Sympathizing with depression

Have you ever watched “The Fault in Our Stars?” You know the super sad movie about the girl with cancer and **spoiler alert** the boy she falls in love with dies? Well if you haven’t it was meant to induce a lot of tears from the audience. Only when I went to watch it I didn’t cry. Not a tear, not even a tug of emotion. I remember my friends who went to go see it with me asked surprised how I couldn’t cry even once through the whole movie. For context I’m a crier. Sloppy, red eyes, running nose crier. This should have been the first sign something was seriously wrong. But no one asked, no one checked in to see how I was doing. And this solidified even more that I couldn’t speak to anyone about what I really was going through.

There were other instances like these when I felt my depression oozed out of me, in the way I spoke or in the actions (or inactions) I took. But many times I felt that not only did my depression make others uncomfortable and not know what to say but many times these friends distanced themselves from me even farther.

I would see those quotes people share about toxic people, how if there are people in your life that are constantly downers you need to get them out of your life asap. My depression would pull me under even further when, reading things like that solidified that I was one of those toxic people. I noticed friends stopped calling, stopped visiting and stopped caring.

I was living in one of the biggest U.S. cities surrounded and squished by people but I couldn’t feel more alone.

I thought about my friend in college who committed suicide and I understood how he could on the surface pretend everything was perfect, be surrounded by thousands of people his age but still feel helplessly alone.

I would get more upset with myself that I couldn’t shake the feeling. The positive self-affirmations didn’t feel real, the weekly church service wasn’t enough to pull me through a whole day without feeling hopeless, I would call friends and they wouldn’t return my calls, I would try to go out during the day only to come back to an empty apartment and with no one to speak to I would fall back into my hole. This continued for a long time after graduation, it would come in phases like a black fog that sometimes would lift and then other times would consume me in a darkness I couldn’t find my way out. The black fog was always there that carried my guilt, my shame, and my fears. One of the darkest places throughout my depression was right before I decided to quit my job. I felt I was losing my independence, ruining my career chances, and ultimately a loser for giving up. But it was the words of two really important people that showed me the way.

One friend the one that maybe didn’t know what to say but knew exactly what I was feeling was always a listening ear. And although she lived miles and miles away she would check in on me and that let me know if I didn’t exist tomorrow someone would find out. One day when all of my problems took a toll on me and probably herself that she admitted that she would always be there to listen to me but as far as helping me there was nothing she could do. She encouraged me to get help.

The other friend gave me some words that I longed and needed to hear. That it was ok to get help. That it was ok to show self-love. And that my life wasn’t over but she was concerned that staying away from my family and my only support was detrimental.

In the big city I needed help, I needed a support system and there was no way I could get it living miles and miles away from them and from affordable professional help. So I sucked up my pride, quit my job and decided right then and there that I would not allow myself to be depressed. I would fight it because my son needed me.

I moved back with my family and started getting the help and support that I needed and couldn’t find. I’m in a much better place than say 6 months ago.

But now the same friend who was so instrumental in giving me that final shove to get help needs me. See if you don’t have it or know someone with it, depression never really goes away. It keeps circling back when you’re at your lowest. And I had to catch myself a few times because as she was explaining to me everything going on in her life I just wanted to scream: “YOU HAVE TO STAY POSITIVE!” I wanted to shake her until she believed it and was like “hell yeah I’m capable”. Because she is. She is capable of so much and is a woman that I infinitely admire and have the honor of calling her my friend.

But those “you just have to get over it” talks do nothing for someone whose depressed. They may work if you’re just feeling sorry for yourself but regularly are blessed with a healthy dose of self-esteem. But depression is different.

After I sought professional help I could match symptoms with my actions. During my darkest times I had lost all interest in music, dancing, and running, I was isolating myself from everyone, I wasn’t sleeping well, while also wanting to do nothing but stay in my bed all day, I felt physically and mentally numb, I couldn’t concentrate, I didn’t want to eat much, I constantly had feelings of shame and anxiety, the blood in my arms would feel like they were popping out of my veins, my heart pounded so fast and so hard I couldn’t think about anything else, and I constantly had thoughts about suicide.

Saying “You need to get over it” doesn’t take away the feelings of ending everything, it doesn’t help you concentrate on what’s important, it doesn’t even give you the motivation to do something you love that will make you feel alive again. Because when you’re depressed it feels like you have no one and nothing to turn to.

The only thing that helped me get through that were the slow changes I’ve made over time.

I moved back to my suburban town so it’s easy to go out for a walk and appreciate nature, I’m able to actually socialize with people, the cost of living is a lot lower and I’m getting paid better so I can enjoy a few luxuries (like putting money in my savings account and my cup of Chai Latte on the weekends), I’m actually able to go to the gym, I started speaking to a psychologist. I had to teach myself to learn my triggers, and to teach myself to show care to myself. Whenever I feel like a failure of a mother or a daughter or a sister or just a person I have to say things like “I’m doing the best I can” and “things will be OK”. It’s easy to say when things are OK, now I just have to remind myself of this when things start taking a turn for the worst. And little by little the fog has lifted.

I’m not naive enough to think the fog won’t come back. But I believe I’m much better equipped to handle it the next time a storm passes through.

But the thing that prompted me to write and what I can’t answer is how was it that when I was so depressed I felt like no one was doing enough to sympathize with me, but now that I recognize it in someone else I’m having a hard time not making the same mistakes.

Why is it so hard as a society to even have a discussion around depression. We know how to congratulate friends over accomplishments but we don’t have the language to speak to someone when they’re in a place so dark a headlight gets consumed in the black.

To my friend who is going through a tough time, I love you. I hope that I’m doing a better job of being there for you. And to everyone who knows someone who is having a hard time coping with a difficult time, I encourage you to be a listening ear, check in on them, and don’t be afraid of recommending they seek the help of a professional. Sometimes that’s all you need to do to show someone you care.

And to those who know what it’s like to live with depression, don’t be afraid to speak out. We can’t allow the shame that’s associated with depression stop someone from getting the help they need before it’s too late.


Photo credit: L Geoffroy via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

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