I have suffered from depression for more than 10 years, my episodes may vary between “today I don’t feel like doing anything” and “I honestly want to die”, it’s always hard for me and it’s also hard for my loved ones who keep trying to make me feel better but sometimes don’t know how. I understand that every case of depression is different and that this advice may not work for everyone, and I know that most of the times, professional care is needed, but I also believe that it is important to have your loved ones supporting you. This is a list of things that work for me while I’m in that “dark place” and trying to get well.
1. Ask me for help.
Small favors (helping you to find something on the internet or to paint your toenails), a reason to leave my bed disguised as “I need you, only you can do this for me”. When I’m not feeling well, I might not be willing to do things for myself, but I will definitely make an effort to help my friends and family. Also, helping you with something small will make me feel useful.
2. Invite me to work on a project.
Something that requires a little bit of perseverance. Tell me you want to grow an herb garden and invite me to help you take care of it. I will now have a reason to get up and water it at least every other day, and when it finally starts growing I will be able to see the results of my efforts and feel accomplished.
3. Make me argue.
When I’m feeling down, my mind is my worst enemy, and nothing gets me out of my negativity mental carrousel than a good conversation. I’m stubborn and opinionated, so I stand passionately by my ideas. A friend of mine recently discovered that a really efficient way to distract me from harmful thoughts is to pick a topic he knows I care about and use it to provoke me. “I think Darwin was mistaken” is all it takes to make me jump and start explaining all my arguments that validate Darwin. In just a few minutes my mind is already in a much better place.
4. Do not talk about it unless I bring it up.
When I’m depressed, every “How are you feeling?” in a condescending tone, is like a punch to the stomach. I never know how to answer that. And when you bring it up, you force me to recognize how crappy I’m feeling, even if I’m doing ok that day, it takes me right back to that scary dark place. On the other hand, if I bring it up, listen to me. Do not lecture me on how I should just stop thinking about it. Trust me, if I could, I totally would.
5. Remind me it will not last forever.
Most of the times, even when I brought it up, you don’t know what to say and feel afraid that every word might upset me and make me worse. One of the scariest thoughts while depressed is “this will never end”. I tend to forget how it feels to be well and I fear that I will never be fine again. So some of the encouragement words that really work for me are: remember that your depression will not last forever, I know you are in a really bad place right now but it will eventually go away and you will be happy again. Those words always calm me down.
6. Do not try to fix me.
You don’t know how to fix me, it’s not your role in this and you don’t even have the tools. Don’t talk about the “success story” you read online about a woman that cured herself from depression just by thinking happy thoughts. That will only put pressure on me, it makes me think “What a loser I must be if everyone can deal with this so easily and I can’t!” and about you, it makes me worried that you might be sick of me and don’t understand me at all. It’s just counter-productive. You can support me, but fixing me is not up to you.
7. Do not take it personally.
It’s not personal; it has nothing to do with you. My depression is not about you, you didn’t cause it by “doing something wrong” or “not being able to make me happy”. I’m not depressed because you failed me as a friend, partner or parent, and if I don’t want to see you or go out with you it is not because I don’t love you, I probably don’t want to see anyone. Don’t push me, a girl who has spent three weeks straight in bed is not “annoying”, it’s alarming, so I really don’t need your nagging, what I need is support and maybe even professional help. If I agree to see you but I’m not very talkative, don’t hold it against me, I’m surely doing a great effort just being there. Be patient with me, you also need to remember that my depression will not last forever and I will soon be the same happy girl I’ve always been.