I‘ve appreciated getting e-mails and facebook messages from readers, thank you. It’s taken a lot of courage to be so open about my struggles. The response has been for the most part VERY positive. I’m glad that there are people learning from my experiences and advice. That’s the whole reason I started this here blog. So with that said…
People. Whether they’re our spouses, children, co-workers, brothers, sisters, mom, dad, neighbors, friends, cousins, roommates, hairdressers, bosses. These are the people we joke around with, hang out with, go to dinner with, work with, gossip on the phone with and live with. These are the people that shape us and make us who we are.
Recently I was e-mailed by two readers of this blog a similar and very specific question regarding people. It was something to the effect of the following:
“I’m confused. In my darkest hour of depression I reached out to the people that I consider to be closest to me and surprisingly I felt little support from them. I felt like they minimized my depression as something that I could change on my own. They say that they want to be there for me and are willing to do anything to help me, yet I feel like they deny the reality of how difficult depression is and leave me feeling empty, how can I make them understand?”
I also have asked myself this same question and I’m still working on figuring it out.
The feelings I had in my most serious bouts of depression were literally so painful that I felt like somebody had died, that I had cancer, that my husband had lost his job and that everything in my life had been completely destroyed. Completely hopeless. I like what this columnist has to say about it:
I have dealt with unipolar depression and I take medication daily to treat it. Over the past seven years, I’ve had two episodes that were severe… I did not eat much and lost weight during these episodes. I couldn’t sleep at all…and had constant diarrhea. It was also accompanied by a constant, thrumming pain that I felt through my whole body. I describe the physical symptoms because it helps to understand that real depression isn’t just a “mood.” These two episodes were the most difficult experiences of my life, by a wide margin, and I did not know if I would make it through them. To illustrate how horrible it was, being in jail in a wheelchair with four broken limbs after the car accident that prompted me to get sober eight years ago was much, much easier and less painful. That isn’t an exxageration and I hope it helps people understand clinical depression better; I’m saying that I would rather be in jail in a wheelchair with a body that doesn’t work than experience a severe episode of depression. (Robert Delaney ” On Depression And Getting Help” Feb, 26 2010)
Sounds terrible doesn’t it? It is. When we’re faced with things like this, we reach out to those we trust most. We go to them having high hopes and expectations that in pouring out our hearts to the people that we love that we’ll feel strengthened, supported and most importantly in my book: Understood.
If you’re a religious person you might turn to God when nobody understands you. This has been key in helping me deal with depression, God can help fix problems no matter how complicated, no matter how deep and dark. However, it’s also my personal belief that most times God answers our pleas for help with people.
WE NEED PEOPLE.
Here’s three things that I’ve learned in this past year:
#1. Depression is real, that’s a fact. It is a very debilitating and frightening battle and you need support of others to get through it.
#2. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) try to prove how difficult it is to people who don’t understand .
#3. Because of the nature of depression, people need people that can validate them and make them feel understood.
You don’t have to prove it to everyone you know.
You can’t make it your mission statement in life to make all people in your life understand depression. Don’t get me wrong, that can seem all backwards. You want people to understand. You want those closest to you to fill your needs and validate your struggles. It’s painful opening up to a loved one and then be left feeling empty and completely misunderstood. It may leave you confused and asking yourself, “Maybe I am just making this up, maybe it isn’t as big of a deal as I feel it is”. I’ve felt that. But there couldn’t be anything further from the truth, it is VERY real and VERY hard. Some people are just scared. Some people just don’t want to understand it and maybe never will want to. And many just don’t understand. It’s not that they don’t want to, or that they’re scared it’s just that they don’t.
You’ll get some people who try and give you advice on how to fix it. Things like, “Well just be positive and have faith and things will work out”, ouch. Which can feel a lot like, “Your problem is simple and doesn’t really measure up to the “harder” problems in life that people go through, so just put a smile on your face, set some goals, say your prayers and get going!”
I can’t think of a more un-motivating statement for a person struggling with clinical depression. There are many more reasons why some people act like it isn’t a big deal. My advice? Work on not holding it against them. Know in your heart that this person still loves you and if they really understood what you were going through they would be there for you. It’s hard not to become bitter and distance yourself when someone you love reacts in a way that hurts you. Suddenly you start questioning your relationship. Your automatic response is, man, I thought he/she would for sure be there for me! Now when I need them most, they just don’t understand me or my situation. What good is our relationship then if they can’t help me now?
However, just as it would be foolishness, when you are thirsting to death, to go to an empty well, crank as hard as you can just to get nothing out, and then return the next day to the same thing. It would not be wise to keep opening up to people that don’t understand it. It’s too harmful to you. Like I said before, don’t assume these types of reactions mean people don’t care about you or what you’re going through, but they don’t know how to handle it and they just don’t understand. BUT, you need people who can validate you and understand you when it comes to a problem like this.
Identify people in your life that can support you or go find people that can
I used to think that in order to maintain a close and healthy relationship with people you had to know EVERYTHING about each other. You share every detail all the time. Well sometimes it’s healthier not to, ESPECIALLY when it comes to depression.
This is what I’m working on understanding:
Identify the strengths of the people you rely on the most, and turn to them for the things they are best at. Some are listeners, some understand things really well, some are open-minded. Focus on their strengths and don’t hold their weaknesses against them (E.G. not understanding why you are feeling the things you are feeling right now). My advice, don’t cut yourself off from the people in your support system that don’t seem to understand what depression is like. You love these people and they love you. They can be a gold mine of laughter or a diamond cave uplifting your thoughts when it comes to other aspects of your relationship.
HOWEVER, like I said before, it may be the case that when it comes to depression they don’t really know how to help so don’t keep going back expecting them to understand. It will probably end up being a frustrating experience for both of you.
Well here we are back to the question of what if I keep hitting dead ends? What if I’ve gone to every person I consider close to me and still feel misunderstood? Then my friend, you’ve got to reach out. It’s not easy, it wasn’t easy for me, but having people in my life that truly understood and validated what I was going through made all the difference. So who might some of these people be you might ask? It’s been my experience that counseling with a professional is a REALLY good idea and a really important person to include in your support system. They do a fantastic job of making you feel understood. Like what you’re facing is real. The best part isn’t that they just listen, they give you more understanding and skills in facing it effectively. It took me a couple different therapists to find the right fit for me, but I finally did and she’s taught me so much and brought so much peace and understanding into my life. It’s not scary, I promise. After you go you’ll wonder why you didn’t go sooner. Give it a chance, I’m SO grateful I did. I’m a huge fan.
One drawback to therapy is that it can be a little expensive. NAMI, The National Alliance for Mental Illness is a wonderful resource that offers community classes and group therapy in many if not most communities. Best part, it’s free. Go to this link to find out more. Someone else that might be helpful would be a clergyman that you trust, not necessarily for counseling per say, but he’ll likely know of some good resources and will be able to point you in the right direction.
There are people that can understand you if you don’t already have them in your life right now. I know it! I went for a couple years feeling so separated from everyone else. It can be very destructive to you and to the people in your life. Be good to yourself, you’re doing the best that you can. Come to terms with where you are and what you’re facing and humbly accept that you need help. You’ll be so thankful that you did. Be mindful of who you talk to about the things you’re experiencing with depression and remember that the people that don’t understand it love you very much. Appreciate what they offer and don’t cut them out of your life. I know at times depression can take over your world. I’ve had times where I’ve had an insatiable need for feeling understood with my depression and when people didn’t get it I felt frustrated with them and very disappointed. Then the time came when things got a little easier, when the depression lightened and I felt sad that I held it against them.
Love those currently in your life for all the wonderful qualities they possess. You need them and they need you. If you don’t currently have someone that understands what depression is like, reach out and make a new friend or find a professional that can help lighten the load of depression and go to them for comfort.
Two of my favorite quotes to end on.
“Old friends is always best, lest you catch a new one that’s fit to make an old one out of”-author unknown
“The blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one’s deepest as well as one’s most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely. Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.” -Dinah Craik