When you are not the depressed one

First in a three-part series on depression.

Jo’s father was quiet, distant, worked hard and drank harder. After he stopped working, he drank less; instead, he sat in the living room and stared at a blank TV screen all day. One day, he lurched from the sofa, vigorously “beating bugs” off his arm, collapsed and died.

So when her son told her that he was an alcoholic – at 21 – she didn’t believe him. He was sweet, outgoing and funny as hell. Their family, including his three older sisters, doted on him. Then calls started coming: from friends, EMS, police. Soon long sleeves, caps and sunglasses couldn’t cover the cuts and bruises from falling.

Today she realized both men had been severely depressed. Liquor simply worked better than Prozac.

“For someone living with depression, talking to a person they trust is often the first step towards treatment and recovery,” said Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization. I couldn’t agree more. But where’s the “recovery” for this trusted person?

Jo said, “They’re nice and sweet people. I love them and I hate it.”

To support loved ones with depression, here’s how you stay afloat:

1. Self-preservation

As they teaching Lifeguarding 101: Don’t drown with the person you’re saving. “Doing what you can” isn’t selfish. It’s OK to walk away if you can’t listen anymore. Don’t pick up the phone. Garden, walk, run, row, start a diary/blog, drink a kale smoothie, anything to stay active and healthy. Give yourself room to breathe.

2. Humor

Got your own Pandora’s box of negative feelings – all that worry, anger, guilt, fear, hurt, sadness, frustration? Well, think funny. Humor provides surprising insights, bridges hurtful divides and diffuses tension. We’d totally avoid a nuclear apocalypse if either North Korean leader Kim Jong Un or President Trump had a nano-ounce of humor.  

3. Enough is enough

While Jo hesitates to put demands on her son, her daughter-in-law doesn’t. She works and has to deal with the ups and downs of his mood. She goes to Al-Anon meetings. They help to understand when aiding becomes enabling. 

4. More ears, less lip

My mom said we have two ears and one mouth to remind us (or maybe just me) to listen more and talk less. Depressed people get plenty of everybody-knows-better-than-me advice. First off, you’re not getting paid – the pressure’s off. Second, if you don’t walk in their flip-flops, it’s hard to appreciate how life can drag. Remember you are not the problem – or the solution. There’s much to be said for just being there and listening.

5. Patience

In living with her son’s depression, Jo imagined herself as a girl again in her aunt’s farm out in Pennsylvania, where she and her sister spent many bright summer days hunting for crayfish. Because any abrupt movement could stir up silt and muddy the water, the girls moved ever so gently, turning over rocks one at a time.

And that’s where Jo is now, slow and steady, sharp-eyed and hopeful, wading and waiting and wishing for small triumphs.

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Volume 9, Issue 23, Posted 10:36 AM, 12.05.2017