Depression and Friendship

Face in the Sand


(This is not directed toward, or about any one individual. This is coming from a lifetime of experience with friends and/or family who have depression. It is a reaction I have to these experiences, in general. I need to clarify that for my many followers and Facebook friends who suffer from depression and may believe I am talking about them.)

Depression is a conflicting topic for me. I am about to take a journey on eggshells here, because I do not suffer from depression. I experience it from others, but I have never experienced it for myself. I have a limited understanding, but a pretty good understanding of what it is like to be sucked into a darkness I cannot control while I feel just fine. I want to talk about that.

I’m the one who is okay, so my feelings are secondary. I don’t even mind. My brain needs balance, and it will find its way there every time. I do not understand what it feels like to have a brain that doesn’t give me a break from sadness when I need it. While someone who is suffering from depression may be unable to leave that place- I am just as unable to stay there. It’s not easy for the two of us to share space in this scenario.

I have no solution to that.  

I encounter two types of people with depression. The talkers….and the quiet ones. Let me be clear. I am a great person to talk to if you are not attacking me. If you need perspective, or a good listener about a topic that is not about our own friendship- I’m your girl. Our friendship will survive the roughest roads and the longest talks about anything else. But talkers often feel wronged by others. They may obsess over how misunderstood they are (which is very understandable).

They like to talk things out. A lot. The long talks are hard. I know, I know. A good friend will understand and be there for them, right? I am going to be honest about something, even if it sounds cold (and I don’t mean it that way). It is draining for me to have long, serious discussions about our feelings over and over again. It is draining, because I don’t feel the same way about it. It is draining, because my brain fights any effort to be in that place for more than five minutes. I can’t talk about how what I said made you feel for the next two hours. I just can’t. It doesn’t mean I don’t care.

Every time we have that talk, you are losing me a little more. I am always the insensitive villain. I am always wrong. You are never the villain, only because I am not as easily bruised as you. I can let things go, and sometimes you cannot. I endure this because I am nice, and because I understand your brain needs me to do it. Maybe I endure it because I love you. But I am completely aware that I am allowing my feelings to be less important than yours. It does eat at me in ways I cannot help. I’m sorry. And if we are not close friends- you are asking too much of me. I have experienced this with many people over the years, and I have lost friends over it.

Then there are the silent sufferers. The quiet ones simply shut down. They do not want to talk about their feelings. They want to be left alone. They don’t blame anyone but themselves, ever. They often hate themselves. Unless you live with them, you may be unaware they even suffer from depression. While a talker will offer days of legendary Facebook status updates, the quiet ones would never dream of anything as crazy as a private admission of weakness- let alone a public one.

If you do live with them, chances are you have a new respect (and fear) for depression. You have watched a loved one withdraw, sometimes literally into a dark room for hours. Or days. Or weeks. During that time, the person you know no longer exists. You are on your own. You are helpless. You have seen happiness and life sucked out of someone you need over something that didn’t even rattle you; and you have fought against the dark cloud hanging over your home. It’s the closest you come to feeling depression yourself.

Again, I have no solution to that. It’s just a recognition of the other side of the coin. It is easier to be the one who doesn’t suffer from depression. I can walk away. I can leave that world for a while if I need to. But if friendships and relationships are going to survive, there needs to be more understanding about where I am coming from. Because honestly, I have been treated unfairly by friends suffering from depression. I have had friendships that revolved around their feelings, and nothing else. What is positive about that relationship for me?

I have never closed the door on any friendship. But to someone suffering from depression, friendships can be all or nothing. No casual acquaintances. You either meet the demands or get the door slammed in your face. There are rules to follow. Tests to pass. That’s how it feels, anyway. And by then I am so drained and irritated, I just don’t care. Other times, the one suffering does none of these things. They simply pull away without saying a word; believing no one could possibly care or even desire being in their presence. It’s unreasonable, so you never even guess it’s happening. You fail them because you don’t know what’s really going on.

If you are suffering from depression, please look at your relationships in a new way. Don’t judge them so harshly. Don’t judge yourself so harshly. It’s hard for someone to be everything you need. It’s hard because there is always a communication breakdown when two people are coming from two very different places. If I am still around, chances are I have been forgiving and patient a thousand times without any expectation of reciprocation. Chances are I have had to be silent about my own feelings because it isn’t worth the aftermath. Chances are I think you are too important to give up on.

But if we are close friends, and you are someone I need to keep in my life, I have a confession. A request, maybe. Sometimes I want to ask you (beg you) to fake happiness around me, the way you do with strangers. Just so I can breathe for a little while. You are drowning, with weights tied tightly around you. You have been forced to learn that breathing underwater is painful, but possible. But I don’t know how to do that, because I have always been able to easily swim to the surface for air. I just need you to make me feel like it’s okay to do that as often as I need to. Otherwise I become too afraid to be pulled back down again.

I hate it there as much as you do, but I have a choice. I want you to understand what that means about how important you are to me.


6 thoughts on “Depression and Friendship

  1. Well said. I understand how you feel. We,as non-sufferers, can be there to listen but we have to remain positive in our own lives, and realize there are limits to the support we can offer. Thanks for sharing.

  2. As one who has suffered with depression in the past I think what you’ve shared is very important insight for those who are depressed. It’s sure to be misunderstood, so get ready for the backlash! Most depressed people can’t comprehend what their depression does to others. I always tried to pretend that I wasn’t depressed because I felt ashamed and selfish to be. I also didn’t want it to negatively affect my family. The friend who is not depressed can only do so much and should not be expected to more than they are able to. You could probably never do enough to satisfy them anyway.

    • What is hardest for me is that those of us closest to someone with depression really do get it, but our reactions are sometimes incorrectly perceived as a disinterest, or a lack of caring. The walking on eggshells can be exhausting. We allow ourselves to be taken to a place we don’t want to be, and then we get no credit for doing it with a smile on our face. That is hard for anyone. But some days it is suffocating. We aren’t asking for a way out, just for the other person to notice we need a break; and to see that we, too, are important enough to bend a little further than usual to accommodate that need. But we are also prepared to accept the fact that it just may not be possible. And we never talk about it. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this 🙂

  3. So much of what you said fits perfectly my relationship with a family member. Its sad and I wish it wasn’t this way but I had to step back from the relationship all together. I love her. But I just couldn’t anymore. I wish I could send this to her but I know she’s not in a mental space to get from it what I would like her to get.

    • It’s tricky. Some people do not recognize how they affect others. And then other people obsess over how they affect others. I was afraid to post this, mostly for the people I know who would feel upset over the reminder that they are hurting those around them. That’s not really what I wanted to say, though. I can handle being hurt, but there are limits to being in a one-way relationship.

      It doesn’t have to be that way, but it’s almost impossible to say these words to someone who is fragile. It wouldn’t have the effect we hope for, so we keep it to ourselves. I did get a few private responses from friends that were encouraging, so who knows? Thank you for sharing 🙂

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