My apologies for both missing our rendezvous last week and being late this week. Last week was finals week for me, and even though I was finished I slept most of last week except for when I was hungry and had to go to work. Yesterday, I was enjoying my last day in a state that I do not live in for vacation and was either out hiking 4 miles uphill (my everything hurts) or I was in the car for an excruciatingly long time. Next week, I shall have pictures for you and some recap of my adventures in another state!
This week, however, I wanted to talk to you about something that has been weighing on my mind lately and I felt I needed to speak about it. I’m not sure why I’ve been thinking about this so much… maybe because it relates to me a year ago or maybe one of you needs to read this… Either way, I’ll be talking to you about depression.
No, I’m not going to go ranting about how depression affects everyone. There are not going to be any stats on this post, so if you’re here because the Internet search brought this post up for your research project, turn back now and go look at something credible, like MayoClinic or something. I’m not writing this for empathy or sympathy, though I won’t brush it off if either is offered. I’m also not going to tell you that I think as a Christian that depression is a load of crap and shouldn’t be taken seriously because the people affected need to either suck it up and rely on God to make it go away or they’re faking and trying to get attention. I want this to be an encouragement to you for those of you who are going to read further and understand exactly what I’m talking about. For those of you who don’t, I’m giving you this post to show you that depression is a real problem, it is horrible, and I’m never going to wish it on anybody so they can experience it but maybe by reading this post you can get a better understanding of what it’s like and how to help.
Almost a year ago, I was unknowingly about to enter in to one of two rounds with depression. The first round lasted about a month or so, but the second (or maybe it was the first round that never really went away but lingered) lasted longer and was more difficult to get rid of. I’m better now, though I still have some days every now and then when I have to control my thoughts and my actions to keep myself from making myself depressed again. It doesn’t matter why I was depressed. That’s not the point of this post.
Before I go further, I want you to get an idea of what I mean when I say “depressed”. I don’t mean incredibly sad but still able to function. I don’t mean I had a bad day and was feeling down or insecure or unhappy with my lot in life. I mean I was sad, but not the usual sadness you feel every now and then. I felt numb, like something could have sliced my arm off and I wouldn’t have felt it. I was numb, but at the same time I felt keenly aware of how sad and upset and utterly empty I felt. If you’ve never felt this way, good. I hope you never do. But if you have, you understand that while I can try and describe it, there’s really no way to convey how I felt nothing and something at the same time. My thoughts would not shut up. Sleep would not help, it just made it silent for a while. At my lowest point, I had no interest in anything, not even breathing. I would wake up early in the morning and lay in bed for literally hours, trying to make myself get up and do the things that I needed to do like homework. I felt smothered, like a blanket I could not figure out how to throw off had settled over me and was trying to suffocate me. I was exhausted from trying to stay positive around others because I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like letting others know when something is wrong with me. I was able to go through the motions of life because my life at the time was routine– sleep, school, work, sleep– but everything seemed tinged with grey.
I know I had a less intense form of depression. I never cut myself, I never seriously thought about dying, but it was still awful. I desperately wanted to feel something besides emptiness and sadness, and the times I felt genuinely happy I held on to for as long as I could because once they were gone I felt nothing again.
I eventually got better. I now remember what it’s like to be happy about something and am frequently laughing again. I can enjoy again a baby’s laugh or the sunshine or hanging out with people. I came out stronger, though I never would want to endure that again.
How did I get better? Listen carefully, because this is the real intent of this post. If you know what I was talking about above, I’m sorry. I love you and I want you to get better and I’m going to try and give you ways that helped me so maybe they can help you. If you don’t, I’m very glad. Read this next part for ideas about how to help someone with depression, because I promise you even though we may act otherwise, we want help. We can’t figure out how to get rid of it on our own and it makes us feel worse because we feel like weak failures. For the words of encouragement, I’ll write in this normal text. For those who want to help, I’ll write in italics.
Talk to someone. I know it’s scary. I know it’s going to be uncomfortable, admitting to something that may seem like a way to get attention. But talk to someone. It doesn’t always have to be a professional. I talked to two people who were not related to me about what I was dealing with. They loved on me and prayed for me and didn’t try and help me get better right then and there. Don’t try and get better alone.
If you are talking to someone with depression, please don’t tell them things will get better soon. They will see right through that and feel worse because to them, it seems like everything is never going to be okay and the fact that someone else can think that makes them feel guilty for feeling badly. Sometimes saying absolutely nothing is the best thing. One of my friends would talk when I needed her to, and at other times she was perfectly silent and let me cry or rant or do whatever. The very fact that someone was there and wasn’t uncomfortable made me feel more relaxed and able to feel a little more hopeful.
Keep a jar of happy memories. I saw this idea on Tumblr, I think. I took an old animal cracker container and grabbed a bunch of post-it notes. Every day, I wrote down something good that happened during the day. Some of them were out of the ordinary, like “School let out early!” or “A guy in drive-thru told me I was the nicest person he’d talked to all day”. Some of them were about me hanging out with my friends or snuggling with a baby in the nursery at church or seeing my favorite high-school teacher who was thrilled to see me. But on bad days, the most I could write usually looked like this: “…we closed early today and I was able to get some sleep”. Seriously, that’s in there. Keep a jar, a notebook, a blog, whatever, but look for the happy moments. They don’t have to be significant. It can be something like, “Got out of bed” or “Didn’t self-harm today”, but make it a moment to remember so when you feel like you can’t do it later, you can look back and see that you’ve done it before. It will also remind you that the little things in life can be happy things, too.
If you know the person you want to help is depressed, don’t walk around pointing out every detail. I know and they will know you mean well, but depression sucks all interest out of life. We will really not care because to us, a sunny day looks less sunny when we can’t even drag ourselves out of bed. But be encouraging. We often feel like we’re alone and no one sees what’s wrong with us and no one understands. Even if you’ve never been depressed, you can still be encouraging. Do they self-harm themselves? On days they resist and don’t do it, praise them! Tell them how proud you are of them. Give them something to add to their happy memory bank by hugging them tightly or giving them their favorite ice cream flavor or watching a movie. It will feel like you’re doing nothing, but I promise you that they will appreciate not being alone.
I know this is a long post, so to keep down on the novel I appear to be writing, I’ll make these next ones shorter:
Hang out with cheerful people. Misery loves company, and you aren’t helping yourself by hanging out with people who can’t help you.
Send them a friendly text message or leave a note on their work station. Not like, “Have a wonderful day!”, because they won’t, but more like “I love you/think your’e awesome/etc.”, “I know things are tough and I’m praying for/thinking about you”, “You look nice today”. A friend of mine sent me Bible verses for a couple weeks and I saved every single one of them.
Don’t be afraid to cry. You’re sad, dangit, let the sadness out!
Let them cry all over you.
Watch birds and squirrels for no other reason than they’re funny to watch and they are cute.
Take them out of their house/apartment/wherever they are. Break they’re routine. Go out for ice cream or to see a movie (not The Fault in Our Stars just yet) or to simply go to the park and hang out.
I hope this helps. To those of you who understand what I’m talking about and what I mean when I say “depression”, please believe me that it will get better. I’ve done it and come out the other side stronger. Don’t give up. You can do this.
For those of you who want to help, don’t you give up either. I know it can be frustrating and tiring and you can feel helpless, but keep at it. They need you to be there. It’s not good for them to be alone and to suffer by themselves. Provide that ray of sunshine they need to see that the clouds aren’t always blocking the light.
See y’all next week.