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.