I recently wrote an email to the woman I’ve been spending time with lately. I was feeling depression creeping in around the edges of my mind, and wanted to warn her that it was coming, what to expect from it, and give her a good idea of what I would need during the time I’d be dealing with it. After I sent the message, it occurred to me that this might be a helpful window for other folks who have people they care about who deal with this malady as well, so have lightly edited it to share here. I hope it’s valuable for someone out there.
This morning sometime, I started to feel the Black Dog of Depression nipping at me. It’s not severe yet, and I hope to head it off before it gets there. But, since you haven’t gotten to put up with me during a bout of depression yet, I thought I’d provide a bit of a primer.
Things to know:
- It’s not about you. It’s not about us. It’s not really about anything in my life. It’s mostly about brain chemistry. Sometimes an event will trigger it, but that’s only the domino that happens to start the chain reaction.
- I’ll function fairly normally, though I may seem a bit listless and sigh a lot like some 19th century Byronic ninny.
- Sometimes while a bout is active, it will recede for a bit, but then come back. Usually my depression lasts between a couple of days and a couple of weeks (shorter is more common), and ranges in intensity from “a little bummed out” to “emo band lead singer and songwriter.”
- I should not be trusted to make any decisions of import during times when my depression is active. It poisons my thinking. Most (but not all) of the time I’m aware of this effect at work and deliberately avoid doing anything important until my head is clearer.
- Again: it’s not about you.
Things to do:
- Be sympathetic. Feel free to ask how I’m feeling and about the depression specifically.
- Gently check on how I’m doing with exercise, sleep, nutrition, and spiritual disciplines. These are the things that seem to help, though at the speed of a cruise ship changing direction. (Playing music is also often cathartic for me.)
- Perhaps encourage me to get off the phone in time to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep.
- Be patient.
- Offer me delicious food. This is a pretty benign indulgence I will treat myself to.
- When we’re together, give me hugs, hold my hand, be with me.
Things not to do:
- Feel obliged to try to fix it for me. I’ve got a pretty good grasp on how it works and runs its course at this point.
- Take it personally if I act a bit grouchy or withdrawn.
- Avoid being around me.
- Expect me to be terribly motivated toward big life goals. Or even little ones.
- Offer me alcohol. I don’t drink when I’m depressed. (See the “can’t be trusted to make rational decisions” item above.)
- Be concerned if I disappear into books, naps, movies, or video games for a bit. (More benign indulgences.)
Hope that’s a helpful user guide.