I live with chronic depression.
Despite my combination punch of exercise, routine and self-imposed social time to regulate it, somedays I will wake up with depression sitting on my chest. In that moment, if someone were to ask me, “What can I do to help?” It is difficult for me to answer. When I’m in the thick of it, taking a shower is a grim prospect, let alone telling you what I need. So I let my nearest and dearest know ahead of time what they can do to help.
It doesn’t have to be big, in fact sometimes it is better if it is something small-a text, a postcard, dropping off a treat at the door. When I am low, I believe the lie that no one cares about me. It’s difficult to keep believing this when friends are reaching out to me.
One friend knows how difficult each movement can be during this time so we’ve started a “One word Check In” text. She sends out a text saying “One Word Check In”. I respond with SAD or OVERWHELMED. She will not make a comment on it but will respond with her own, LAZY or HUNGRY, to bring me out of myself for a moment. She might send this text to me once a day or if she knows my situation is tough, she might do it around her meals times. It lets me know she’s there if I need more.
One of the best things someone can do to help is tell me something true and positive about myself. Not only am I believing that no cares about me, I believe I am not worthy of anyone’s love. Hearing that someone loves something specific about me, knocks that lie down. A got a voicemail during a depressed episode where a friend said, “Hey I just want to let you know I was thinking about how much you love old people. It makes me more sensitive to them too.” The message really spoke to me. It made me feel like someone noticed the real me.
Get Them Out of the House
Studies show that just being outside can calm anxious and depressed thoughts. Offer to take your friend on a walk. The thought might be overwhelming to them. Assess their ability and say something like, “We can just walk to the end of the block and see how you feel” or “Let’s walk out 5 minutes and if you don’t like it, we can come right back.” This will help them feel like they have some sense of control.
A Walk is best but even just getting your friend to sit out on the front porch or balcony to breathe fresh air could help in a pinch. Maybe from the front step, they might feel strong enough to go for a walk to the end of the block.
A cluttered space is a cluttered mind. If you visit your friend at home and find a messy home, help. Do the dishes, take out the trash. These tasks are overwhelming for those of us in the throws of depression but also sink us deeper as we sit in it.
Clutter can also show itself in our words. So often a friend comes over to help but is so nervous, they just talk the whole time. It’s not helpful. It’s overwhelming. Keep your words sparse. Keep them in the present tense. Your friend is just trying to survive today, he doesn’t want to think about the project that is due on Friday or the family member visiting next month.
Making healthy food choices is not easy while in the throws of a depressive episode. Sometimes when I finally feel like getting up to find something to eat, I settle for handfuls of candy or sugary trail mix. I love when someone makes me a salad or shows up with a smoothie and of course, you all know how I feel about cut up fruit.
I hope these tools are helpful for the time your friend is in the throws of depression. No need to ask them, “what can I do?”—you have a few ideas. Yet in all of this, remember what so many have told us, most of life is just showing up. Being there is the best help you can offer.