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How to Help a Loved One ‘Steer' Through the Black Ice of Depression

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

It can be difficult to teach someone how to drive on winter roads in places where it gets icy. Especially on black ice. But when you put the tips to use, it can save a life.

Black ice is the worst! You don’t even see it there, then boom! You’re right on it and seemingly out of control.You are told to stay calm and keep steering into the direction the vehicle is sliding until the vehicle is under control.

Recently, I began to think about how I slid into a patch of a deep episode of depression, more than likely showing signs of crisis, seemingly to spiral out of control internally. If only I had someone to guide me through to safety…

When someone close to you seems to hit that dark patch, take a moment to consider how you would handle your vehicle on black ice:

1. Remember you didn’t cause it. It is probably outside environmental factors you cannot control.

2. Stay calm. Do not freak out! Getting worked up will cause the spiral to worsen.

3. Steer into the direction of sliding. Turn toward your friend who is starting to lose control.

4. Stay with it. Just because the direction might change, you’ve got to keep aware and change direction with the situation to keep from entering a tailspin.

5. Pump the brakes, don’t slam on them! Just thinking one giant foot stomp is going to make the motion stop is actually harmful; you have to keep working at it a bit at a time.

6. Take a moment to recover. When you have helped guide through, it’s OK to freak out a little and take a moment for yourself. It was probably scary, but you did it!

When your loved one is sliding into a patch of black ice and showing signs of crisis, remember it’s more than likely not you. Instead of adding another layer of pain by making them think they are screwing up a relationship — that’s how they will take you asking if it’s something you’ve done — instead, just ask them if everything is OK and go from there.

Steer toward them to help them gain control. Let them know you care by staying right with them. Keep redirecting them as they are spinning out of control. Tell them how much they mean to you; bring up a great memory with them and encourage them to contribute to the memory sharing; ensure them you need them around and why. When they are feeling worthless, don’t tell them there’s no reason for it or discount their feelings. The feelings are as real as that patch of ice you couldn’t see. Instead, gently and calmly remind them of their worth. Disregarding their feelings in that moment is incredibly harmful — depression is in the midst of loudly and actively lying to them. Listen to them. No matter how irrational it seems, just listen. Calmly steer the situation. If you hastily move through the situation just to hurry them along, they could end up lower, creating a dangerous tailspin.

If you talk your vehicle through situations like I do, then you will be much gentler with your words when you are in a state of calm rather than frustration; when you are yelling at it, you tend to be aggressive in how you handle the vehicle, too. Think about that as you speak to your loved one sliding through their patch of black ice, of crisis.

Just checking on them once, like stomping on the brake, isn’t going to work. Keep stopping a moment to check with them. Then check with them. Then check with them again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. It will take a few times before they are through this patch.

If need be, steer them to the side of the road for some time to recoup and maybe find help. Don’t feel bad if it gets to that point; it isn’t easy, steering the situation all the way through. Call someone if extra help is needed: the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) since they may not be able to do it themselves; help them call their doctor or therapist if they have one; call 911 or steer them to the ER in an absolute emergency or crisis.

Look, that situation can be scary to go through and you helped save a life just now, but it can take a lot out of you. Take a moment for you with some deep breathing and your own self-care.

Just remember that your vehicle can take a little while to recover from the episode; your loved one will take a little bit to get back on track. Keep checking with them and be gentle.

Much like having to steer a two-ton piece of metal that gets off-track when black ice appears, it can be hard to steer a loved one through their crisis. Just know that using many of the tips to get your vehicle safely over a patch of black ice can be put to use when your loved one hits that patch of deep depression and is showing signs of crisis.

As someone living with depression, lived experience and continued suicidal thoughts, I would certainly appreciate someone steering me to safety when I’ve hit that rough patch.

Remember that following safety tips can save lives.

Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash

Originally published: April 26, 2019
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