Depression Advice, and Why I Suck At It
It’s complicated to be a veteran of a mental illness. God, I sound like such a pompous asshole when I say that, but hear me out.
Where do you draw the line between thinking you’re full of shit and thinking, “Hey, I know more than the average person about this particular topic!” Right after I got out of the outpatient program at the local hospital I thought to myself, “I may not know everyone’s depression, but I have experience. I want to help others.” And then I fully recovered. And then a year passed. And soon it will be two years since the anniversary of the “lowest of the low”, a.k.a. whenever I hit rock bottom. I feel so far away from that person I was in the hospital, that person crying in her car, begging God to forgive her for being the shittiest person alive. I feel free, I feel happy. So what’s the problem?
The problem is, that once everyone knows you have depression, or chronic depression, or used to have depression (hence the “veteran” status), they ask you about other people with depression. Take my roommate Caitlin. Her sister is going through a really rough time right now, and she’s been venting to me about it. It’s great because I know she trusts me, but it sucks because I don’t know what to say. Which is a normal reaction, except that because I’ve had experience with depression, I now feel all of this pressure to give some sage advice. Not that Caitlin makes me feel that way or anything, but it’s like if you’ve been hit by a truck and you see other people in the hospital who have been in car accidents. You want to help them, because you’ve sort of been there, but at the same time you can’t think of shit to say to someone who was in an 18 car pile-up whenever you got hit by a truck driver singing Cher with his eyes closed.
I know people don’t expect me to solve their problems or have any real answers, because the bottom line is that when someone is going through serious depression, all you can do is get them to see a professional and be supportive: meaning, there isn’t shit you can do except watch them either get better or worse. But I still feel guilty for not being able to share some sort of words of wisdom. When I think back to my own experience, all I wanted to know was two things: that life was going to get better, and that someone really loved me and would keep loving me. Both of those things look different for every person, so I have no idea how I’m supposed to translate that into a way to make others feel useful when helping their depressed loved ones.
If you really want to know the truth, the scariest part of my depression, and I’m guessing for other people with long-term chronic depression, is that there is no real reason why it happens. One day it is triggered, and suddenly the build-up starts happening, the moments of loneliness that were never there before, pushing your loved ones away because now you feel lonely around them, guilt for pushing them away even though they love you, the isolation, the self hatred, I could go on and on about how I knew it was there, but I couldn’t give you one damn reason why it started. Maybe it’s a chemical imbalance, maybe it’s a neurotic personality, maybe it’s “crazy”. I don’t know why depression follows me around, but I know what’s it’s like to feel mad at the world because other people get to be happy and carefree, and you must struggle to get out of bed or not constantly harm yourself.
Maybe I’ll never help anyone. That’s the part that scares me about becoming a psychologist. Maybe I’ll never get my shit together, maybe I’ll fail. But the possibility that I might help someone, that I might pull someone out of that hole that you think you’ll die in…well, that is what’s worth the risk.