If your life is OK and you are functioning day-to-day but struggling with depression, you’re not alone. Many people who are depressed may be functioning well outwardly, excelling at work or school, maintaining relationships, and carrying on with their social life. But just because your life is going how you planned, doesn’t mean that you can’t experience depression at the same time. It’s important to remember that depression isn’t your fault and you don’t choose to have it. It’s not an equation where “good” life = no depression and “bad” life = depression. Most importantly, don’t feel guilty for your depression. You may think that because your life seems OK, you shouldn’t be depressed, and then you end up feeling guilty for it. That guilt you carry around will only make you feel worse and intensify your depression. When struggling with depression, it’s important to deal with it head on. Tell your close family and friends that you are depressed or having a hard time. Yes, it can be terrifying to start that conversation with people, but it’s an important step in the healing process.
Here are some tips for managing your expectations, starting the conversation, and responding to friends and family who don’t give you the support you need:
Don’t expect everyone to fully understand what you’re going through, especially if they haven’t had any mental illness themselves, haven’t been around other people who have, or were even in denial themselves of their own emotional struggles. Keeping this concept in mind will help to prevent you from being let down when they don’t understand or can’t provide the support you are seeking. It may take them some time to grapple with what you are telling them. They may feel uncomfortable around depression, and because of their own insecurities or guilt, they may want to fix you or deny your depression. Don’t be surprised if someone is incredulous when you are opening up to them.
As stated earlier, it’s important to deal with depression head on and bring your close friends and family into the discussion and into your world. Isolation makes depression worse and much more difficult to resolve. While you shouldn’t expect your friends and family to cure you, they can be a sounding board and allow you to feel and express pain. When first informing them of your depression, keep in mind that they may not know anything about depression or what you are going through. Let them know that depression impacts your mental and physical state of being and the amount of energy you have. While you still might be busy doing all of the “right” things, depression makes everything a chore, even the things that were once fun. The enjoyment you once got from those things seems gone. People see that you are doing something (going to school/work, hanging out, keeping your life together), but internally you don’t get joy from it. Your friends and family don’t see your internal experience or how you think or feel, so they assume everything is fine because everything appears that way on the surface. You might put your feelings of depression aside temporarily to get through something or when you’re around people. Therefore, your friends and family might not have known you’ve been depressed all along.
Once your loved ones are ready to support you, ask them to gently encourage you to go out, learn something new, meet new people, go to therapy, write in a journal, look for the good in the world, and remind you of the things that make you feel good. Encouragement from others is essential to your growth, but make sure you are clear between encouragement and placing expectations on you or micro-managing your life. That added pressure could feed into your depression. They need to understand that you need to be empowered to make the changes yourself.
But what do you do when your loved ones are in denial about your depression? What if they, because of their own insecurities or fears, refuse to believe you’re depressed? Or worse, what if someone thinks you’re just looking for pity or attention? It’s easy to get defensive or shut people out, but try your hardest not to. Be mindful of your intention when starting the conversation and responding to their reaction. Your goal is to convey a message, not to persuade the other person to change their feelings or thoughts. The message is: “I am letting you know I have depression. I don’t need to have a reason for why I am depressed that you approve of. It doesn’t have to be the same reason you would be depressed. I don’t have to give you an answer or a reason that you agree with.” You don’t have to give an answer or an explanation for your depression, especially if you haven’t been to therapy or explored it, yet. You are also allowed to NOT ANSWER. This is your journey, and you don’t owe an explanation to anyone. If the person is giving you a hard time for being depressed and thinks you are looking for sympathy, let them know how that makes you feel. You can say, “When you say that to me, that’s not allowing me to feel what I feel,” “You’re not allowing me to fight this battle,” “You’re posing judgment on me and it makes me feel like I can’t share with you,” or “You feeling this way is on YOU. It is not my intention and I don’t choose to be depressed.” Remember, you are not looking to change their minds about anything, instead you are informing them of what you are going through.
Here’s a quick recap of what to say to your family and friends:
- I have depression and it’s no one’s fault.
- I don’t have a reason, or have to give you a reason, for why I am depressed.
- You shouldn’t be scared when I tell you I have negative or uncomfortable thoughts.
- Sometimes I need you to just listen – I’m not always looking for advice.
- Remind me why I matter as a person.
- Remind me of my goals and things that help me get there.
- Don’t tell me what to do, remind me of what makes me feel good.
- I don’t need you to be a hero and try to fix or rescue me.
- Monitoring or micro-managing me will not help me and is not what I need.
- But also don’t enable me by allowing me to be alone too much or isolate, which makes me more depressed.
- Don’t try to force me to change.
- Have patience with me, I am on my own timeline – not yours.
- Give me a chance to heal so I can be empowered to make the change myself.
Regardless of what people think, this is your reality. Remember to let go of the guilt and focus on the good things in your life. Your friends and family can’t make you not depressed, but if they are aware of what you are going through, they can help encourage you so you can be empowered to get the help you need. If you need additional encouragement, guidance, and support, contact Dr. Heather Violante at Serenity Lane. Therapy can help you be your best self so you can enjoy life again.