In order to end the stigma of a mental illness such as depression, people need to try to understand what the person who is ill is experiencing, but that can be the most frustrating part since to the observer it makes absolutely no sense. Because the illness affects mood, it is often assumed one can simply “snap out of it” or it is often advised that one “stop and think about all they have to be grateful for” and realize “there are so many others who are worse off.” Hearing this is maddening and what I believe to be the #1 misconception about this disease and how to help. Many of our loved ones will say things like this with the best intentions because most likely they are feeling helpless about what to do. I need to make this very clear — saying those things does not help. As a matter of fact, it ultimately causes the person to become consumed with guilt and shame. Intellectually they agree with you and they know their circumstances on the surface should bring a sense of joy. But no matter how hard they try to convince themselves, it does nothing to help the despair.
Let me attempt to describe it to you. Imagine a beautiful spring day, the flowers around your brand new house are blooming, your supportive husband who loves you very much is asking you if you want to come outside in the sunshine (which all the research says will make you feel better but you don’t care) to play on the trampoline with your amazing kids for whom you are so thankful, and that sweet invitation instantly makes you want to curl up in a ball and die. They look at you helplessly as you tell them it’s okay. Maybe you’ll be out soon, but you know you don’t really mean it because once you are alone you can finally succumb to the darkness. After they go outside laughing, you painstakingly make your way to your bedroom, pull the shades to block any light that may mock you and crawl into bed. Despite the heat you close the windows since hearing their laughter is a brutal reminder of what you are once again missing out on. You want more than anything to be right alongside them, but you know that’s impossible.
Your thoughts become chaotic and muddy. You know there is no way you can communicate that to anyone, especially since it’s exhausting to speak. The thought of having to take one more breath is excruciating as your body feels paralyzed except for the agitation coursing through your veins, passing from one cell to the next like a row of dominoes. Ripping your hair out is the only thing that sounds appealing. You feel as if you’re going mad so you squeeze the pillow over your ears in an attempt to suffocate the disorder in your brain. You wish more than anything you could be magically transported outside to your family to laugh in the sunshine as you once did, although it seems like decades ago. It’s hopeless. You hear the voice inside your head telling you it will never get better and there is no point in trying because you’ve already failed. You begin to sob because there is nothing left to do besides pray that the mattress will just swallow you whole and put an end to your misery.
Imagine living this way. Would you look forward to the morning knowing it will most likely happen again? And even if perhaps you wake up and the fog has somehow lifted all you can think about is it coming back. Your preoccupation with it all makes you seem even more aloof. Some people even attribute it to you being ungrateful or write you off as a negative person. This hurts even more because in all honesty you are terrified inside, don’t know what to do because no one gets it and you just keep praying God will make you disappear. You wish for one second those around you could know what it feels like, yet you wouldn’t really wish that upon your worst enemy.
If you know what this feels like, I empathize with you. I used to hate reading about people who have overcome depression because I did not believe it would ever be possible for me — but that’s the disease talking. That’s the nature of the beast. But you are stronger than it even though you probably feel anything but strong.
If you know someone battling this illness, please realize they are not sad. They are not depressed. Just as people are not cancer – they are battling cancer – they are suffering from an illness called depression and it does not define them. Remember that they want more than anything to make it stop and the best thing you can do for them is let them know you care, and when they tell you they don’t believe you, tell them again. Tell them you believe in them and they are important to you. You are not going to abandon them no matter what. When they try to push you away, tell them again. When they don’t answer you or look at you, tell them you are still going to be there. This is the first step which is so difficult and scary for all involved. But it will make a difference even if it doesn’t seem that way. If your loved one is suffering just be there, go tell them you will fight with them and you support them no matter what! When one’s brain is not functioning well, it is nearly impossible to interact properly, so it is critical that you do not take their desire to isolate or their lack of communication personally. It is not personal and that is very difficult to understand.
If you are suffering right now — take a chance with me. Close your eyes, imagine God surrounding you, scream inside your head or at the top of your lungs to Him that you need His help right now! Tell Him you can’t take it and that you want to give it to Him. Tell Him to take it away. Whether you believe in God or not, just close your eyes and say it, scream it, cry it and imagine all the darkness going to Him. Say it over and over. You must start somewhere and even if you don’t mean it, do it anyway. One of my most difficult moments resulted in this and I didn’t think God or anyone cared, but I can tell you this, I didn’t know what else to do. It calmed me I was finally able to sleep as the torture went away. Even if it’s only for a period, isn’t it worth a try? And I promise you, those periods of relief will get longer and longer but you have to try and start somewhere. For me, this was the best place to start and it marked the beginning of getting well.