It was October when I started feeling it, the weight that just wouldn't lift. No matter what I did, I couldn't shake the sadness. It crept into my soul like the chill of winter and left me feeling vulnerable. Fragile. Alone. It wasn't until after my brother disappeared and we had to gut our kitchen that I couldn't take it anymore and I reached out to ask for help. For me, that meant talking to my doctor and finding a medication to help even out the chemical imbalance in my brain.
If you haven't dealt with depression, I'm not sure that you can understand the implications. It's not just feeling blue or sad. It goes far deeper than having a rough day. It can be physically exhausting and painful. Without fully understanding, it can be easy to say things that aren't really helpful, but are, in fact, hurtful. I wanted to share a couple of things that people have said either to me or to others I know to try to help you avoid this with the people you love.
What You Say: Maybe if you try praying/reading your Bible/worshiping more, you won't be depressed.
What I Hear: If you were a better Christian, you wouldn't have this problem.
Say this instead: How can I pray for you?
Unfortunately, in my experience, The Church has not been a safe place for those suffering with depression or other forms of mental illness. Most "Christian" circles I've been in expect you to paste a smile on and pretend everything is fine. The implication has been that those who deal with these issues are weak, sinful or just not trying hard enough when the truth is that maybe we're trying too hard. False pretenses work against healing and are exhausting to maintain. If you love that person, let them be real, even if it means you're uncomfortable in the process. You don't need to have all the answers; you just have to give love, grace and mercy.
What You Say: If you'd get out of the house more, you wouldn't be so depressed.
What I Hear: Stop being lazy.
Say this instead: Is there anywhere you need to go/errands you need to run? I can help you.
When fighting depression, everyday tasks can be absolutely exhausting. At my worst point, just leaving the house to pick up my daughter from preschool would send me to bed for the rest of the day. Why? Because it was so tiring to pretend everything was fine (see above). To put on a smile, hold in the tears and be friendly with the other Moms at pick up time, with the cashier at the grocery store, the clerk at the post office...oh, it could all be too much.
Instead of trying to push them out of the house or force them to be active, offer to go with them or run errands for them. Yes, sunshine is very helpful, but if going to to the store is too much, offer to sit with them at the park or in their back yard or wherever they feel most comfortable. Be with them through the healing, but don't try to force it.
What You Say: Have you tried not being depressed/being happy instead?
What I Hear: You could fix this if you really wanted to.
Say this instead: How can I love you better?
Imagine you have a friend with a broken arm. Would you say to them, "Have you tried not having a broken arm?" Of course not! That would be ridiculous. But so many times people think depression is a matter of choice. Having been physically ill for a long time and not knowing why (gluten intolerance), I now know that the form of depression I have currently is due to chemical imbalance and gut health. That's not something I can snap my fingers and fix, so please don't suggest that I do so.
Instead, ask your loved one how you can love them better. Maybe they need more time alone, more physical affection, time to talk it out or just time to sit and be quiet with you. Maybe they could use a healthy meal or for their bathroom to be cleaned. Maybe you know they love fresh flowers or dark chocolate. Stop by with an unexpected surprise. You'd be amazed at how one little gesture can help.
Please understand that I'm not sharing this to complain, grumble or whine. I find that often we don't know what to say so we say things that can be hurtful without meaning to. If I can help spare you or someone that experience, then sharing my pain will be worth it. And if you choose to leave a comment, please remember to be kind. We're all fighting a hard battle.