This next section is hopefully going to helpful to people in light of the previous section. It is a lot of ideas that I have learned over the past few years which I have found helpful. Most of it is uncomfortable and difficult, but that is what depression is.
What to do if you have depression?
First of all apologies for this section. It is essentially a list of helpful things you need to be doing. However, you will probably hate doing most of them and they will suck as you do them. I don’t blame you if you don’t want to. I don’t want to do any of them. But I would still recommend doing them.
(1) TAKE DEPRESSION SERIOUSLY. The first thing that you need to do is take depression seriously. I hate the idea that I have a disability. I hate that I have to acknowledge that I have such steep limits. I hate that I love sports and can’t play them because I am ill. I want to be athletic, energetic, happy, fun, always free to help out a friend. But I can’t. I am not like that. I used to be, but I am disabled now. It is scary and intense to write that. But it is ok. There is nothing wrong with it. I need to come to terms with it. The first step to solving a problem is identifying it. If I don’t acknowledge that I am like this I won’t take the necessary steps to make it get better (or at least do what’s best for me).
You need to set yourself limits as well. In my second year I didn’t want to do this at all. I wanted to get on with life. When I hurt my knee I was happy to set myself some limits (although to be honest I was pretty rubbish at that too). I don’t have all the energy I used to have, so can’t do as much as I used to. Doing more than I need to will only tire me out and make the depression worse.
Depression is a big issue. No matter how benign the symptoms seem, you need to treat is as such. So many people say to me, “I have depression, but not as bad as yours.” Please don’t say that. That is irrelevant. Depression is important and a big issue because you are important. You are made in the image of God and as such you need to be treated with appropriate dignity. It sucks to suffer from depression, no matter what it is like. Please take it seriously. Don’t deny it, face it. It will suck, but you have to.
(2) DEPRESSION IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Please, please, please take this point and stick it on your wall. Make it the screen saver on your phone and have your friends constantly remind you of it. Depression is NOT your fault and it is not wrong that you have depression. You do not have depression because you have a bad attitude or because you have a lackluster spiritual life. You do not have depression because you aren’t a good enough human. You do not have depression because you are bad at making friends. It is not my fault that I have depression any more than it is my fault that I hurt my knee playing football. Lots of people play football and never have serious knee injuries. I got unlucky. In the same way having depression is just unlucky. Life isn’t fair and we drew the short straw in this case.
Because depression is caused by an interplay of environmental and physiological factors there will always be things out of your control which contribute to your depression. It is true that you can do things to increase your chance of depression. For example, if you just intentionally never make friends, hide from the sun, and never do exercise your chance of depression will be increased (please don’t try this). But no one who has depression wants depression. It is not your fault it happens and you should never blame yourself.
Depression is normal. So many people have it. Even though it is not talked about it is very common. It is alright to have depression. It is not your fault. Don’t feel bad about hating the world or life, it isn’t your fault. Don’t feel bad about feeling isolated, it is very common and not your fault.
(3) The title of this post may seem a bit strange, but it is crucial. Depression is a team sport. It may feel like and individual race, a 100m sprint, but it is actually more like football. You cannot play football without team mates. In fact, you need at least six teammates to play. Depression is the same. It is impossible to get through this by yourself. In this case, your team may be far more than ten teammates, or it could be less. Your team when you have depression is anyone who you have regular interaction with, friends, family, and even those awkward people in your course who you kind of know, but are not sure if they know you, so you never risk talking to them.
I know what it is to feel alone. You probably feel like you will never be loved again. You may not even care if you ever have friends again. You have probably been hurt by these people in ways they didn’t know. You feel isolated, and don’t have time or energy to devote to them. But please trust me when I say that you need them.
Now your team in depression plays a much bigger role than you think. That role can be positive or negative. It is you and your team’s job to try and make it as positive as possible. The first step in this is telling the people on your team that you have depression. I told you this section would suck.
Not everyone is a super friend who can sense when you are sad, particularly if you are interacting with different cultures where how you communicate that is different. Not everyone will be able to pick up on the symptoms because they are more subtle than other disabilities. In fact, most people don’t really know what depression is. Even if they do know it, they probably won’t have it at the forefront of their mind.
People need to be told that you have depression, and they probably need to be told what that means and how best to help you. And that sucks. It has got so much easier for me to talk about depression after telling lots of people. Yet, almost without exception I start to feel a pit in my stomach. I become very light headed and panicky. I can hardly think of it without extreme anxiety. Even writing this I am feeling tingly in my limbs. It sucks, but I want to persevere and get on with it.
Once people know there can be really positive developments. People will hopefully start to get on board and take it seriously. They will cut you some slack and understand the suffering which you are going through. They may be far more sympathetic and willing to look out for you. They may be able to help you with all those little tasks which seem impossible. I personally can’t stand calling places, but I feel like I can ask some of my friends to make calls for me if possible.
I don’t feel like I am hiding myself around the team members that know. I can be more honest, which can take the edge off of the anxiety. I definitely feel more at home saying no to things. I don’t like to say no to things, particularly if I have committed to them already. However, the reality is that my health is unpredictable and sometimes I don’t feel well enough to do things. If it is something with someone who knows that I have depression the people tend to be more understanding. If I have been flaky at any point in the last three years this is why!
Also, if they aren’t taking you seriously when you do share it be persistent. If they still aren’t taking you seriously there is a big risk that they could make it worse by making you feel more worthless and guilty. This sounds harsh, but I would limit my time with those people. I know I can’t be around them very long without feeling a lot worse.
Another benefit of telling people is that they are getting to know you a lot better. If they are even a remotely decent friend this will benefit your friendship with them. Vulnerability and dependency are key aspects of relationships, and you are making remarkable progress in both those areas by telling them.
There is a lot more to be said on this and I will (God willing) discuss it in future. The final point of this wee section is that you telling other people really helps them. You can make a world of difference to some by telling them that you have depression. You are honouring them with your decision, and if they have depression you are telling them that they are not alone. It is amazing to find out that you are not an alien. Even though you may feel like you are doing a bad job of being a human, it simply isn’t true. You are doing fine.
(4) Exercise! I know it is one of the last things on your mind, but it is one of the best anti-depressants. Regardless of your situation you should be trying your best to exercise. For some people this means 30 minutes of running a day. For others this means just a short walk. Do whatever you can. Regardless of how bad you are feeling exercising will probably be repulsive. I know I talked about setting limits earlier, but you will need to push yourself here. The benefits of doing exercise, whether you like sport or not, are many.
I am not pushing this because I love exercise, but because it is really good for your brain. Just google benefits of exercise and you will see that there is a vast amount of research showing many benefits from exercise. It is far more important for you to exercise when you are depressed than before or after.
For me I really struggle with the idea of running or cycling, so I like to do it by playing sports. I also know that if I just go by myself I probably won’t be able to manage it. Get your team on board and ask them to exercise with you. I know it helps me a lot.
(5) Get help from professionals. There are people who are trained to deal with these issues and are very good at helping. These include GPs and counselors. Going to get any help is daunting. It forces you to accept that there is something wrong, and I found that very tough. But lots of people find that it does wonders for them.
I would recommend setting up a GP appointment ASAP, or getting one of your friends to do it for you. It helps to talk through it with a medical professional to see if there is some sort of medicine that can help. They will give you good advice on steps to take to help, such as spend lots of time in the sun (Scottish people, you might as well ignore this point. We have had our 3 days of sunshine for the year). Also the sooner they know about it the easier it will be for them to help you if things take a turn for the worst.
Opening up to someone is always tough, but a trained counselor can often be easier. They are anonymous, so you won’t bump into them on the street, and are very good listeners. I know at my university there are lots of people who are available to talk with people who have depression. I am actually going to see one of them next week.
There is no shame is seeking help. There is no shame in weakness. There is great strength and humility in acknowledging that as a human being, we can’t do life without our team.
Sorry that was so long. Some sort of irony of writing a post like this for people who probably struggle with concentration. Just limited myself to five things for now.
What to do if you know someone with depression?
This is really strange for me to write. I have never been on the other side and really struggle to answer this question when asked in person. So please bear with me, work with me, let me know feedback and suggestions.
I realize that it must be so tough to be friends with someone with depression. My mood can swing like crazy from happy to don’t care about life in seconds.
I know that this one is super important though. Take depression seriously. I know that might sound familiar, but it is a big deal. Even though you can’t empathize, just trust that it sucks. This point kind of branches into a couple of other ideas.
(1) This may be my least favorite responses to depression. Never, ever, ever, ever try and relate to my struggles (just a reminder that this is a section for an audience without depression). I think I particularly hate this one because I also hate it when people try to relate to me as a TCK. If you are not a TCK you probably have no idea what I have gone through and the challenges I face. Anytime that you try and compare it to your experience (unless you are a TCK, then we can have TCK banter!) you are completely invalidating mine. You are very effectively communicating to me that you weren’t listening or understanding. It makes me feel like you don’t think our friendship is important and that I am an alien that will never be understood. And I am not being dramatic. I imagine this is something that my parents, who are not TCK’s may be frustrated by, but that is conjecture.
It is exactly the same as depression. If you do not have depression do not try to equate our experiences. Anytime you try to tell me that you too have been tired at a time, or that you sometimes feel down, or that you have gone through tough periods of life, which weren’t depression, I will feel like crap. You are communicating to me that you are not taking me seriously. You are alienating me, making me feel like I should be doing better and it is my fault I am depressed.
A very important point to mention here is that what I said there was only for people who are not taking depression seriously. If you are taking it seriously that is different and wish to compare it to your own experience that is fine, but do so with lots of humility accepting that depression is a different ball park. If you are wondering if you have depression that is fine too. Ask away and discuss it, but do so with lots of humility, showing that you are taking depression seriously.
(2) One of the most important ways in which my team has encouraged me is just asking questions. It sucks to talk about depression, and in many ways I hate having to answer them. But I find it so encouraging when my friends ask me. They are taking an interest in my life. They are showing that they are interested in me. They are showing lots of humility. They are not passively watching me suffer. Even though it gives me lots of pain, I really feel encouraged by it.
If you know someone who has depression be very interested in them. Make it clear that you are. Verbally affirm them regularly. Tell them things like “I want to help you, I am interested in your life, I love you and care deeply for you, what can I do to help?” These things are great to be reminded of when you have depression.
(3) Please just do something. The first of my friends who I told I had depression said “sorry.” Please don’t just say that. Please be active. They may need help with all sorts of little task like calling the GP for them, or doing the dishes for them (I hope my flatmate reads this). This goes along with the take it seriously idea. If they have told you that they have depression they have made themselves incredibly vulnerable to you. They have indicated that they need help. You should feel honoured that they have chosen you. Don’t let them down.
It is important to know that it is tough to be friends with someone who has depression. It will be a more energy draining and less exciting relationship. In fact, you may not be able to do that much to help them by yourself. Encourage the depressed person to get their whole team involved in it. Help set up networks of friends or supporters. Like my church did for my bad knee, get a system going to help them.
Be wary not to overstep your welcome though. If someone has confided in you something so personal and challenging it is not your secret to share (unless the situation is very serious). Don’t betray the trust they have in you. Don’t be this guy.
(4) Pray! This is unbelievably powerful. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, try it anyway. Prayer can be so significant in everyone’s lives. Pray that they have peace and that God comforts them, pray for healing in their brain, pray for wisdom and clarity in how to help them, pray that they can get through each day, and pray that they will be protected from the evil spiritual forces. People with depression need to be doing this as well.
It is so important to remember that everyone is different and needs to be helped in particular ways. These are my thoughts on it and what I have found helpful. Sorry if this seemed brutal or tough to read at points, depression isn’t lots of fun and I like to write in a bit of a Spartan manner. But please get in touch with advice, tips or suggestions. Please get in touch if you want to chat about anything, or if there is any other way I could help.