by Emily Krawczyk and MK Backstrom
Have you been there? Those who have aren’t likely to forget it.
Basic tasks become cumbersome monsters, impossible to conquer. Brushing your teeth can feel like a marathon. Sunshine is offensive. Rainy days make it worse.
I have a friend who suffers terribly from depression. It breaks my heart to see. At first, everything inside of me wanted to drag her out of her house into a world of sunshine and happiness. Maybe she would feel better if, well, she just tried? I talked to her about how beautiful life is. Reminded her of her countless blessings.
Cause that will totally fix it!
I wasn’t being helpful. In fact, I was being clueless.
Depression isn’t rooted in laziness or ingratitude.
And while my ideas weren’t innately bad–I realized I was trying to make myself feel better about her depression.
I spoke with my friend. I asked her outright: What should someone do for a loved one who is suffering? What helps?
Together we discussed her feelings. Her perspective. Her pain. And then we worked on some bearings that really helped me be a better friend. Today I’d like to share those with you.
1) Ask and Accomplish.
First of all–ask your friend: What is overwhelming you most right now?
Is she tired from a fussy baby? Are the dishes in the sink feeling like an impossible task? Maybe the laundry is piled up to the ceiling and it makes her want to hide in bed.
Do it. Hold her baby so she can shower and sleep. Start a load of dishes. Fold the laundry.
It’s amazing what a small thing can do for the mindset of an overwhelmed sufferer.
2. Understand that depression is a chemical, physical illness.
A whole host of “invisible” illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances of the brain. You wouldn’t tell a buddy with a broken leg to “just walk it out.” In the same way, your hurting friend can’t make the pain just disappear.
Be kind. Be patient. Your friend is sick, in legitimate pain, and in need of support.
3. Offer your presence with no expectations.
Sometimes, doing little things can make a huge difference. Check in with a phone call. Drop off a Starbucks with a hug. Offer to babysit.
But do these things with no strings attached. No expectations.
Your friend’s mood may not visibly brighten when you are with her–but that doesn’t mean you aren’t helping.
Remember that her sadness is the illness. Try not to take it personally.
4. Notice–and celebrate–little efforts.
Did she get outdoors? Does her hair look nice? This may seem like common sense–but tell her! Little encouragements are very affirming to someone who is pushing back against their depression.
5. Know Your Limits
Your friend has an illness that merits professional intervention. You can’t be their doctor, so dont try. Suggesting ways they could “feel better” is really a bad idea unless they ask. What you can–and should do–is be a shoulder to cry on, a hand to reach for, and a hug that is sorely needed.
Depression is hard. Not only on the sufferer, but on their loved ones as well. But you–as a friend–have a powerful opportunity. You can bring a little sunshine to someone stuck in the rain.
And that is a beautiful thing.
If you or a loved one needs help with depression or another related mental illness, visit ADAA for information on treatment options and referrals.
Emily and Mary Katherine were instant friends when they met at a quaint horse barn in Alabama, 2008. Their mutual passion for horses, Stevie Nicks, bizarre humor and political discourse grew their bond. In 2015, when both women launched writing careers, it was a natural evolution of their friendship to collaborate creatively. This was their first joint essay. You can find more from Emily at The Laughing Lesbian, an online magazine dedicated to “women empowering women”. LL can also be found on facebook.