Full time work and mental illness

This month marks three years since I began working full time.  The news that i had attained my first full-time job was clouded with trepidation.  I had never thought that I’d be able to manage full time work because of my mental illness.  I was sure that my depression and anxiety disorder would make it impossible for me to bear a full time workload.  But here I am, three years on and still doing the full time thing.

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Although I manage pretty well, there are some pretty serious bumps in the road.  I often struggle to cope, and at times have thought about pumping the brakes and going back to part time work.  Today I wanted to share some of the challenges and benefits to working full time when you have a mental illness.

 

Finding time for self care

For me, managing my depression consists of a carefully-structured routine that centres around self care.  Years of trial and error have led me to a series of self-care steps that generally manage to keep my mental health on an even keel. I know that in order to feel my best, I need to eat properly and get enough sleep.  My yoga practice keeps me fit and helps calm my monkey mind.  Journalling several times a week gets those anxious thoughts out of my head. All these steps are choreographed into a daily dance that helps keep my head above water.

When I was working part time, it was much easier to find the balance between working and self care.  Now, when eight-and-a-half hours of each day are spent at the office, that leaves another eight for sleeping and then a further eight for eating, household responsibilities and self care.  That doesn’t leave a lot of spare time for socialising or family time.  And I’m often jammed between choosing to spend time with friends at the detriment of my self-care regime.  If I spend too much time with my family, or my boyfriend, or my mates, then my mental health begins to slide because I’m not able to keep up with those vital self care activities.  But it’s not always easy to leave a family dinner early because you need to do your yoga or because you just need to be alone for a while.  It’s difficult for people to understand why you’re piking out early, or declining invitations.  And after a while, they stop inviting you altogether if you bail too often.

 

Working full time has made it a lot more challenging to fit in those ever-important self care rituals.  And sometimes I’m overwhelmed with frustration because it feels like all I do is go to work, come home and run through the motions of keeping myself sane.  It’s maddening when it feels like there isn’t time for anything else in the day, and when you feel like so much more is expected of you and you aren’t able to achieve it.

 

To tell, or not to tell?

I’ve grappled with the decision of whether or not to tell the people I work with that I have depression and anxiety.  I’ve had mixed responses in the past, and when I begin a new job I’m always a bit gun-shy about disclosing my illness.

There’s the risk that the people you work with will treat you differently when they find out you have a mental illness.  There is still so much stigma surrounding mental illness, and it can be hard to work when you feel like people are walking on eggshells around you.  There’s also the unpleasant feeling of knowing that a workmate is internally rolling their eyes at you and wondering why you can’t just toughen up and manage your life like everyone else does.

On the other hand, many employers and workmates will be exceedingly supportive if they find out that you have a mental illness.  So it’s always a delicate balancing act of deciding whether you should mention it, and if so, when you should disclose your illness.

 

The perils of an invisible illness in the workplace

I went through a period last year where I was going through a really bad patch with my depression.  I was struggling to get out of bed each morning, and I just felt despondent all the time.  But I felt as though I had to force myself through the motions of everyday life anyway.  One morning about three weeks into this hellish patch I woke up with a fever and a sore throat.  I nearly cried with relief.  Why on earth was I so pleased that I was sick?  Well, because I felt like now that I had outward physical symptoms, I could take a sick day. Even though I’d been terribly unwell for weeks, it was only when my illness became physical that I felt like I was justified in staying home.

 

Invisible illnesses come with tricky pitfalls.  There’s always the worry that people will think you’re faking it.  That you’re making it up to get out of work or to avoid responsibility.  When you have no physical symptoms to “prove” that you’re unwell, it’s difficult to justify taking time off.  This is particularly true when you’re depressed or anxious and you simply don’t have the emotional fortitude to assert your needs or argue with workmates who don’t understand that mental illness can be as debilitating as physical illnesses.  For me, I’ve never been brave enough to call in sick when I’ve needed a ‘mental health day”.  Even though I think it would be justified, I still haven’t ever been able to bring myself to do it.

 

The mental load of engaging with others

I am a self-confessed introvert.  I much prefer my own company to the company of others.  I find being around other people (with the exception of a few of my nearest and dearest) mentally taxing.  And when those interactions take place in a professional environment, that makes it just a little more difficult for me.  On my good days, I can manage the daily office banter perfectly well.  I can smile at staff meetings, make small talk at the copier and pick up my intercom without breaking into a cold sweat.  But when my anxiety is kicking in or I’m on the verge of a crash, managing those polite, simple interactions becomes a monumental task.  Just answering a question from a colleague about the stationery order can leave me on the verge of tears.  Each time my intercom buzzes I feel a sharp pang in my chest and my breath comes in bursts.  For me, the mere task of being around other people is taxing and takes a huge mental load.  It’s extremely difficult to keep my professional mask in place and do my job like I’m supposed to.

 

Financial security and the money buffer

One really positive thing that my full time job has brought to my life is the feeling of financial security.  When I was working part time, I was making enough to pay my bills and not much extra.  I would often fall into a panic about what would happen if I had a sudden emergency and needed extra cash.  I wasn’t in a position to cover unforeseen costs, and the idea that I might suddenly require hospital care or need to pay for repairs on my flat was terrifying to me.

 

Now I feel much more secure about my financial position.  I know that my bills are covered and I have enough to put food on the table.  I can switch the heater on or take an extra shower without panicking about the spike in my bills.  And I now have enough that I can save towards some financial goals and stuff a bit of cash away for the future.  For all the stress that full time work brings, that financial security and knowing that I’m looking after myself is really reassuring.

 

A reason and a purpose

Although I’ve mentioned a lot of the struggles I have with my depression and work, taking on a full time job has helped my depression and anxiety as well.  I’ve gained confidence as I’ve learned new skills and managed challenges at work.  I’ve come to see that I’m quite capable of dealing with difficult problems and working with other people in my office as a team. Additionally, there are days when it’s difficult to get up, to shower and to drag myself through the day.  But I do it because I have to.  Because I know I have a job and I can’t afford to lose it.  Because I care about the work I do and I don’t want to let my workmates down. While that could be a lot of pressure for some folks, for me it works well as a motivator and helps me to move forward.

 

Do you have a mental illness and a full time job?  How do you manage it?  What are some of the challenges and benefits you’ve experienced?

 

Inside Out: a damn good film about depression.

Having depression means that I deal with a range of struggles on a regular basis.  But one thing that I find the most difficult is explaining what having depression is like to people that have never experienced it.  It is so rough to find just the right combination of words or the ideal analogy to sum up what it feels like to be depressed.

So last weekend when I watched Pixar’s Inside Out I nearly jumped for joy.  Well, not literally.  In actual fact I sat and watched the film with my mouth agape, occasionally brushing away a tear.  The gaping jaw and tears were the product of watching a film that so accurately summed up what it feels like to have depression.  The joy came later when I realised that I might just have found a great movie to recommend to people who want to better understand the experience of depression.

 

*Note: This post contains spoilers*

 

Today I’d like to touch on some of the aspects of Inside Out that I felt brilliantly illustrated what it’s like to have depression.

 

Everything Turns Blue

When Riley’s depression begins, her emotions are shocked to see that everything Sadness touches begins to turn blue.  Slowly her collection of glowing golden memories are tainted by Sadness, and even her core memories (the most important memories which build aspects of Riley’s personality) begin to take on an inky hue.  To me this felt like such a great metaphor for depression.  When you’re depressed, sadness seems to seep into every aspect of your being.  Even once-happy memories become tinged with regret, anxiety and longing.  Finding a positive spin on your negative thoughts becomes nearly impossible.

 

I particularly liked the part where Joy picks up one of the now-blue memories and begins to frantically rub at it, trying to turn it back to gold.  This made me think of all the times when someone has told me to “just look on the bright side” or “think positive thoughts” as a means of turning my depression around.  As much as you’d like to be able to rub a little happiness on your emotional wounds, depression isn’t fixed that easily.

 

Feeling cut off from personality traits and interests

When Riley’s depression really begins to take hold, her emotions lose contact with her “Personality Islands”.  Each Personality Island represents an important aspect of Riley’s personality, from her values, her favourite hobbies and the things she holds most dear.  One by one, the Personality Islands begin to crumble and decay.  I felt a tug in my heart when this started to happen, because I could relate so strongly to that feeling.  When my depression deepens, I sometimes feel as though I’m losing touch with the things that make me “me”.  Hobbies and interests stop being interesting.  I will go through the motions of doing the things that usually bring me joy, and feel intensely frustrated when I don’t feel anything.  It’s as though my personality traits become dulled and I’m a colourless version of myself.  Two of Riley’s Personality Islands represent Friendship and Family, and the crumbling of these two islands is particularly poignant as she becomes more isolated from her nearest and dearest.

 

 

Frustration and confusion.

Two words I use frequently when talking about depression are frustration and confusion.  And these two concepts are brilliantly depicted in the film.  When Riley’s memories begin turning blue, her emotions are beside themselves with worry.  They simply can’t figure out why it’s happening.  Even Sadness can’t explain what’s going on even though she’s the cause of all the trouble.  This feeling of “why is this happening?”  is so common with depression.  When it starts creeping into your life, it’s terrifying and you feel so confused as to why you are feeling this way.

 

After the initial shock, Riley’s emotions become frustrated as their attempts to turn her negative feelings around don’t work.  They try to contain Sadness by asking her to stay within a circle drawn on the floor, they attempt to distract her with meaningless tasks and they make her promise not to touch any memories.  But she continues touching and making things worse.  And so the emotions become annoyed and upset with her.  The thing I found the most interesting was that even Sadness was frustrated with herself.  She didn’t know why she kept touching things, she just felt drawn to do the very thing she wasn’t supposed to.  And that’s the frustrating thing about depression: you don’t want to feel this way, you don’t want the sadness to take over but you can’t help it.  And it seems as though any effort you make to contain it is fruitless.

 

 

Fear, Anger and Disgust

When Joy and Sadness head off to figure out a solution to their problems, Fear, Anger and Disgust are left in charge of Riley’s internal engine.  Which in turn leads to a slew of inappropriate emotional responses.  While this part of the movie was filled with comic relief, there was a very un-funny message behind it.  In my experience, once my good feelings have bolted in the face of a depressive episode, I’m left with Fear: which makes me anxious and wary; Disgust: which makes me judgemental and sarcastic and Anger: which gives me a very short fuse.  It is no fun trying to get around with those three driving the ship.  While it was pretty funny watching Anger, Fear and Disgust try to figure out what Joy would have done to handle the situation, I was reminded of how difficult it is to maintain the appearance of normalcy when you just want to scream at everyone who crosses your path.  I remember going to work and having to force a grit-teethed smile onto my face and try to sound polite as I dealt with each customer.  I vividly recall trying to arrange my face into the closest approximation of a pleasant expression when attending a party with friends.  It is exhausting and difficult to maintain a normal life when your emotions are out of whack.

 

 

Sadness isn’t the bad guy

One of the aspects of the film that I felt was the most important was how the character Sadness was dealt with.  Sadness wasn’t the villain.  Although the other characters get annoyed with her, she isn’t the bad guy in this film.  Sadness was a part of Riley’s emotional team from the beginning, and I think that’s a really important distinction to make.  Sadness is a normal part of being human.  But depression is what happens when Sadness gets out of control.  I thought it was great that the film didn’t try to make out that all sadness is bad, and that any negative emotion should be swept under the carpet.  It was great to see that recognition that we all go through a range of emotions, and that it’s only a problem when those emotions become unbalanced.

 

The truth is, Inside Out wasn’t a perfect representation of depression. There were some aspects of the story that didn’t gel with my personal experience.  But I still feel that it came closer than most other movies I’ve seen at describing what it is like to live with depression.  I am so heartened to have found this film that so beautifully illustrates one of the least-beautiful aspects of my life.

 

Liptember, raising funds for mental health for women.

I’m feeling particularly excited today.  Not only is it the beginning of a new month, and the start of Spring, but Liptember commences today!

What’s Liptember?  Its an awesome fundraising initiative to help raise money for research into women’s mental health.  Participants commit to wearing lipstick every day for the month of September and find sponsors to donate to the cause. It’s a truly excellent idea and I am so excited to be taking part this year.

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If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve struggled with a variety of mental health issues for most of my life.  I’ve had depression and a generalized anxiety disorder since I was a teenager.  This manifested as an eating disorder in my teens and emetophobia for a big chunk of my life.

In addition to my own struggles, I’ve watched some of the people closest to me battle their own mental health issues.  I’ve seen some of my favourite people suffer from depression and anxiety, addiction, suicidal thoughts and behaviours, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and so many and varied problems.  I’ve seen and felt the sting of the stigma that comes with having a mental illness.  I’ve felt the frustration at being unable to access the help I need, or watching a friend go through hell because the systems that are in place to assist those with mental illness are woefully inadequate.  I’ve lamented mates who have experienced crippling side effects from medications that will control their mental illness but create a minefield of physical ailments. I’ve studied psychology and marvelled at how little we know about something that affects so many people.  So you can see why I care so deeply about mental health.

Now, Liptember is quite special because it focuses on raising money for mental health research for women.  You might be wondering why it’s so important to look at women specifically, rather than raising money for mental health research for all.  There are a couple of reasons why I believe it’s vital to support this cause:

– Firstly, most research into mental health is carried out on white, adult males.  This research is brilliant, but it can’t be directly applied to women, who have a different biological chemistry to men.

– There are a range of mental health issues that only occur in women, such as postnatal depression.

– Many drugs which are currently used to treat common mental illnesses cannot be taken by women who are pregnant, and can lessen the effectiveness of some forms of contraceptives.  I believe that it’s important to find medical interventions which can be taken by women without impacting their reproductive health.

– Advances in research into mental health in women may provide important insights into the way we treat mental illness in all people.

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So I’ll be wearing lipstick every day in September, and taking a photo each day and posting them here on the blog.  I won’t be able to post each day, but I’m aiming to  have a weekly update with all the photos from the previous week.  I see lipstick as a profound personal statement for combating mental illness.  It seems simplistic, but when I’m feeling low, I like to put on a swipe of bright colour to cheer myself up.  For me getting dressed up is a form of creative expression, a way to take control and feel good about myself.  My lipstick is the war paint that helps me feel a bit more confident when I’m overwhelmed or down.

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So how can you get involved?  There are a couple of things that you can do…

– Firstly, you can donate to my Liptember page.  All donations over $2 are tax deductible and every dollar counts.  It doesn’t matter if you donate $1 or $100, I’ll appreciate every single donation.

– You can also purchase your official Liptember lipstick for just $4.99.  You can buy your lippy at any Chemist Warehouse store.  For the first time, Chemist Warehouse are now offering the Liptember lippies on their online store with international shipping available.  How exciting!

– If you’re really keen, you can sign up and start fundraising yourself.  It’s super easy to set up your fundraising page and begin raising funds for this awesome cause.

– I’ll be donating 10% of every sale from my etsy store to Liptember.  I’ve got all kinds of hand-crafted items and e-books available.  I’m also happy to create a custom-made to-order item just for you.

So what are you waiting for?  Click on over to my fundraising page to donate.  I truly appreciate each and every donation.  Thank you so much for supporting this awesome cause.

My depression journal

These past few weeks have been tinged with grey.  I’m not quite sure how it happened, but my depression sneaked up on me.  One minute I was congratulating myself on conquering my first post-breakup Valentines Day and feeling positively full of self love, the next I was lying in bed, immobilized by despair.

I can’t quite express how frustrating depression is to me.  I seem to go around in circles.  I get depressed, the feelings of gloom and doom drag me under.  The weight of my despair holds me under the waters of depression for a while.  Then I begin to kick and flail to try to break through the surface.  At this point, I’d try anything for a wisp of fresh air.  I begin to remember the tools at my disposal: the self-care basics, the CBT strategies I’ve learned, my friends, sunshine, rest.  Slowly I manage to grapple my way upwards until my head is finally above water again.

Then, after a few gulps of relief, I start to feel wonderful again.  I begin to think about all the things I could be doing with my new-found energy.  I think about all the time I wasted while I was depressed and I try to get caught up.  Only to find myself overwhelmed, exhausted and depressed all over again.  I’m like the mental-health equivalent of the person who doesn’t finish their course of antibiotics because they feel O.K again.  Once I feel well, I totally neglect all my self-care techniques and drill myself back into that hole.

I had a really great idea last night.  I was trying to think of a way that I could remind myself to slow down and put those mental health maintenance tools into practice.  I came up with the idea of creating a depression journal.

I went through my collection of notebooks and found this Snow White one.  I chose it because she looks so peaceful and hopeful, and I felt that was an uplifting image.

Inside, I began brainstorming ideas to help me to tease out the things that help keep my depression at bay.  I made a series of headings and prompts, and wrote one at the top of each page.  I’m slowly beginning to fill the journal with lists and ideas.  I’m hoping that I’ll be able to create a personal resource that I can look through on a regular basis and keep practicing those things that help me to keep my head above water.  I can add to it over time and build my own personal survival guide for navigating my depression.

So far, these are the page headings I’ve come up with:

– Bad day list (things that I can do to turn around a bad day)

– Self care basics

– Small things I find nurturing and comforting

– People to get in touch with when I’m feeling down

– Affirmations

– Tools for fighting my depression

– Films and T.V shows I find uplifting

– Music to lift my mood

-awesome things I’ve accomplished

– Role models to look up to and draw inspiration from

– Things I love about me

– What gets me down?  Possible triggers to watch out for.

– Negative thoughts I have and how to break them down.

These are just the ideas I’m working with at the moment.  I’m sure that I will add loads more to my journal as time goes on.

I’ll let you know how this project goes.  At the moment I’m feeling pretty excited about it.

How do you maintain your mental health?  Do you have any suggestions for topics that I could include in my depression journal?

New Years Resolutions Update: February 2014

This month my resolution was to get a new job.  It has been going pretty slowly, for a number of reasons.

I’ve been hoping to start a job-search for quite a while now.  I’ve been in my current job for two years now, and I feel as though I need a change.  There are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, I don’t make a great deal of money.  I make enough to survive on, providing that I’m very frugal.  I don’t usually have a lot of money left over for fun stuff, and I’d really like to change that.  Also, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about financial security and I’d really like to be earning more so that I can tuck away some money for the future.  I’d like to own my own house one day too, so I’d love to be able to save up for that.

Secondly, my current job takes a real toll on me.  On the one hand, my job isn’t difficult.  I work in retail and the work itself isn’t strictly hard.  However, I do find some aspects of my job very challenging.  Because I have depression and I struggle with social anxiety, there are times when it is incredibly difficult for me to be face-to-face with people for hours at a time.  I find it very tiring to interact with customers all day, particularly when the store is busy or when I have to deal with a lot of difficult customers.  When I’ve got a line full of impatient, crabby customers that tension seems to rub off on me.  My anxiety spirals up and up until I just want to hide.

On days when my depression is exceptionally bad, I find even the simplest of interactions very difficult.  Little things grate on me and I just get this overwhelming desire to be left alone.  For example, I can’t tell you how irritating it is to me when an item doesn’t scan and the customer quips “Oh well, it must be free!”  When I’m feeling healthy, I can shrug it off easily.  However, when my mood is low and my anxiety is itching at me, all I want to do is scream “Do you think I never heard that joke before?  Clearly you’re a comedic genius to have thought up such a hilarious line!”  Little things like this take a big toll on me, in a way that is difficult to explain.  For me, being in a position where I constantly have to interact with customers, and try to keep up a cheerful demeanor when I just want to curl up in a ball and cry is damn exhausting.

So I’d like to find a job where I can use my talents but I don’t have to be constantly face-to-face with a stream of customers.

The month started off well. I began thinking about different jobs that I could apply for and came up with a decent list.  I also began thinking about long-term career plans and started to map out a way to achieve them.  Things were going very well.

And then, well, my anxiety took over.  I began panicking about the possibility of having to transition to a new job.  I worried about how I would manage working longer hours.  I worried that I wouldn’t have time to do the things that are important to me outside of work.  I worried about having to adjust to a new working environment.  I became terrified of the possibility that I would get a new job, hate it, and not be able to find an alternative so I’d be stuck there.    I’m like Anxiety Girl: able to leap to the worst possible conclusion in a single bound!

I also worry about finding another job that will accommodate my needs.  See, my current boss knows about my depression and anxiety and she is incredibly understanding.  She checks in on me often to see how I’m managing. She has worked my rosters around my councelling and doctors appointments.  She makes sure that I know that I can take time off if I need it and she never makes me feel like I should just suck it up and push through.  I feel so supported in my current job and I’m worried that a new boss won’t be as understanding.  Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think that I should get special treatment because of my illness.  I work very hard and I am a brilliant employee.  But it is so incredibly helpful to feel supported by your boss when you are struggling.

So my worries kind of took over and crippled me a bit this month.  I really stalled on my job search and didn’t get a lot done.

But I am proud to say that I’ve made a little progress.  Last night I printed off a resume and a cover letter to a place I’d like to work.  It’s sitting in an envelope on my bench, and this afternoon I’m going to post it and hope for the best.

Although I haven’t ticked off this resolution, I feel as though I’ve definitely made progress towards it.

Review: Guide to being Alone by Vice Versa Press.

A few weeks ago the gorgeous folks at Vice Versa Press sent me a copy of their zine The Guide to Being Alone to review.  As I recently became single for the first time in a decade, you can imagine how eager I was to get my mitts on this zine.

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The Guide to Being Alone is a quirky zine about living the solo life.  It is 18-pages of awesome illustrations, collages and fabulous advice on enjoying your own company.

The zine covers a range of topics including travelling alone, dealing with your new single status, making new friends, embarking on a solo night out and managing the feeling that everyone sucks.

I really enjoyed reading this zine.  Over the past few months, I’ve read quite a few books, e-guides and blog posts about living on your own and relishing the single life.  I was excited to discover that this humble little zine actually contained some fresh new advice that I hadn’t read before.  As it’s a zine and not a book, each topic is covered in broad-brush fashion, and the advice isn’t as in-depth as you would get in a book.  The result is a distilling of the best-of-the -best advice, and every line is golden.  I found so much helpful advice between it’s gorgeous pages.

il_570xN.382752207_9hnqThe illustrations and photo collages, combined with the conversational hand-written prose give you the feeling that you’re taking a peek into your best-friend’s journal.  It’s a frank and personal account of what it’s like to be on your own,  whether at home or out in public.  The zine also uses humour to lighten up difficult topics, such as malaise and depression.

I particularly loved the chapter that talked about the realization that everyone sucks.  I have days where I hate the world more often than I’d care to admit, and this chapter discussed those feelings so perfectly and offered very sound, practical advice for dealing with those dark days.  I can tell that I’m going to refer back to this chapter time and time again.

Another fantastic thing about this zine is that it came with a fabulous soundtrack.  There are nine tracks on this disc, each one carefully selected to correspond to a certain chapter in the zine.  I thought that this was an awesome touch and really brought an extra dimension to the media.

This zine would be a fantastic gift for a quirky-alone friend, or a mate that has recently found themselves single and lonely.  Or you could just buy it for yourself to flip through on days when you need a bit of a boost.  At only $5, it’s an absolute steal.

The Guide to Being Alone is available through Etsy.

How to help a friend with depression

It’s estimated that one in five people in Australia will experience depression in their lifetime.  But for every person who goes through depression, there will be several who don’t (thank goodness!).  For someone who has never experienced the debilitating cloud of depression, it must be so difficult to understand how it effects those who do struggle with it.  It can be even harder to figure out how best to help a friend or loved one who is struggling under the weight of depression.

I’ve suffered from depression for years.  It comes and goes, but the Black Dog is always hovering in the background somewhere, waiting to swallow me up.  Luckily for me, I’ve got an awesome network of friends and family who are there to give me a hand when I’m feeling down.  They don’t always know exactly how to help, but they do the best they can.

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I thought that I’d write a post about helping out a friend or loved one with depression, based on the things that have worked for me.  Keep in mind that this isn’t a definitive ‘to do’ list, but it’s a good starting point.

Learn about depression

To begin with, it can be helpful to learn a bit about depression, particularly if you don’t know much at all about this illness.  Reading books and websites on the topic, watching documentaries or even talking to a healthcare professional about depression are all good places to begin.  If you know a bit about what your friend is dealing with, it can be easier to understand them and figure out how to help

Realise that depression is different for everyone

While it’s good to learn about depression, it’s really important to realise that depression doesn’t look the same for every person who suffers from it.  Some people become depressed after a particular event, some become depressed for no apparent reason.  Some will go through long periods of depression, others will suffer short bouts.  Symptoms vary from person to person, and the severity of symptoms will also vary.  Try talking to your friend to find out what depression looks like for them.  This will give you a clearer picture of what they are going through so that you can help them out.

Ask your friend how they would like to be helped.

When you first learn that someone you love is suffering, you might be at a loss to figure out what to do.  You might have a lot of ideas, or none at all.  I think that the best starting point is to ask your friend if they can think of anything specific that you could do to give them a hand.  Be prepared that they may have no idea of what help they need, and may simply say that they want you to be there for them.  But if they do ask for something specific, keep this in mind as you move forward.

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Give them a hand with the things they find the most difficult

Try to find out if there are any day-to-day tasks that are proving to be a challenge for your friend.  Perhaps they’re struggling to find the motivation to cook for themselves.  Maybe they need help getting to doctors appointments or researching therapists.  Maybe they’re just feeling crushed by the weight of work.  If you can get your friend to tell you what things are causing them the most anxiety, then you can try to find  a way to help.  Bring them a home-cooked meal, given them a lift to the doctors, offer to help clean their house or organize their calendar.  Try to alleviate those day-to-day stresses that can get in the way of recovery.

Don’t try to do everything for them.

One of the worst things that you can do for someone who is depressed is try to baby them and take over the running of their life.  Although your heart may be in the right place, you’re actually doing more harm than good.  It might seem obvious to you what your friend needs to do to get back on their feet, but it’s important that they work it out for themselves, with perhaps a bit of gentle nudging from you.  When I’m depressed, I find that planning and executing small tasks gives me a huge sense of achievement and helps to build my confidence.  When I manage to shop for groceries and cook dinner for myself I feel great.  When I make it through a whole shift at work without panicking, that’s awesome.  Trying to do everything for the person that’s suffering deprives them of the opportunity to prove to themselves that they are capable of looking after themselves.  It may also lead them to worry that you don’t trust them or that you think they’re a failure.  No matter how good your intentions may be, no matter how much you want to help, know when to step back and let your mate do things for themselves.

Don’t take it personally

I know first-hand how frustrating it can be when a friend regularly cancels on your plans, or doesn’t take your advice, or refuses to talk to you when you know they’re hurting.  It sucks, and it can leave you feeling angry and resentful.  If you have a friend who is depressed, try not to take it personally if they flake out when you’ve made plans or refuse to open up to you.  Most likely, it has nothing to do with you.  Your friend may find it difficult to socialise in public.  Getting out of bed may have been too difficult that day.  They may feel uncomfortable talking to you because they’re worried about bothering you.  Although it can be difficult, try to be compassionate and understand that your friend’s depression has nothing to do with you.

Remind them often of why you think they’re awesome

Your self-esteem takes a beating when you’re depressed.  When I’m at my lowest, I feel as though I’m totally worthless and utterly unloved.  I sometimes even think that the world would be better off without me.  If someone you love is depressed, this is the time when it’s most important for you to remind them why you adore them.  Tell them out aloud, write it in a card, make a video for them or bake a cake with the words ‘You’re amazing!” iced onto it.  Any tiny gesture that shows your friend that you love them will be appreciated.

Remember to take care of yourself

When you’re working hard to look after someone else, it can be easy to let self-care slide.  It is vital that you take time out for yourself and make sure that you’re going alright.  It’s tiring to care for someone, so you need to regularly check in with yourself to see if there’s anything you need.  Keep in touch with your friend’s family and other mates to find out if there are other people who can lend a hand when it’s needed so that you aren’t trying to do everything yourself.  Remember that no matter how much you adore your friend, the most important person for you to take care of is yourself.

Do you have any tips to add to this list?  If so, I’d love to hear them.

For further reading, check out this fantastic comic from Kinds of Blue.