Living with a person in depression

One of the depressing aspects of being in depression is that it can make you into a depressing person that everyone else wants to avoid. That’s by design: depression wants us to avoid social contact, and not much is more isolating than being a downer all the time.

It’s not easy pushing past that defense mechanism, either. I’ve been fortunate to have friends who made the effort when I needed it most, and I fought hard against it. Just leave me alone to sit here in the dark, damn it. No, I most certainly do not want the light turned on. What’s wrong with how I’m dressed? I’m not going out, you know. Nobody wants me to go out, and that includes you. I don’t know what’s wrong with you that you want to hang out with me, anyway?

Remember that depression has no body or possibly no mind, which means that the tools it uses are the ones that are available to its host. I’ve used sarcasm, self-pity, hygiene, social awkwardness, and sleep to block loved ones from pulling me out of that pit; if you’re living with someone in depression, how they try to thwart you might be completely different. When this works, it can make others miserable and it can be very hurtful. That pain reflects back on the person in depression, in part due to a sense of impotence when it comes to controlling that negative behavior.

Somehow, whatever made me appealing, interesting, or attractive to other human beings was not smothered by that fog of depression—not entirely. Even when I felt unlovable, I was unable fully to convince all others to steer clear of me. Some part of me that others wanted to know better made its presence known. Certain connections can endure this experience, and some are even created during these dark periods. That’s the bond of community; that’s the bond of love.

To extinguish the light of my living spirit, depression would have to extinguish my life. As a surly veterinarian once said to me, “A parasite that kills its host isn’t going to be that successful.” Yes, depression can be a fatal condition; anyone who wants to read about how close to death I personally came is invited to read Empty Cauldrons (and please do review it online!). Far, far too many humans have their lives cut short through depression, but that is not the goal of this spirit. Depression is protective, in the brutal way that hemophilia is protective, and with all the modern relevance of the appendix.

Human is preternaturally strong, but any relationship can fade away if it is not nourished. If you are close to a person who endures periods of depression, you are going to be asked to do more than your share to maintain that connection, at least at times. Understanding that your loved one may not feel fully in control is an important step: anyone in that position may be unable to get out of that state without help. Here are some tips I’ve cribbed from an excellent blog post on the subject:

  1. educate yourself about the condition,
  2. encourage treatment,
  3. focus your anger on the situation, not the person,
  4. support each other,
  5. prioritize being patient, not solving the problem,
  6. celebrate even small successes,
  7. consider whether joint therapy will shore up the relationship,
  8. caring for yourself is important, and
  9. be compassionate.

Depression is supposed to feel like an attack on others, and resisting the instinct to respond in kind is an act of will and wisdom.

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