope exists even in the darkness. And because of this fact, life is beautiful. 

Dedicated to Nana, the inspiration for this piece; Nicholas, whom without I would not be here; Clark, Alex, and Coleman for always making me laugh; Nolan for all the hugs; Matt, Hunter, and Christian for believing in me; Katharine for her moral support; and my parents for never giving up on me. I love you all.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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11 Songs to Help You Face Depression This Week

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Facing the world each morning can be difficult when you live with a mental illness. Depression, specifically, can make everyday tasks seem daunting. Getting out of bed and out the door can be a major accomplishment. And although music can’t cure depression (we wish), it’s scientifically proven to reduce stress and even depressive symptoms.

So, each week, we ask our readers what songs and lyrics have helped them through depression. If you need an extra boost this week, hopefully some of these can help.

1. “Every Storm” by Gary Allen

every storm

 

Every storm runs, runs out of rain, just like every dark night turns into day, every heartache will fade away.”

2. “Hand to Hold On To” by John Mellencamp

“Everyone needs a hand to hold on to. Don’t need to be no strong hand, don’t need to be no rich hand, everyone just needs a hand to hold on to.”

3. “I’ll Stand By You” by The Pretenders

“So if you’re mad, get mad. Don’t hold it all inside, come on and talk to me now. Hey, what you got to hide?”

4. “I’m Moving On” by Rascal Flatts

Im moving on

 

“I’m movin’ on. At last I can see life has been patiently waiting for me. And I know there’s no guarantees, but I’m not alone.”

5. “Put Your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Rae

“Sapphire and faded jeans, I hope you get your dreams. Just go ahead, let your hair down, you’re gonna find yourself somewhere, somehow.”

6. “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips

Hold On

“Don’t you know things can change? Things’ll go your way if you hold on for one more day. Can you hold on for one more day?”

7. “Details in the Fabric” by Jason Mraz

“Go on and scream, if you’re shocked it’s just the fault of faulty manufacturing.”

8. “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson

“I’m gonna make a change. For once in my life it’s gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference, gonna make it right.”

9. “Daylight” by Matt and Kim

Daylight

“I miss yellow lines in my roads, some color on monochrome. Maybe I’ll paint them in myself.”

10. “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba

“I get knocked down, but I get up again no they’re never gonna keep me down.”

11. “The Promise” by Emma Blackery

The Promise

 

“And I may not even know your name, but I promise you I’ve felt the same as you do right now. You’ll make it somehow.”

What song do you listen to when you’re feeling depressed? Let us know and we may feature it next week. Check out our previous list here.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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