By Amber Kinloch
Depression is a difficult topic to discuss. It afflicts a lot of people, but too often we miss seeing it in someone or we don’t know how to talk about it without causing offense.
I do not count myself an expert in dealing with depression. However, I have suffered from it, and know a number of others who have as well. Here is my personal take on it.
Depression isn’t “One Size Fits All”
Each person’s experience with depression is unique. There are many different causes (loneliness, chemical, trauma-based, seasonal, postpartum, chronic, etc.) and varying grades of severity. These make a big difference.
I have dealt with depression rooted in loneliness. I have also dealt with depression induced by changes in a medication I take for my epilepsy. The depression induced by loneliness lasted for years. It brought me near the brink of despair multiple times. I desperately craved company even as I feared trusting people and being vulnerable around them. My mood was perpetually low, and I was afraid I might be overcome by thoughts of harming myself. Despite this, I never felt like I lost a basic grip on controlling my emotions.
Chemically induced depression was a totally different affair. It was short and brutal beyond words. Suicidal thoughts struck along with cascades of tears. I knew I needed help, but the thought of anyone seeing me in such a state was absolutely mortifying. I did eventually go to my dad. After a call to the doctor and a cut in my medication dose, things quickly got better, but not until after I’d terrified myself at seeing how my pride could have killed me.
The Invisible Cross
It is easy to hide depression. I bore the burden of it for about two years in silence before I did counseling at the advice of a priest. My parents couldn’t believe it when they found out what I was dealing with. They’d never guessed that anything was wrong with their calm, sensible daughter, even though I was living under the same roof as them.
Even I missed seeing depression in myself for a period of time. I’d resigned myself to loneliness a long time ago. The low moods? That was just part of my melancholic temperament. It wasn’t until suicidal thoughts struck that I reached out to someone. They were the first to recognize and point how out abnormal my social situation was. It didn’t fix anything, but it did force me to own up to the truth of what was wrong. Still, I carried on mostly as before without anyone else perceiving that something was wrong. Silence is a hard cloak to penetrate.
More Stumbling Blocks
Once my parents knew something was wrong, I got bombarded by something I’d feared greatly: the feeling of being misunderstood.
People have different false ideas about depression. One is that it can be fixed easily. Four sessions of counseling, pills, new friends and activities, prayer, etc. Yes, these all tend to help. Maybe they’ll even resolve the problem. But that’s not how the depressed person sees things. What you see as a molehill can look like an insurmountable mountain to them. (And they may be more right in their assessment than you realize.)
Another thing I hated was being questioned about how I felt, why I was depressed, etc. I did not feel like opening up to the person asking these questions, and their continual prodding upset me a great deal. If you know someone who’s depressed, do them a favor and don’t try to invade their private space. Accept that you may not be the right person for them to talk to, even if that hurts. Closeness of relationships doesn’t matter a whit. It’s about who the person trusts and is willing to talk with.
Sustained by the Faith
I don’t know how people withstand depression without the Catholic Faith. For me, the difference it made is incalculable.
One particular point that stands out is when a priest advised me to learn St. Ignatius’ Examen. I listened to this podcast series on it and was immediately struck by Step 1 of the Examen: gratitude.
“Gratitude?” I thought. “Look at what I’m dealing with, God! What on earth do I have to be grateful for?”
At first glance, nothing much. But as time passed, I found that I did have a lot to be grateful for; I’d simply been blind to it.
This practice of looking for the good God’s wrought in my life and giving thanks laid the groundwork for a shift in my mindset. It led me to trust in God more, to be more optimistic, and to look outward beyond my own misery. I learned to look at the big picture, to see the good, without denying reality or how I was feeling. Depression still plagued me, but now I’d found that I had a choice as to how I viewed life even when my mood was at its lowest.
(On a side note, years later I learned that St. Ignatius of Loyola, like many other saints, struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. A great well of joy and gratitude bubbled up inside me at that. I thought, “No wonder he entered my life at the time he did!”)
Things You Can Do
So, what can you do if you know someone’s depressed? How can you help without making things worse?
The #1 piece of advice I have is to listen. When a person truly listens, they do so with the intent to understand, not to judge or offer advice. They avoid talking about themselves (e.g., “I understand. I once dealt with ___.”) and simply are present. They talk with the person, not at them.
Another thing you can do is live reality. Ask the other person how their day is going. If it’s going badly, don’t harp on about how things will get better. Be with them in the moment.
Lastly, pray for the person and encourage them to pray if that seems wise. God might help the other person through you, but ultimately you’re not the solution—He is. Keep your courage up and don’t fret about the other person and what will happen to them. As Padre Pio says, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” Everything is in God’s Hands.
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.
A great article! Thank you. So much good advice, especially the part about listening and being present and, of course, the last paragraph.