Loving the Depressed

Note to the reader: When I began writing the Holiday Pain Series, I was admittedly dreading the week about depression. There are a few reasons for this, but the biggest one is simply that I have never experienced severe depression. I have experienced it with others, I have seen people that I love go thru it, but I have never sat in the depths of depression, trying to muster enough strength to begin to figure my way out. Out of respect for those who live their lives depressed, I’m not going to act like I know what this feels like. Instead, I am taking a different approach than I have taken with the other blogs in the Holiday Pain Series. I hope you find peace from this.

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Depression is complicated to say the least. It’s not a respecter of persons, places, or times. You can be at your highest point in life, ready to embark on a brand new adventure and still feel fully and completely depressed. You can have all of the money in the world, able to buy anything and go anywhere and still be in pain. You can be unconditionally loved and still feel completely alone in the darkness.

The thing that has hit me pretty hard lately has been the number of people that I know who are depressed- people that you would never imagine, people that you would think would have no reason to feel this way. Sometimes, it’s hard to be compassionate or empathetic. For someone who isn’t depressed, it’s easy to tell someone to snap out of it or wonder why they just can’t be happy. For someone suffering, it’s not that simple.

Depression has hit close for me. Someone who I love very much once suffered deeply from depression and feelings of extreme loneliness, and my takeaway since then has been very simple: We have to learn how to love people better. We have to be willing to change the way that we love so that people can really and truly feel our love and experience our love.

It’s one thing to know that somebody loves us. It’s another thing to experience it. 

So today, in this edition of The Holiday Pain Series, I want to look at this differently. I want to show the people who are depressed love simply by not pretending like I know what depression feels like. I want to respect them by respecting the pain that they are in.  And instead of telling you what depression might look like over the holidays, I want to offer some insight on how we can support those whose lives have been interrupted by despair.

In the spirit of empathy, I am writing these points as if I am saying them to someone that I love. I don’t want it to sound like a brochure, I want it to sound like my humanity talking to your humanity. I hope that you receive something from this.

You have depression. How will I love you?

I will let go of the expectations that I have created for you.

Your strength might look different than mine. The way you heal might look different from the way that I heal. Your “best” looks different than my “best.” You giving 100% looks different than me giving 100%. In our healthiest moments and darkest moments, we are different, and I will begin to celebrate that. I will release the pressure that I put on you to be me. Starting today, I promise you that I will not force my definitions of healing, peace, rest and self-care onto you. I promise you that my love for you will be secure enough that I will treat you as if you are brilliant- because you are. I will not disrespect you and your journey by forcing you onto paths that you are not ready to traverse. I will work with you to create realistic expectations that nurture your soul, not mine. I will keep your journey about you.

You are breathing and that is forward motion. 

Today you got out of bed, made breakfast and showered. I’m proud of you. That is a small victory and I would love to celebrate that with you in a way that makes you feel comfortable. Because I am cheering for you. I am rooting for you. I am sending positivity and prayers to you. You, in your darkest, are worth celebrating. Every single day that you wake up, you are moving forward. Don’t forget that. Don’t diminish your steps- big and small- on your path to healing. Every inch counts, and I will celebrate every inch with you. You are you, and that’s enough.

Our stories are not in competition.

I promise to not meet your stories with, “Oh my god, me too.” I promise not to cut you off with, “Well what I did was…” I promise to let your story have center stage. I promise to let you be the star of your own life. I will not dim your light with my own. I will not try so hard to connect with you that I make it about me. I will learn the difference between sympathy and empathy. I will not offer you solutions unless you ask for them. I will not try to fix you.  I will not disrespect your progress by talking about my success. I will not try to compare my pain to yours. You are not broken, you are simply working a little differently than I’m used to.

You can be you around me. 

There is room for you here. I’m not afraid of your emotions or lack of emotions. I’m not afraid of you sitting silently while the rest of us engage in life. I’m not afraid of the steps that you take to find peace in my presence. I’m not afraid of your silence or your tears. You can be whoever you need to be when you’re around me. You can be sad. You can be happy. You can be silent. You can talk about all of it. You can come over for Christmas and simply be. You don’t have to do anything except be. Your peace is more important than mine. I will create safe spaces for you to heal and grow. I will shield you from harmful narratives that others may think are helpful. You can come in your pajamas. You can make requests of me. I am not afraid of your feelings.

I will hear and I will listen. 

I am sorry that I have sat with you and only heard you. Today, I will start to listen. I will listen to you when you tell me what you need. I will listen to you when you say nothing at all. I will look to you to help me understand what you are going thru, and when you say that you can’t describe it, I will let that be enough. I will let you speak your truth and will fight the urge to contradict the parts of your truth that make me feel uncomfortable or out of my depth. I will listen to what you are actually going thru, not the story that I have told myself of what I think it is.

Nobody is perfect. From the person who has to wake up and deal with depression, to the person who doesn’t know how to help them, we will all make mistakes and end up hurting each other one way or another. That’s what humanity looks like- us hurting and learning and repeating the cycle until we apply what we have learned.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t try: Try to love, try to help, try to be present.

If you are someone who is struggling with depression during this holiday season, I want you to know something: There have been people in your life who have made mistakes while they were trying to love you. Their love came off as something different: intrusion, disrespect, disappointment, frustration. Please know, most of the time this was probably not intentional.

As we learn about your journey and how you feel and process love and frustration and sadness, we have to change the way that we think. We have to change the way that we respond. And we have to dial back our need to “fix.” This is a process. Be patient with us, but also make demands of us. Have high expectations for the way that we learn you.

What does support look like for you? Tell us what that looks like for you. But also, if you can’t explain it, then tell us that you need time. Show us how to love you, because we won’t always know how to do it on our own.

We are all different, and we feel love and support differently. We have to learn how to love people in the way they need to be loved, not in the way we think they need.

Happy Holidays. I love you.

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