Depression And The Need For Others
He hid it well, but still, it leaked from his edges. And when he could no longer feel around the edges of anything, he came to see me.
“I shouldn’t be here”, he said.
I knew what he meant. Depression has a way of making us feel so undeserving.
It’s the house guest no one wants. The one that shows up uninvited with its baggage and intentions to share your room for an unknown length of time. The one that accompanies you to work, the supermarket, and when you see family and friends.
This house guest criticises you often, even for small things. He’s quick to scoff at your efforts, highlight your errors, and blame you in all circumstances. You try not to listen but he’s loud and insistent. Each day, he talks more. It’s always about how inadequate you are.
Activities with this house guest aren’t enjoyable like they used to be, so you begin doing them less, meaning you and he spend more time at home together. You begin to believe his criticism. You begin to criticise yourself. This punishing thinking is exhausting. You spend more and more time in bed. Daily functioning – tasks like getting dressed, cooking, cleaning - feel insurmountable. The world becomes unbearable and your life becomes unwanted.
Just like the house guest.
As its effects become increasingly immobilising, those who experience depression tend to feel as if they and their depression are one and the same. Casting depression as an unwanted house guest is a way of differentiating between the individual and their illness.
Understanding that depression is something that happens to you, and is not something that you are, is an important perspective for recovery. Strong feelings of worthlessness and guilt, which are diagnostic symptoms of depression, can inhibit sufferers from help-seeking.
Worthlessness and guilt can also make depressed people withdraw socially. They perceive that others will experience them the way they experience themselves. They don’t want to be dreary, disinterested, disagreeable or burdensome.
When we are depressed, most of our thoughts are about how bad we are. Depression distorts the way we see ourselves. We lose sight of our positive qualities and strengths.
Said simply: depression is a liar. It makes us think things that are wrong.
Connecting with others allows us to experience how they see us. Their perceptions are more truthful than ours because they don’t have depression (and therefore aren’t being lied to). Their perceptions can correct our negative thoughts. This can happen because we internalise how they see and relate to us and are therefore able to relate to ourselves in more accurate, positive ways.
The caveat to this is that we connect with people who care about us. Connecting with a bully won’t correct your perceptions. It’s wise to be selective about the people you allow yourself to get close to. Things of value should be entrusted to people who will value them.
Avoiding connections with others also causes loneliness. Loneliness tends to prolong and intensify depression. The client who claimed “I shouldn’t be here” had been battling his depression by himself for most of the year. Coming to see me felt like defeat. But truthfully, he was giving himself opportunity to overcome.
Talking about depression helps – not because it gets fixed, but because it gets shared. Words connect us to each other. When we let someone into our struggles, we are comforted. We no longer feel so alone.
If you are experiencing depression, one of the best things you can do is to share how you’re feeling with someone who is compassionate and trustworthy. Someone you feel comfortable with.
It’s the things in the dark that destroy us the most. Talking about depression exposes it to the light.