Why the Best Support You Can Give Somebody With Depression Is Acceptance
Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently… While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. — John Chapman
A good place to start.
When people talk about depression, they normally imagine someone having a “low day” or maybe “going through a bad patch.”
Unless you have depression it is hard to understand it.
I have had depression since I was about 6 years old in one form or another. I also had a full “breakdown” in my early 40s.
For people who have chronic depression, like me, it is more a case of living through constant low days, with some slightly less bad than others. Constantly living with the knowledge that, at any time, you could be triggered by simple things and stand on the edge of that black abyss once more. The things you used to take in stride in earlier times now become challenges to be overcome.
The simple things in life like a good night out with friends have to be worked out beforehand so you can take part in an acceptable way. Body language needs to be learned rather than spontaneous, responses to small talk, too. God forbid you should let others see the way you really feel in a social situation when you don’t know how you are feeling yourself from moment to moment.
This is probably why so many great actors and comedians have depression or mental illness. They didn’t become depressed because of their career, they developed their career from coping with their condition.
The treatment of, and recovery from, depression is also a challenge in itself.
The standard treatment is to put people on antidepressants to “relieve” the symptoms.
Have you ever watched your favorite comedy and not laughed once during the whole thing?
Have you watched a sad film and not felt involved in it?
This is what living on antidepressants is like for me. Living on a plateau where emotion no longer exists. Feeling exactly the same every day, neither happy nor sad, just being.
If, like me, you take antidepressants long-term, you sometimes become almost comfortable with the knowledge that life can no longer touch you emotionally.
When (or in some cases, if) you come off the tablets, you find emotion comes back in fits and starts and hits you harder than ever because you have learned to live without it for so long. Sometimes, it all feels too much and you pray to return to your comfortable state of anhedonia.
If the experience of having depression is overwhelming, the return is even more so.
Recovery from depression is an impossible dream for many of us. Learning to accept it and the associated feelings that come with it is the best many of us can hope for.
Some of you might feel this means you should feel pity, sympathy or sorry for a friend with depression. Believe me, that is not what we want.
All we ask is for people around us to accept that we experience life in a different ways. The best support you can give somebody with depression is to accept them as who they are.
In Winnie the Pooh, nobody ever asks Eeyore, “How are you feeling?” or tells him to, “Cheer up, it will get better.” They just accept him as being Eeyore, the friend who is different.
This acceptance is important to people like me and helps us, in some way, feel part of a world we no longer understand.
When I first had my breakdown, a lot of people I had considered friends, some of them long-term friends, suddenly disappeared from my life. They either left without notice or they told me straight that they could not cope with the way I was. In fact, one of them told me that they did not believe in stress and so therefore they didn’t know why I was telling them about how I felt. After many years of friendship, this was a major blow at a bad time.
I was lucky that I still had one good friend who stuck around and did not give me pressure to be anything but me at the time. He accepted that I was going through a time of change and supported me by giving me a listening ear when I needed one and good advice when I needed it and asked for it.
I have also found the one person in life who is able to live with me and accept me as I am and is willing to give me space and time to sort myself out when it is necessary. She does not judge me (well, not too much) and, after 15 years together, gave me one of the happiest times in my life by marrying me.
We live from day to day and see what each dawn brings. It doesn’t mean we don’t make plans, just that the plans we make are flexible enough to allow for me to be whoever I am on the day. We tailor our days together so that we get the most out of them whatever we do.
I am forever grateful to these two special people in my life, they have been and always will be a part of what I shall become. Wherever my life takes me, I know they will be around me, not leading or following, just being with me, alongside me.
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Thinkstock photo via SIphotography