10 things your depressed loved one needs to know

A photo by Volkan Olmez. unsplash.com/photos/wESKMSgZJDo

 

Let’s get one thing straight: Depression is very real.

 

It’s a horrible disease that can (and will) take over your life. It can affect if not destroy your relationships. It can cause you to harm yourself and those around you. It can shadow your entire existence.

 

I know this.

 

And I know there are a lot of things the people around someone who is depressed can do to help them on their road to recovery. All you have to do is type “how to help someone with depression” into Google and you’re presented with a plethora of sites with advice on how to help someone who is suffering from this horrible disease. Some are more helpful like THIS, and some are less helpful, if not downright patronising like THIS.

 

What these sites don’t tell you, is how hard it is to be that someone who is helping a depressed person overcome their illness.

 

You see, depression is not a solitary disease, even though someone who is suffering from it may feel like they are alone in the world. The humankind are herd animals and we all have people around us, be that family, friends, a significant other, colleagues or whoever. Unless you live in a cave in the mountains as a recluse hermit, you have people around you. Depression does not simply only affect the person who suffers from it, it affects those the person suffering from it comes in contact with.

 

There is plenty of advice what people can do to help a depressed person along, but there is no advice on how the depressed person can help those around them to understand their condition, a kind of a help-me-help-you guide.

 

And before anyone gets their knickers into a twist and accuses me of “not understanding depression” or “expecting unreasonable things from those who suffer from this crippling disease”, you should probably know this: I am a survivor. I am not going to patronise anyone and say “I was depressed and then I got better” because frankly, no one ever “gets better” like they got over a flu or a migraine. They survive. Yes, it got so bad I couldn’t bear to leave the house, I was heavily medicated and went through years of therapy. But I survived. And I wish someone had told me then what I know now, even if I didn’t want to hear it or couldn’t fully understand it. I wish someone had told me how I can help those who are trying to help me.

 

If you are a family member, a friend, a spouse, anyone who has a depressed person in their lives, you need to hear this and they need to hear it too.

 

***

Dear Depressed loved one:

 

1. We choose you

We know you didn’t choose to be depressed, but did you know we didn’t choose it either. We know you don’t want to be depressed, but did you know we don’t want you to be depressed either. We didn’t choose to love a depressed person, we chose to love you. But because we chose to love you, we love you despite your depression. We choose to support the person we love, not the person with depression. We know it’s not easy for you, but please understand that it’s not easy for us either. We didn’t choose this situation and we didn’t choose your disease and we didn’t choose how it affects our relationship with you but we chose you and if it just so happens that you are going through this horrible disease, so be it. We still choose you. We love you.

 

2. Please stop thinking we don’t understand
We know that just because we can’t see your disease, doesn’t mean it’s not there. We know you suffer, we know you’re in pain and we know the world feels like a lonely dark place for you. We know this because we love you, and because we love you we experience your pain through you. When you are in pain, we also are in pain. Please stop convincing yourself that we cannot possibly understand what you are going through and in doing so further alienate yourself from our love which, ironically, can actually aid you on your road to recover. We may not understand the science of depression, we may not know what you are thinking right this very second, but we understand you are in pain. It may be different to the pain we have felt in our lives, but it is pain. We understand pain. Pain is one of those universal things that everyone feels at one point of their lives and it scars us all. You do not have monopoly on being in pain, and you must not patronise us by claiming we cannot possibly understand your pain. We love you.

 

3. You are not your disease

We know who you are. Sometimes you think we cannot possibly know the dark, sad person you are or know your inner thoughts, but please understand this: we know you. You are a person with a personality, opinions, a history. You are not depression. Your personality is not depression. Your opinions on music, art or even world politics are not depression. Your past and how you got to be where you are now is not depression. Depression is a disease you suffer of, not who you are. You ask us to understand that depression is a horrible illness, like cancer of the soul, and we hear you and we understand this. But you need to understand that, much like a cancer patient is not their cancer, you are not your depression. It is most likely we knew you before your illness took over and we know that the person you were then is who you are still, you are just ill right now. You shouldn’t be treated with silk gloves or to be excluded from the real world, lest it hinders your recovery and rehabilitation back into normality, whatever that means. Depression is something you have, not something you are. We love you.

4. Allow us to ask how you are

We’re sorry if we annoy you by asking how you are feeling. We’re sorry if you get anxious or angry at us because we ask what you are thinking. But please understand: we need to know. Unless you tell us how you are feeling when we ask you, we cannot know. We don’t want to assume that at all times you are down, low, teary or even suicidal, we know depressed people can experience good days and bad days. If you are having one of those good days, allow us to share it with you and make it even better. If on the other hand you are experiencing a low day, tell us and we know how to adjust our behaviour accordingly. Don’t get defensive and annoyed that we keep asking. You know depression is not like the flu when you can see and hear when someone is feeling better, and you shouldn’t expect us to be able to do so. We love you.

 

5. Allow us to push you

We’re sorry if you feel we are being unreasonable if we push you. If we arm-wrestle you to come to a party, to a dinner, to our house for a cup of tea. We don’t mean to annoy you or make you feel worse. You see, we love you and we know that if left to your own devices you probably wouldn’t do anything or go anywhere, you would sit alone with your dark thoughts. The world did not stop turning because you have depression and we want to remind you of this. Forgive us if our well-intended attempts at this are sometimes clumsy or if we fail to notice that we’re going about it the wrong way, and know that we love you and we are trying our best to help you. We want the best for you and we know that when you’re a sufferer of depression, you have very little push in yourself. We want to push you to do things, to say things, to see things because we know you will not push yourself. It’s not because we don’t understand you, it’s because we do understand you and your condition and we want to help. We love you.

 

6. Allow us to help you

Please understand that when you deny us the chance to help you, you hurt us. We love you, and we want to help you. We are your family / friends / loved ones and if we were hurting, you would want to help us. Put yourself in our shoes for a moment, as you so many times ask us to do for you. If we were in pain, scared and lonely, would you not want to protect us from anything that would cause us harm? The same principle applies here. Please don’t think this somehow changes because you have depression. When you deny us the chance to help you or comfort you, you are denying us the chance to show we care about you and love you. And that is very painful. We would never want to hurt you, and you should not want to hurt us. We know that our faint attempt to solve the problems you have or find something that will help you along your way to recovery may be annoying and you may feel it can’t or won’t work or that it’s pointless, but allowing us to help you is an act of kindness from your part – and we are entitled to acts of kindness too. We love you.

 

7. Allow us to be honest with you

When you are being unreasonable, hurtful, or a right pain in our backside, we will tell you. We need to tell you, because we cannot live our lives walking on eggshells around you or pretend like you don’t hurt us sometimes too. We cannot allow you to think that you are not responsible for your actions, even if you do have depression. If we were jerks to you, you would expect us to acknowledge it and to apologise for our behaviour. Same principle applies to you. If you are a jerk to us, you need to acknowledge it and apologise. Your depression does not make you a jerk, and using your depression as an excuse for your bad behaviour is unacceptable. Your depression has a lot to answer for but it does not make you a jerk. Don’t be a jerk. However, if you temporarily are one, acknowledge it, take responsibility for it and apologise. We will forgive you. This is also preparation for if or (hopefully) when you recover from your illness: If no one has ever challenged you for hurtful or unacceptable behaviour you will never learn to recognise it and you cannot function in a normal society without ever having to face the consequences of your actions. If that were to happen, it may be a shock to your already delicate system. We worry that if you are forced to face your shortcomings when you have not done so before, may be the proverbial straw that breaks the camels’ back, and you may slip into depression again. We don’t challenge you on your behaviour because we’re jerks; please believe us when we say it is for your own good. We love you.

 

8. You need to assure us of your love, too

We know that you need to be reassured that we love you despite your condition. We know you sometimes feel like nobody loves you; this is when we will step in and tell you we do. But we need that too. You may not know this, but it is exhausting to constantly remind someone that they are cherished and loved when we sometimes have to question whether we ourselves are. Yes, we know that your depression can make it difficult for you to express that, but if that is the case you can tell us in many ways. You can tell us to our faces, via text, in a letter, by doing the dishes if you know we’ve had a hard day at work and will be tired when we get home, but you need to tell us. Just because we are not depressed doesn’t mean we don’t need to be loved back. We understand that your depression makes you want to push us away and we can handle that, as long as we know it is your depression that is making you do this and not the lack of love you have for us. If expressing your affection towards us doesn’t come naturally, make a calendar entry to remind yourself to do this. Make a point of periodically telling us you love us back. We need it. We love you.

 

9. You are selfish

We know it’s hard to hear, but yes, you are selfish. It’s not your fault; it’s because depression is a selfish disease. It makes it seem like the whole world is out to get you, and everything becomes about you. How will you cope, how will you feel, how will you react. We diminish in the presence of your depression, not because you choose to do that but you are so deep in your own head and your own condition you don’t always notice that we also have feelings. We also have stuff going on in our lives and sometimes, it’s not about you. Sometimes we don’t have time to be there. It doesn’t mean we don’t love you or that we are rejecting you, it just means that as much as we would like, we cannot be at your beck and call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have our own lives as well, and for us to be able to support you, we need to keep them in order. We need to work, we need to sleep, and we need to do other things than cope with your depression. It doesn’t make us love you any less and in fact, it helps us to help you better, because we are rejuvenated and ready to tackle the world just to make you feel better. We love you.

 

10. Understand it’s hard for us as well

You are not in a vacuum, and neither is your depression. It spirals into the lives of your loved ones and it can be hard for them. It’s painful watching your loved one go through something emotionally crippling without having any concrete methods of assisting them through it. We know we cannot magic your depression away but boy, do we want to. We feel helpless, insufficient and powerless. We know you feel like that too, but it doesn’t mean we don’t also feel that way. And sometimes, the darkness of depression can creep into our lives as well and we may get sick. Please acknowledge that this is a possibility and understand that we love you so much we are willing to risk getting ill ourselves just to help you. You do not have monopoly on having depression, as you know, anyone can get ill. We may get ill too.

 

But above all, we love you.

 

Sincerely yours,

 

every loved one in the world who has ever supported someone with depression

 

***

depression-2

  • When I was really really ill with my depression I had absolutely no idea how selfish I was, and I look back on some of the things I said/did with absolute horror. I had no idea that I was like it, and it’s true, I was selfish. Now, I feel totally different, and I enjoy giving back to people

    Steph – http://www.nourishmeblog.co.uk

  • Thanks for sharing your insights. There are not many articles about the relationship to depressed people. It’s mostly only about the concerned person.

  • This was so touching, I sometimes feel sad and as soon as I talk to someone I feel better, so I can only imagine how important it is to love someone who is depressed

  • Maikelsworld

    Depression is such a terrible disease, crazy how it happens

  • Beautiful post <3 I don't have depression, and neither does my boyfriend, but I suffer from anxiety and I think most of this is true for people with anxiety as well.

  • Ree

    This is so very very touching. What a great post. I can relate to a lot of this. Thanks so much for being so honest and open Ree Love30

  • Jasmin N

    Loved this post! This is a great way to raise awareness with these things.

    ~ Jasmin N
    littlethingswithjassy.blogspot.fi

  • What an insightful post. Thanks for sharing

  • What a great post. Shows me about others perspective in their own relationship that is completely different to mine.

  • This is a great post I really loved reading it. As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression I always feel so guilty about what I put my partner through but this post really put things into perspective and realise that things aren’t as bad as my brain lets me believe, and i have an amazing partner who puts up with my crap and pushes me to do better.

  • Depression is real and more people should get educated on the matter. You cannot dismiss it or simply say maybe try not being depressed? Great post!

  • Ron

    Great post. I do not think I have depression (I refuse to really admit that) but I battle daily with anxiety. I have general anxiety and sleep anxiety. Sometimes, I get panic attacks where I’m left confused with what I’m feeling. My heart would palpitate and I would pace around. There are times when I can’t sleep and will be awake for more than 40 hours. However, I know that I am in control of my body and my mind even when it’s hard to do so.

    My saving grace is the love of my life of course. She’s always there asking, “what can I do for you?” “what are you feeling?” “how can I make this better?” At first, I would always answer several time, “I do not know.” But as the panic attack goes on, as thoughts of sadness, panic, anxiety, stress goes on, I just end up talking about what I’m feeling bit by bit.

    My suggestion is (for those who know people with depression or anxiety) is be there for them and don’t leave their side. People who have anxiety or depression may not verbally tell you they need help or just companionship but they do.

    I am still struggling with anxiety and I refuse to be on meds and am quite prepared to talk to a professional. But at the end of the day, I say my mantra out-loud: “I am in control. Some of my stress, worries, anxiety are exaggerated and some are not even real. Some of them are real and I’m working to fix them. I may not be able to fix them overnight but I’m working on it. I am in control.”

    Great post! I hope this post help more people!

    Ron | Nearby Wanderer

  • Great post, as some who suffers depression this post was very informative. Thank you x

  • Laveena Sengar

    I liked every bit of this article. It is actually true that not everything can be googled. These are some great suggestions 🙂

  • Love this helpful and affirming post. I agree with everything you wrote!
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  • As someone who struggles with anxiety, but is dating someone who has had bouts of depression in the past, this is a really helpful and affirming post.