Several gestures taken to help a depressed person recover, actually cause setbacks. As told from the vantage point of one survivor.
Once I was diagnosed with severe depression, and put on meds, the next steps were unclear.
What do I do now? I had no clue. My family knew little about mental illness. We decided we would have to learn with our only goal being hopefully to see me healthy. Some things we did helped wonderfully, other steps caused setbacks. Let’s look at the latter.
A simple comment in the context of my being so ill was powerful. As a lawyer, I know the use of certain words is essential and words chosen carry specific meanings. With my depression, words carried powerful and unexpected consequences.
A perfect example is the word “have.” My family were exceptionally supportive and understanding, encouraging me every day to take steps to recover. Without them, I would not be here writing this.
One attempt at “encouraging “ me did not work at all, though it was full of the best of intentions.
I was told, “Keith, tomorrow you have to get out of the house and go for a walk.” The word “have” added such pressure on me, I couldn’t handle it. I felt like I had no choice but to get out, yet I couldn’t decide for myself. Expectations were on me to get out. Internal mental pressure built. If I didn’t get out, I’d have failed. Depression carries with it a sense of failure as a human being anyhow. Adding more failure was an easy thought process for me.
I didn’t sleep that night, worrying about having to get out. Could I do it? Could I go for a walk? Would it help? Numerous questions and thoughts raced through my mind. Not much logic either.
In the mornings I had been scared to open my eyes on occasion; I didn’t want to face the day. Now I had this pressure, this expectation to get out. All because of the use of the word “have.”
This time was so strange for me and my family. I was used to taking on major files at the office and doing the work without a worry and with such confidence. Now, I couldn’t think about going for walk? It took time to rationalize, which also involved appreciating there is no logic involved to getting out of a depressive state.
So we no longer use “have” even now.
Don’t Change the Plan
Getting out of the house was difficult. Once I had a plan of my own, I could keep the confidence to make it happen. Most of the time.
I wanted new eyeglasses and sneakers. Items no one else could get for me. I had to be the one who chose them. The mere fact I wanted to get something for myself was a huge step in beginning to feel good. Treating myself well was rare.
I put together a plan that I had to think through. Where to go? When? Seems simple, but at the time, it wasn’t. Great willpower was needed to make this plan. To go on a shopping spree for myself was huge! I even added a stop to the local book shop.
Glasses first, then sneakers, ending at the book shop. Three stores!
When I did leave the house, it was rarely alone. My family were so protective of me, it made me feel safe as it made them feel better.
We left the house—wow! But it was then suggested we look for the sneakers first, for a good valid reason. I didn’t have the confidence to disagree, or to defend my plan. When we arrived at the store for sneakers, I got more unsettled because it was not my plan and I got more rattled as I looked for sneakers, but finally found a pair and bought them just to get out of the store.
Glasses were next. I got more anxious and wound up buying the ugliest pair. My judgement in even choosing glasses wasn’t sharp.
My looming anxiety and poor choices had been caused by the change in my plan. The sneakers didn’t fit. The glasses, I never wore. I did get a book though.
My plan allowed me to set out in my mind what I would do, how I would do it, where I would park; I had it all mapped out. Then the change threw it all off. I wasn’t able to process the change quickly enough to be comfortable with a new plan.
So stick to your plan.
My mother would go for groceries and do errands for me. I would be in my bedroom, wanting to go out, but unable to do so.
She would on occasion, meet someone who knew me and they would discuss how and what I was doing. She would make it clear that I wasn’t well, that I rarely left the house anymore. So the discussion would end usually with the other person telling my Mom, “Tell Keith to call me for lunch one day.”
I couldn’t leave my bedroom. Yet, it was left to me to reach out to connect? With no self-confidence and no self-esteem, I could not do that. I could not pick up the phone or send an email. Such actions were beyond my abilities at that time. Depression covers off any and all means to keep in contact with those in your world.
I had only two friends who made contact. Both said they weren’t sure what to do, but they wanted to help and truly desired to see me recovered and healthy. We learned together the best way to map out our dates. They would call and take me for a drive around the city and I was excited to go, yet I still felt safe and accepted. Because they had me covered.
One took me for lunch, the first time I’d had lunch at a restaurant in years. Now that was worth celebrating!
And maybe the most important to-do: if you are suffering from depression, remember, the healthy must help the ill. In short: don’t be afraid to let people assist you. A lot of the time they want to, but don’t know how. Allowing people to help you makes them feel useful, which gives you purpose during such a trying time.
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