A friend recently sent me an email with an interesting question:
How could I be supportive when you are feeling depressed?
Normally, I would brush this off by saying something like "Don't worry about it." But that's the trap I'm trying to work my way out of. For my own sake, and our friendship, I need to answer her truthfully. She asked a sincere question, and it deserves a sincere answer. So here it goes:
The short answer is that people who are depressed want to be understood, and need to be listened to. I can't, and shouldn't try, to speak for everyone with depression. But this just seems to be a universal truth - I think for all people. There's nothing quite like learning you have something in common with another person. But this is not often the case for those of us with depression. So instead we have to make due with being heard. Without judgement, forced cheerfulness, or advice.
The longer answer is that everyone is different, and so for me there are a set of odd personality quirks that need to be addressed, accommodated for, worked around. So... what can you do for me?
#1 - Talk to me. If I've brushed you off in the past, please don't take it personally. I avoid all social interactions when I'm in the thick of it. Please try again, when you get a chance. I really do like hearing from you.
#2 - Stop talking, take a breath, and ask me sincerely how I'm doing. If I try to weasel out of a straight answer, ask me a pointed question or two. And then...
#3 - Listen to me. Keep me talking. Appear sympathetic. I crave empathy.
#4 - Don't try to fix me. If you have advice for me, or some other way of helping, ask before blurting it out.
#5 - Don't be too overly concerned. I'm not now, never have been, and never will be suicidal. I realized long ago that I love this life too much to just chuck it. I'm in love with my husband, my cats, nature, food, and sleep. Throw in friends and family, books, movies, sunsets, travel, and a dash of hope that refuses to die, and maybe you'll understand that I find it all too... interesting to let go.
#6 - Get to know my patterns. I hate the telephone and almost never use it. When I'm depressed, I pull back from almost all social interaction, especially email. My energy level fluctuates daily, but is always much lower than the average person, so I almost always nap at least once a day. If I expend too much energy one day, I will be groggy and useless the next day. I have lots of different causes of pain to varying degrees, which means I find it hard to sit still. I can get exhausted just from going out to eat or watching a movie, and long car rides wipe me out completely. Also, my memory and speech aren't the way they used to be. Please bear with me while I try to remember the word "lamp."
#7 - Don't cajole me into "doing a little more", "pushing a little harder", or "just go a little farther." My illnesses are real, they drag me down constantly, and everything I do every day is a battle. Don't insult me by thinking you know more than I do about how I feel and what I'm capable of. Plus, I am a world-class whiner, stubborn as a mule, and easy to piss off.
#8 - I know it's difficult to understand me. This might help: http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory-written-by-christine-miserandino
#9 - Call me out if I'm a bitch. I want you to be sympathetic to my limits and my emotions, but I still want to be treated like an adult. You don't have to tiptoe around anything. Always tell me the truth, even if you think it will hurt. Also, I'm very aware that all my crap does not give me the right to shit on other people, so let me know when I screw up or upset you.
#10 - Don't ask me anything that you don't want an honest answer to. But if you find yourself overwhelmed by what I'm saying, let me know.
#11 - Get me outside. Even a trip to the grocery store helps get me out of the house and my own head.
#12 - Be patient with my sense of humor. I say bizarre, morbid things. I say the worst possible thing in delicate situations, or just the opposite of what I mean, as a joke. I think my life is one giant cosmic joke, and enjoy laughing at myself and my predicaments. I give good blank face/deadpan. I've recently been told I'm the most sarcastic person in the world. If you think I'm joking, 9 times out of 10 I am. If I jump around in glee and clap my hands, it's because something sucks. When I say "Yay!", I usually mean "un-Yay *sigh*".
Real life examples:
"Yay, I'm not pregnant," I said. My mom looks at me funny and then asks, "Why is that a good thing? I thought you were trying to get pregnant?"
"My wife has cancer and I just broke my ankle so I can't help out around the house," he said. "Yippie!" left my mouth before I could stop it.
"I'm going to kidnap your child."
"I have duct tape."
"Dammit, is murder really still illegal in this state?"
"We can just beat her."
#13 - I go off on tangents and forget what I was talking about...
#14 - Don't try to cheer me up. Feel free to suggest doing something fun, but never tell a depressed person to "just cheer up." The next person who sees me frowning and decides to tell me that "It can't be that bad. Smile!" gets shot in the face.
Reader beware, I make no apologies for speaking the truth, no matter how shocking. So here's a list of taboo you might see here: sexuality, bisexuality, lesbianism, atheism, ex-Catholic ranting, stories of childhood abuse, wacked-out left-wing theories and philosophies, and feminist thought. And I like the words "cunt" and "fuck" a lot.