Depression: Understanding Someone You Thought You Knew
For everyone that knows someone that seems depressed, including yourself.
Depression is being tied from head to toe, lying in a grave, and looking up only to see someone with your face shoveling dirt onto you.
To be clear, I am not speaking from years of clinical practice. I am not a leader in the field of psychology. What I am is someone who has been struggling with depression for seven years and still has not conquered it. This article is based on my personal experience and everyday struggle.
There is no logic to it. It is a waking nightmare you can not fall asleep from. You are in limbo, no escaping the sadness that does not allow you to feel elation. A burst of laughter or a cracked smile is immediately replaced with a nodding head and a stoic face. "I shouldn't be smiling. I'm just not good enough". As someone not dealing with depression, your day might consist of decisions about going to the store, whether or not to wash the car, or where to start on your list of things to do. If you are depressed there is only one thing on your seemingly insurmountable list of things to do that matters, which is somehow making through another day. Another day that will last forever with no time to get anything done because none of it matters anyway. There are extreme thoughts constantly..."Do I allow myself to smile? Do I allow myself to believe? The people I know are going to leave me behind anyway. Why can't I just be who I remember?".
Your friend or loved one is sitting silently deep in thought. Their mind is racing and it's all they can do to just keep up and try to control themselves from breaking down into tears or screaming. They sit silently. When you ask them what they are thinking there is either no response or they quietly say, "Nothing. Everything is okay. I'm fine." How can they respond? How can they tell you, someone who is not them what they are really thinking. In their mind, you will only believe they are weak. They are useless. You can never understand so why bother letting you in on their dizzying and overwhelming thoughts that are draining every bit of energy they have.
I have been extremely lucky in the fact that my family and close friends have never given up on me. Even when I feel that all is lost and begin to slip back into the darkness of my mind there seems to be someone there grabbing my hand and pulling me out. This is the silver lining in my story. This is the hope I have but in my mind I am not happy because of it. I am grateful. However, because of the way depression works, I feel even more sadness because of the struggle I bring into the lives of people that love me and the relationships I value most. Time and time again a mother tells her son she loves him. Time and time again she sheds tears of hope when his eyes light up or the tone in his voice changes with some hope of self affirmation of who he remembers himself to be. A woman says she loves him but he knows it won't last, so why bother. Time with friends is really just a temporary distraction, trying to be normal, trying fool everyone including yourself.
The words you hear from their mouths are not too dissimilar from those of everyone else around you. However, the way you hear them is dramatically different from how they see themselves. The words and mannerisms you will hear and see most from someone dealing with depression sound familiar but you will have to pay closer attention to them to really see what they are feeling. "I am great. Things are wonderful. I am capable of so much. I remember when I achieved so much. I know I can. It's all good". As they are saying this to you, in their mind they hear and know, " I can't. I'm not strong enough now. It's just no possible for me. How can I possibly do this." They are remembering what they used to be and holding onto the "I dids" because there is no belief in "I can". They are trying desperately to convince themselves that they are the same person they were before this debilitating state set in. I know I can, but I can't.
Their head is down. They look off into the distance. They fiddle and fidget with something, anything to preoccupy your attention and theirs. They can't look you in the eye because then maybe you will see the weakness they see in themselves and are fighting so hard. Maybe you will just walk away like they believe you are going to do eventually anyway. There is nothing they can do to stop it and they know it with all of the heart they have left.
So how do you deal with someone with depression? First of all, don't look at it as dealing with it. The phrase "dealing with" has taken on a negative connotation and someone with depression sees nothing but negative. There is a difference between being forward and negative. Choose your words wisely. Someone with depression is constantly thinking so words are of extreme importance.
Secondly, no cliches. "There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Tomorrow is another day. Everything happens for a reason. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." For someone with depression these cliches are ridiculous. They may nod when they hear one of these but for them they have been in the tunnel with no light for so long the light is unattainable. Tomorrow is nothing to look forward to because today's misery is never ending. Why would they look forward to another day of misery? What reason could there possibly be for endless sadness? In their mind they are weak and growing weaker everyday, so death isn't such a bad option. At least then they won't have to feel anymore.
After hearing these thought processes are you thinking that this doesn't make any sense? "Why can't they just change how they are thinking. Stop being so negative. This thought process is so self defeating." Exactly. Welcome to the insanity of depression. Hence the mentally and emotionally exhausting struggle we go through every day.
The best thing I've experienced that has helped me move past the really bad moments are when friends and family have kept me busy. It can be anything really, but what has helped me most is a short project with a foreseeable end. Something from nothing, or rebuilding. Do something labor and mentally intensive in order to give your mind a break. There must be an activity. It may be as simple as digging a ditch with your cousin. Build a model. It doesn't really matter what the activity is as long as it distracts your mind and keeps you busy with an attainable goal. Eventually these distractions and attained goals will become habit and your habit will become a way of life, instead of watching life go on without you.
I like many things but the ones that have saved me are cycling and rock climbing. My life has revolved around what a lot of folks would consider extreme situations. I am not good at the everyday so I have searched out things that bring physical risk. Whether climbing cliffs as a kid or jumping out of planes in the military as a young adult, those are the moments I felt okay. I didn't understand this until I started questioning why this was the case. Before I became depressed it was for the rush of adrenaline. After my depression set in it became a test. I was daring myself to make it. If I was in a situation that forced me to look death in the face instead of waiting around for it, I had to try and make it. If I didn't make it, well I was okay with that too. You may read this and disagree. This may be an unhealthy way of looking at how to deal with depression. I am not saying it works for everyone. You will probably never hear a doctor tell a patient to go out and push themselves to the point of risking their lives. "Be safe. Take these pills. I'm going to sit here and ask you what you think you mean when all you want is for me to make it go away." I got tired of telling my story and how I felt to so many therapists. Their wide eyes and open mouths let me know they had no idea how to deal with what I was feeling or what I have been through. "Our time is up so take these pills." So I found my own way. It is what works for me. It is how I have to approach life in order to overcome this depression.
This could go on and on. I could ramble for days on what you should and should not do regarding working with depression, but I hope you get the simple message.
Depression is not a logical mindset. The processes one has to go through to overcome it does not always fit into a neat little box. What makes sense to the everyday person has nothing to do with the world of a depressed person. If you're not someone with depression don't try and say you understand it just try and be truly available without judgement for the person that is. Encourage them in their pursuits especially when you don't understand because that is probably what they need.
For you, the person that is depressed. Like I said in the beginning, I am not book smart. I am experienced. I get it. There is no way around how you feel. I hate it and It sucks. So, read this and go run through the rain screaming. Go ride your bike, pushing out the energy built up inside. Go climb a mountain and challenge your life. Do something, anything. Give yourself a reason to live instead of waiting around for it to end.