Comforting the Depressed - Inversely, to the Depressed

jny published on
6 min, 1061 words

Categories: Mental Health

This is part of a series and I would recommend starting from the beginning if you have not done so already. You can find all the posts in the series under the tag "Comforting the Depressed".

Be patient. Be grateful, when possible. Be open.

It's important to remember that, at every step and stage and form of comfort, both sides are engaged. The primary reason for this series, looking back, is because (a) depression is vastly misunderstood and most people don't seem to have a clue how to approach it, and (b) depression can make one not seek comfort actively for a myriad of reasons, ranging from hopelessness to self-loathing to learned helplessness. But of course, the depressed is an active party; all relationships are two way streets.

This series has been "comforting the depressed" but there is also something to be said for "being comforted as the depressed". (Which may yield a series in an of itself, we shall see.) As for the moment, I cannot write anything to that effect presently, but I do know there is something to be said. Perhaps it varies wildly from case to case, but there are some observations I've made through my experiences that I believe can be applied to most.

So, to the depressed, someone has become an active form of comfort in your life. Perhaps they understand depression well or, more likely, they have gaps in their knowledge. What can you do to help yourself be comforted (often despite yourself)?

Try to be patient. Understand that sometimes they are trying they're hardest, and they don't always understand immediately. Just like how I don't always understand my own self immediately. Depression in particular is something that is familiar enough to give one the perception that they understand it fully, but alien enough to render one confused and often irritated. Be patient if they do not understand that you may hold a belief contradictory to something that you know. Be patient if their "listening" is unfocused. Be patient if it takes repetition for them to understand just how to be validating, and even with greater difficulty, how to not be invalidating.

Try to communicate: "This is what I need". For even the most close of relationships in my life, some have taken a long time for me to get through to them to just listen. This had to be metered out with both patience and communication; it's wishful thinking to believe that they will self-correct without any feedback. And try to be prepared that people can and will miss the mark. For me, that can feed deeply as evidence into hopelessness and contending with that is its own battle. But at the very least, acknowledging that the other person has the propensity to be ineffective will make one more grounded if/when that situation arises.

Know that this is difficult. For both of you. I mean, all of depression is, most would agree, but in particular, determining how to communicate what's in my head is often more of a challenge than the other person understanding it. And while this has varied in degree throughout my experience with depression, I can still say: sometimes I don't even know what I need. Many times, I don't know why I'm feeling the way I am or the source of the thought patterns. This can be frustrating beyond belief. Imagine it from the eyes of another who have even less access to your brain than you do.

Try to accept what they say. Ideally, this would be "keep",

And lastly: try not to let yourself get bogged down in absolutes. A lot of this is in language; in the subtitle I wrote "be patient" for brevity but above I deliberately chose to use "try to be patient", because the former can cause my brain to instantly shut down and dismiss the rest out of hand. It sounds condescending, to tell me to just "be" anything; that's what depression is, in a large sense, a malfunction wherein one has lost some level of self-control. This is something that I'm still very much learning to deal with myself. An area I have made headway in is accepting statements as they are. It's so very hard for me to accept that I have had growth in almost any area and when someone tells me I have, again, my brain rejects it in totality. And that last bit is where the secret lies: in totality. You don't have to believe what they are saying 100%; hell, you don't have to believe it at all. At the very least, I have got myself in the habit of saying "I don't believe you, but I accept what you're saying" and indeed have true inner acceptance as registering what they said. I find depression very often makes me want to deal in absolutes: either I must accept all of it, or none of it, and so if any part is rejected, so is the whole. Comfort from an outside source can be incredibly helpful because, for those who feel that we are trapped inside our own heads too much, we are engaging with someone who is literally and figuratively outside of our head. Much of what they say may be foreign or even viscerally repulsive, but my own continued challenge is -contrary to expecting myself to believe it as whole- take whatever I can. It may feel small, but even the act of not rejecting a statement but accepting its existence can be the start of a new habit.

This is the end of the series, for now. My far-off hope is that someone will find one or all of these posts useful in the way they relate to comforting a depressed individual they know, or perhaps even as someone who is seeking comfort but not always sure what to expect.

But ultimately, as with all posts on this blog, this is about my own journey of self-discovery; these posts are not a call to action for those of the world, but rather the results of what I've learned based on my experiences. For, to me, beginning to understand how to be comforted is yet another form of self-awareness, and that, in the end, is the true journey to the center of self.