Monday, August 29, 2016

Nothing You Say Can Fix Your Depressed Friend

"You know how you can be having a good day, everything is fine, nothing about life hurts too much, people annoy you but not in an unbearable way. And then suddenly, in a single instant that comes from and out of nothing and nowhere in particular, just while you bend over to pick up someone's lunch order from behind the desk, it's all gone. You're just left feeling hollow and your mind is separate from your body so while maybe you go through the motions, joke with a coworker, smile and greet people, issue badges but you're just watching yourself do those things. And it's more of a feeling than a thought but if it was a thought it would something like: life is incomprehensible and so fucking long. I do so many things to keep living and I enjoy so few of them and I enjoy living even less."

This is the beginning of an email from a friend of mine. I asked if I could share it because this particular email described depression better than most clinical articles. The hardest part about depression is that there is this idea you can conquer it, or at the very least control it. The truth is, you can only try. But at any moment it can sneak up on you and swallow you whole before you've even glimpsed a warning sign. There are good periods when it seems to be in a safe, distant coma. And there are periods where you feel some semblance of control, you are doing all the things you know how in order to keep the monster at bay, and it feels like it's working. It's tempting to feel in control and maybe even feel accomplished. People who don't understand the disease are proud of you, they think you've gotten your demon in the bag, and they are glad for you to be able to move on with your life. These people get terribly disappointed when the good times don't last. They start to wonder if you really want healing and they start to take it personally when you don't get better on the timeline they deem healthy. People who know depression, on the other hand, are happy for you, not because they think you've found a solution, but because they know those breaks are what save your life. 

"There is no point. Even if God and heaven and religion were real to me, there would be no point even on a conceptual level."

The above sentence could be the beginning of an entire book. When you want to give up on life, people want you to pray, trust in God, read the Bible, go to Church and prayer meetings. They want you to do these things because they want you to experience hope. The unofficial definition of depression is the inability to have hope. You don't just "not feel it." Hope ceases to exist. The word is meaningless. Life is meaningless.

"Sometimes I watch people around me and try to study them. How and why do they keep going? Who else is a hollow puppet just acting of memory that's drawn from rote memorization of how it should look to be a human in the world?
Sometimes the fact that tomorrow will be here and I'll have to go through another day with no mysteriously provided purpose showing up in the night is so overwhelming that I don't even have to think beyond it to next week or month or year to stop my breath and make my heart beat erratically.
I fake everything. I have no future in any of the meager skills and experience I have. I can't even find a reason to continue in my writing. What's the point? What's the difference between someone else reading what I've written and no one ever reading it?"

We who know depression, know how to fake life when we can't summon the desire to live it. It's how we survive. It's easy to think that a person is depressed because of their life. The way they describe it to you might make you think, "Well do something about it! Just change this and that and then your outlook will change!" I could have told my friend to put her efforts into learning useful skills, find a job that will lead her in the direction she wants to go. I could have told her to use her dissatisfaction to change her life for the better. But guess what? You would never have guessed it from her description of her life, but she is actually highly educated, one of the smartest people I know. She is extremely skilled and hard working. She is disciplined and self-controlled. When she is healthy. Discipline and self-control are hard to hold on to when you lose the desire to live. That's the thing about depression and why it can lead to death. Even if you don't want to end your life, the desire to live is sucked out of you. 
"It's slightly better, being at home. But still that nagging question of why? why anything at all? the desire to burn bridges spectacularly. (I'd be the type to set fire to my former place of employment and everyone would say, but she seemed so quiet and sweet and innocent. that's what you get for calling me sweet mother fuckers! ha! okay not really something I would do or even really contemplate because empathy. fuuuuuuck it.)"

There are periods in depression when all you can really feel is anger. This anger makes you pull away from people, turn inward, and fight all the nonexistent battles that rumble through your brain. You feel like people are judging you, so you judge them harder. For me, this anger often turns into self-hatred. Because I'm the real monster. I am everything that is wrong in the world. Me, me, me. We can think about people only in the way it relates to ourselves, because  depression turns you inward until you can't see anything else but this twisted reality that is nothing but a big ugly picture of yourself. People often think they can save you from this by trying to get you to think about others. Think about the people who have it so much worse than you! Think about the people you are hurting! Think about all the people! Needless to say, this doesn't work. Because depression is not a choice. Depression is not an act of selfishness. Depression is a disease that destroys all that is good. It takes everything away.

"I'm going out to meet a friend at a full moon thing at an art gallery. I don't really want to. I want to just take a long shower and drink a lot and curl up in bed and pretend I don't exist. But honestly leaving is better for me today, as much as I don't want to and even if I don't enjoy it when I'm there. Staying here won't lead to good things. My logical thinking abilities are short-circuited. My patience is nonexistence (and my dog has a new hot spot on his tail but won't let me do anything for him and keeps trying to lick it and I seriously want to be so violent with him in a way that almost frightens me). I can't logic my way out of cutting or distract my way out or find any way out besides actually going out, to a place with other humans. Because you can't just take a razor to your arms in the middle of an art gallery. Unless you are the artist, then you totally could."

We want help. Even if it doesn't seem like it (because if we really wanted help, wouldn't we be better by now?). If you have a depressed friend who is no fun, invite them to things anyway. Even insist they come. Maybe you know they don't really want to be there. Maybe they will say no 9 times out of 10. But also, maybe they will come. And being there may be keeping them from being unsafe. They might still self-harm when you aren't around, you can't save them from all the horrors of depression, but it still helps. The most important thing to remember about depression is that just because you can't fix it, doesn't mean you can't help. 

"I realize this email might be the kind that causes concern. No need for that! I'm fine. I'll be okay. I mean, in the way that I think you understand. I'll still be here tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Fine in that kind of way. (If I wasn't I wouldn't actually be writing this email.)
thanks, as always. typing this out on my phone hiding in corners at work was a life saver. actually I was mostly sitting on the roof deck. #thestruggleisreal"

If your depressed friend or family member is communicating, that is a good sign. Even if what they say is scary or worrisome. Try your best to listen without shutting them down. Things like, "Don't say that!" and "That's not true!" and "You're just thinking too much." Not helpful. In fact, probably nothing you say will help. Let them know you hear them anyway. Because more than any words in the world, knowing someone is there is what's most helpful. It's perfectly fine to let them know you are worried, but try not to make it about you. (If your friend had cancer you wouldn't tell them how hard their illness was on you, or that you can relate because your cat had cancer.) Offer to look up numbers of mental health professionals in their area (and follow through). If you live near them offer to drive them to appointments. (Also, being uninsured is a huge problem when looking for help, but every city has at least one place that accepts uninsured clients. They aren't always great, but they are better than nothing.) And try not to be surprised if counseling and medication don't fix everything. 

Last, but not least, thank you. Thank you for being a friend to someone who is hurting. It's not easy and it often feels futile when your efforts don't make some visible improvement in their lives. But more than likely you are unknowingly playing a role in saving a life. 

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