There is one last thing I would like to address as I wrap up this post. If you haven’t already, I hope you take a few minutes to read Part 1 and Part 2. Even with dividing this post into three parts, I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to talking about depression. My prayer is that by sharing my story, the people in my little corner of the world will begin to open up and shed light on something that has been kept in the dark for far too long.
So, lets talk about interacting with someone with depression…and again, I can only speak from my experiences.
Interacting with someone who has clinical or chronic depression can be tricky. Those who do not have depression cannot fully understand what it is like to be depressed any more than a man can fully understand what it is like to give natural childbirth. You know there is a lot of pain. You may feel sympathy toward, or have compassion for, the person who is hurting, but you have not been in that place nor have you experienced that particular type of pain.
If you do an internet search for “what not to say to a depressed person” you won’t have a problem finding results. Some posts are fairly informative. Some are funny. And some are rather mean-spirited. Please know that I am not coming from a place of mean-spiritedness. My hope is that, as we begin to talk more and more about mental health issues, that it would bring understanding, and help, for those who struggle AND for those who do not, but have a loved one who does. I am also sharing as a person of the Christian faith, so if you are not a Christian, some of these may not pertain to you…but, I hope it will be helpful in some way.
This is, by NO means, a complete list! These are just a few examples of things that I have heard and how, when pushed through a darkened mind, they may be perceived.
“But you seem so happy!”
That smile, dear friend, in the midst of a bout of depression – is a mask. I’ve gotten pretty good at masking my pain. That doesn’t mean that when I smile at you that I’m not being genuine. It just means that because I love you, I know I should be happy. My smile is an attempt, but I don’t get to feel the feeling of happy.
“You’re life seems so great!” or “Things could be worse!”
First, we never know what someone else may be going through. A life that looks great from the outside may be falling apart on the inside (and vice versa). Everyone, at one time or another, struggles with something. Some people are very open about their struggles – others, not so much. And second, chronic depression really has nothing to do with circumstances. Circumstances could be great…or they could be awful. Doesn’t matter. Depression just shows up when depression shows up!
“You should count your blessings.” or “You need to have an attitude of gratitude!”
I do. I praise God for all of the blessings in my life. I love my family! I love my friends! I love how God allows me to minister to others! I love, and am thankful for, lots of things. But like I stated before, circumstances do not matter. Depression does it’s own thing.
“You just need some fresh air and exercise.”
I agree, fresh air and natural sunlight is a very good thing. So is a healthy diet and exercise; however, when your body is wracked with pain and fatigue, rest instead of exercise, is all you want to do. I’ve explained it this way. When I wake up, it feels like I am allotted only so much energy for the day. I have to decide, early on, how I am going to spend it. If I want to exercise that day chances are, I will probably need a nap later in the day, especially if I have plans to do something in the evening. For most people, when they begin an exercise regimen they are tired at first, but then they begin to feel great and have more energy! That doesn’t happen to me. I remain in that tired state, even weeks and months into exercising…and may only drop a couple of pounds. When you are considerably overweight, a couple of pounds really isn’t much of a motivation to continue to exercise. And even as I am eating healthy and exercising, depression is still there…doing its thing.
“You just need to have more faith.”
This one makes me angry. I’ll be honest, I struggle to address this one in a Christ-like manner. (insert very long pause to allow the anger to subside)
Perhaps I am ultra-sensitive to this statement because I have seen, firsthand, how it can shake an already wavering faith. It has shaken my own. A depressed person is already feeling like they are under condemnation…this statement is fuel to the fire. If someone’s faith seems to be wavering, then pray for them and ask God to give them grace, and strength, by the power of His Holy Spirit. And then all you need to say to them is that you are lifting them up in prayer.
“You should CHOOSE JOY!” – or any variant of this statement
Oh, if I could! This is basically the equivalent of me telling someone with a life-threatening illness to CHOOSE HEALING! Should we take steps toward that end? Absolutely! But if it was possible to just “choose” to be joyful, believe me, I would have done it a long time, ago. We live in a fallen world. And yes, even Christians get sick and go through tough times. But I have a high priest who empathizes with my weaknesses. So, I choose to believe in Him and His promises. I choose to believe that God’s got this…that He loves me and will never leave me nor forsake me. And I believe Him for my healing. I will trust in His ways, even when I don’t understand and will continue to grow in my faith as I trust Him. Perhaps THAT is how you CHOOSE JOY!
I could go on, but I think you get the point. You want to help, but it’s hard to know what to say. Even I have struggled with what to say to someone with depression because like I’ve said before, every experience is different.
To those who have a loved one who struggles with depression: If someone is sharing their struggle with you, then please know that 1 – it has taken a lot of courage for them to open up and talk about it and 2 – they must trust you enough to share their struggle. And that’s a good thing. Here are a few suggestions of things you can say:
People with depression, pretty much like every other person in the world, just want to know that they are not alone. The very BEST thing you can do is just BE THERE. When I open up about my pain, I am not looking for advice (unless I specifically ask for it) and I am not looking for anyone to “fix” me. Just having someone sit beside me, and listen to me, is oftentimes the best medicine. Because it shows me that I am not alone; that I’m not crazy; that even though my pain seems so big, right now, I can be reminded that I have someone close by who loves me and will cover me in prayer and support until I am able to gain proper perspective, again.
The battlefield is the mind. We know this is where the enemy likes to attack. Depression is a darkness of the mind. But, God is light and in Him there is no darkness. When I am in the midst of darkness, I just need to see the light. If God chooses to shine His light through you to touch a darkened mind – don’t be afraid. He’ll give you the words to say to be the help your loved one needs. Trust Him.
To those who struggle: Please try to extend grace to those who do not have depression. It is not fair for us to just expect them to know what to say. If they say something hurtful, immediately release it to God and let it go. Don’t be afraid to share your experiences with those who are interested in trying to understand. Allow them to ask questions so that you can help them understand. Who knows? Perhaps they might be the one who God uses to pull you up out of the pit the next time you fall into the darkness.
For those who know me personally: Like I stated in Part 2, I am not depressed all the time. I’m still the woman who loves her God, her family and her friends. And I love to laugh! Even though depression continues to be a companion, praise God, so does my sense of humor! So, when you see me, don’t automatically assume I’m down in the dumps. Just say “Hi” and I’ll try to return your greeting in a way that clearly reflects where I am emotionally. I’m trying to be more honest, but I don’t want that to scare people away. So funny friends, don’t stop doing your thing! If I look sad, that is probably not the best time to try out your new comedy routine on me (just ask my husband). But even then, a good joke (and sometimes, even a bad one) might toss a little light my way. 😉
I would like to say Thank you! to everyone who has taken the time to read these posts. They are from my heart and from my struggle. I hope something here has blessed you. If you know of someone who might benefit from my story, please share it with them. Thank you, again! Be blessed.
– End of Part 3 of 3 –
This is the second post (in three parts) in a short series of posts on my experience with anxiety and depression. I’m not an expert, nor do I have all the answers…but I do know that I am not alone. People who deal with anxiety and depression can feel very isolated. Those who have never experienced anxiety or depression may not know what to say or how to interact with someone struggling with these conditions. So, in my own little corner of the world, speaking from my personal experiences, I would like to begin to remove some of the mystery, and the stigma, of anxiety and depression…especially within the Church. And most importantly, I want those who are struggling to know that they are not alone.