It’s hard to love someone suffering depression.
Say what? It’s hard to love a person who is depressed, a person who is actually sick and in constant pain?
Let's unpack this idea...
Depression doesn’t have an isolated impact.
If you are faced with someone suffering, who as a result may be unpredictable, erratic, or even contrastingly, trying really hard to suppress their feelings, eventually breaking down in front of your eyes, you may feel completely thrown, confused and worried. You may feel as powerless as them, as negative as them, as sad as them.
In the face of loving that person you will be wondering how to do it, not because they aren’t loveable any more but because they are in pain, writhing with it, and their wounds aren’t visible to you. You don't see it on their body, but you do see it in their eyes, their tears, their raised voice, or their silence. Sometimes you don't see anything because they are adept at hiding all the signs.
So, yes, it can be hard to love someone suffering depression…
More specifically, it’s difficult to know how to love someone suffering depression. It can be logistically and emotionally challenging navigating someone else’s emotional challenge.
We can talk all we want about the nature of depression, how it feels from the perspective of the person who is sick, and we could also talk about the guilt that person feels when they see that their pain is causing others pain. Sometimes people leave their lives behind because they are overwhelmed with their mental health, and doubly overwhelmed because of others reactions to it.
That’s never to say that we indirectly cause someone to make that drastic devastating choice because we fail in how we care for them, but i think we all want to understand how we can love people suffering in a way that helps ease their pain.
For me, it all breaks down to one thing: I don’t want to feel alone.
I have been through these peaks and troughs many times before, and I know from experience that things do, get, better. I prescribed to that idea every time I could have chose otherwise and I've made more beautiful memories as a result of that.
So I know how depression feels, I know how bad it can get, and I know that the consistent thing for me that always made it feel better or worse, was to do with suffering in silent invisibility.
Silent, not because people did not know or that i hadn’t told them it enough to make them believe it was serious, but because in the end I just went quiet because I never got the support I needed from them.
Invisible because it can feel like nobody cares about you, when they know that you are suffering but don’t seem forthcoming in helping you.
Everyone has their own lives, their own priorities, but it would be a very sad day for love and humanity if we all put trivial things before loving those who need it. In fact, many many more people would have died by now if it wasn’t for those who recognized that by loving that person in front of them, displaying the fact they were wanted, might have also been saving their life.
So, being depressed makes you feel alone anyway, and then you are also left with your negative thoughts for way too long if you don’t have the outlet to discuss them, rant about them or cry about them with a sympathetic person.
Then, all of these stirring thoughts are compounded because if we feel ignored or forgotten, we get to thinking, nobody would care if we went.
I have myself said out loud in the past, “They don’t give a shit now but they’ll be clambering to post 'RIP xxx' on my Facebook page when I’m gone”. I deal with a lot of my stuff with dark inappropriate humour...
We all at times feel alone, insignificant and forgotten, but this is about 50x times worse when we are mentally ill.
How to love someone with depression:
Sit with them.
Just being there in their presence can feel amazing to them. Don’t force them to talk, because sometimes they will be grateful just for the company and for the option to talk, or even lean on you for affection.
Speak to them, unprompted, to check in on them.
Even if they don’t then launch into a honest chat about what they are going through, it gives them the option. It also reassures them that another person in this world truly does care and will be a listening ear when needed.
Compliment them, or be forthcoming with acts of generosity.
We all suffer different kinds of depression, some kinds which we might have ongoing issues with, some we struggle with only occasionally, but either way sufferers are prone to having a fragile sense of self-worth. Compliments can come across as shallow at times, forced even, but never underestimate the power of your words and recognize that they are an important part of making someone feel significant, which is exactly what a depressed person doesn't feel. Acts of generosity can involve doing simple things which make their day easier or brighter, and for me, when my mum brings me dinner, knowing I'm bed-ridden and unable to get it myself, I feel better, more in touch with the world, even if its just for a couple of hours in an evening.
Don't make the person feel responsible for helping you understand them, in order to help them.
If you have never ever suffered with a mental health issue it can be difficult to truly grasp the way it affects someone; to understand just how deep the hole is that a person can go down through no fault of their own. This isn’t the time for you to claim ignorance, to run away cause you don't know to deal, when all that person wants is to know you are there and you care; they don’t need you to have first-hand knowledge in order to comfort them, in fact they would never wish that upon you.
But, do be open to learning more, and asking questions.
If a person with depression is in a place of talking about it, or working through it with you, you can absolutely utilize the situation to get a broader picture of how it feels for them. In doing so they will again feel cared for by your display of interest, plus it provides them a space for unravelling their thoughts and feelings out loud. For me, the person I love trying at least 20% of the time to seek out my take on the situation, also helps me to understand their outside perspective, as well as helping me to feel like I don't have to internalize all my true thoughts, as dark as they might be.
Don’t fill silences with cliched advice, or dismissive suggestions.
I’ve seen many quotes here and there about how mental illness doesn’t get taken as seriously as other illnesses of the body, or, it simply isn't understood in its full range of terrible symptoms by people who have never experienced it. Of course you would never tell a person laying immobilized in a hospital bed to do anything other than rest and do as the doctors say. Just as in these scenarios, you shouldn’t tell a depressed person how to handle their shit, or make inane suggestions because you are unsure what to say. Most repeat sufferers know a fair bit about depression, and some have followed all non-medical advice (also often bullshitty) to a fine detail, and still find themselves depressed because these things are only surface level; cliched advice about gratitude journals and taking a long walk won’t penetrate the chemicals that may be out of whack nor do they soothe deep-seated subconscious traumas that might be causing depression.
I am a perfect example of someone actually trying out non-medical suggestions and advice, and then realizing it isn't going to work...
I have suffered and not sought any medical attention, genuinely committing myself to ticking boxes of advice i had read, all whilst knowing it wasn't working. Typically independent and stubborn, this does not diminish in the face of my depression and i am one of those people who try to tough it out.
I myself I have tried to exercise, read,relax, and walk away my illness, tried to dull it, distract it, minimize it.
I don't suggest not giving advice because you don't have anything worthy to offer, and its likely you might, but often a person will discover what they need along the way through their own lived experience, and they will either try everything and fail to fix it, or they will develop coping mechanisms that help during the healing process.
But in the deepest darkest spot of depression, doing all those things which you hope will help, often actually stem the emotions and concerns, pushing them down, until they then return with a vengeance.
You can't stitch up this head wound, but you can tend to it with love.
You can follow all the above points, and still feel as if it's difficult; still feel like you aren’t loving someone hard enough, and that's because you loving them, will rarely in of itself be enough to fix them.
And you know, it isn’t your job to fix them.