5 COMMON STAGES WHEN HELPING A LOVED ONE LIVING WITH DEPRESSION
Love can be both crippling and liberating, and if your happiness is influenced by theirs, it can leave you heartbroken. There are many different kinds of love; romantic, friendship, familial; all are potent and have the ability to change you, to make you realise what it is to love someone more than your own self. It’s to willingly cast yourself aside in sacrifice for them. Seeing them happy makes you smile and tears burn in your own eyes when theirs spill down their cheeks.
It’s love of a selfless nature, the kind where you’d do everything to help them when they’re down, you’d mend the pieces together, collecting even the smallest shards to build them back up, whole. Yet that’s the thing about help; it isn’t always wanted, even when it’s given. You can offer your help until you bleed dry, until you whittle yourself down to bone in the name of trying, but all of this makes no difference unless the person in question is willing to accept it from you.
There are many people living with depression at this very moment, suffering and enduring, waiting for the spark for life to become a fire again. For those who have experienced, or are currently experiencing depression, it needs little explanation - it’s difficult to forget the nothingness that feels like it will last for infinity or the sadness that seems to have taken root in your veins. It is impossible not to remember how it felt to become a ghost of the person you once were.
Depression is not something that can be easily ‘fixed,’ or changed, but that does not mean that the people around them will stop trying to make it better. I used to believe that the adage, ‘you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped,’ was a bitter lie said by those who’d stopped trying. A passage utter to ease the guilt that creeped in at midnight, when darkness settled in and shame came back to haunt.
I’ve since learnt differently.
When a loved one is diagnosed with depression, or even going through a remarkably trialling time in their life, it is a given that you want to help. However, sometimes this person doesn’t want it, not because they don’t love you or want to remain feeling how they do, but because it is theirs to resolve, theirs to work through.
If you’ve ever been the person who wanted to help, to find you couldn’t, this might be the process you experienced.
1. You watch someone fading before your eyes
It’s almost as though the person you love is fading before your eyes, it sometimes feels as though their edges are slightly blurred, their voices too quiet, and their smile is missing. Perhaps this is when you start to realise that something is wrong. Their responses are sullen, or maybe too bright, maybe they smile but their eyes don’t crinkle at the edges like they used to. Possibly this is a one off down day, we are human after all and happiness isn’t a fixed state, it’s static and temporary. However maybe this is stretching, wearing them thin from days to weeks, to weeks and months. Then suddenly you realise; the person you once knew is as fleeting as summer rain and you wonder how you didn’t notice this sooner.
2. You try to cheer them up
They say the best way to show someone you love them is to tell them and show it in the small, thoughtful gestures. So, this is what you do; try to show and tell them that they’re loved, that you’re here for them. A short text message in the morning, invitations out, flowers at their door, coffee catch ups- all offered in a gesture to manifest happiness and comfort. You’ll catch their tears before they have the chance to drop, hug them tightly and tell them that ‘things will get better.’
And you mean well, you mean so well. Slowly your sleeves become empty with cool air because all of the tricks that used to be nestled up there have been used, and none of them helped. There’s no ace that can be pulled to guarantee change, and that’s when your heart starts to fracture, little hairline fissures because if you, who is supposed to love them can’t do anything, what does that say about you?
3. Maybe you’ve seen this all before
People who have a loved one with a history of depression or those who got dealt recurring tragedy in life will recognise this; history repeating. You thought the final chapter had been written but now the pages are wearing thin and being re-read. Worry becomes a too familiar feeling, that cold rock that sits in your stomach, proliferating in double time.
4. Helplessness and anger
When you feel as though there is nothing more that can be done, when the texts and calls go frequently unanswered, when you can’t remember the last time you saw them happy, when you feel as though there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, helplessness settles its self in. it’ll wriggle in your gut and breed self-loathing and despair.
Sometimes, anger emerges when you’ve tried so hard and drained your own self dry to no avail and no reason to hope for change. It’s a panic anger, and anger lodged in a good place that emerges sharp like a knife. It’s irrational and prickly and selfish, although you don’t mean for it to be. It’s a ‘I’m trying to help you, the least you can do is text me back to let me know you’re okay when you know I’m worried.’
You mean none of this, but it’s your personal eye-of-the-storm, when you finally realise that taking on their depression is not yours to do, it’s not yours to change.
5. Calm after the storm
It’s difficult to come to terms with the concept that help has to be accepted in order to be effectively proffered. Yet it’s a valuable one, because when someone is feeling down, depressed or going through a rough time it’s up to you to accept that they will deal with it on their own terms. Accepting that all you can do is be there for them when their ready to reach out is unlocking your palms, turning them skyward and knowing they love you and they’ll be back when the time is right. It is no one’s job to fix another person, but it is everything to be there when they’re ready to be put back together.
What are some helpful ways you've helped a love one with depression? Share your thoughts below.
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