How many of us suffering from depression have heard those words or words to that effect from those trying to “help” us with our mood? Other euphemisms may include, “Just pick yourself up by your boot straps,” “Get over it already,” or my personal favorite, “There are people out there who are starving, being tortured and killed in this world so what have you got to be sad about?” So in addition to feeling depressed we also have to feel the guilt and shame of not being able to snap out of it or feel enough gratitude that we are not being maimed and murdered presently.
I can honestly say from my experience that if I could snap out of it, I surely would. Nobody truly wants to be depressed. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. Perhaps there are some romanticized visions of turmoil and angst out there but in all reality depression can be a living hell. It has a domino effect which reaches out to harm and hinder all that is precious to us including our self esteem, our work, our play, and our relationships with others. It is something not to be taken so lightly as to think that it is a switch you can just turn on and off at will. This is not to say that we who suffer from depression bear no responsibility for ourselves and our actions. But it is a responsibility much akin to someone who suffers from any biological disorder like diabetes or heart disease. We do have to take care of ourselves and make attempts to get better and be more functioning despite our mood disorder. This responsibility does not, however, entail blame, guilt, or shame.
These clichÃ©s and casually tossed off phrases do not help the person who has depression. They only serve to deepen the well and make one want to shut off from hearing any more. One of the big issues concerning those who battle depression is who to share things with. A key word which comes to mind is “discernment.” You really have to be wise in your choices of who to trust with talking about your issues of mood. It becomes especially difficult when the choices of who to talk to seem narrow.
I think we all have a gut feeling about who will understand and who will dish out a platitude. We have to constantly gauge whether it is worth the risk. Sometimes with a little persistence and education we can help those who might not know how to help us. If the person is close to us and is involved in our day to day lives it may be worth that risk of hearing a few non-helpful utterances if we can make attempts to move beyond the superficial. This is purely a personal decision and nobody can tell you the outcome. Sometimes just making that attempt to reach out, regardless of the response we may receive is important to our emotional growth. There should never be any shame in reaching out although sometimes it may feel that way.
There will be those who are more helpful to us along our journey. These people are our buoys in the water. Most likely these life savers are people who have gone through a similar experience themselves. Empathy is a skill which I wish there were classes given about to each and every human being. The world would run a little smoother with a little more appreciation of what others go through. Empathy is the direct opposite, in my opinion, from sympathy, which is a condescending pity, given to those we feel are beneath us in some way. Empathy, on the other hand, is the attempt of the person hearing our story to imagine themselves in our shoes. Empathy is neither coddling nor distracting. It is the essence of friendship and bonding when someone listens without interjecting their own preconceived notions of what to do or how to be. We know empathy when we have felt validated, understood, and accepted without being judged.
I am hoping that in writing here I can be one voice to help us move away from all the platitudes and clichÃ©s surrounding depression. I am hoping that anyone who is helping a friend or loved one with depression can come here and get both information and support to be of aid in your efforts. I am also hoping that those who are gallantly battling their depression, sometimes invisibly so, can come here and find a safe place to reach out and take that risk of sharing with others. Everybody needs help at some point in their lives. Despite your difficulties, your sharing can, in turn help someone else who is going through the same thing. I do hope you will take the risk and share something of yourself here. We are listening.