“It’s hard to be a friend to someone who is depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” – Stephen Fry
There’s something to be said about being an introverted, depressed, overly-anxious individual, but still having those friends who can relate so intensely with your struggles. When you have a brain that works every day to convince itself it’s so messed up, so incredibly beyond repair, having friends who can still talk you back from the brink seems like a miracle of nature.
I bring this up for a reason. It’s easy for me to say “I’ve had a bad past few days,” and then go into details about why woe is me. But the truth is, my past few days really haven’t been terrible at all – it’s just my mind that’s trying to tell me that. Objectively, I haven’t experienced any terrible days at work, nobody has been particularly cruel or indifferent towards me…this week has been alright. But again, objectively.
Depression, which has the unfortunate ability to turn spilled milk into a flood, will over-analyze every little part of the few “bad” parts of my day, and stretch them out to last for far longer than they should. Something happened during the morning that has put me in a bad way? You can bet I’ll be dwelling on it most of the day, regardless of whether that thing is over and done with or not. As such, despite having an okay week by most peoples’ standards, my mind is telling me to be depressed.
So, my mind is in tumble-dry mode, flipping things over again and again, making sure every speck of every slightly upsetting situation has been thoroughly analyzed (and then some). There seem to be very few things that can get my mind out of this cycle, but as I’ve been reminded the past few days, good friends are one of them.
For the longest time, I was so convinced that “talking it out” was a cheesy, unhelpful way of getting through tough times. I can spill my problems to you, sure, but you don’t understand the way my mind works. I can’t just “explain” to you the way my mind goes from Point A to Point B, because there isn’t any logic behind it. It just happens. If you can’t understand where I’m coming from with these internal struggles, how can you possibly help me overcome them?
Over time, I’ve realized that there were two big flaws with this way of thinking. First, there are people who feel the way I do. No matter how I may feel on crappy days, there are millions, I repeat, millions of others out there who suffer from this depressive thinking each day, just like I do. Unfortunately, depression isn’t a rare diagnosis: over 350 million people suffer from it worldwide, I’m just one in 7 zeroes. These numbers don’t make my (or your) struggles any less real or undeserving of acknowledgement, it just shows that there are others who have minds that work incredibly similar to mine (and yours).
Second, understanding isn’t necessary for compassion towards others. The person I consider my best friend doesn’t suffer from depression. She isn’t overly anxious or prone to self-deprecation, she is, in a mental way, unhindered. But she gets me. She can calm me down and talk me out of my harmful mindsets better than almost anybody else I know. She understands that she will never be able to fully understand me, and that’s a helpful observation for the both of us. She knows that she won’t understand why my mind tells me the things it does, and I know that, despite my inability to be oftentimes understood, there are people out there who make an attempt to be good to me anyway. Simply put, it’s a blessing.
At the risk of getting all Disney-esque here, friendships were something I often took for granted in the past. I told myself that everyone has friends, it’s just a common thing. Even when I finish high school and college, I’ll still have friends, so there’s no need to particularly cherish them right now. But as my depression manifested and left me mentally secluded, I had friends who tried to help me, to break down the walls of my depression-addled mind and understand me to the best of their ability. By the time I realized this fact, I was too late. Many of the friends who tried to be friends to me simply gave up, because I wasn’t reciprocating. I was going through the motions of a bare-minimum friendship, but I wasn’t particularly working to keep it enjoyable. I lost so many friends as a result.
But I’m older now, hopefully wiser (or as wise as a 23-year old can be), and I understand more about my mental illnesses, and I’m grateful to live in an era where light is being shed on mental illnesses more so than the past. Despite my depression, friendship is still a two-way street. If I have friends who are willing to look past my mental health and accept and even cherish me for who I am, then the very least I can do is be there for them as they are for me. Mental illnesses or not, we all have problems. The world is a better place when we are there for each other, even when understanding evades us.
So, on this particular subject, I’m a convert. I like talking with friends. It does wonders for me – it gives me a chance to temporarily drown out the hurtful voices in my own head, and even later on, those voices are a little less convincing. Whether it’s having a meaningful, one-on-one conversation with a co-worker about something serious, or sharing some laughs over breakfast with wonderful people as I did this morning, compassion in the face of adversity is a force to be reckoned with.
Humans are, by nature, social creatures. We need food, water and shelter to survive, but we need interaction with others to live. We aren’t meant to carry our burdens alone. There’s a reason solitary confinement is for the nastiest of prison inmates – seclusion cripples us. Depression or no, we need others, and others need us.