Depression: Lean on Me

Image credit: Ariel Corenthal at  the art of ariel  on etsy

Image credit: Ariel Corenthal at the art of ariel on etsy

In the summer of 2012, I started writing about depression. Ultimately, I wrote thirteen articles that were published monthly at the online magazine Scoutie Girl.
A part of it includes my experience with a long, dark episode of depression. But mostly, my goal has been to remind myself of good things to do and help others to help us when we’re unwell: something I couldn’t do when I was down.
The first full week of October 2015 encompasses Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada, so I thought, why not republish these? So, here they are. Where possible, the articles exist as they did in 2012-2013, with links to originals.

Depression: Lean on Me

Support: where do you lean when you aren’t strong?

It’s not easy. Ours is a culture of do-it-yourself, of self-starting and pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. And when you’re sick, this is what you most likely can’t even think of doing.

When you’re feeling low, you both desperately need someone to lean on and also sometimes feel like it’s far too much to ask. It’s not. If it’s all you can do, please try to reach out. Talking to someone thoughtful can make worlds of difference. Here are a few places to start.

1. Friends. If friends are family that we choose for ourselves, try to get in touch with your most care-giving, heart-open, motherly (in the best way), favourite-aunt-or-sister-like friend. She might be able to meet you where you’re at and hear what’s on your mind when you need ultimate caring-for. And if she’s also smart (of course she is!), she will help guide you to people and things that can help.

2. Family. That is, if you are close with your family. They know you. They know how to comfort you and help you, and you might have to stretch a little and ask specifically for what exactly you need. Possible script: “I have been feeling not-so-great lately, and need to tell you what it’s like. Would you be able to listen for a few minutes while I tell you?” (If family have been unhelpful, forget this point and move on.)

3. Professionals. They are called that because they are that: professional. In my gang, I had a family doctor, counsellor/ therapist, acupuncturist, nutritionist, and psychiatrist. It cost money. And lots of time in travelling. And it took a few tries to find people who were helpful for me. Again, it is not ideal: it took some work. A lot of work. Work that was hard to do, and I had little energy, but it ultimately helped me to become healthy again. Because there came a point where, if I didn’t do this work, what kind of work could I ever do? They helped me. Tons.

4. Social groups. Now, I’m not talking about joining a volleyball league because that’s what someone said you should do. (Unless you like volleyball league, and it makes you feel slightly fleetingly good when you go. Or you’re a part of a program and volleyball is a part of the program. In that case, yay you! You’re taking charge of your getting-better!)

What I am talking about is trying to show up at something that happens with other people, and it makes you feel slightly fleetingly good when you go.

It might not feel great. In fact, it might be the biggest, hardest job you have all day: getting ready to go to the community choir practice. Or knitting club. Or swimming practice. It might be the hardest thing you do. And you do it. So you can feel good in the doing of it, even if that feeling-good-for-doing-something feeling lasts one minute. It’s feeling something, and that is good. And the actual doing-of-it might also feel good. Maybe these aren’t the people that you talk to about “how you’re doing.” Maybe these are people that you talk to about music. Or knitting. Or swimming. Or nothing at all, but you’re sharing the same physical space with a common activity. And that has you connected to the world.

5. Other larger-community-type-groups. Here, I’m talking about gatherings like the sacred and religious kind, whether or not you are fully committed to the theme. Or your local folk music club (you can arrive just as the doors close and leave at the break, if you need to). Or the coffee shop around the corner that people go to because it’s around the corner and they can. It is important to find some way to try to be with other semi-anonymous, probably-not-unfriendly people.

6. Animals. It sounds corny, but they help. Find a dog to walk or a cat to snuggle. They don’t ask any questions and will probably simply be happy for the attention. (They also give back exponentially.)

And a point that might be moot for some of you (if you are currently unwell, this might be tricky), but could help too, is to actively cultivate supportive, loving relationships. Not everyone will be open to talking about what’s going on for you. Some, though, might be able to give you a ride to an appointment if you need it. Or ask you to go for a walk once in a while (and be okay if you can’t that day, without needing to hear a reason). It stings, but some people in your life might kind of drop out while you’re sick. Some might return, and some, well, some might not. It’s okay if they have their own thing going on. And you have people in your life who want to be around you; who want to see you get better.

It is possible to get better.

If you’re actively at the bottom, know that there are people who can help. It does get better. And on your way back, try to be kind with yourself.

What is your experience with finding someone to lean on? What’s it like to know you need help, and to ask for it?

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*I use the feminine pronoun throughout. And my single strongest survival supporter has been and still is a man. You will know your people when you meet them.

I am writing this because I had an experience. I am in no way a medical professional. I had an experience, and I have learned a lot from it, and that’s the foundation of all of this.