This post is inspired by and its quotes (including the title) are taken from Bill Bernat’s Ted Talk “How to connect with depressed friends” available here:
I have a friend who for several years dated a man with diabetes. I may be slightly biased when I say this, but she was phenomenal. She went away and researched the condition immediately. She learned more about it than I even thought possible. Over the course of a couple of months she became an expert, supporting her partner in managing his condition, keeping the ‘right’ foods and supplies in the house and helping him as he pursued different routes to manage his condition better. She went from knowing nothing, to being the most caring, supportive and knowledgeable partner this man could have had, because she was able to understand the condition and its treatments.
I bring this up, because I thought of it today when I was looking for an image for my blog. How many pictures have you seen out there like the feature image used in this post that are needed to explain diabetes? I did a quick google search, and most of the images that came up were practical ways to combat the disease (the implements used to measure blood sugar and the needles or pumps used to deliver insulin). Depression needs more because there is no simple way to understand it.
As much as I relate to the feature image of this post and find the artwork beautiful and pertinent, I think that such pictures can sometimes cause anxiety in the healthy, especially those who have no experience with depression except for the fact that their friend has just told them that they are suffering. Depression is so individualised that there is no way to truly understand it. There are hundreds of different treatments, and they might work for 100 people, but there are another 100 people out there that they will do nothing for whatsoever. So we turn to art work and poetry and creativity to express our illness, which I think can sometimes be isolating for those who don’t suffer. I’m not criticising, I’m just reflecting (and up pops the anxiety!) because I am one of those people who finds this type of artwork helpful in expressing how I am feeling and I appreciate those who create it.
Bernat’s talk offers some chance for reflection on my own depression, some ideas for those who might struggle to connect with sufferers of depression and some comedy – all wrapped up in 13 neat minutes. His definition of depression – “The absence of the ability to ‘just get over it’ is depression” – is especially heart wrenching, because if there is something I want more than anything in the world, it is simply to get over this.
One of the things that really stood out to me was this advice to friends of the depressed:
“don’t take a negative response personally”
One of the things that I love about Jack is that when I’m having a bad day, he’ll suggest a bunch of stuff that might make me feel better, then he’ll take his cue from my response. There are some days where a bath seems possible, and some days where it doesn’t. There are some days where eating chocolate seems okay, and some days where it doesn’t. What I love is that Jack respects my limits no matter how I express them (and sometimes I come across as angry/defensive). He still looks after me though. If I refuse food/drink, for example, he’ll hug me for a bit so I feel safe, then he’ll emerge later with some food. Something that I need, sustenance that he knows will help but that I can’t even face thinking about. It isn’t until it’s in front of me that I know that it’s what I need. Even then, sometimes I can’t eat it all, and he never gets angry at that.
Alternatively, he knows that sometimes I’ve said no because I can’t manage all the steps – going upstairs, running a bath, getting into it, getting out of it, getting changed… and he’ll take control and take some of those steps out of my hand. I’ll go upstairs and find a bath already running, with towels laid out ready for the end of it, and sometimes, if we need to go out, I go downstairs afterwards and he’ll have laid out my clothes for me so I don’t have to make too many choices at one time. Things like that help to make the bad days bearable. But he never, ever, gets angry at me if I can’t do something. He might get upset and frustrated at the situation, or angry that I’m suffering, but he holds no anger towards me. I hope that everyone has someone in their lives like that.
One thing that I think is really not understood by the masses is this:
“we feel it (depression) in our bodies. It’s a physical thing for us.”
Depression is about so much than just feeling sad. I get a really bad pain in my side on really bad days. It’s like a muscle pain, but deeper, almost like I’m being stabbed constantly. It’s like when you’ve laid on one side too long and then it won’t stretch out… I don’t really know how to describe it. I get tooth ache or ear ache which will disappear the next day. My depression doesn’t just control my mind, it takes over my body too, making putting one foot in front of the other too painful. My limbs get heavy, to the extent that I have to crawl up the stairs because I can’t walk. It’s a painful experience and when you feel like you’re losing yourself to this illness already mentally, it is just a cruel trick of fate that it impacts you so severely physically as well. It was reassuring to hear someone else confirm that this is a part of the illness, because I feel so broken so constantly, I feel like it must just be me.
Today is a bed day for me. I’ll probably mostly just binge watch Criminal Minds and move only when necessary. My brain is too tired to read, too active to sleep. This is why I was signed off work, to give me the space to rest like this, yet I find it so hard to do – to rest and ‘recover’. Because unlike when I fell down the stairs at my friend’s flat and sprained my Achilles tendon 2 weeks ago, I can’t see or feel any difference to my ‘injury’, no matter how much rest I get. I just feel like I’m sinking, trudging my way through a life that doesn’t feel worth living, exhausted and sad all the time.
Depression isn’t a cloud hanging over me, or a veil colouring my sight. Depression is deeply rooted inside me. And I’m not sure how to get it out.