Depression is ugly. There’s no way around this fact. Depression is like driving to an amazing job interview and your car dies in the middle of nowhere. Say goodbye to the interview. You will be sticking around for a while.
Those of us with anxiety are well aware of our depressive episodes. Depression and anxiety come in the same package. The National Institute of Mental Health states on their website that, “Anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder, often accompany depression.”
When a car breaks down, our immediate reaction is often a bit senseless. We may get angry at the car for busting down. We want to scream at it; to kick it; to take a sledgehammer and smash all its windows. Likewise, when someone we love becomes depressed and simply stops functioning, we often become overwhelmed and frustrated by their ineptitude; and rightly so. It is not easy having a car bust down and spoil longed for opportunities. However, smashing in the car, telling the car it is lazy, sending the car on guilt trips for busting down is not going to get anyone back on the road. Smashing up the car will only make matters worse. One must give the car a tune up. Maybe it needs some more gas.
The consequences of maltreatment, however, are obviously more severe for living things. Didier Lefevre traveled into the rough terrain in the bleakest parts of Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders. He recorded his journey in captioned photographs and illustrations in a book called The Photographer. At one point, he comments on the treatment of caravan horses who accompany travelers through the rocky passes. “Caravan horses go through martyrdom” he says.
"They’re overloaded, yanked here and there, subjected to freezing cold, and wounded by stones. They collapse from exhaustion and get abandoned on the side of the road. The trails are littered with dead horses and donkeys." (46-47)
People who are suffering from depression often feel like these horses who have been driven to the point of exhaustion. They feel like they cannot take another step. Yet the travelers feel like they must drive the horses harder. Lefevre showed a sequence of pictures of a horse and explained,
"That horse is making long stops. He can’t take any more; His eyes seem to be saying, 'Enough.' The asshole Muj’, the one Regis and I don’t like, comes up to him, places his AK-47 on top of the horse’s head and fires a volley of shots forward between his ears. The poor horse whinnies and runs desperately for fifty yards before stopping again, panting. And the Muj’ starts again, and keeps at it all the way to the top." (63)
Most of us could agree that this is maltreatment of the horse. Obviously, the man needs the horse to carry his things. He needs the horse to keep going. But this is clearly not a good solution. When the horse finally dies of exhaustion, it will be of no help at all.
As someone who has been that horse before, here are some things that I feel are helpful for people who suffer from depression.
*Recognition of the Illness
When the horse can’t go any further the mindset toward the horse must change. A person with depression may be strong in spirit, like a horse, but simply unable to utilize their strength at the time. This is not laziness. They are sick. When someone comes down with physical ailments we allow them to be sick. We do not expect them to act like a healthy person. That would be harsh. The same is true for depression. To help them, you must recognize that they are sick and need special treatment and reprieve.
* Positive Energy
When you are depressed, you don’t want an AK-47 fired next to your ears. You want to laugh again. You want to enjoy life. You want to like yourself again. When you are surrounded by positivity and cheer it gives you strength to move again. Nobody wants to be forced to act happy. But whatever degree of positivity your loved one is able to accept, offer that to them. Sometimes, something like cleaning up an area of their home so they have one less thing to worry about can add positive energy and show that they are cared for.
Now that you have recognized that they are ill, realize that their hopelessness is faulty. Have hope. Share hope. Give any dosage of hope that they are ready to accept. Life is never as bad as a depressed person believes it is.
Depressed spirits often lack in confidence. This is ill founded. See past this. See their potential rather than their sickness. Share this vision rather than pointing out how awful they have become since they have gotten sick. That will just make them feel less able.
* Encouragement of Healthy Choices
No one wants the horse to stop at the side of the road and never trek again. Encouraging the regeneration of healthy habits without being overbearing is important. This is a tricky balance. Help your loved one to run again. But keep in mind that they are injured. Don’t make them run faster than they are able. Encourage them toward manageable efforts that may improve their condition. They need encouragement to realize they are capable of much more than staying in bed all day. Make the encouragement positive and manageable rather than negative and overwhelming.
* Seek Help
All of this can sound overwhelming when we have our own discouragement and problems. We don’t want to overwork our own selves. If it becomes too much, seek help from a professional-- for your loved one and for yourself if needed. Seek help from friends and family. Don’t try to cure their ailments alone.
* Take Care of Yourself
If you are happy, your loved one will benefit.
Life is a blessing. Everyone deserves to enjoy it. Let’s all try to lift each other.
Guibert, Emmanuel et. al. Trans. Siegel, Alexis. The Photographer. New York. First:2003.