Depression: A Guide for Loved Ones

Mine started after the birth of my first born.  One of the happiest things that can possibly happen to a person had just happened to me and yet, I cried more than I laughed and felt just too overwhelmed by the enormity of the task of parenting.  I was embarrassed that I wasn't that glowing new mom, loving every ounce of baby bliss.

Since then, I have experienced the roller-coaster ride of being diagnosed with Dysthymia, which is a clinical form of depression that often comes in extended periods of depressive moods and behaviors. I
firmly believe that it is a combination of biological and emotional environment factors.  I have worked my ass off to understand depression, accept that I have it and treat it in ways that work for me.

There is shockingly still so much social stigma around depression and I think the more we talk about it, normalize it and seek to understand it, the more help we can offer our loved ones who experience what can be a tormenting state of being.

But Loved Ones, this post is for you.  This post is a love note to all of you who know and love someone who battles this vaporous illness.  You have watched your Dearest walk around like Dexter Morgan with his Dark Passenger and you never quite feel like you know what to do.

Loved One, this post is for you.  

Having clinical depression can feel like a prison that you cannot escape.  It can swallow you whole until you can't recognize yourself in the mirror or make sense of the thoughts that race around in your mind.

Depression can mean extended melancholy, sadness, tears or short temper.  It can mean low energy and drive, low self-esteem and a low capacity for pleasure in everyday life.  It can mean an unexplainable urge to push people away.  Even safe, loving, patient people like you, Loved One, who only want to draw near and clothe us with your presence.  It can mean seeing the phone light up with your best friend's phone call and you click ignore only to shed tears of loneliness.
Depression wonders if the world is just too sad, too sick, too overwhelming to find happiness. Dreams and aspirations can seem futile.

Depression is constantly rolling her eyes at the Happy Ones, who are just so grateful and so full of awe and wonder over the little things in life. Depression doesn't buy it. Happiness seems like a make-shift mask that your second grader made in art class: it covers your face but not all that well and it makes people feel uncomfortable.

But while depression can muddle feelings together until you don't know which is which, it often comes in waves.  It may feel really intense at certain parts of the day or month or year.  It may be all-consuming one moment and then a fleeting feeling the next.  It can wax and wane in untraceable patterns that differ from one person to the next.  

Loved Ones, do you see, really see, your brother/sister/friend/cousin/spouse who suffers from depression?  Can you see them for who they are even though the fog of depression encircles them?  I know it is difficult, dear Loved One.  I can only imagine your exhaustion as you've sought to figure out how to navigate the tides of depression that have stolen from you the person you love.

But there are ways for you to relate and things you can do for and with them that can become a healing balm amidst the pain.  

Your Dearest wants your love.  She may not know how to say it or acknowledge it or show gratitude for it, but she desperately wants your love.  

Your Dearest needs your patience.  He is not proud of the restraints that depression has put on him. He does not take lightly the way he pushed you away until your good, healthy relationship with him seems like a distant memory.

He needs you to try again, again, again.  

Not because your attempts work to cure the depression but because each time you call, or reach for a hug or make dinner so he doesn't have to, it is a connection that he so desperately needs.

Your Dearest needs you to seek to understand what is happening.  She is not trying to have a sad outlook on life, nor is she purposely finding it hard to get out of bed.  She wants you to read a book or an article or a blog post about what she is experiencing and then she wants you to do your best to be sensitive with what you learn.  No need to take your new-found knowledge and diagnose her or list out ways to try to overcome depression.  She wants you to talk with her about possible remedies but also be okay if she has a hard time applying simple therapies like taking a walk in the sunlight or having coffee with a friend.

Make him a salad with leafy greens.  Show up with a few new house plants to bring life and oxygen into his space. 

Ask her if she will ride bikes with you to the park a few times this week.

Find out what his love language is and then do that! A gift card for a massage, a thorough house cleaning, a card that extensively outlines the amazing things about him, a long chat while sipping tea together.  

Send him funny texts or a YouTube video that you know will make him laugh.  Tell him that you know you can't fix it but reassure him that you will stand by him while he is in the thick of it.  

If she's a student, help her finish her paper.  If she's a parent, pick up the kids without being asked.  If she is a co-worker, offer to take a shift so she can get some rest.  Meet her in her everyday life, in her everyday responsibilities, in her ordinary world that can seem to be just too overwhelming at times.

Don't, whatever you do, feel sorry for her.

Don't pity her for having to deal with this ailment. She is just like everyone else in most ways and it would be a massive punch in the gut for her to feel as though you see her only through the lens of depression.

Loved ones, find support.  You must be tired from trying to understand, trying to do the right thing only to be met with rejection.  Talk to a counselor, trusted friend or find a support group.  Those of us who have had experience with depression know that loving us is not always easy.  You deserve to be cared for too.   

There are many avenues one can take towards healing and wholeness.  But the path isn't straightforward the way we want it to be and what works for one person may not work for another.

Meds can help that guy but make the other guy feel crazy.  Counseling can bring revelation for one person and yet rend another person completely incapacitated.  Holistic healing methods seem to cure one person and fall flat for another.  This is reality and we need long-suffering and creativity and gutsy support to figure out how to get through the haze.  Those of us who have battled against and suffered with depression for any extended period of time can tell you what worked in one season didn't the next. That can be entirely disillusioning.

There is no magic bullet, Loved One.  I know, it is hard to accept because you want them to be happy so badly.  But you must know that no amount of suggesting this or that to them will take it away completely when they are up to their eyeballs in depression.  But when the clouds momentarily part and they are able to find joy in something small, like watching their daughter sing and dance in the front yard, be there for them and celebrate.

And if it gets bad, really bad and you sense they may harm themselves or some one else, please do step in.  Don't hesitate in uncertainty or worry that you might be wrong.  We've lost too many people this way.  Find professional help for your Dearest and then get help for yourself too.  This can be a dark road and you may find respite by involving professionals who can be like lanterns along the path.  

Depression isn't a death-sentence.  It isn't the only thing true about your Dearest.  It is one part of them and recognizing its constraints while also speaking to the other parts of who she is will be a much needed reminder of her true identity.

Do all of this and don’t take it personally when your Dearest still has that far away look in her eye or doesn’t send a thank you card or doesn’t return your text asking if she got your gift.

Do all of this because you love your Dearest.  Because you know that you can’t change this for them but you are willing to engage with patience and compassion.  Do all of this because it is your way of saying, “I can’t make any of this go away but I will sure as hell not leave you or mock you or get exasperated with you as you fight your battle.  I’m in the bleachers cheering and I’ll cheer until I lose my voice.”

Loved One, you in and of yourself, are a healing balm.  Your words, actions, laughter and tears are the substance on which your Dearest thrives when she is laid low. 

Thank you for the work you do.  For the pain you share.  For the bridges you build.  Thank you. 
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