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Depressed Friend or Loved One? What Not to Say

Very few people have ever laid eyes on the husband of a very successful local author. She attends all writing and social events without him. “He suffers from the depression,” she once explained in

a soft voice that still holds traces of her rural Kentucky roots.

I too suffer from periodic bouts of “the depression. I come by it honestly. It’s tough to find anyone in my family who hasn’t been susceptible. Sometimes I think we could do our own “Seek and Find”—Just try to find someone in the family tree who doesn’t struggle with depression. (Hint: Look for that pint-sized first grader who’s defied the odds with her amazingly cheery disposition.)

Anyhow, years of therapy and meds have kept my own depression mostly in check. But when a wave hits, it hits hard. My teeth hurt, my stomach feels like a bunch of heavy rocks have invaded, and my hilarious husband no longer strikes me as funny. Even on the sunniest days, everything looks gray and hopeless.

I don’t talk much about how rotten I’m feeling. I’ve learned not to. Despite the evidence that depression is a mental health disorder, in our individualistic “pull yourself up by the boot straps” culture, much of the advice and comments I’ve received have only made my teeth grind. A lot. Based on personal experience, my advice is to avoid the following statements when dealing with someone who’s depressed:

“Snap out of it.” (Believe me, if it were that easy, I wouldn’t be contemplating throwing a bowling ball at your head.)

“I don’t see what you have to be so depressed about. Think about all the people in the world who have much worse problems.” (I do think about them—sends me into further despair.)

“I wish I had time to be depressed.” (Apparently, you think my life is a lot less complicated than yours, so I’m free to pencil in times to be miserable and unproductive.)

“People are as happy as they choose to be.” (Yeah, I choose to feel this awful about myself and everyone and everything around me.)

“I feel your pain.” (Sure you do.)

Okay, so I’m being snarky. But when folks say these things to me, all I want to do is zing them with a fly swatter.

So what does help? In my opinion, my husband, a very wise man, has figured it out. The poor guy has had lots of practice. Here’s his approach:

  • Offer hugs.
  • Spend more time listening and less time talking.
  • Give up on the fantasy that you can fix this.
  • Let your loved one know that you’re in their corner, for better and worse.
  • Above all, have faith that “This, too, shall pass.”

Thankfully, it usually does.

2 Comments

  1. Suki Saxe on May 9, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    I love this essay. Our shared mother in law always used to tell me, “and this too shall pass”. It was always hard to believe those words at the time. She was a wise woman and I often hear her words, when I’m having a tough time. Live, Suki aka LR

  2. Suki Saxe on May 9, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    Meant to write, love, Suki

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