Misery doesn’t like company.
Depression is an isolating disease, one sufferers are wont to conceal so as not to inconvenience anyone.
So as not to impose.
So as not to lose the respect, support, and love of those around us, when we’re lucky enough to have fellow humans who care by our side.
Alas, not everyone does.
To this day, the societal assumption about depression remains that it is a self-indulgent disease, that of those who spend too much time in their head.
The latter applies but it’s not a choice; we get stuck, we’re the plaything of an invisible parasite that lives within and is holding us hostage.
Living with depression is like being in jail. Sometimes, we get reprieve and we go about life in a standard way for extended periods of time. We joke, we laugh, we love, we tap our feet to music and sing along, we dance, we’re joyously and unapologetically alive.
Unless we tell you there’s something wrong with us, you would never guess we’re plagued by an all-encompassing feeling of inadequacy.
What we can seldom plan is when our captor will decide to throw us into solitary confinement again, in which case we won’t be able to reach out and ask for help.
But if you pay close attention to our behavior, you’ll be able to identify the signs of distress we often try so hard to conceal. Out of shame, but mostly out of courtesy for those around us.
Depression isn’t contagious but we want to shield you from it because if you knew how much we’re hurting, we fear it’d hurt you too.
Understand our silence is always an act of love, never rejection.
The head of a depressive is the loneliest and most inhospitable place on Earth.
During the five years I spent under the yoke of incapacitating depression, I lost my ability to communicate altogether. And although every inch of my being was transformed by illness and I ceased to function, it was seldom talked about in my household.
Unless it was to remind me what a burden I was.
I kept my family at arm’s length too so as not to worry them, all the more as we then lived half-way across the world from one another.
The only person who knew what was going on was Anthony, my best friend, who by then was already dealing with cancer so I shielded him from the brunt of it, too.
In short, I was left to hold my own hand as I was too cash-strapped to access therapy that would have helped me get back on my feet sooner. Instead, I withered until I eventually chose to live and set out to rebuild a life, word by word.
This is what I’ve been doing for a year.
I’ve weathered countless setbacks and one burnout in the process while helping my parents navigate the reality of Stage IV cancer. Because I mostly stay with them, when depression strikes, I have to isolate immediately so they don’t see it.
My stepmom is dying, my father’s heart is breaking, they have more than enough on their plate and I’m here to help, not to hinder.
So today I’m writing this sitting in bed with tears streaming down my face and Portuguese music in my ears to help me focus and give me the strength to carry on.
Believe it or not, for me this is progress.
In a while, I will go shower then make up a silly story about getting soap in my eyes.
I used to work as a tour director so the ability to switch on the cheer regardless of what’s going on inside is something I can still rely upon under duress.
Hopefully the moment will have passed by then and because I always look exhausted, it’s unlikely the extra sadness will show. Unless the circles under my eyes have changed color again; they’re a bit rainbow-like, depending on the level of insomnia I’m dealing with.
If the depressive in your midst starts showing signs of insomnia or sends you messages in the middle of the night, this may be a sign they’re struggling.
Even if those messages sound normal, upbeat, and capable, this could be a front, a way to break out of isolation without spelling out what’s happening.
If you notice a sudden imbalance in your exchanges and interactions, with one of you communicating more than the other, this may be another sign.
The urge to share and not knowing how to while being terrified of rejection can make for messages that are impossible to parse. But trust we’ve thought long and hard before writing them and sending them, the latter the result of communication winning out to fear.
In such cases, brevity is unlikely to happen.
Rather than send you a simple “Can you help me, please?” you might receive a sales spiel complete with unique selling points designed to convince you we’re worthy of the help we feel we do not deserve.
Unreasonable though those messages may sound, we’re still articulate and reaching out, which means we haven’t sunk to the bottom yet.
More than likely, you can catch us before we do and help prevent the episode from lasting too long.
It’s normal to feel helpless in the face of so much distress.
A common response is also to step back and assess the situation to try and figure out what to do.
While pragmatism makes perfect sense on an intellectual level, to a depressive this is immediately equated with rejection. We’ve shown you our vulnerability and you’ve acknowledged it with silence, which might as well mean you don’t care.
Whether you do or don’t, we can’t know unless you tell us. And until you do, we’ll default to what we know intimately, i.e. rejection.
Thus begins our descent into hell. Communication shuts down as we anxiously await a sign from you even though we’re already bracing for the worst.
Look, don’t waste time looking for the perfect words as they don’t exist; there is no script that can dispel this kind of distress. All we need is to know you’re here and how you express this is up to you.
Because, again, misery doesn’t like company.
While talking about what’s going on helps, it may be too soon and we’re likely too distraught to be coherent just now. Instead, try to distract depression by telling us about your day, the little things that made you happy, what you saw on your way home…
All we ask of you is that you don’t shut us out, blank us, or make yourself unknowable during those times when our brain fights us and we desperately need a hand to hold.
We need you more than ever but we’re too ashamed to say so.
If you care, please remind us.
It’s that simple.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.