Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to be a friend to someone who is depressed.

I can remember being depressed since I was a little kid. I remember the dark feelings that were hard to shake, the prayers for sudden death, the emotional highs and lows that had seemingly unpredictable triggers. Into high school, I was loudmouthed, fun, and had a lot of friends. But I was hiding a closet in more ways than just my sexuality. My heart was dark and I didn't understand why.

Things started to get worse after a road trip I took in college. It seemed as though my depressive symptoms became amplified beyond my control. Getting out of bed required super human strength, my grades began to slip and I even started failing classes. My life seemed too heavy to navigate though sober, so I got high all day and partied all night and there were months that went by that I rarely spent a significant amount of time completley sober.

In 2010, I found another "high" that kept depression at least at bay for a while. It was a Jesus high. It's sort of embarrassing to admit to now, however, the high was real. I was sober for an entire month, and while I struggled occasionally with drinking, did not take any drugs for almost two years. I even got on a nice little regamine of anti-depressants that seemed to be working well.

Well, for a little bit anyway.

 That emotional religious high did not last long, though, and soon enough the depression returned with a vengeance. I tried to reach out to my new Christian friends, but without much avail. I wasn't praying enough. I wasn't believing enough. I wasn't reading my bible enough. It was my fault. I had heard this language so often, I started operating as if my depression was my fault, and since I couldn't control it, I allowed myself to become depression. Friends would mention my dark eyes, my fast weight gain, my constant drinking, the blank stare that started to appear on my face. They were confused by my promiscuous sex, the starting to take drugs again, the constant stream of somber words that seemed to spill out of my mouth.

I didn't care. This was me. This was it. It was not controllable at any point. The anti depressants stopped working, and I remember distinctly that I was going to stop functioning as a human being. I started to deteriorate pretty quickly. I was a fuck up. I managed to fuck my only shot at earth totally up. And there was nothing I could do about it. The shadows that lingered above my head closed in on me. I couldn't see. Or hear. Or breathe. In October of this year, I ended up in the psych ward for a suicide attempt.

When I got out, I was actually sort of happy that I didn't die. Unfortunately, when I got out, I lost a pretty good chunk of my friends.

I wasn't really surprised by it, actually. A majority of my friends where the type of people who had Pintrest perfect homes, read their bibles with diligence, and did not try to kill themselves. Or at the very least struggle with depression. It became painfully, and embarrassingly obvious, that I didn't fit in with them. At all. I was such an awkward little thing. With a morbid twisted heart, with dark eyes and a strange ability to begin crying for absolutely no reason. Me, among a picture perfect family who, for lack of better terms, appeared to have their shit together. 

The demise of our friendship was bound to happen. I just wasn't good enough.

After a hard loss of friendships, I began therapy sessions. For the first time in my life; she mentioned something to me that has been sticking with me. My depression is not my fault. 

Woah, woah, woah. What? Depression. The dark dingy creature I have carried around with me for my entire life...isn't my fault? Not only was it not my fault; she believes that I am STRONG and SUPER HUMAN to continue to push through life despite my depression. ME?! Strong? Super human?!

Never in my entire life has anyone used those words to describe my depression. Especially my Christian friends, I was not strong. I was weak. And wasn't enough. And if I just pushed my self a little harder, read more bible, prayed more goddamn fucking prayers God will help me. And if you fall, it's because you are a broken human being.

And I am a broken human being, but I was so enamored by the fact that someone praised me for getting up out of bed that morning. For washing a dish in my sink. For not quitting my job yet. For being a responsible pet owner. For washing my hair. For not driving my car off the bridge on the way home from work. Someone was proud of me. Despite my manic episodes. Despite my consistently negative comments. Despite my tears. Despite my completley fucked dating life, despite my drinking habits. Someone was proud of me for staying alive. Someone knew how hard it is for me to stay alive.

It was what my heart had been craving for so long. Understanding of my disease. Understanding of how truely fucking heroic I am when getting out of bed every morning requires super human strength, and for the most part, I get out of bed every morning. I am a god damn warrior. A fighter. I fight the snarling, angry monster of depression with vigor, and this has to be done down to seconds of my day.

Am I angry at some of my former "friends" for not understanding this? Yep. I get really pissed off. But, I have to remind myself, like with any disease; you can't know unless you experience it. So, for those of my friends who have stuck by me, or for those who struggle with the age old question on how to love my ever so depressed friend, here is a list of some dos and don'ts for you.

1.Tell them they are amazing for getting out of bed. Or washing their dishes. When you have depression, even the most mundane tasks such as putting a way your shoes, or picking up an empty beer can off the table can become a task so daunting it feelings like knitting a tapestry or running a marathon. Maybe you don't get a fucking party every time you clean your house, but a person with depression at least deserves a pat on the back. Because they fucking rocked it.

2. You wouldn't tell someone their cancer, or diabetes, or lupus or whatever other disease was their fault, and you certainly wouldn't tell them to just "get over it." Depression is real. And it hurts real bad. It's effects even escalate to actual physical ailments such as stomach aches, back aches, and sleep deprivation apart from just feeling fucking sad. If you treat your depressed friend as if they are the cause of their depression, you are setting them up for failure.

3. Don't tell a friend they need more Jesus. That's setting them up for the biggest failure of all. I think spirituality plays a huge part in a wholesome life. But it won't save you from depression. God doesn't normally save people from cancer, or diabetes, or magically grow back their missing fucking leg. He won't help you with depression. Because so many people, for so long had me convinced that if I just prayed enough, God would heal me- I once again believed it was my fault. God wasn't healing me because it was all my fault. Nope. There might be about a million other reasons why God won't heal a sick person (that's a topic we can divulge in another blog) but it being your fault is NOT one of them.

4. There is no motivation like someone who believes in you. If you see a depressed friend's house has gotten so out of control messy that you don't know how their living it in without contracting a serious bacterial infection, go over there and help them clean it. Wash a dish for them. Paint a picture for their wall with them. Hell, get in the shower and help them wash their hair. The whole time, do this with a YOU CAN DO THIS attitude. They won't believe you, but once they've actually done it, well, eventually they'll have to.

5. Don't lose hope when they fuck up. They might fuck up for a while. They might drink too much, or call their ex girlfriend. They might end up back in the psych ward, they might become manic and yell at you for no reason at all. I'm not saying these things are excusable. But they will happen. And don't lose hope. Firmly remind them to cut it out- but love them dearly through it. They will feel a tiny bit better knowing you're still there, even after you've monumentally screwed up again. And again. And oh wait, jesus christ, again. With depression it's always again. But it'll be ok.

6. Remind them of their strengths and talents. They'll be embarrassed and shut you down- but deep down we want to hear it. We want to hear to genuinely and frequently that we are not dark fucked up little beings and that we actually have a space in this world.

7. We understand when you need space. But try to imagine, if you need space from us, how the hell do you think we feel? We're stuck with us all the time. 24/7. We don't get to escape (but god damnit we will try!). We will be sad if you ask for space, but we will understand. But come back.

8. Unfriending someone who has depression because of their depression is just as shitty as unfriending someone because they have cancer. There isn't a way around it, so don't pretend like you did someone a fucking favor. If you must unfriend someone because their depression is too much for you: make that clear. That this is about YOU, not them. Without this assurance you are speaking nothing but the same rhetoric in which they struggle with constantly, "you are not enough, this is your fault."

9. HAVE FUN WITH THEM. Laugh at their jokes. Laugh at their depression. Laugh at their messy house and strange obsession with their cat. Go with them to the forest, climb in bed with them at 10am on a saturday morning. Paint with them. Hold them. Cry with them. Entangle yourself in their sad little life. They will thank you for it. And we need it.

10. We understand more than anyone when you fuck up. We get it. Fucking up is sort of our thing. We know when you're trying.We do.

And thank you, to the friends who try. To the friends who tell me I'm amazing for walking three feet across their kitchen floor, who are happy when I'm in their house, who order pizza for me because they love me, and I love pizza. You guys are gems. One of a kind. My true family. My loves.


  1. I had very very similar struggles in my life and always wished people would understand or at least try to. Now (after reading this) maybe they can. Thank you so much for sharing this Erica! <3

  2. I can relate so much to this. I have been feeling this way since I was little and still feel this way.