I’ve received support through my depression from a number of different people. When dealing with a person who has a mental illness like depression, it’s hard to know what kind of support is the best. I made an earlier post of how to help, but I’d like to talk about the support I’ve received from other people that are a little more complicated. I’ve broken it down into three main categories: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
This is the type of support that really helps you get to where you want to be – on the road to recovery. For me, the good support largely came from doctors, nurses and other trained professionals who were there to provide stable support and really understood the background of the illness itself. Being supported made me feel safer, like I wasn’t alone, and helped me learn to support myself and be more independent. I also found my sister to be a huge support for me – she understood my life, my upbringing, my mentality, and was there to listen and help me address my issues without judging me. Sometimes you need support from people who just know a bit about you, without you having to explain it.
Inevitably, there were people who I categorize under “The Bad”. These are the ones who didn’t support me at all – didn’t acknowledge it once they knew, didn’t care, or didn’t see how important it was. The people in this category often were people I thought were good friends, the type who were more than eager to hang out just for fun, but didn’t know how to be a friend for the real stuff. And you know what? That’s okay. Some people really just don’t know how to deal with mental illness, so they avoid it altogether. I have things I don’t like talking about, like needles or bugs, so if it comes up, I’d rather just not deal with it. A word to the wise though: depression isn’t contagious – just because I’m depressed doesn’t mean you need to walk on eggshells around me or get quiet when I’m around. I’m still the same person I was before you knew, you just know that I have this illness now. While I would never be angry that someone didn’t have the capacity to handle my mental illness, I do sometimes get upset when I think about how my illness has now put a barrier on that friendship – correction, their knowledge of my illness has put a barrier on our friendship. There is more to me than my depression; I don’t bite and I haven’t forgotten how to smile.
This is the trickiest type of support. It’s the kind that comes from a good place, but ends up making things worse. I have no idea how to tell these people they’re really no help at all and that sometimes the words they say with good intentions can sometimes set me off.
I’ve broken this part down into further categories that I’ve experienced to make it easier to understand.
The Worry Wart – These are the people I always have to choose my words carefully around. The type that look at me as if I’m about to explode any minute like I am a ticking time bomb. They make me feel like I need to be under constant observation because I can’t be trusted. That may have been true at one point for me, but it isn’t anymore. I can’t recover if people don’t place trust in the idea that I will recover, despite bumps in the road. Keep in mind that when I say “recover”, I don’t mean “cured”. Depression is a part of me that won’t disappear, but my recovery is a term I use for being on the right track again for my own life, though my track is paved quite differently from yours.
The Quick Fix – When I was first in the hospital, and for about a week after my release, I had tons and tons of support. Similarly, when people first found out about my depression, they were quite supportive. Eventually, after about a week or so I’d say, these people thought I would have been fixed by then and forgot about my battles. Now I’m not asking that people ask me every day for a year where I’m at with my recovery, but the quick fixers don’t seem to realize that it’s a very long process, and even though I may seem okay because I have lots of good days, doesn’t mean I don’t have bad days and nights. Remember, depressed people are the best actors, and it’s hard to stop acting when you’ve gotten so good at it.
The Analyzer – Mental Health Professionals sometimes have a tendency to analyze every single word I say, and it can get pretty annoying. I’ve also received support from people who are constantly hanging onto every word I say, as if there’s more weight to my words than there really is. For example, I may be frustrated and having a bay day and say “I am so done with this”, which will lead to a slew of questions about what it is exactly that I am done with. Colloquial phrases like “Ugh I could just die right now” that people use so lightly suddenly have so much weight when I casually say them to an analyzer. Sometimes it gets a bit frustrating having to explain that not every word that comes out of my mouth is literal.
The Disappearing Act – You know the saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”? Well, that’s exactly what this person does; they get going…right out the door. These always really hurt me, because it takes a lot for me to actually open up, especially about something that makes me feel so vulnerable. There were a lot of people who said “I’m here for you” “Talk to me” “Please open up” and when I finally did, they had nothing to say and never brought it up again. It could be as small as me sending a long text, finally trying to articulate my feelings, something that doesn’t come easy to someone with conversion disorder, and receiving no response. 3 days later, I’d get a text back, saying something like “Heyyyyy sorry! What’s up?” and just like that, they had vanished and reappeared again, with no mention of their disappearance.
The Know-It-All – Empathy is one of those things where I find there to be a very fine line between showing me I’m not alone, and belittling my problems. The magnitude of the despair I felt was unimaginable, and I have no way to express what it felt like. I would try my best to explain how sad I was, but I’d never do it justice. Sadly, it’s something you really can’t understand unless you’ve been there yourself. The support I got from know-it-all’s was really annoying, because I always felt they made my problems seem so trivial. Their responses would usually go something like this “OMG, I totally know how you feel! I get so depressed too, like when my boyfriend and I broke up, I was SO depressed.” Well, its unfortunate that you felt deeply sad about a situation where being sad is appropriate, but that is nothing compared to what I go through. See, I can’t label WHY I’m depressed, I just AM. Don’t ask me why I’m depressed, because my guess is as good as yours – not very good at all.
The Solution Maker – No, this isn’t a person who mixes two liquids to get something new. Up until now, most of the “ugly support” I’ve referenced has made me feel more isolated or misunderstood. This one is particularly dangerous and was the kind I encountered the most. It was very dangerous for me to get this kind of support, because people would tell me what I needed to do differently to make my depression go away. They would try to find solutions for me, which is a really kind thing to do, but it made me feel way worse, and reiterated the idea that I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t trying hard enough, I was too weak, I needed to change. It made my illness my fault, which is entirely false, and it took me far too long to realize that. I would go to friends looking for support, desperate for some love and care, and I would get told everything I was doing completely wrong. I can’t tell you how many times I was told “well, you have to have a positive attitude” or “you’re the only one who can change this for yourself”, or possible the worst of all “you’re never going to get anywhere if you pity yourself and are negative about everything”. Please, if you encounter me or anyone else feeling hopeless and worthless, do not try to give them this type of advice. It nearly destroyed me, and it’s taken a lot to get to a place where I can say, I am doing everything I can to tackle my depression.
Remember, there is no perfect support, but just showing someone you care, is almost enough. Write a thoughtful note, tell them they’re doing well, point out their strengths, and most of all, hug them and tell them they’re okay.
Keep Surviving by Living.