Memory assistance is one of the best things about blogging. I was looking everywhere for a piece I knew I’d started on what to say and not say to someone who is depressed. When I logged in to update the blog after a nearly season-long hiatus, there was the draft, from July 20, 2014. I’m happy to say that I’m feeling a little more, well, happy, but much of this still rings true.
Many people I know have struggled with depression, but there are some who just clearly have never known what it means to be in a hole and seriously believe you will never get out of it. It’s really not just a bad mood or the desire to rope people into your drama. It’s feeling like there is nothing you can do but feel bad. I get the power of affirmations and community and all that, but when someone in the grips of depression has been sitting alone unable to conjure up that kind of wisdom or the belief in it, there are some helpful and not-so-helpful ways to approach the situation.
Things you should never say to a depressed person:
“Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Duh, the problem is that the only thing that feels easy when you’re depressed is to be hard on yourself.
“Give yourself some credit!”
Um, if I could, I wouldn’t be depressed. Or maybe it’s that I feel like a drag to the person or people I really would like credit from, so it’s kinda hard to up and give it to myself when I’m feeling bad. If you don’t live with me or constitute the people I answer to every day, I probably believe that you just don’t know how bad I suck.
“Take the long view.”
For some depressed people, right now hurts so bad that any other reality seems impossible. To even suggest the future is rubbing your normalcy in the depressed person’s face. “If I could think about some future happiness, I wouldn’t be so damn depressed!”
In my case, the long view is all I’ve ever taken. Not knowing how to live in the moment is part of the problem, and so is the worry that I will never feel better physically, which means feeling stuck mentally. If the future looks bleak, striving for it doesn’t feel fun.
“You just have your head up your ass.”
Well, that may be true. It kinda stinks up here. Maybe there are some people for whom this kind of tough love works, but I’d rather just have the love. Knowing that another person I was looking to for solace has no empathy and just wants me to hurry up and stop feeling bad doesn’t really help with the clarity in — or the location of — my head! It just makes me feel worse for feeling bad.
Things a depressed person might really want to hear:
“I’m sorry you’re hurting. Let me give you a hug and rub your shoulders. Also your feet.”
“Things suck for me too right now. Let’s go to yoga. I’ve got a babysitter who will show our children a wonderful time.”
“My house is going to be empty this weekend. Do you want to stay there for free?”
“Let’s take our kids to (very fun place) together. I will drive. There is a great restaurant on-site that has gluten-free food.”
Okay, maybe the rest are just things I might want to hear.
“We had reservations at (great restaurant) and if we cancel this late, they will never let us come back! And we have the greatest babysitter ever whose only fault is her shrewd business sense: she will also charge us anyway, even if we don’t use her. So please, you really must go out tonight and use these services to keep us from losing a ton of money and being blackballed from our favorite restaurant!”
“I am really missing my children who are visiting their grandparents for the entire summer, so I would love to borrow your kids for a couple of days and nights. My partner and I have been dying to play with some children at a water park! What can they eat?”
“A new Waldorf-trained teacher (with Montessori and Reggio Emilia influences) is moving to DC and is looking for a place to stay and a family to work with. She likes to cook nourishing food with traditional methods using few or no grains and to make fresh green juice daily. She’d like to help a family with rhythm and outdoor play and living screen-free.”
“I know someone starting an organizing business who wants to work intensely with someone in a coaching capacity that she can use as a testing ground and for a testimonial. She’s brand new to the field and so is totally free but has a great website that shows you and she are totally on the same page in a lot of ways.”
“A friend of mine knows someone who is testing the waters at being a spiritual and life coach. She is looking for someone who is struggling with whom to do some hand-holding and coaching. She knows a lot about complementary modalities but it new to doing coaching and is not allowed to accept payment. That’s okay because she’s independently wealthy. Time commitment is unlimited. She also teaches kids to love meditation.”
“We have a beach house rented but can’t use it for the last three days. It’s a great place that you will love and only a few hours away. Go and stay and just pay us what you think it’s worth.”
“I met this grad student who is doing a study on children playing at (really cool museum, such as one that has Lego, sports and also art and outdoor activities). The study has to occur over two days. She is looking for two children, aged about 4 and 8, to take there. She will observe them and take them to a healthy yet scrumptious lunch and dinner followed by swimming in a hotel where the children will sleep (probably like angels dreaming of their amazing day, if her hypothesis is right) and then take them back again to the play space in the morning (after a healthy breakfast) before driving them back to you (after a healthy lunch). Her driving record is impeccable and the whole thing is funded by the university. She will text you photos of your children smiling and mouthing thank yous for coordinating such an awesome experience for them.”
What helps you to feel better? What do you want to hear when you’re struggling?