10 Ways You Can Help Us If We're in the Black Hole of Depression
It’s been a week since I published “Depression: 10 Things You Should Know,” two weeks since I fell into my current black hole, and in that time, the response to that article has told me that people really do want to do whatever they can do help us when we’re low. And I wanted to share with you the top 10 things that helped me.
I stopped eating when I fell. Not an active decision, mind you, but the feeling you get when you want to eat, when you need to eat, I didn’t have it. I didn’t want food. But just because I was numb didn’t mean I didn’t need to eat. So remind us. My husband bribed me with uninterrupted fort time (hidden in my bed) for the rest of my worst night, but I had to eat first. No food, no hiding. So I ate. And I continue to make sure I eat something, even if I don’t feel like it because I don’t want him to have to remind me, and physical fatigue from lack of food only feeds my depression. It’s harder to get out when you’re actually physically tired. Also, for some of us, we eat our feelings. Not exactly healthy either. Can’t just tell us to stop (increases feelings of shame), but if you live with us, provide healthier options we can eat en masse. When you see us reaching for that new bag of snack-of-choice, maybe suggest doing something else. “Let’s take a walk” or “let’s see what’s on the DVR” are better distractions. Even, “You want to talk about it?” Doesn’t mean we’ll always do it, but sometimes it works.
2. Social Behavior
Don’t get frustrated with us when we can’t manage to be social. When we’re depressed, the process to get ready for a social engagement can be overwhelming and exhausting. If it’s been a while since we’ve interacted, people are going to ask questions, and then we’re caught up in the choice of do we explain it a million times? Or do we pretend nothing is wrong? Either option is mentally wearing, so many times we just opt out. But please continue to invite us. When you stop (and logically, we understand. After all, you keep inviting, we keep declining… it’s kind of a bum deal), we see it as a confirmation that we aren’t worthy. So on us, but it’s how it plays out. And do be happy when we come. I’ve gone to events feeling on the verge of tears when the host acted like it was inconvenient of me to show up. Or that I wasn’t acting “happy enough” to be there. We don’t want to be an obligation. We want to interact with people we like. But don’t be upset when we leave early. Be happy we made it out of our fort long enough to interact.
I hate crying. Despite what I tell everybody, if I’m crying then I feel like a complete and utter failure at life. So I rarely let myself do it on purpose. I know a lot of my fellow depressed folk feel the same way. So remind us it’s good to let it out. That it’s healthy. That you are a safe place if we feel we cannot do it alone.And then, let us hysterically cry. And babble. And get. it. out. Even if it sounds “crazy,” sometimes just hearing it outside of our heads during a therapeutic cry can make things better.
On the other end of the spectrum, depression chops our fuse really short. So we may be quicker to anger and everything may irritate us. Even ourselves! And we tend to go off on those closest to us, mainly because we’re hoping somewhere in our heads you will love us anyway. It’s not fair to you, so feel free to call us out on it. Gently, usually, but sometimes it really takes a sharp word to get us out of that headspace.
5. Remind us that depression lies
We have a voice inside our head that whispers the biggest lies into our consciousness. It tells us we are worthless, that we should stop, that giving up and giving in are our best options. It reminds us of our failures and trivializes our successes. It reaches into the deepest parts of our hearts and rends those secrets into sharp, painful barbs that hurt every single part of us. And sometimes, if we’re in a better place, we can make that voice softer, faded, muted. And sometimes we really can’t, and it gets louder, a crescendo of self-hate and worthlessness. You can remind us we are louder and stronger than that voice. It helps.
Now, you can’t save us from ourselves, but you can give us safe places to wander while we’re lost. Be it a well-placed book and a cup of tea. Or suggesting we should go to bed when we’re particularly frustrated. Or suggesting we get up and sit outside. There’s a good chance we’ll decline, but when you gently suggest things, you’re planting seeds.
“If I go outside with a book, no one will bother me.”
“Hmmm, I like tea.”
“He cares enough to ask, I should be able to try.”
“I like forts.”
And sometimes that’s enough to help us out. Think of it like knots in a rope. We have to do the hard work, the climbing up, but you can tie the knots along the way to make it just a little easier for us to find our way out.
7. Medication/therapy are tools, not cures
And they almost always take time to do what they’re supposed to do. While we’re being rewired, we’re going to be kind of weird. It’s weird for us, too, but I can only imagine what it’s like for my family to watch me right now as I float through some of the side effects of my medication. So please be patient as we adjust to our new world.
As I write this, I feel like my head is a floating balloon connected by only a string. Better than the all-day nausea from yesterday, but whew, it’s hard to concentrate and to talk. Therapy, good therapy, brings up a lot of unresolved crap from our past that is adversely affecting our present. And when you try to work through it, it can leave you in a rather vulnerable space. Sometimes we want to talk about it. Sometimes we really don’t. Sometimes we come out in tears. Sometimes we come out triumphant.And you, dear loved ones, get the blowback, good or bad. Most of us try to rein it in for you, but life happens. Here’s hoping we share more good than bad.
Oh, and please do not be offended if we don’t tell you what we talked about during therapy. We love you, and we don’t mean to offend by not sharing with you, but some things are best left in a space where it won’t be shared. Don’t take it as a sign that you’re a bad person, since we have to go to therapy instead of talking to you either! Sometimes the best resource is an objective person who isn’t part of our everyday life.
Lastly, being medicated or going to therapy does not mean we are “cured.” It means we are managing our disease as best as we can. We’re still going to have bad days. But we’ll have more good ones, too.
8. Have a life
Outside of making sure we’re OK. Don’t stop your life because we’re paused in ours. Unless we’ve expressed thoughts of self-harm or suicide, we’ll actually be fine in our little bubble until you return. We don’t want to be an obligation. We already feel guilty that we’re taking up so much of your time, and we’re happier to know you’ll be back eventually to check on us.
9. Listen… without fixing it
One of the hardest parts for me, when I’m depressed, is expressing myself. I’m a writer, for goodness’ sake! But in the midst of a breakdown, my linguistic skills shatter, and I feel like a giant fool when I try to talk it out. I mean, I know talking helps, but I don’t want you to look at me like I’m being ridiculous. And I don’t want you to “fix it.” Just let me get it out. Remind me I’m going to survive this, too, just like I have every other episode before this and every inevitable episode in the future. Remind me I’m strong, that this inane moment in my life isn’t weakness. That I’ve held myself together long enough, and it’s OK for me to find myself in darkness again. And most importantly, that you’ll be there for me, whatever I need. Be a safe place.
10. Respect our disease
This isn’t laziness. This isn’t us being sad. Depression is a disease that makes how we’re wired different than non-depressed people. Respect that. Respect those of us who live with it every day of our lives. Treat us like everyone else — not fragile, sad little creatures. This empowers us to respect ourselves, and we are less likely to fall into the holes our depression digs for us. And that really helps.
These are my top tens things from the past two weeks. There are so many more. Feel free to comment on what I’ve left out, what has really helped you. Thank you, friends and family, for caring about us when we’re at our lowest.
We appreciate that more than you know.
This was originally posted on Medium.com.
Image via Thinkstock.