The collateral damage of depression

Depression makes me a blackberry bramble: thorny and bittersweet. photo by Hannah Powell

A collateral effect of depression is a loss of friendships. Not because they aren’t supportive; they would be if we let them. But because depression consumes all of your energy, we just stop showing up.

Friendships require attention, maintenance, presence. In the depths of my depression, I don’t venture out, I don’t connect. I want to; I simply lack the energy. In the beginning stages, when depression moves in and starts to unpack its grimy little suitcase, many friends will reach out and check in. Some bring snacks (thank you, Jason) but as the depression settles in and grinds on, friends move on as well.

And why shouldn’t they? Life continues. They have their own things, and so I don’t fault them. Besides, if they open the door, they’ll still find me in the dark, petting the dust bunnies and not interacting. I fault depression.

Normally, I’m the uplifting optimist who always makes an effort, but in the throes of depression, I’m not able to be there for my friends. Normally, I would be. Normally, I’d be the one checking in and bearing food. During periods of depression, it’s an effort to brush my teeth (something I love, by the way) and so I will stare at a call-for-help tweet or a ‘hey, I’m not okay’ message on Discord for a solid twenty minutes before giving up and retreating deeper into the nautilus shell of my brain.

My spiral of thinking goes like this: I’ll be no good for them anyway. I’ll only weigh them down. It’s best to just rest here until I’m able to focus. Followed swiftly by, No one cares anyway, it’s all pointless, and in the end, we all die.

Then I get distracted and chase some other dust bunny for a while and before I know it hours have passed and I still haven’t gotten up to brush my teeth or eat breakfast or drink that last cup of coffee or finish that sentence in the book I’ve been trying to write since January.

Not that what they said was either true or okay to say, but it does reinforce the rule: if you struggle to be there for yourself, you won’t be very good for someone else. graphic by Brene Brown

Recently, I did try to help a friend who was suffering a breakup and I failed. Miserably. They wound up yelling at me for an hour (not great when you’re already on the bitter edge) and accusing me of toxic positivity. My brain snapped up that sharp and shiny accusation for future consumption, but I learned a vital lesson all the same:

Don’t try to help someone when you can’t even help yourself.

I don’t have the answers right now of how to help your friends who are depressed. If they’re suicidal. encourage them to talk with someone more professional than you. Alert the authorities if you can. The fellow depressed person I recently tried to help was suicidal but also in another country, so I didn’t even know what authority to contact. Anyway, after I suggested perhaps I wasn’t a professional therapist who could help them, they yelled at me for a solid hour, which chased my depressive ass back into the shadows.

In the sixth part of Answer, From Now On, Yoongi is struggling with his own feelings of self-worth and depression. He has an epiphany on an airplane when Seokjin gives them a comedic version of the airline safety measures in which he talks about securing your own oxygen mask before attempting to help someone else. Though I wrote that story myself, I still struggle with the concept. Even though depression rewrites my entire world view, making everything feel darker, heavier, and more difficult, I still want to help others. I don’t want someone to feel abandoned or alone. I know how that feels, and it sucks.

I do appreciate that impulse in myself. After all this time and darkness, I’m like a blackberry bramble: bristling with thorns but still reaching out for connection. The thorns part, though. If I’m not careful, they can cause pain to myself and others. So I have to acknowledge that trying to help is not the healthiest response.

I have to keep reminding myself: Depression is cyclical. I have survived it before. My heart is continually broken, but it also continually heals. No darkness, no season can last forever. Spring will come, and then summer, and then blackberries.

Look, they’re purple! photo by nine koepfer

Much love 💜 borahae.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.

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