Girl School for Grownups

Like having a big sister, but better because I can't boss you around!

Depression hurts everyone

Yesterday a friend was telling me about his sister’s struggle with depression. And it took me back to when I was first diagnosed and the fight to come to acceptance with it. Robin William’s recent suicide has helped in bringing the issue to light, and even though there’s a lot more awareness now than ever before, there is still work to be done.

NOTE: What I’m writing in my own personal experience. I can’t presume to know what’s right for anyone else. If you are depressed please consider seeing your doctor or a counselor or just telling someone, anyone.

  1. You can’t reason with biochemistry. Depression is a hormonal, biochemical issue, not a lack of gratitude issue. Just as you can’t reason away having to pee, you can’t reason away the grey sadness that is depression. Some of my darkest times have been as I enumerate all the reasons I should be thrilled with my amazing life, and yet can’t climb out of the sad.
  2. Depression is not a moral issue. This goes hand in hand with #1 but it deserves its own number because it’s so pervasive. Thoughts that start with “if I was just stronger” or “if I just had more faith” or “if I was a better person” have no place with the depression conversation. The logic is flawed. My beloved niece was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in December of 2008. Her body does not make insulin. Without insulin she would not survive. And nobody would EVER dare utter those kinds of words about her condition.
  3. Find the smallest step you can take towards feeling better. Sometimes depression feels like I’m standing in a 12″ hole and everyone else is standing on level ground. If I jump and keep jumping, I can be at the same level, but it’s fucking exhausting. The exhaustion and malaise of depression can make even logical normal suggestions of how to feel better — Call a friend! Go out to lunch! Get to the gym! — impossible. But sometimes the key to feeling better is taking the teeny tiniest step towards hope, towards happiness, towards the light. Honestly, eating a salad and drinking some water can be the tiny fingerhold that’s needed to start moving towards life.
  4. Anything that makes you more yourself is good. So let’s talk medication. I’m on an anti-depressant and have been for over 10 years. At first I hated taking medicine. It made me feel defective and like a second-class citizen. But it worked, not as a happy pill but more like a safety net so that my lows didn’t feel terminal. So I’d start feeling better, and then I would think “I think I’ve got this!” and I would stop the medicine and things would be ok for a while and they they wouldn’t be ok and pretty soon I’d be right back where I started. I’ve repeated this many times, probably for the first 5 or 6 years. What I would tell myself from long ago is this: anything that makes you more alive and more yourself is a good thing. And there are no brownie points for making life harder than it has to be. Life is hard enough without making it harder in a way that can be changed. (I would also tell the me from back then that it would all be ok.)
  5. Depression hurts everyone. It can be easy to put off treatment for depression because you tell yourself that you’re not hurting anyone. And if you’re getting your work done and keeping showered and dressed and doing life, there’s evidence to support this thought. But we are all put into the world to be fully alive and fully ourselves. And being any less that who we were created to be robs those we love of our enthusiastic participation in life. I don’t say this as a criticism, because in the same breath I will tell you that at all points in my life I’ve been doing the very best I could do at that time. But hiding behind the thought that it’s not a big deal because it’s only me — well, that untrue and so very unnecessary.

What can I do to help someone who’s depressed? Hmmmmmm, that’s a tricky question. Because how do you help someone who in many cases is just wanting to be left alone? I can think of a few things that would have touched my oh-so-sad heart.

  • Saying “I know it’s hard right now, but trust me when I tell you it won’t stay this way forever.”
  • Saying “I love you just as you are.”
  • Considering the HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) principle and offering food or suggesting a nap.
  • Saying, “I love you just as you are.”

Years ago I told Tim that I was going to tell people about my depression experience, but I didn’t want to become the poster child for depression. Today I would be honored to be just that (maybe with a photo from 10 years ago or so, or if photography invents a “younger and thinner” button). There is no shame in depression. The shame is if it never gets addressed.