I have a link to Hyperbole and a Half over there on the right somewhere. Allie hadn't posted in a loooooong time--something like a year and a half, which in blog years is probably 4 generations of blogs living and dying.
But this week she came back, and offered up what I think is a brilliant look at depression from the inside of things (language alert: some f-bombs). I make vague references on here because I'm afraid of stigmas and assumptions and how people might think of me, but the plain truth is that I deal with depression and anxiety in my life. I've had times on meds and off, in therapy and not, and I've been fortunate to have a ton of good help from both Christian and 'secular' sources.
At this moment I'm meds-free and in a good place, keeping in mind that "in a good place" doesn't mean "everything is always only good," but that I can get out of bed in the morning and face both the good and difficult, and I'm eating and bathing and getting through each day reasonably (and often very) well. I have good habits that help me to be healthy, and while I've only recently started to be more specific about it, my faith is a huge part of that. Not the only part, mind you (and I will kick the shins of anyone who starts ranting that depression is only ever a spiritual issue, because while that could be part of it, there are approximately 57 other issues that can play into depression, and saying, implying, or insinuating that someone just needs to get it together with God is not helpful), but for me a big part.
Still, it's something I'll always have to sort of look after, maybe somewhat akin to a bum knee, or the gout, or something. I'm good at managing it, and I'm getting better all the time at asking for help when I need it.
I've had a pinky toe in some discussions about Allie's post, and one thought that struck me as really important is "if my friend is depressed or [insert most any struggle here] and needs my help but nothing I say helps, what can I do?" I think that's really valid, and I know such thoughts have caused me to back away from hard situations with friends. Not necessarily on purpose, but when you don't know what to do or say, oftentimes you fall to a default of nothing.
I've read enough rants on either side of ''nothing" to know that sometimes the wrong things can seem worse than nothing. And I do think there's some truth to that, especially if you don't know the struggling person well or at all. But assuming you have good and humble intentions--and if you're in my circle and/or taking time to read this (thank you), that is my assumption--then the wrong thing will likely be more klutzy than damaging, and klutzy can be part of healing.
I get nervous about lots of things, but one of the biggest reasons for not speaking up when I should is that I'm afraid of feeling dumb. And I think a great challenge for me has been to shift my perspective a bit when it comes to dealing with a struggling friend. Maybe I'll be a klutz and maybe not, but the point is being willing to feel a little dumb if it means helping my friend know I'm there for them.
I had in mind a few suggestions to offer of helpful things to say or do/not do for a struggling friend, but as I type them out I'm struck by how individual the healing process is. Oftentimes a big part of depression is self-isolating, so it can be a really hard balance between pursuing the struggling friend while still giving them space to process. I think the most you can do is to be there for your friend, and by being there I mean to let them know what you are available to do, and offer to do it. Or if there is truly nothing to be done, being able and willing to be there even though things can be awkward and uncomfortable. Most of all, please remember that you can't fix it, and to try would be codependent, and codependency leads to greater wounding instead of healing. So don't be codependent.
--Maybe you can handle listening to their hardest struggles, without making them feel the need to comfort you about their struggles. Maybe you're really good at compartmentalizing, and helping them let out those hard things, and have a good support network of your own for when you get overwhelmed. But maybe not.
--Maybe you can handle sitting with them in a coffee shop for 45 minutes. Or 20. Or 120. But maybe not.
--Maybe you know people or places to connect them with, and you have the permission to do so. But maybe not.
--Maybe you're good at treating struggling people normally, instead of tiptoeing around them as if they have the plague or something. But maybe not. (this one is not my strong point. I get weird)
--Maybe you're good at not being freaked out when they get weird. But maybe not.
--Maybe you have a gift for giving them a break from their troubles with healthy distractions, funny stories, ice cream, something light you need help with, or anything to give a moment of normal. But maybe not.
--Maybe you know them well enough to suggest activities they might tolerate well. "Enjoy" could very well be too much to ask, but "be OK with" could be doable. But maybe not.
--Maybe you are really good at telling by asking: "Would you let me take you for coffee right now?" "Would you let me come over and just hang for an hour?" "Would you let me treat you to a mani-pedi?" (Please don't offer Skerrib a mani-pedi) "Would you come sit with me at the park and watch my kiddos be goofy?" But maybe not.
--Maybe you are good at truly praying well. Maybe you are discerning about things you can ask God for, or you're just really good at saying "God, I have no idea what my friend needs, but you do." But maybe not.
--Maybe you don't do anything. Maybe you just say simple, truthful things: "I'm sorry it is so hard right now." "Yikes, that's the pits." "I care about you." "You are important to me."
In my experience, even my closest and most trusted friends haven't "fixed" anything for me. A few have been the big counselor-type listeners and the ones to tell me hard things and challenge me. Some have shared similar struggles. Mostly though, they've been there by laughing, even when my humor gets dark. They've sent me quick little "I'm thinking of you" types of blurbs, and dared to speak even though they felt klutzy about it. They've been themselves. They let me know I wasn't alone, and that my depression wasn't more powerful than their love for me.
And somehow, all those little and big things together add up to healing...