Why was I depressed? That's a question you learn not to ask when you truly understand depression. Depression isn't an emotion. Depression is an emotional disorder. It's an illness that has symptoms, flare-ups, remissions and can pop up out of nowhere. Think of it as similar to other chronic conditions like migraines, back aches and arthritis. Sometimes depression is just there when you wake up, for no reason you can figure out. You just think, "Oh, no. It's back," and all you can do is take care of yourself and ride it out until it gets better. For a back ache, you might apply heat. For a migraine you might take a pill and avoid a lot of physical stimulation. For depression, I make sure to be very gentle with myself. What helps me most is meditation, walking, EFT and interacting with others or not, as it feels right. Sometimes I'm grateful to have a dinner party to go to. Other times I want to stay in and lose myself in a movie or book. I make sure to take my anti-depressant and my SAMe. I get plenty of sleep and try not to skip any meals. For me, meditation and EFT are most effective for dealing with the worst of the pain. But besides that, I have to just be patient until the episode ends.
Because I've been talking about my depression for years, my friends are getting good at giving me what I need. They know my depression isn't usually influenced by external factors; it's just a condition I live with. I love this: friends I talked to over the weekend didn't ask me why I was depressed! That was a great relief. As with migraines and arthritis, depression can be triggered by general stress or it can be brought on by nothing you can pinpoint. It would be appropriate for someone to wonder if my depression is the result of stress in general, but I still appreciate them not asking because when I'm in depression I feel like I don't know anything. Questions can be hard to answer.
There's no cheering up me up per se when I'm experiencing a depressive episode. You might be able to take my mind off of myself for a little while, but if you're clearly trying to make me feel better, that can backfire. If you try to get me to look on the bright side, it'll look like you're uncomfortable with my mood. If I sense that you're uncomfortable with my mood, I'll become uncomfortable with you. At best, I'll want to end the interaction; at worst, I'll resent you for not accepting me as I am.
Feeling accepted is critical when I'm depressed. A psychology student recently asked me to describe depression and I said, "Depression is an abandoning of yourself. Whether it's not being able to get out of bed, or feeling angry with everyone, it's a feeling of not wanting to be yourself anymore. Or even if you're acting like everything's fine and you're good, then that's still cutting yourself off from your own feelings. Whether you're acting happy or you're totally sad or you're just numb, it's an abandonment of yourself and your feelings. Depression is not being on your own side anymore."
That's why it's important for my friends to accept me as I am when I'm depressed. It's important that they not give reasons I should feel good. When I'm depressed, I hate myself. I've got the critical voice in my head loud and strong, telling me it's stupid to be depressed and I should take some action and then I'll feel better. When others point out reasons my life is good, they only enforce that shaming voice. As frustrating as I'm sure it is, when I'm depressed, pointing out the good parts of my life can make things worse.
It's not easy to be friends with someone who manages depression, and it's even harder to be married to one. I greatly appreciate everyone who bends and stretches to learn about depression and who makes things a little easier for me when mine comes back.