I’ve written a pair of posts at Health Central about trying to explain what depression is like to family and close friends. The first one describes opening up in a way that’s helped me dispel the assumptions others been making about why I’ve changed so much. The second looks at what I try to do when, or before, I talk to people who “just don’t get it.”
There’s no magic in getting through to those whose support I most need. When I’ve been deeply depressed, though, I need lists to remind me of the most basic things. Even when I’m well, opening up doesn’t come easily. I get my reminders from James Pennebaker and Carl Rogers (as I’ve written here and here).
Naturally, those closest to me are hurt the most as I withdraw, leave them emotionally, and stop communicating. It becomes personal for them, and they need to understand what’s going on. If I don’t talk, they assume the worst, that I’m breaking off the relationship. The problem is that depression can make it impossible to say much of anything. If I can manage a few words, they’re likely to be more of a groan or irritable dismissal that only makes things worse.
It’s when the immediate episode passes that it’s possible and essential to start talking. Listening to what they’ve been through when I’ve been lost to them is just as important as talking about my own pain and isolation. That’s worked for me, but there are always those who can’t or won’t try to understand depression.
It doesn’t help to face their hostility or contempt, but I’ve often tried to get through to them despite knowing perfectly well what they’re like. If I’m able to hold off before turning to them, I need to ask myself: What do I expect to get in return? Why go to them? Isn’t there anyone else.
Sometimes, I’ve had to take the chance because not saying anything would be just as bad – like a client or employer who can’t help but see that my work is falling off. I’ve learned after a lot of disappointment that I need to evaluate the risk I’m taking.
As I say, these thoughts may be obvious when mind and emotion are working well, but when they’re not I try to remember what would help. All defenses disappear – where are those lists?
I hope you’ll have a look at the Health Central posts and comment on how well you’ve been able to get people to understand. Have you been able to get through to them at all?