When you suffer from depression, people who care for you inevitably ask you all kinds of questions about how you’re feeling;
“so… How’s it going?”
“How are feeling?”
“How are you… really?”
“Are you okay?”
This obviously comes from a place of caring and they ask because they DO care, and so they worry. THIS IS A GOOD THING. Those of us who are depressed NEED to know people care about us, we need to know that we are in their thoughts, hopes, and prayers because we can often forget that we matter to anyone.
…and therein lies the problem. See, what the un-afflicted don’t understand is that, while we appreciate their concern, these are loaded questions. When I am deepest in my depression and someone asks if I am “okay,” it ironically creates anxiety for me. Answering this seemingly innocuous question burdens me with a moral dilemma that can become an introspective nightmare. On the one hand, I could make light of my feelings and respond generically like, “yeah, I’m fine,” because I don’t want to upset them or exasperate their concerns, but then I will suffer the guilt that comes along with feeling like I’ve lied to someone who I care for and who obviously cares for me as well. On the other hand, if I tell them the truth, it could worry them, scare them, or even hurt them; and I would have to suffer the shame that accompanies talking about my depression. Make no mistake; there IS shame in being depressed. I feel ashamed that I can’t control it; that I can’t just, “cheer up.” I know its not my fault, but I also KNOW that it is a part of me that will NEVER go away. It is a constant struggle that leaves me looking over my shoulder in even my happiest moments; and for that I feel guilty. As if I can never really give anyone the full attention and affection they deserve.
Please try to understand; sometimes I feel guilty for being depressed. Sometimes I feel really bad about feeling bad, and then (while I’m riding the guilt train at full speed down the shame track toward Oblivion) you say, “Are you okay?” and I have absolutely no fucking idea how to respond, so…
When someone close to you is depressed, you should be concerned, and you should express your concern; for some of us it could be the difference between life and death. Just remember to be gentle and patient because, while we DO appreciate it, our responses may oftentimes lead you to think otherwise. Also be mindful of HOW you express your concern, because often times, “So…How you doing?” can be MUCH more troubling to us than you ever imagined. Consider this: questioning the afflicted can make them feel nervous, insecure, confused, guilty, ashamed, or even angry. When this is the case, the answers will be short, defensive, and possibly even spiteful. Instead, try making statements that express your concerns instead of questions that can be unintentionally nerve-racking or infuriating. For example: instead of saying, “Are you okay? You sound sad.” try saying something that is both comforting and reassuring like, “Hey, you seemed kinda down earlier; I’m here if you want to talk.” Or “Sounds like you had a rough day; just wanted you to know I’m thinking about you.”