This might be a little unrelated from my other posts, but here goes nothing. How do you appreciate something that you have never truly experienced? How can you understand something that you have never gone through? How do you begin to wrap your brain around something you can’t even visualize? These are questions I started to ask myself as I stood by friends or family who were experiencing depression. I decided to write this piece after I started reading about the anxiety and depression experienced by graduate students. But then I realized, at one point or another, I have either seen or lived with someone going through depression, so I wanted to describe what it looked like and what I have seen.
Having to watching someone you care about suffer from depression is hard. I say watch because that is all you can do. Be there and watch. You want to assure them that you are always going to be there, and that everything is going to be okay, but, as nice as those words sound, have you ever truly evaluated what that will take? Ever asked yourself if you truly can even be there, and if you can, are you who or what they need to get past their depression. I do not know what the right answer is, or what the right thing to do. Supporting someone suffering from depression can often go one of two ways. You can one, help them heal and they might get better, or you can become an enabler and make them sicker.
It is no secret that major depressive disorders are under appreciated or not fully recognized as diseases. This is something that even I was guilty of until I watched it unfold multiple times. I grew up in a small village west of Kenya along the shore of Lake Victoria. A part of the world where there is more emphasis on surviving than maintaining mental health. As a result, there are a lot of children and adult living with mental health problems. I must make myself clear that I myself have never gone through depression, so below is just my recollection of what I have seen looking from the outside in, either as I listen to someone who was going through depression or trying to help them cope.
People must realize that depression is not a choice, nor is it a phase, it’s a sickness with well characterized and defined biophysical and biochemical pathophysiology. Depression presents itself in varying degrees. Some cases milder than others, but, it encompasses more than just a change in mood, it alters your entire life. It changes how you feel, how you think, your interaction with your family members, your friends, and even your significant others. It changes what you think is true, and what is false, it changes what you think is real and fake. It changes the way you eat, if changes the way you sleep. It changes the way your body feel, it affects recovery, bone growth, brain development, and even shortens life expectancy.
The hardest part for me, has been figuring out where I fit in in the grand scheme of things. Looking from the outside, there is nothing you want more than to make a change for the one suffering, to make them feel better. There is nothing you desire more, and if you could, you would wave a magic wand over their head and make the whole thing go away, but the world does not work like that. And so, you begin to feel helpless. With each episode you begin to realize just how little of a “measurable” difference you can make. The situation gets worse when the one suffering sees how hard you are trying, but no matter how much they want to, they cannot change how they feel. Keep in mind that they did not ask to be this way, and if they could they would turn things around. While depressed, they are embarrassed for being the way they are. They don’t want to be dependent on anyone, they don’t want to be complaining all the time, they don’t want to be an inconvenience to anyone. Battling with all these things in their head drives them deeper into depression which only makes this worse.
They won’t deny the fact that they are struggling. They will tell you that its hard, and that they hate what they are and how they are feeling. They will apologize to you for what is happening, and what it must feel like for you. As they deal with their struggles they are thinking about you and what it must be like for you to be going through that with them. If they see you having a hard time they start to feel bad for you and about themselves for putting you through all of that.
You realize this cycle and starts to wonder, or atleast I did, what good am I doing? For some this can be overwhelming, but in the process you have to stay strong. In some situations, you might be blamed for certain things that may have nothing to do with you. You might be told that because you did this, and you did that, I am this way. You might be told you caused this and that. But you must remember that is not them talking. That is what they are feeling.
You might also be told to keep everything a secret making you the only person who sees them through their pain. I mean who wants their business out there. What is happening is already embarrassing enough. They have probably been told they are just seeking attention. Or maybe they are spoiled, they probably have also been told there are bigger issues in the world, other people have quit on them before, it’s too hard. The worse one is being told, why can’t you just snap out of it. I was once asked to think of any sickness out there, anything from a broken bone to an auto immune disease. How would you feel if you went to someone, told them you need help and they said to you, snap out of it? I got the picture, you don’t want to hear that.
The secret to supporting anyone, is that you cannot go down in the pit with them. Its in the very nature of the word. Being a support mean you must support, you can’t support anything if you fall apart. I learned this from a YouTube video I once watched. Think of a boy who falls in a well and you want to get them out. You cannot afford to fall in with them, or you will never be able to do anything for them. So, you swallow whatever you are feeling, and you absorb what you need to absorb, and you do what needs to be done to make the situation better. Or atleast that’s what it feels like you must do. During this time, the one who is depressed will see what is happening, and they will try their best to make things just a little bit lighter, but that will only last for so long.
For that child who fell in the well, if your hand is not long enough to get them out, go get a rope tell them to hold onto it and pull them out. Call the fire department and the police. Call the community and bring together who has the necessary resources to help you help this child.
Lastly, talk about how you feel. The worse thing you can do to someone who is suffering from a lack of self-confidence is to treat them as a helpless child who cannot handle anything. I get it, why would you make things about yourself. After all they are the one that is struggling, but, in talking you build trust, bond which brings strengths to the relationship which will give them what they need to keep fighting.
After countless hours thinking it over, I cannot for the life of me reason out the best thing one can do for themselves or for the depressed, but whatever the case is, talking is key. Talk to each other, talk to family, talk to significant others, and talk to professionals.