Depression is Impenetrable to Others

For depressives, opening up is hard, asking for help is even harder. When we do, we trust you not to let us down.

Rare is the day when I don’t notice I’m walking around with a mental ball and chain; today, it tripped me up.

The self-talk of a chronic depressive is unfathomable even to ourselves at times, which is why writing can about it help. Not only does it force us take a step back as we become observers but it keeps us focused on a situation until we understand it. Putting pen to paper can be grounding and prevent emotions from going rogue as they’re wont to do when the parasite in our head starts gnawing on our joy.

When we’re tired, it gets worse, much worse until whatever looked right suddenly looks wrong, so wrong it induces panic. That’s me, several times a day but thankfully not every day; there is respite, there are moments of grace when gentleness wins out. I cherish them so hard I tend to stretch them as far as they’ll go; against my better judgment, I’m still trying to make up for lost time after depression incapacitated me for five years.

Or half a decade, the latter being such a crushing way of looking at the past I would prefer not to but it may take a while until I am no longer reminded of it.

Setting it aside requires the kind of professional support I still haven’t been able to access yet so I keep doing what I can to bootstrap wellness.

Results are variable and setbacks are so frequent I often wonder what a difference a few days of solid rest would make but I can’t afford to find out just now. If my current state of decrepitude is extreme for January, it’s because the holiday season was a misnomer; no relief, no rest, no respite.

Even though I go through each day fully inhabiting the moment and appreciating all the little things, life seems to demand more of me than I have to give it. Since being on the verge of collapse has been my normal for months, those around me are aware there’s a lot going on but often miss details unless I point them out. While doing so when in the throes of distress is nigh on impossible, there’s always the fear of burdening them, too.

I lived a self-contained life for so long I forgot how to let anyone in, and any attempt at doing so always feels like self-sacrifice. It’s never not painful or awkward.

Vulnerability takes trust, knowing others will not mock you, or judge you, or walk away when you allow them to take a peek into your head and heart.

This, in a nutshell, is why depressives whose illness has ever alienated loved ones will often isolate and lick their wounds in private.

“Please help me” has got to be the hardest phrase in the English language. If someone you love is tangling with depression and walks up to you asking for a hug, understand it took all the courage they had left for them to reach out and do that. Please don’t be that person who shrugs and walks away, I beg you, because this feels like rejection and abandonment all wrapped into one. And it’s unbearable.

While we get it that you may not like us very much right now because we’re the embodiment of sadness and confusion and you feel helpless, how about just doing the human mammal thing and folding us into your arms? What we need more than anything else is comfort, presence, certainly not words when language keeps failing us.

Compassion doesn’t require speech, only the willingness of one heart to acknowledge another in the simplest way, with a look, a gesture.

The worst thing that can happen is for you to ignore us, thus making us feel the illness has disappeared us completely. And if our behavior makes no sense to you, remember the parasite in our heads doesn’t always go away when circumstances improve.

For my part, I appreciate gentle hand holding far more than I have been willing to admit, mental health advocacy notwithstanding. A culture beholden to the self-made myth looks down on anyone who doesn’t perform as expected even though depression is as universal as the flu. A brain temporarily out of kilter doesn’t make us lesser humans, it makes us fallible like everyone else.

Things aren’t supposed to go well in our worlds, it’s against nature in the mind of a depressive; when they do, it takes some serious adjusting. To you, it may look like we’ve already arrived but to us, we’re still in transit, always wondering when our luck might run out.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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