I hesitate to write and post this blog because I know that people tend to fall into two main categories when someone broaches the subject of depression. The first, they’re sympathetic because they either have it or had it directly impact them and so they feel “sorry” in a way for the author. The second are the people who have never dealt with it and generally wonder why you don’t just down a few dozen anti-depressants and be blissfully happy because everyone has problem so put on your big boy pants (or big girl panties, if you’re a woman) and deal with whatever is causing the problem.
I don’t mean to insult you if you fall into those two categories. I just wanted to say this post will be more informational for those in the second group who might be interested in actually understanding those who struggle with the disease…and could possibly trigger those who are dealing with it.
So, like Green Day’s sixth album, you have your warning.
I’ve suffered from depression my entire life.
When I was younger, I chalked it up to being a moody kid who wasn’t like anyone else around me. A kid who likes Metallica and F. Scott Fitzgerald? Who can quote the entire “Wayne’s World” movie and the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V? Yeah, it’s pretty obvious that kid isn’t going to fit in with the cliques. And while I had a lot of acquaintances and a few actual friends, I was pretty lonely growing up.
There were times I really debated suicide back then. The pain would get overwhelming at times. I would be a total jerk to people as a defense mechanism because I knew they would eventually reject me…while at the same time craving the intimacy of true friendship. I wanted to be popular while at the same time self-sabotaging myself with harsh words, careless actions and an ouroboros ego.
That mindset let to a porn addiction, to isolation, to long hours of self-loathing that provided more than enough fuel for an unending self immolation. The mindset which slowly started to change after coming to Christ, but the depression and the self-loathing in many cases continued unabated. The depression ate two marriages, several jobs, friendships, church families, enjoyable diversions… It was something that always would cycle back in a manner that seemed to go deeper and eat more of my soul away with every downward turn. I’d get into relationships that weren’t good for me and stay in them when I knew I shouldn’t be in them (for a variety of reasons) because I didn’t want to be alone. I’d volunteer for projects I didn’t want to do because I wanted the connection with other humans. Desperation and depression were my Jack and Coke. (Thank GOD I never became an alcoholic.)
It also led to my passion for playing drums and excellence in writing and journalism…they started as elements of self-esteem for the dark soul and later were items that made me realize I had purpose and direction. But I digress…
I look at the day when I finally said yes to an antidepressant
as one of the best days of my life.
Not because it took away my depression…that monster is always around like a thorn in the flesh…but because it allowed me to MANAGE the disease. I can now recognize when the down times are approaching and through therapy with a wonderful doctor in Springfield, MO I can take concrete actions to help myself not go so far down the rabbit hole that Alice won’t follow.
Yet…and this is what I want to touch on for those who don’t understand depression…this doesn’t mean I don’t get times where the weight feels almost too much to handle. When someone is struggling with depression they will have those days or weeks where it’s hard for them to see past the waist high bog they’re traversing that moment. Even for someone who knows Christ, who knows in the end God will bring good of all things for those who love him, there’s no magic bullet to cheer up.
And honestly, a Christian who studies the word knows that just because God will bring good from all things doesn’t mean it won’t hurt like crazy to get to that good…but again, I digress.
Many people with depression outwardly will put on the show to hide it but are deeply struggling with the situations around them. I’ll give an example from my life. There have been times I’ve struggled with being single. I’ll go to a restaurant, or church, or a movie or park and see the couples together and it’s like someone is beating me with every view. Sure, chances are they’re not all bubbly and last-page-of-a-cheesy-romance-novel happy, but they’re TOGETHER. And to my left, air. Same to the right.
Eventually, it reaches the point I can’t take it and I have to leave. After a few days of that happening, I just don’t want to leave the apartment because I know what I’m going to see, I know how it makes me feel and I just want to avoid it like any other animal tries to avoid situations or objects or substances that cause pain. However, that isolation feeds the depression and feelings of loneliness and down we go…the ouroboros is back again unless I take action.
So I HAVE to go out. I have to put out an effort to go out to a coffee shop to write a blog entry. Or to go to my favorite sushi place to get an order of food knowing it’ll be packed with couples and families. If I step up and go to a movie, I’ll pick a time where I highly doubt many other people will be attending so I can get in, watch it and get out without looking around me.
And don’t get me started on the times I wish the boys were here with me…I’d be writing this post until 2016.
(Now, to be clear, this is not a constant state…this is just when depression is off his chain and coming at me…)
So when you have a friend like that, or co-worker, or girl in your Sunday School class or dude on the softball team, telling them to “suck it up” or “just cheer up” or “put on your big boy pants” or “be thankful you don’t live in Sierra Leone where you’d die from Ebola” doesn’t really help them in any way. (And yes, I’ve been told all four of those things in the last few weeks.)
If you can’t handle it, just be nice and polite with them. Don’t give unsolicited feedback or advice on how to handle their lives. (If they ask, hey, that’s on them. But don’t walk up and give the old “you know, I was depressed once and I…” routine.)
If you have a compassionate nature, if you can handle letting someone lean on you, take the person to dinner or lunch and let them vent. Let them know that someone actually cares about them because many times the first thing the depression monster tells you is that no one really gives a crap about you and if you disappeared no one would really miss you.
Honestly, in our electronically connected at all times world, just sending them a message on Facebook asking about their day can make a world of difference. (You contacting them…not asking after they contact you. The outreach says to that person “you matter enough that I want to know this.”)
If you take nothing else away from this post, understand that someone
struggling with depression is not wanting to be that way.
They’re not wanting to get on your nerves. (Those who do have issues beyond depression…or not even depression…such as narcissism.) They’re just struggling with a very real, very common disease like high blood pressure or diabetes or inability to stop watching the Kardashians.
Approach with grace, attack with love, seek to understand.
It’s the way you can really help someone fighting depression if you want to grab a sword and help them fight.
(Oh, and P.S…if you are struggling with depression, stop being prideful like I was for so many years and seek help from a counselor and possibly an antidepressant. It could change your life the same way it has done for mine.)