A close friend of mine is going through some extremely dark times and I feel this huge necessity and desire to help her, even more so ‘cause I’ve been down there and know what it’s like.
What surprised me, though, is that my automatic reaction, words and tools I run to in order to try to help her were exactly those that, from my personal experience, being even more damage and pain to someone experiencing a depressive episode. I was shocked at how easy it is to forget and then started to wonder how difficult it must be to someone who never went through depression themselves to offer appropriate help to a struggling friend or family member.
In all of our eagerness to help we often bring even more pain to a suffering one that consequentially provokes even more closing and further isolation, shame and sinking. I remember that I’d often feel so discouraged and worse than prior to the person coming to me with the intentions of helping and I’d think to myself: “Can they just fucking Google ‘What not to say to someone who is depressed?’”
So, I am writing my version of it. It may not resonate 100% with every single person facing depression, but I believe most of the principal things are universal. Here it goes.
What NOT TO say to someone going through depression
My dad always uses the Croatian version of it and it makes me want to slit my throat even when I am not legit depressed, even though I know it is absolutely true and it seems to many people like a great thing to say when someone is swimming in those dark waters.
You may think it might bring them hope and make them see a bigger picture - it will not. It’ll do exactly the opposite.
First: you are not discovering anything new and ground-breaking to a person, they heard the phrase before and would prefer not to be reminded of it.
Second: they do know it is true, they do know that it is one of the Universal Laws and that what goes up, must come down, and then up again… and this makes them feel even worse, because they have been down and down and down for days, weeks and months. So, now they are not only failing themselves and people around them, they are also failing the very Laws of Existence. How hope-inducing do you think that realisation is?
2) “Everyone has their own struggles.” (and stuff like “Many people went through depression and came out to the other side. Look at xyz…”)
I understand the intention behind this - again, it is to awake the hope in healing and also to try to make the person feel less alone. However, it doesn’t feel good really on the emotional level.
People who struggle with depression are often ones who for very long time suppressed their emotions and pushed away the reflector from themselves onto another. Now, when they are finally seen in their authentic emotional expression of the moment… you gotta make them feel seen and authentic and keep that flashlight right on them.
It doesn’t matter who else got through it. Make it about them and them only. Honour their pain for what it is. Make them feel special and unique in their suffering, however fucked up it may sound.
There are years and years of unacknowledged emotion inside of them, so help them savour it. Bring the focus together on the particular aspects of their pain body and examine it thoroughly. We are so conditioned to shy away (shy is not enough of a word, we RUN AWAY like fucking maniacs) from any dark and unpleasant feeling state, but that is not the way those states go away. We need to look at them and illuminate them with the light of our consciousness.
The more awareness we bring to them, the faster they will stop giving us hard time, ‘cause they will get integrated.
3) “Look what a wonderful day it is! Doesn’t it just make you feel so much gratitude for LIFE??”
No. It doesn’t. The person wants to die in order to make the pain go away and you are trying to make them appreciate LIFE just because the sun happens to be shining brightly on the sky. Seriously?
When you are depressed, every day is torture and chances are life itself is your greatest enemy, together with people who are overly stoked about it. When someone tries to lift you up so abruptly to their vibrational point which is centuries away from your low state of being - it feels extremely painful, because it reminds you how enormous is that “gap” between where you are and where you ‘should be’ to be considered a healthy, ‘normal-functioning’ human. It brings up lots of guilt that leads to even darker mood, self-judgement and shame and all of those are favourite treats for depression and make it stick around for longer.
Again - good intentions, disastrous outcomes.
Ok, so we got over few things NOT TO tell someone going through depression, but what to say or do then to make them feel loved, supported and seen in their suffering?
One word: presence.
Complete, full, unconditional, undivided presence. Presence that doesn’t ask anything in return, but simply is. It doesn’t have to be for 5 hours at the time, it can be 15-20 minutes, but it is crucial to be present with the person’s state with no intention whatsoever of trying to change it. It will change when the time is right and you are not there to influence that. Instead, take their hand and let them walk you through the museum of their hurts, look at each piece and give them your presence while they are getting to know their darkest insides, very likely for the first time in their life.
The only way out is through.
And if you really, truly want to help, keep that in mind at all times.
Lots of love,
#depression #anxiety #recovery #bipolardisorder #therapy #healing #darknightofthesoul