There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”
― Laurell K. Hamilton
If you love someone who is depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. They don’t know. Depression isn’t a straightforward, thought-out response to a tough situation – depression just IS, like December’s weather in Seattle.
Be mindful of the darkness, lethargy, hopelessness and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them, day in and day out, until they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a true friend to someone who’s depressed, but it’s one of the kindest, finest and most impactful things you will ever do.
Angel and I have worked with dozens of depressed people over the years, and we have experienced bouts of depression ourselves. One thing I am certain of is that there’s no “one size fits all” kind of advice for depression. The reminders below aren’t universal clarifications, but simple guidelines that will hopefully give you a general starting point for helping your depressed loved one cope and heal, gradually.
1. Depression is not something a person consciously chooses.
When you’re lost deep in those woods, it might take you some time to realize that you’re lost. For a while, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path – that you’ll find your way back any moment now. Then night falls, again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and although it’s agonizing, it’s time to admit that you’ve disoriented yourself so far off the path, so deep into the woods, that you can’t even tell which direction the sun rises or sets from anymore.
You’re not choosing to be where you are, but you can’t see a way out. That’s how depression felt to me when I was struggling through it many moons ago.
Depression is one of the most helpless and tiring emotional experiences a person can live through. Sometimes it’s feeling lost, sometimes it’s feeling despondent, and sometimes it’s feeling absolutely nothing at all. There are times when depression can leave you feeling completely dead inside, incapable of moving and doing the things you used to enjoy. Depression is not just a bad mood, and it’s certainly not something you can just “get over” when you feel like it. No one chooses to be depressed, and no one can turn it off or on in an instant whenever they feel like it.
2. Depression is hard to wrap your mind around if you haven’t experienced it.
Some people may imply that they know what it’s like to be depressed simply because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or lost a loved one. While these tough life situations can lead to depression, they don’t create depression by default. In most cases these experiences carry with them strong emotional feelings. Depression, on the other hand, is often flat, hollow, and insufferable – literally sapping a person of emotion, hope and reason.
You don’t feel like YOU. You don’t even feel human. You’re hopeless and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and desperate and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re “not at all like yourself but will be better soon,” but you know you won’t.
Here’s a chilling quote by David Foster Wallace that brings this point home:
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.
Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”