A friend once sat next to me on a park bench and told me the only way he could get out of bed in the morning was by smoking a joint and turning his brain off from the pain.
For a while, I got long and desperate voicemails from my brother early in the morning about how he couldn’t sleep, couldn’t shake the feeling of being alone.
The more people I met in high school and college, the more the word kept popping up. I’m depressed. My mom is depressed. My sister, my cousin, my best friend.
So many of the people I care most about in the world have told me the same thing. They were in a fog they couldn’t shake, a darkness sat on them like a two-hundred pound weight. Life didn’t seem worth living most of the time.
The word depression used to be so informal. It’s been used it to talk about everything from a bad day or a random mishap to breakups and funerals. Depression was sadness, was being upset by something, or maybe even being heartbroken.
For the longest time, depression was something that couldn’t touch me. It was something I myself was immune to, so why should I care?
Despite so many people I knew dealing with this similar struggle, I really didn’t get it. I’d had bad days too, but I always managed to move on. Things were hard sometimes, yes, but I still held so strongly to this belief that life was what you made it. That happiness was a choice, or something.
I didn’t know how to help them. I didn’t know what to say, so I talked their ears off and said all the wrong things.
Cheer up! Life get’s better.
Just pray about it.
Maybe if you try just a little bit harder.
I understand what you’re going through.
Look at all the good things in your life.
An afternoon in June, that all changed.
For one of the longest hours of my life, I thought I lost someone who I cannot imagine living without. She had gone missing for hours, leaving only a scary note behind. I left probably twenty voicemails pleading for her life, my head pounding with the possibility.
I could have woken up without her. She could have been gone from my life forever.
And why? Because depression is real. Because for a long time, depression told her that no one would care if she just disappeared.
I sat in the car with her a few hours later, holding her hand and sobbing. I had no idea what to say, how to help, how to fix anything. But what I did know was that I didn’t want to live in world without her—without any of my friends who were struggling with depression.
So I shut up. I barred my mouth and I let it sink in how incredibly amazing it was to have this girl in my life. I stopped sugarcoating her pain, her loneliness. I stopped pretending like I could do anything at all except listen and love.
Depression is one of the most powerful and subtle forces on the planet, a slow-acting poison that seeps into the life of every person who breathes air and thinks thoughts. I realize now that it wants to destroy me—and you too. It either tackles each of us personally or vows to take shots at the people we care about.
And now that I understand how much I’ve messed up all these years, I think it’s starting to make sense what our part is to play in the fight against depression.
If your friend is struggling, the first thing you must realize is that it isn’t about you. That was the first trap I always seemed to fall in. I thought that I could remedy the situation, that the words that I said would actually make them feel better. I thought I knew what they needed.
It doesn’t always make sense, it isn’t always clear, and it’s really freaking hard. What is the source? Hard to say. What will make it better? Who really knows.
Talking with many of my friends, they have told me that all they really want is for their feelings to be validated. In a society where bouts of depression are often down-played, undermined, or ignored entirely, they just want to know that someone sees their pain—someone acknowledges the intensity of it.
“That SUCKS. You don’t have to go through this alone if you don’t want to.”
It’s that simple if we let it be. Our friends and family need us to hear them out and to hold them tight. They need us to listen to what they need, not be told what we think would help them. We need to let them talk about it instead of sweeping the rain cloud under a rug and ignoring what is really going on.
We all have a secret battle: depression, self-hate, pride, the wounds of the past, overwhelming fear, anxiety, you name it. We don’t always want to talk about it, but we know it is there. And despite how much we try to hide it, it feels really good when someone let’s us know that it is ok that we are struggling.[clickToTweet tweet=”In a world where depression is downplayed, our friends want to know we see their pain.” quote=”In a world where depression is downplayed, our friends want to know we see their pain.”]
It also feels really good when the people in our lives give us the time and the space to struggle with our battle. It takes time, it takes patience, it takes resilience. The people in our lives need that from us as well.
No matter how dark life seems, or how low we feel, there is hope in knowing there is someone beside you to bolster you, to guard your back.
Will we always understand what our friends are going through? No. Will we always be able to help them? Definitely not. But can we always be there? If we care, absolutely.