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When Friends Don't Acknowledge the Pain of Depression

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Recently, I’ve been trying to be more open about my struggles with depression, particularly about what happened to me last year when a particularly bad bout of depression made life at school a living nightmare and forced me to leave my college home of three years. The hardest thing about opening up has been people’s hesitancy to, well, acknowledge I went through a hard time. It may sound petty and attention-seeking, but it’s painful to finally open up to people and have them, well, not really do anything. It makes one question: Do I matter? Is my pain real? Is what I’m going through not hard enough to actually count as a legitimate struggle?

Back when I was still at school, the typical response I got to telling close friends I was in a bad place was one of grief and sympathy: “I’m so sorry to hear! I hope things get better! I will pray for you!” But the person would never really ask me about it again. The dirty secret was swept back under the rug in spite of my attempts to be honest about what was going on. Although I had always been one to invite people to meals, to ask about what was going on in their lives, to listen and offer sympathy, to try and follow up, to write notes of encouragement…I found little of that returned, even in my darkest hours. The feeling of being let down by friends added even more pain to what I was already feeling.

Today, thanks to time, treatment, perseverance and my family’s support, I am doing immensely better and I’m starting to build a new life again, but the ghosts of those past hurts still come back to haunt me. For example, when I announced to school friends that I was leaving college due to my ongoing struggle, I only received a few replies acknowledging my choice. I still look back on this from time to time and feel a mixture of heartbreak, betrayal and rage unwittingly boil up within me. Did they not care I had to give up my life because of this awful pain I never asked for? Then when friends contacted me out of the blue after months of silence, they never addressed why I had left. I would write back pleasant replies, part of me sorely missing their companionship, but also another part of me wondering what took them so long to say something.

Tonight, as that bitter taste of disappointment, hurt and anger once again lingers in my mouth, I want so much to move past this old wound, but it hit too close to the heart. I wish I had answers to help deal with this hurt that’s unfortunately not uncommon, but I don’t. I guess some just don’t know what to do with other people’s pain, particularly if they can’t relate to it. People feel uncomfortable not knowing what to do with others’ hurt, so they just say or do nothing. It’s easy to get caught up in our own lives and forget to check up on others. It’s painful to be on the receiving end of that though, especially when you are in the darkest time of your life.

For those who have survived tough times and are on the path to recovery or are recovered, know you are a survivor. It’s sometimes easy to let distance from pain persuade us that maybe what happened wasn’t so bad after all. Or skeptical people make us downplay our courage. But you stood through the raging storm and didn’t call it quits. You took the first frightening step to reach out for help. You pulled yourself through the much and mire of bad habits, harmful thought patterns and old wounds to pick up the pieces, rebuild and reclaim your life, all while grieving the opportunities you lost. You are a warrior, no matter what anybody says (or stays silent about).

If you’re hurting and no one seems to be listening, I hope you read this and know you are not alone. There are many people out there who would love to listen, and whose heart would break for your pain. You are valuable even if people don’t acknowledge it. If you are feeling pain, it is legitimate and it is awful that you are suffering, even if people don’t say so.

If you know someone who might be hurting or have a friend who reached out to you recently and told you things weren’t going great, please consider reaching out. Just a “How are things?” or “Just wanted you to know I was thinking of you.” Maybe invite them to hang out. If they open up, you don’t have to have answers, just listen and be willing to say “That must be hard” or “I’m really sorry.” You don’t have to make their happiness your responsibility or anything, just let them know you care.

There are a lot of lonely people out there. Let’s show them someone cares.

Originally published: February 29, 2016
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