I’ve shared here before that I live with depression.
Sometimes I suffer from depression. Most of the time I manage depression successfully. Once in a while, I feel like depression isn’t a part of my life anymore.
But depression doesn’t appear to want to leave me or my life. It’s hardwired in my brain.
And research shows all of the very good reasons depression is hardwired in my brain. My brain not only knows depression, but depression is almost all it knows. My brain actually defaults to depression. I hate that.
The good news is that I don’t have a depressive personality. I am not a depressed person.
I think of it this way:
My brain defaults to depression but my mood, personality and character do not.
In other words, if I didn’t have depression I’d probably be a pretty happy person.
But happy is a tricky word when you live with depression. Happy is too complicated. Happy, when you’re depressed, is like wanting to fly. When you live with depression – at least for me, in my experience – the goal becomes just “not being depressed.”
So, when I don’t feel depressed, I actually feel pretty good. When I don’t feel depressed, I tend to feel like anything is possible and like life is really enjoyable.
And, when I don’t feel depressed, I actually hate talking about depression.
And when I am depressed, I REALLY hate talking about depression.
But it’s helpful to talk about it for the purpose of reducing its impact on my life. My goal in my life – my ONE goal in my life – is to avoid a health crisis. If I could avoid serious bouts of depression, my life would be very manageable and, to be honest, relatively easy.
The problem with my own very personal brand of depression is that it’s like quick sand. When I’m depressed, I tend to use words like ‘drowning’ because it feels like I am drowning in the weight of a very heavy swirl.
The bigger problem with my very own personal brand of depression is that I believe my depression. So, when I’m really stuck in it or headed toward being stuck, I don’t believe what anyone else says.
THAT is the real problem.
When I don’t feel well, my brain says I will never ever feel better. And I believe my brain.
When I don’t feel well, my brain says nothing will ever make a difference. And I believe my brain.
When I don’t feel well, my brain says there are no more options. And I believe my brain.
But there is one thing that works. And the people closest to me have seen this in action. The people closest to me have seen that once I am provided with this, I manage to hang on long enough to survive the heavy swirl. I manage to hang on long enough for the heavy swirl of the drowning waters to recede and, eventually, I even feel like swimming again.
That one thing is hope.
BUT, before you get all positive and full of quotes, let me tell you that hope is a tricky thing.
Healthy people have hope. Healthy people take hope for granted. Healthy people assume the best…that’s hopeful.
So the hope doled out by healthy people isn’t always that helpful for those who no longer have hope or who have lost hope in hope.
I know that for for me, hope needs to take a very tangible form. I need to be able to see, feel and quantify the hope. I need to be able to measure the hope and take from the hope a landmark by which I can measure my progress.
For me, hope is only as good as it is real.
So the next time I don’t feel well, don’t tell me you love me. Don’t tell me to remember that you love me no matter what because love isn’t hope.
The next time I don’t feel well, don’t tell me it will get better, because my brain says it won’t get better. I won’t believe you.
The next time I don’t feel well, don’t tell me to hang in there because I AM hanging in there and it’s ALREADY not getting better, so I don’t know what hanging in there is worth.
The next time I don’t feel well, DO THIS:
(1) Ask what you can do and keep asking.
(2) Do little tiny eensy teensy things that get me through until the next minute or hour or day, because getting through is the biggest part of hanging in there.
(3) Do little tiny eensy teensy things that make my suffering more comfortable because any relief of discomfort provides invaluable energy to hang in there longer.
(4) Let me take a break from suffering. If I’m able to laugh a bit or enjoy a meal, don’t then wonder if I was lying when I said how bad off I was. Look at those tiny moments of enjoyment as signs the depression is lifting, not signs that I’m trying to stay in depression or that I’m being uncooperative or that I just enjoy negative attention. None of those are ever true.
(5) Going back to number 4, know that (4) is really important because healthy people don’t know they do this. I know they do this because I am guilty of doing this to other people when I feel well. Healthy people question how in the world people who are suffering could possibly be enjoying a moment of joy. Healthy people question how a moment of joy is possible if you’re really sick. A good therapist will tell you that moment of enjoyment is a definite sign that enjoyment is possible. And THAT is hope. So shoot for tiny moments of enjoyment and don’t hold them against the person who is suffering. If the person collapses after a moment of enjoyment, keep reminding them they just experienced joy!
(6) Help me keep up with life instead of falling behind. Help me get to work and stay at work. Help me keep up with obligations as much as I can. Help me meet my deadlines. Help me continue being productive. Even if I’m only faking it for a while, not being too far behind is really helpful when I feel better. Anyone who has been sick and fallen behind will tell you that the stress of falling behind is enough to keep you sick.
(7) Come up with ideas of things I can try and don’t be upset when I poo poo them or say I’ve tried them before and they didn’t work. Just keep coming up with ideas and engage me. The engaged brain is more likely to escape its hardwired default.
(8) Remind me that things I’ve tried in the past that haven’t worked may very well work now. Because now is different than before. Now is now. Now is today. So tell me to try something today that didn’t work before. Maybe this time it will work. Anyone who’s been chronically ill knows that things that once worked stop working. It sucks. BUT…the same is true for things that didn’t work before. Sometimes they work when you try them again!
(9) Don’t be depressing. I don’t need more depression. I don’t need you to be weighted down on my behalf. Just be yourself and, if you don’t know what to do, ask me to suggest something you could do. And suggest things. And keep suggesting things. And laugh. And be normal. And talk about stupid things like sports and lotteries and avoiding the gym and how much you wish you had a better job. Your ongoing life engages my hardwired brain.
(10) And last but not least, don’t think there’s nothing you can do to help. Because if you ever think that, believe me, I’m thinking it too. That’s what my hardwired brain loves to say.
P.S. If you’re reading this, don’t worry about me. I’m doing fine. If I’m working, creating art and writing, I am doing fine.
Reach out to someone today who seems especially quiet or withdrawn or absent. I don’t need your extra effort today. Somebody else does.
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