In my lifetime I have been depressed many times. Some might say that my depression and career choice (comedian) go hand in hand, and yes I would say to a certain degree they do. The contrast of experiencing ultimate highs on stage to the feeling of worthlessness when you bomb are very tricky to juggle and can oftentimes trigger intense self-loathing at the drop of a hat.
That being said, I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by an incredible support system made up of family and friends that have been there for me when I have (and inevitably will again) bathed in the glory of a bed-ridden depression.
It's very hard to know what to do when you're on the other side of a person dealing (or not dealing) with depression. What if you say something wrong? What if you make it worse? Should you tell them about that article you read about how exercise can help *CURE* sadness? First of all, absolutely not. Secondly, here are some gentle tips on how you can be there for your loved one.
1. Listen to them
I'm a problem solver. It's in my veins to take control and fix things. After dealing with several bouts of depression, I think I finally have a fairly good handle on how to get myself out of it... Plus the thought of getting help from anyone is a horrifying nightmare for me (getting a therapist was a huge step and it might take your person some time to do this!!).
Instead of trying to solve their problem for them, listen to them. Ask them questions. Don't push. Inquiring about why they are sad is okay, but it's possible the person just doesn't know. It could be a chemical imbalance, it could be underlying anxiety they can't quite define yet, it could be a number of things that are simply out of their control. Not quite the answer you were looking for, right?
It might seem like 'listening' is just a nice word for standing idly by as they suffer, but a person suffering from depression is more likely to seek out help if they have an abundance of encouragement and love coming their way. Having someone to listen to them and understand what they're going through can make a world of difference.
2. Hang out with them
There's nothing worse than feeling like you are burdening someone's time and life with your depression. Why would you want to hang out with me if all I am going to do is suck your energy from you? Guess what? They probably are going to suck your energy dry a bit. But you love them, so stick with them and be there for them.
Human contact can be almost like a mini adrenaline kick, even if you don't see the results physically. The less they are alone with their own damaging thoughts, the better.
3. Bring them food
I mean... why not?
4. Don't be an annoying ray of sunshine
This is just a good rule in life. LOLOLOL okay no, obviously don't dull your shine, but use it in moderation. Think of your depressed friend/family member like a puppy who's been brought into a shelter off the streets. They need to build your trust. If you come in yelling "IT'S SO BEAUTIFUL OUTSIDE, YOU SHOULD GET OUT THERE!" you will scare them/make them weary of your presence. Be conscious of their mood. Mirror it with sensitivity. And again, listen.
5. Don't suggest exercise
I'm not depressed currently, but if someone were to 'gently suggest' I exercise, I would point a t-shirt cannon directly at their face. But if you suggest something like walking to the end of the block to get a bag of chips from the corner store, that might be cool. Change the scenery up... but again, on their own terms.
6. Tell them you love them
This is really the only step that matters. Depression can be crippling and in the worst cases, life-ending. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. The thing that will get your loved one through it is knowing that they have you and you have them. The difference between saying it and not saying it could be catastrophic. Be patient. Be kind. Love the shit out of them, because they are physically incapable of doing that for themselves.
This post was first published on The Slant.
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