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Depression

Today a man who nobody knew was suffering took his own life. Depression and suicide are being discussed on the internet, and this is a good thing because it’s not discussing these things that lead people to believe they have no options.

Before I say anything else, I want to say this. I don’t suffer from depression. As far as I’m aware I never have. I do feel very detached from things sometimes, and as a teenager I thought about suicide, but no more than I assumed everyone does when they’re all hormonal and angry.  But there was never an actual chance of me actually doing it. I never felt like it was my only way out, nor did I feel that everyone else would be better off without me. If I ever did feel that (hormonally and angrily) I thought about leaving town, not about destroying myself.

So no, I don’t have depression. I have stress, stress is my poison, if you like. Stress is a completely different animal, and I wouldn’t dream of comparing the two.

I also want to say that this blog isn’t about me. It is written from my perspective, but I am not asking for anything. If anything, this is an apology for all the things I don’t understand. And I write from the perspective of someone who understands that they don’t understand, and if I write something that is incredibly stupid, then I need to be set right, because I do want to understand, I do, I want to understand as much as I am able, and if that involves backing off and dropping the subject, then let me know. Because I’m not trying to crawl inside someone’s head where I’m not welcome. I just don’t want anyone to feel alone if it can possibly be avoided.

Today people who do suffer from depression, and people who know people who suffer from depression, are talking about it very authoritatively, and this is important I think because all we can do is try to understand. Some people find themselves disagreeing… not so much disagreeing as not expressing themselves clearly, or not being understood properly, or whatever the case is, and what’s being thrown around a lot today is this.

“You don’t understand.”

This is true. This is very true. I do not understand. I do not stigmatise, I do not blame, I am not impatient, I am not cruel, but I do not understand. And I never will.

It’s like trying to explain the colour blue to someone, without them ever having seen the colour blue. How could they possibly understand?

They can learn about shade and tone and hue in theory, and they may become an expert in the colour blue, but would they know it if they saw it? Would they be able to feel the feeling that the colour blue might evoke in someone else? Someone whose lover has blue eyes? Someone thinking of the “something blue” from their wedding? Someone who has spent parts of their life on the ocean? How could they possibly?

I don’t understand.

I try to understand, but it’s all maths to me. I can recite what I’ve been told, and I can imagine in my head what it might be like, although imagining what it might be like can’t possibly come close to feeling it, because one of the things I am led to understand about depression is that it can be all-encompassing, and you’re not standing on the outside watching it, like I am, purely by the nature of my involvement being third party.

What I can do is listen, and try to keep an eye on the options that someone in a pit of depression can’t see, because it seems to be really, really dark down there. What I can do is be there, and I can do whatever needs to be done, whatever might help, or whatever will have no effect on the depression but might take someone’s mind off something for an hour or two.

I don’t understand. But do I need to understand? I’m not judgmental, I understand that you can’t ‘snap out of it’, I understand that nobody wants to have depression. Someone who’s depressed isn’t wallowing in it relishing the extra attention. I understand that.

Is that enough to understand?

I understand that some people commit suicide, or try to commit suicide, for various reasons. If I were to list the reasons, it would be me reciting the maths again, reasons I’ve been told and reasons I’ve heard, not reasons I’ve felt. As someone who’s never felt depressed, the only understanding I have is from the other side, the side of the person left behind, and even that I have only ever felt from a distance, I’ve never lost a loved one, but I’ve lost an acquaintance. And as an acquaintance, I’ve been close enough to see the loved ones in their grief. For this reason I kind of feel like it’s not my place to say anything more about suicide. But if someone has failed in a suicide attempt, is it enough that I understand that whatever they need, it’s not scolding? Maybe their ability to scold themselves is part of the healing. Maybe when they reach that stage it means they’re starting to do OK again, get out from under the shadow. Or maybe not. I don’t know, because I don’t understand.

The thing that this all reminds me of is the scene below, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I know, I know, this seems incredibly crass. But it actually makes me cry every time I watch it, because it is a very powerful scene. Anya is an ex-demon, she has lived for 900 years and is now human again, with human friends for the first time in almost a millenium. Buffy’s mother has just died and her human friends are grieving. Anya doesn’t understand, because Anya has never lost anyone she loved, and isn’t used to grieving. She doesn’t understand.

I feel like Anya. It’s incredibly frustrating to know that someone needs something, but having no idea what it is, or why it’s happening, or how to help, or even if you can’t help, and if you can’t help, why can’t you help, which idiot invented this? I am very lucky, I know, I am so thankful that I don’t have the inside track on depression.

So tell me, am I supposed to ask questions, or does the fact that I don’t understand mean I should just shut up and back off and stay out of it? I don’t even know whether my concern is welcome or whether it will be perceived as something else.

All I want to know is what I can do, what I can say, or where I should stand.

So what I will do is listen, and stand at your shoulder, and offer you the things I know you like, and hope that at least you realise that whatever your options, I am present and I care.

Incidentally, I read this by Allie Brosh, and I found it amazing.

10 responses to “Depression

  1. linda ⋅

    I don’t think anyone understands- including the person suffering.
    Listening, without obvious judgement (we all judge, don’t we? It’s just whether you hand out the judgement or not) is probably the only thing one can do.

  2. Roxy ⋅

    Brilliant post. It’s actually a wonderful representation of not knowing what depression is like. In my nuclear family of 5 I’m the only one who hasn’t been diagnosed with depression. At one point I was living in a house with 4 depressed people, I still couldn’t tell you that I understand depression or what they were going through or even understand why they were depressed. I just got on with my life and tried not to antagonise, upset or wind them up, I mentioned to a friends mum that my dad was suffering depression & PTSD following his experience during the Falklands, she said ‘that was 25 years ago, he should be over it by now’, I almost swung for the woman. 2 years ago an aunt of mine committed suicide, it was suspected that that if she had been taking her anti-depressants properly she wouldn’t have done it. I don’t know if that’s true because I’m not an expert on these things. At the end of the day we’re on the outside looking in, never able to understand unless we’ve been there (which hopefully is never) all we can do is not judge and carry on.

    • diabetses ⋅

      Thank you. I haven’t been immersed in it like you have, I can’t even imagine how that must’ve felt like for *you*, never mind for *the others*. Like you say, though, we’re the lucky ones and if we live our whole lives without ever properly understanding, it won’t be something for us to make a fuss about.

  3. Fran

    This post really moved me. This world needs a lot more people like you who arent afraid to stand up and say you don’t understand and you don’t pretend to but that you are there. It’s the people like you who help the most and who often pick up the pieces. Unfortunately depression has been a big part of my life. It’s part of me, it’s a part of my boyfriend, it’s part of so many of my family and friends lives that it actually seems like it’s not true. It’s like a soap and it seems ridiculous if I’m entirely honest! But this is the power of the human brain. Just a small thought or feeling grows and grows and consumes and takes over and before you know it, you’ve lost a handle on things and you are just fumbling around in the dark tryin to find a way out.

    It’s people like you who help more thanyou will probably ever know. It’s people who don’t give up even when they are made to feel bad, to feel unloved and to feel like they are making things worse.

    Thank you for writing this. It’s beautifully written and I think your buffy analogy is far from crass; it’s spot on.

  4. Georgi_i_Am ⋅

    This is a wonderfully written post, and to me, it rings true. Unfortunately I’ve seen the colour blue, and I’ve lived with it for 6 years, but I still don’t understand depression, and if I speak to other people who have depression then I don’t understand what it’s like for them either.

    It’s different for everyone, but once people know that I have this illness, I prefer them to ask questions, otherwise it’s a big elephant in the room. I became very good at putting on a happy, smiley, joking front, replying “fine” when people asked how I was. But it’s lovely to have someone who you can reply honestly to when they ask how you are, someone who you know will just listen, give you a hug, or simply be there. But the best people also recognise that depression is just a part of you, like eye colour or hair colour, and it doesn’t always need to be mentioned, or talked about. That is what’s best for me, but what you should do, say and where you should stand is different for everyone, and that what makes it so difficult. More than anything, people will thank you for not pretending to be an expert, and for wanting the best for them.

    • diabetses ⋅

      Thank you for reading it, and for your perspective, I appreciate the opportunity to learn a bit more, or at least to have a bit more context.

  5. dotmund ⋅

    Another excellent post.

    I’ve always disliked the “you don’t understand” mentality. Not only does it assume that every depressive person is going through the same thing, but it’s also a typically parochial depressive attitude. Depression is a filthy thing. I’ve lived with it all my adult life. And the thing I hate most about it is its selfishness. The way everything turns inward. The way everything becomes about you.

    But again, that could just be my own experience of it. I suppose it’s a very human impulse to try and categorise things into groups based on our own observations and experiences. How lucky we are, then, that there also exists the human impulse to care for one another, no matter what. Thank you.

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