Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Depression does not equal Sadness

I recently had a conversation with my mother that was quite enlightening. I learned that through out my childhood my mother experienced severe depression. I had no idea. Like most children I saw my mom as a superhero, capable of anything from fixing a scratched knee to a broken heart. I never saw the full picture until recently and even now I wonder if I truly see the entirety of my mother.

Growing up I never knew it but my parents keep the most stressful parts of their lives to themselves. I knew about finances at a young age, how to budget and make investment decisions, but I didn't know how to overcome emotional trauma. I knew how to do basic repairs on a house, electrical, plumbing, flooring, etc but not how to repair a broken relationship. My parents did an amazing job teaching the hard skills of life but not the soft skills. This affected my life in several ways.

First, I never learned that depression is not sadness until I almost lost myself in depression and became someone I didn't like. Someone who lied about his life to everyone around him and refused to let anyone in to see the hurt, lost child he was inside. I didn't know that depression can express itself as apathy, as anger, as wistfulness, as loneliness or as sadness. This was the summer of 2013. I worked pest control and was far from home and from friends. I felt utterly alone and almost left the things that have proven to bring the most joy into my life.

At that time I didn't see, I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn't even see the tunnel. What I eventually did see were the friends who found me in Utah and refused to let me go. I saw a family welcome me as their own and even if they didn't know exactly how to help they let me know I was not alone and never needed to be. They were crazy and wild and so full of love it hurt. I didn't just hear them say they loved each other, I saw it in every interaction they had from breakfast to bedtime. I never told them how much they changed my life that summer. But now I have a chance to.

Second, I learned that I should hide those things that hurt me most. Let me be clear, my parents never deliberately taught me this. They just taught me by example that this is how things are to be done. You put on your best clothes and wipe your tears and act as though nothing is wrong because if you admit to yourself, for even a moment, that something is wrong you break. That summer I learned that this is a lie. I learned that to heal and to grow you have to break sometimes.

Like the seed, sometimes our hard exterior has to break so that we can let our inside self shine. I learned it is okay to break, it is okay to cry, it is okay to be held. I learned that just like the seed cannot grow in a vacuum neither can people.

So now I return to my conversation with my mother. I never knew she experienced depression. I never knew how depression can sneak into a life stealing the joy from our grasping fingers. I never knew how destructive depression can be. When I spoke with my mother about my experiences with depression I learned that depression runs in my family. I learned that I was not crazy, there was nothing wrong with me and I was not alone.

I also realized that we, as a society, have no idea how to help those that are in the grips of a very real feeling of depression. Here are some things that helped me and can help you help others:

  1. Be yourself and be genuine: When I was about to abandon my faith I was comforted by my friends who didn't preach or lecture but who were just themselves.
  2. Be present: When someone is depressed and needs help they need to know that you are there for them. They need to know that when it comes right down to it you are willing to listen and let them talk as long as they need to. Be willing to talk about depression if they bring it up. It is a sign that they are ready to begin healing.
  3. Be Cheerful: Be happy and let the infectious joy of your life brighten their day. Joy and laughter are catching. If your friend or family member who is depressed doesn't join right in that is okay. Give them the time to break their shell of depression and let their inner self shine.
  4. Educate yourself: Learn about depression for your own benefit and don't lecture the things you learn at those who are depressed. Arm yourself with the knowledge of depression and signs of it getting worse. 
  5. Overall just be their friend. Not everyone who has depression is suicidal. Don't over react and just be a friend. 
Until next time, Vaya con Dios. 

(For those of you who don't speak Spanish "Vaya con Dios" means "Go with God".)

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