There’s an old proverb by Virgil and later Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, which is “L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs“. In modern times we understand this as “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” While the apparent explanation is that Hell is full of good meanings and Heaven good works, I attribute the saying to depression, or rather those looking in from the outside.
Chances are you either have depression or know someone who does, even if you may or may not believe them. As many have described depression before me, it is a leech or a monster or a combination of both that sits on a person’s back. This thing whispers the most self-loathing, self-deprecating thoughts and emotions into that person’s brain. It incapacitates them in a number of ways and may include other problems such as anxiety. Basically, it’s a really shit thing to have.
I’ve been depressed for a long, long time. At first, I thought it started in my early 20s when my father passed away and I was having relationship and work problems. My own depression actually started when I was a much younger Graham. You see, I was a pretty quiet kid and I remember my family even making jokes about this for a while (and how skinny I was, but I showed them when I discovered McDonald’s and a disposable income). I remember walking through the primary school gates and telling myself “They’re all watching you. All of the other kids think you’re a fuck up. No one actually likes you or wants to play with you. Fuck you, Graham. Fuck you.”
Those are pretty heavy thoughts to have as a child of six or seven years old, which is probably why my favourite song at the time was “Life is a Lemon (and I want my Money back)” by Meat Loaf. Kids having depression is a reality that people don’t want to face, but is something that should be talked about more often.
In my early 20s I did try to get my money back several times, but that is a discussion for another day.
The point of my story is that depression is the utmost of bastards, or fuckers, or cunts, or whatever other words you may believe to be strong or vulgar (we do give those words power, after all).
You may be the person that listens to someone else’s depression. It’s not an easy job and can be downright draining as well. Hell, you may even want to push them away in order to make yourself happier and concentrate on your own life. It really is completely understandable. When talking to those with depression, there are a few things that you should always keep in mind, though these don’t apply to everyone.
I’ll skip over the “stop being depressed,” or “just be happy” comments because you’re pretty much a dick if you say those things and you should be re-evaluating your own life choices as a person. Seriously, do not ever say anything like that to someone who is truly depressed. I had that for a few years, hiding the monster under my shirt and pretending it wasn’t there in order to not inconvenience others. It doesn’t help anyone at all.
The first rule may seem a little shocking: do not to tell the person you’re always there to talk. The reality is, you’re not, and you have your own life. Not to mention whatever guidance or wisdom you may think you’re imparting can be far more detrimental than you believe it to be. Also the words “Aww, shame,” are an absolute punch in the gut — it’s fucking awful.
Don’t try and tell the person that your life is worse than theirs. Yea, sure maybe you were over-charged at the store or your boss yelled at you, but will you get over it? More thank likely, yea. You won’t be living with deprecating pain for years and years. Saying how worse your day/week/year has been may add to that person’s depression (depending on who it is) as they may then start to worry about you besides themselves. It’s a selfish thing to say.
Please don’t try and recommend some sort of weird remedies you’ve heard about on the internet. Seriously, drinking ginger and lemon with some ground up root isn’t going to cure depression. Have some fucking common sense. If the person needs medication, they’re should probably see a psychologist and not some home remedy. Or church. Going to see a priest or pastor or whatever isn’t going to help the root of depression. There are far too many forums and social media posts out there that promote these things.
There’s a chance the person that’s depressed is also an introvert. There’s a good chance the person that’s depressed is also an introvert. Dragging them to a club or telling them to get out and meet people also isn’t something that can help. This only adds anxiety and is selfish on your part. Every human is different and whatever works for you may not work for someone else.
If you really do care about the person talking to you and want to help them, then listen. Just sit there and listen. Sometimes all they literally need is a shoulder to cry on and not advice, no matter how wise you may think you are. Also, cuddling cats helps a lot (or dogs if you’re so inclined).
Whether it be a powerful death, childhood trauma, a chemical imbalance, or anything else, people with depression do need your love and support. Don’t try and fob them off onto others in a nice way or try to cure them. That’s not your job.
“L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs.”
Header image: Helen Harrop from Flickr.