To Those Who Want to Help the Depressed

I don’t want to see anyone. I lie in the bedroom with the curtains drawn and nothingness washing over me like a sluggish wave. Whatever is happening to me is my own fault. I have done something wrong, something so huge I can’t even see it, something that’s drowning me. I am inadequate and stupid, without worth. I might as well be dead.
― Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

With the recent suicide of Robin Williams, there have been a lot of talk and articles about depression. Depression is a topic that hits close to home for me because it is something I have experienced. I never reached the point of suicidal, but it was a difficult time.

I came upon this comic on depression, and I believe there are some very true insights from it.

I didn’t exactly just wake up one day feeling sad for no reason. I did have reasons to be sad initially, but somewhere along the way their significance faded away and even when they were resolved I did not feel any better. The self-loathing part of the comic is very true and explained very well. When you are sad for no reason, the logic in your head kicks in and slaps you in the face. You get mad at yourself for decaying away when there is fundamentally nothing “bad” happening in your life. You compare yourself to those in more unfortunate situations, but you feel no sympathy or empathy.

People say that the worst thing you can say to a person going through depression is “Just be happy” or something along those lines. The depressed individual wants to be “happy” but they just can’t seem to “be happy”. A lot of times, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific reason why we are feeling sad, so this advice is ineffective. In fact, it may further build on the feelings of self-loathing because “Just be happy” sounds so easy and simple… so why can’t I do it? Useless. I am so useless.

The author of the comic, Allie Brosh, tells an important point when people try to help someone suffering from depression:

All the hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.

It would be like having a bunch of dead fish, but no one around you will acknowledge that the fish are dead. Instead, they offer to help you look for the fish or try to help you figure out why they disappeared.

The problem might not even have a solution. But you aren’t necessarily looking for solutions. You’re maybe just looking for someone to say “sorry about how dead your fish are” or “wow, those are super dead. I still like you, though.”

I think those last lines give great insight into what kinds of things you can say to actually help a depressed person. I, for one, did not wish to sought out solutions. How can you look for a solution when you don’t know the problem? Reality, I probably had no idea what I wanted other than to feel like my sadness was justified by a reason or a purpose.

It has been several years since I felt like that. Just like how I couldn’t pinpoint the reason for my sadness, it is equally difficult for me to pinpoint when things started getting better. Every time I look back at my depression, I feel fear and worry. To me, depression has never felt like something I have “gotten over”. It always feels like I can fall right back into it if I am not careful. It’s like I am running a marathon and depression is the runner right behind me. I never know when it will pull ahead of me again.

But at least now I kind of understand. Depressed people, we want to be understood. For all our sadness and self-hatred, we want to be accepted. And when things start to get better, we want to look around and see that we were not given up on.

sincerelyloewe

P.S. Also see my book review on Eat, Pray, Love on the topic of depression.

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To Loewe:

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