There are some things that only depressives understand. It’s hard to describe to people who have never experienced it before and most of the time too painful.
But today, I’m going to try.
As someone with clinical depression, I fight these truths on a cycling basis. After years of healing and proactive recovery, I’ve grown to be a pro at pulling myself back out of the darkness. As strong as I’ve gotten, however, I still get hit with these issues when I least expect it.
It’s a battle to open up about what we’re feeling or thinking because a part of us believes our distortions are true. To say it out loud would surely break us.
I’ve learned that by letting the people I love in, I give myself permission to heal, and so do you. We get nowhere with silence.
Depression isn’t something to grit your teeth and bear; it’s a malady only love will heal. [tweet it]
It’s my hope that sharing these truths with you, the depressed or the compassionate, will either help you feel less alone or better understand a loved one in your life who can’t speak up yet. Below each truth, I offer how I fight back against the distortions, and also how you as a supporter might be able to support someone who’s going through a low point.
Here are the 5 truths only depressives understand (and how to fight back).
Whenever I sink into a depressive spiral, it’s like I forget how to talk to people, even the ones I love most. I second guess everything that comes out of my mouth. I doubt that I have anything of use to contribute. I’m usually witty and funny, but when I’m sinking, I’m hesitant, nervous or removed. It can make me come across as awkward, fearful or too aggressive, and I usually make it far worse in my head after the conversation we have.
How I fight back
I talk to people who understand what it’s like to have depression first. To hear their recovery reminds me that I’m not always like this. It’s also easier to open up about what’s really going on. I don’t need to hide from this person that knows how I feel. I can be me. I can be heard.
Support groups and therapy are great for this, but if I didn’t have access to those options, I might consider 7 Cups, an online site to chat with a trained listener for free 24/7.
If you want to support someone who might have forgotten how to talk to people, try asking us specific questions (unrelated to our depression). Having something to talk about instead of holding the weight of initiating conversation could help us release a lot of pressure from the situation, making us a lot more comfortable (and probably you, too).
I’ve been told that I come across cold when I’m with people I don’t know. It’s not because I’m mean or don’t want to get to know you. It’s because the energy that it would take to project the first impression I wish to make is too much effort in this state. I’d rather block you out completely than have you see that I don’t have it all together.
How I fight back
It’s taken me years, but I’m finally comfortable not putting a happy face on when I don’t feel happy. I’m ok with not being ok.
Instead I focus on being present and having any kind of connection. Making authentic connections is one of the best ways to come out of depression. When I concentrate on you, the depression thoughts get quiet. I’m better able to remember that there is a world outside of the dark one I’m creating in my head.
I usually focus my connection on short exchanges so I don’t feel overwhelmed by expectations to continue the conversation and thus have to reveal more about myself (which might mean letting you into my pain). For instance, I’ll ask a cashier how her day is going or compliment someone on their jacket walking down the street. Giving love in any way helps me to melt the shell that keeps me isolated, and a grateful smile from them is sometimes enough to break through.
If you’re a depressive’s loved one, have patience when they’re low and try not to ask too much of them in the way of social interactions. They may come across cold, but it’s not about you; it’s all internal. Your understanding may help us let you in.
When I’m really struggling, it’s incredibly difficult to call you, my supporters. Even though I know you love me through thick and thin and you want to be there for me, depression convinces me that I’m a burden, a downer, a complainer. I’m sure that if I call you right now, you’ll see who I really am and you’ll run away. Because I care so much for you, I don’t want you to see me like this. I don’t want you to worry. I don’t want you to know that pain like this exists in anyone.
How I fight back
We depressives expect everyone to know what’s going on inside us, especially the people closest to us. When they don’t have magical psychic abilities, we tend to take it as them not caring enough which is usually not the case.
In order to get help, we have to learn to ask for it. It takes an extraordinary amount of courage to reach out, but it’s well worth it.
That said, It took me a few painful lessons to realize that not everyone is the best person to talk to about depression (or feelings at all). Select your supporters wisely; choose the people in your life that have your back even when you’re not sunshine and rainbows.
If it really scares you to talk about emotions, start slow. You don’t have to give your whole story to this person the first time you talk about it. Simply saying something along the lines of, “I’ve been struggling a little lately. Do you mind if I talk about it?” can do two things: gauge their ability to support you, and prepare them to go into support mode (instead of shocking them with a lot of emotion at once).
For supporters, you probably know when we’re not our normal selves. Please let us know that you care and that we can be however we need to be with you. Being told that we are accepted as we are is the ultimate way to support us.
Please don’t tell us to smile, get over it or suck it up. Let us let it out; just be with us while we do. It’s the only way it will move through and out of us and your non-judgmental presence can help us feel safe.
I turn down offers to hang out not because I don’t want to see you, but because being around people makes me feel worthless.
Depressives isolate. It’s a protection mechanism that we’ve learned through being ruled by fear. When we’re wracked with depression, we interpret everyone else’s reactions as directly related to our self-worth. If someone laughs in the corner, it’s atus. If someone moves on after talking to us, it’s because we weren’t *insert attractive personality trait here* enough. If we’re left alone in between conversations, it’s because obviously everyone else can see what we know to be true: we’re worthless. It’s the only thing we can hear in our heads so we’re sure that everyone else thinks it, too. It’s better not to risk the pain.
How I Fight Back
One of the techniques I used to work my way out of my darkest times is called Behavioral Activation. The simplest way to describe it is “working from the outside in.” Instead of waiting to feel inspired to take action, Behavioral Activation promotes taking healthy actions consistently in order for your mind to come around to wanting to do them (and it does). It works so well that I created an online workout program specifically for people with depression and/or anxiety using this technique as the foundation.
Behavioral Activation might be the only way that we depressives can stop isolating when we’re in the middle of an episode. While our mind will tell us that we shouldn’t be with people, being in the presence of our support system is extremely beneficial for kicking the big D.
Get together with one friend or a small group that you really trust so as not to overwhelm yourself first. It will help you banish the fear of being around people if you start with people you already know you like.
Focus on soaking up the love while you’re with them. Be present as much as possible, concentrating on what others are saying instead of what’s going on in your head.
Usually, you’ll feel better soon after, but if you don’t, don’t stress. It can take a few times to really quiet down the fear of being vulnerable, especially if you also struggle with social anxiety.
For the loved ones, inviting us to hang out no matter how many times we decline makes us feel wanted, which helps us fight back against the depression voice that tells us no one wants to be with us. Please don’t let the fact that we might say “no,” more than “yes,” make you feel bad. We appreciate you more than you’ll ever know.
I know you care about me, so please take my word on this: sometimes I need you to metaphorically knock down my door and force me to hear that you love me.
When we’re struggling just to get out of bed every morning, it’s impossible to maintain perspective on our situation. Sometimes we need an intervention of sorts. Sometimes we need a love shock to help us remember what we’ve lost sight of: that we matter.
How I fight back
This is the one action that we depressives can’t tackle while in an episode. This takes cultivating in between the lows.
The people who will truly be there for you and love you right out of the darkness are the people who you are there for and love first. While not everyone can return the love you give in the same way, you lay the foundation to receive love when you give it out. You’ll discover your personal love warriors when you need them, but don’t wait for the emergency to make contact; be the friend you want to have when you can be.
For those of you out there reading this in order to help a depressive in your life, know that — while it may be necessary to sometimes have a more intense intervention — it often doesn’t take a drastic act to make a difference. All we think when we’re riddled with depression is how worthless we are. If you can tell us over and over again that we’re not, that we are loved, needed and wanted here, we might just start to believe it again.
The bottom line is this: we can’t heal this alone. It takes strength and courage on both sides to pull us out. We’ll try and sometimes even fight to shut you and everyone else out, but the ultimate truth about depression is that we need you.
While our depression will convince us that we’re on our own, we are never alone. There is love for us, even in this state. We just have to be brave enough to let it in.