Dealing with depression

If you’re lucky enough not to suffer from depression at some point in your life, the odds are good you’ll need to deal with someone who does. How you handle that will have impact on the sufferer. To which end I’d like to put in some requests, based on things that have really knocked me about on a few occasions now.

Depressed people are hard work. They will not cheer up because you asked them to, they may not get over it any time soon any more than a person with flu will recover because you showed them cute cat pictures. Do not get cross with ill people for things beyond their control. Depressed people are not given the option, actually, to just pull ourselves together and get over it. We may be able to fake viability in short bursts, but that can be costly and is not available to everyone. Pointing out to a depressed person that it’s like pouring your energy into a black hole (I’m quoting, I had that one) is not going to help them. Rather the opposite.

You may find dealing with a depressed person is hard work. That’s actually fine. Ill people are hard work, and when the people we love are ill, we deal with that. It’s a working definition of what love means. If you are a full time carer, or a long term carer, then yes exhaustion is a real risk for you and yes taking care of yourself is important. No ill person who is free from psychotic tendencies actually wants you to martyr yourself for them. The reverse is more likely true: Ill people, be that the bodily ill or the mentally ill, usually fear being a burden. The keen sense of uselessness haunts many people who are unwell. Furthermore illness of all kinds impairs self-esteem, and depression sufferers are likely to have low self-esteem in the first place. If you tell an ill person how difficult you find them, how exhausting and draining they are, you will cause considerable harm. Depressed people may not need much persuading that the world would be better off without them. People die of depression (via suicide), so this is an appeal not to add to that.

If looking after someone is hard, take that to another friend. Go lean on someone who can bear it. We all struggle, and long term illness in someone you care about is frightening and demoralising, and actually they probably know that, but your gift of not making it explicit to them is priceless.

If really what you want from the situation is to have someone tell you how good and noble you are for putting up with this shit, move on. You are in it for your own ego, for pride and self-importance. The odds are you will do more harm than good. If you need the ill person to be terribly grateful, always impressed, always thanking you, what you actually want is them always to be vulnerable and inferior while you get to feel important. People who play that game will go to surprising lengths to keep their victim ill or down just so that they can keep rescuing them. It’s not helpful. Don’t be that person.

If you are suffering because someone you love is suffering, there is no shame or wrong in that, and that pain can be shared in mutually supportive ways. Watching someone suffer and being unable to do anything to help, is hellish. It hurts like nothing else. Owning that frustration can easily be an expression of love. Not owning it, but turning it into something to blame the other one for so that you do not have to feel guilty about being powerless… that doesn’t help anyone, ever.

It is one of the hardest things to hear that you are harming other people by being ill or in pain. When there are things you have no control over and you desperately need help and support, being told you are expensive, a nuisance, a drain and making other people ill is the sort of experience that can leave you wanting to die. I’ve had it happen more than once, and it’s left me wounded and flailing every time. When people are already down, already broken and barely able to function, these extra blows to sense of worth are nigh on impossible to take. If you love someone, you do not count the cost. If you are counting the cost, please consider that the kindest and most responsible thing you could do would be not to mention it.

Thank you.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “Dealing with depression

  • Andrew Smith

    All good points, Nimue. But I will add that being a carer for someone who is chronically ill – mentally and/or physically (often the two go together) – is physically and emotionally exhausting. Carers often have no one to turn to because the responsibility can take over their lives. Friends drift away because it becomes harder and harder to make the time (or have the energy) to socialise. The carer can themselves end up suffering depression but, because they have someone to look after, they feel they have to “be the strong one”, bottle it up and carry on. Sometimes the pressure gets too much and they pop.

    • Nimue Brown

      I did allude to that, but you are absolutely right in flagging it as an issue. The tendency to move away from people who are struggling, to be ‘bored’ by hearing about their troubles, is shameful really. There’s an issue here about how we behave as a community and how we take care of each other, which deserves a much deeper look at some point. We spend so much of our time being bombarded with messages about how life should be easy and painless for us that we are not, on the whole, mentally well prepared to deal with what life actually brings.

      • Andrew Smith

        Another challenging aspect I have found is knowing when to help and when to step back. Sometimes people hang on to their depression because of the secondary gains (the attention they get, for example, or an excuse to get out of things they don’t want to do – all subconscious and possibly not even recognised by the sufferer). And if we pander to the depression, or help unskilfully, it is possible to reinforce the depression by feeding the secondary gains. In fact, even a carer might be feeding their own secondary gains (for example, to feel good about themselves because they have low self-esteem, or because they self-identify as being “nice”).

        There are also so many different types of depression, from the naturally occuring sadness related to grief, for example – such as loss of a loved one, or a job, or health, or a way of life – to a more deep-seated neurosis. With the former, a little empathy and a listening ear may be enough to help the sufferer through and able to get back on to their own feet; with the latter, more intensive therapy may be needed to enable the sufferer to get back on their feet, including mental techniques they can use to get through the dark times (some sufferers benefit from helping others, for example).

        Depression is quite a complicated subject.

  • dmdeluca17

    So hard to see those you love suffer. And so hard not to suffer yourself.

  • I’m just… « Noyade Cerf

    […] Dealing with depression ( […]

  • Nimue Brown

    Andrew, yes to all of those things. It is a vast and complex subject, and I’m chipping away at the surface all too often. The more we talk about it the better. I think the whole issue of hanging on to pain and resisting healing is a very interesting one, probably with a lot of things underpinning it. I’ll see if I can go further with that one at some point. There isn’t enough support for people with depression, and there is nothing formal available most places to help carers and those who suffer it second hand, and I think if we took that broader approach, dealt with it collectively not individually, it would work better.

  • raevenh

    Reblogged this on Where the Raeven Nests and commented:
    I couldn’t have said this better myself. It is a hard burden to bear on both sides. I love my friends and family for putting up with me for all these years and am truly grateful for those that still stand by me. You have my undying love and gratitude. Always.

  • Strongest Minds

    If you wake up with depression every day, time you leave this nightmare to where it belong. You deserve happiness and we can help you! Join our webminar on 9th January 2014

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  • Depression/Mental Health Pagan Links | The Lefthander's Path

    […] Dealing with Depression, Exhaustion, Bees and Depression by Nimue Brown This is advice for people who have depressed friends/family members in their lives- very helpful and not specific to Paganism, the second is social commentary. I also thought she wrote a book about depression, but I can’t seem to find mention of it! […]

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