This writing is a response to my friend Luke’s post. He got so much right – that depression is not something we can magic away, that even our best attempts to overcome it may or may not work, that listening, being with, is one of the best ways a person can accompany another.
My friend Luke was wrong I disagree with My friend Luke in this moment. He he named that it’s hard for people to talk about being depressed and then made this statement:
“So posting anything that says ‘If you’re hurting, please talk to someone about it. I’m here.’ And then giving a number to call is just plain stupid. It’s beyond stupid.”¹
It’s not stupid. The best thing anyone can do, whether they experience depression or accompany those who do, or both, is to keep reaching out.
Those hotline numbers, they do get used. Posting them on facebook, our contemporary public square, where a person doesn’t have to go searching to find it, that’s not stupid. That’s brilliant. Making it known that there are people out there willing to listen, and you’re one of them, that’s compassion. Guiding a person who feels utterly alone and isolated to potential connection, someone who might understand, that’s offering hope. So, no. Giving a number is not stupid. Stating that you are available to talk is not stupid. It may feel totally inadequate. I get that. It’s not hard to feel inadequate in the face of depression.
Here’s the truth of it: Depression is a hard space to be in, both for the ones experiencing it and the ones who sit with them. It’s hard for the depressed person because it is life drained of enjoyment and energy, or it is life agitated. It’s hard because this is happening Again, damn it! It’s hard because everyone else has it together, what’s wrong with me? It’s hard because will power doesn’t cut it, because praying feels empty, because we are powerless. It’s hard sitting with one with melancholy because someone we care about is hurting, and they’re not saying very much, even though we are here. It’s hard because we know them to be interesting and worthy and strong, and they are not able to know that for themselves. It’s hard because it reminds us of our own vulnerabilities and because we are powerless.
I’ve lived with depression for over 20 years, and 9 of those years were also marked with thoughts of suicide. I’m one of the fortunate ones. Along the line there was a moment, a clicking into place, a flipping of a switch, and I suddenly knew that things could be gotten through. Suicide is no longer an option for me. Not everybody gets that. I still live with the condition of depression. I still have days I want to hide under my covers, and some days I do.
That room 2000 feet underground. That’s a tempting place to stay. The walls whisper “Stay. It’s a scary world out there, and cold. You’re safe here. Let me take care of you. Don’t waste too much of your precious energy. Stay.”
I have learned that talking helps me to move back out of that room. When I’m deep in a funk, one of the best things I can do is pick up the telephone and talk with a friend. And it can be hard. I don’t want to be a burden or a buzzkill. I don’t want to intrude. I don’t know where to begin. It’s taken some healing and growing along life’s way for me to be able to reach out. It used to be a person had to ask me how I was doing three times before I would share anything. Now, I am healthier with my communication. I have come to trust select people who have earned the right to hear my sacred story. Now, when I’m stuck with where to begin, I start with: “I’m not doing well…” or “I’m in a funk…” or “It’s hard for me to say this…” It is a gift to have people in my life who are able to be present with me.
Sometimes, even as one with firsthand experience, my attempts to connect with a person experiencing depression fail, and I don’t feel up to the task. I remind myself that’s okay. That my role is not to rescue. My role is to do my best to connect with the other person as a fellow human being. My role is to keep reaching out. Very often connection happens not from anything I say, but from how well I listen. From not trying to fix or cheerlead. From being able to agree that it sucks right now.
The things that are most helpful are surprisingly simple, and you may not be aware of the effects of your actions. It has happened to me on both sides. I became friends with a girl in 7th grade at a time in her life when she was seeing very little hope. She shared with me that next year that our friendship gave her enough hope to consider again that life might be worth living and she was worthy of it. I had no idea until she told me. In college, on a particularly difficult night, my friend Claire was honest that my sharing that I was considering suicide was too much for her to carry, and would I promise to talk to the Chaplain in the morning. (I did, and I kept that promise.) That same night Gretchen prayed for me as I lay in bed. I never did tell either of them how those things helped me on my journey. (If either of you are reading this, thank-you.) Friendship. Honesty. Blessing. Presence. Simple ways of caring. These can make the difference.
Reaching out is not stupid. We are created for connection, to be in relationship with one another along this journey of life.
To those who are experiencing depression: Know that you are not alone. There are many who have been there too. More than you know, and some you wouldn’t expect. Please talk to someone. If they don’t “get it,” it’s not a reflection of your worth. They aren’t able to be present to you. Talk to someone else. Keep reaching out.
To those not experiencing depression, educate yourself (see resources below). There are some specific things to do that are helpful when someone you know is thinking of suicide. Let people know you are available. Practice the simple things – friendship, honesty, blessing, presence. Practice these with everyone. Without knowing it, your actings and your beings may make the difference. Keep reaching out.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1.800.273.TALK (8255) OR http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Veterans Crisis Line 1.800.273.8255 ext. 1 OR http://www.veteranscrisisline.net OR text 838255
For Youth – http://www.youmatter.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Stories of those who have been there – http://attemptsurvivors.com/
Warning Signs & Helpful Responses- http://www.afsp.org/preventing-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs
¹Living documents are fun. I wrote this in response to Luke’s original wording, which he has since changed. I have made changes to my wording as well, to be more clear with my language.