Telling someone who is battling with a pervasive, chronic expression of depression to “Just get happy”, simply doesn’t work. It’s not that it’s right or wrong – it just doesn’t help the person, the situation, or the relationship. It can even make the feelings of fear, shame and anger deepen. The thing is, everyone wishes they could just get happy. For some, it’s just not that simple. It takes time. It takes a huge perspective shift, which can only happen once you release the ankle weights that are pulling you downward so you can start swimming to the surface. It takes an understanding of what it means to be responsible for your own happiness.
If you’ve struggled with long-term depression, then I’m sure you can relate. If you haven’t but have a close friend or family member who has, please read with openness and curiosity. Regardless of who you are, consider this: We all have the potential to be authentically happy. Coming out of a chronic form of depression requires a lot of courage and self-determination and that’s something that exists within all of us. For some, it requires a huge change in external factors (getting out of an unhealthy relationship, moving out of an environment that is not good for your well-being, and more). It requires a change of patterns and the wisdom of being able to separate the things you do and don’t have the ability to change (both internal and external factors). Mostly, it often comes back to remembering to breath, to love, and to develop a true sense of self-worth.
Depression is like this: It feels like you are stuck in the middle-depth of a deep dark ocean with ankle-weights that are pulling you deeper; an oxygen tank that is deficient and only letting you take in enough air to stay alive; and you only have the level of physical strength and energy it takes to keep yourself in a stagnant place, creating a counter-force against the weights that are pulling you downward by moving your limbs in this lethargic, heavy way. You literally feel like you’re stuck and your mind tends to vacillate between thoughts of giving into the downward pull by letting go of the struggle so you can just sink once and for all, and thoughts of determination that if you try harder and muster up enough strength, you can work against the weights and the lack of oxygen and get your self to the surface. Regardless of how many people may be up on shore sending you life-saving devices, the pervasive thoughts convince you that “No one cares”, “I’m un-loveable”, “I’m on my own”, and “It’s not worth it because there is something wrong with me”. Then, the self-fulfilling prophecies kick in: since you aren’t taking the life-saving devices, and wrongfully accusing people of not caring, they eventually walk away. Or if they stick around, they get so frustrated with the fact that you aren’t working with them to get yourself to the surface, that their own feelings of hopelessness and despair get triggered and everyone is now unhappy. The bonus for you: you get to be right about your internal dialogue. “See, no one cares about me”, “I’ll never be happy”, “I failed again”.
I highlighted the “it feels like”, because, in actuality, it’s all just a load of crap. Pardon my language. I give myself permission to say this because I know it from experience and I’m not in any way judging the notion or suggesting that the feeling isn’t valid. It really does feel this way. To those of you who may have witnessed the load of crap I am talking about, please remember that no matter how much you feel that the depressive behaviours are manipulative or counter-intuitive, it will still not help for you to point that out. The secret is…deep down inside, we know that and don’t and can’t admit it in those moments. Our behaviour serves the main purpose of proving ourselves right about all that negative dialogue going on in our heads. The thing is, we tend to be stuck in such a narrow and panicky kind of suffering in those moments, that we can’t think clearly enough to simplify the drama of the experience. We lose our problem-solving abilities and get caught up in the story of what had us sink in the first place. We are being self-righteous about the B.S. of the internal chatter that we are (somewhat unconsciously) maintaining.
Essentially, there is a comfort to what is familiar and to risk changing any of this would involve a) the courage to be responsible for your own happiness, b) letting go of being righteous in your blame of others for the unhappiness, and c) letting go of being righteous about all the things you blame and criticize in yourself.
How about just taking off the ankle weights, or taking a moment to re-focus so you can breathe more slowly and efficiently to make better use of the oxygen you do have? How about putting a little less energy into the thinking and suffering mind and a little more energy into the sensations and actions of the present moment? How about accepting those life-saving devices and letting the love in, no matter how hard, how scary, and how vulnerable that might feel? Perhaps then, we’d be able to float up to the surface with ease. As I said, it’s just not that simple at first. It takes time. It also takes a wonderful support network of people who understand what it’s like and can help you achieve that sense of weightlessness with love, respect, and freedom of choice.
Here’s a list of Do’s and Don’t’s for support those you love who are living with depression:
Do love unconditionally
Do be curious, non-judgmental and optimistic
Do investigate your own triggers, responses, and self-blame and participate in solving the problem
Do get support for yourself by learning from and connecting with people who can help you understand
Do take responsibility for things in the past that may be unresolved in your relationship
Do ask questions and show empathy
Don’t take it personally if they don’t accept your help at first – stay committed in a respectful way
Don’t send any messages that convey that something may be “wrong with him or her” – There’s is nothing wrong with him or her.
Don’t give up – maintain your boundaries in a way that you can take care of yourself and be there when he or she decides they will let you in.
Don’t be critical of yourself or the person you are trying to support
Don’t give so much of yourself that you end up being resentful of him or her for consuming all your energy – you need your own energy to get through this together.
Don’t believe or buy in to the disease model of mental health – Tap into your values of compassion, hope, and understanding to recognize that a mood “disorder” is something that can and will change…you just need the right ingredients and the right formula.
Together, figure out what will help you. Everyone is different and unique and full of loving potential. Call on your people and your local professionals for support.
Once the person’s head is above water, then you can say “just get happy” and he or she will hear you.
Please feel free to connect with me and ask questions. I’m here to help as well.
Depression is often a situational symptom of something that happened. We all have our ups and downs and when something has happened to put our self-worth into question, we are all susceptible to low moods and emotional upheaval.