On Love and Depression
I was watching an episode of my 600 lb life (as one does on weekly bases), a reality show about people who are over 600 lbs and undergoing gastric bypass surgery to lose weight. The episode featured Penelope, who during her hospital stay, discovered that her husband cheated, or I guess attempted to cheat on her, and when confronting him on camera, bandaged and bedridden, she said “I might be overweight and struggling, but I deserve to be loved and respected, just like everybody else.”
That statement deeply resonated with me because I recently realized that part of me, a real, tangible part of me, believes that it’s impossible to be loved when you’re depressed. Love is reserved for people who are lighthearted, always beautiful and never burdened by the crushing weight of mental illness. Of course, if that were true, none of us would be loved, but statistics don’t matter when you’re curled in the fetal position on the floor of the bathroom, hoping for the world to swallow you whole.
Love is complicated, and anxiety and depression further complicate it because it’s hard to feel loved when you so deeply dislike yourself. I remember stretches of time when I hated everything about myself and felt like a burden on every person I interacted with. I felt like I was drenched in darkness. Like I smelled of sadness and grief. Like every footstep, I took painted the floor beneath me gray.
What solidifies such feelings is the lack of knowledge of how to help people with anxiety and depression. I remember well-meaning people suggesting exercise and eating healthy. Saying things like, “you can do it,” “you’re strong,” “you can make a decision to get better.” There is also a subtler version of this, such as, “what can I do to help you?” which is considerate, but if I knew how to be helped, I wouldn’t be knee deep in loneliness.
That’s the thing about depression, it is so lonely. You can be living with two loving parents, a loving spouse, a bunch of awesome roommates who are also friends, but you are so lonely all the time. You feel like if you open up if you release your thoughts to anyone, you will drown them in your despair, and they will most likely leave you, and then you’re not only lonely with a crowd, you’re actually alone, alone with your brain that’s trying to kill you.
I don’t think I’m qualified to give any real advice on how to help people with depression, but all I wanted when I was in the thick of it is was for someone to listen without coming up with generic solutions. Just listen and be with me in my darkness. When someone listens to you and doesn’t appear uncomfortable or scared, you feel like maybe you’re not as broken as you thought you were, and with that, the light starts to seep back in.
It’s silly to claim that dealing with someone depressed is a breeze, and I know that at times I was very difficult and hopeless and rejected support, but it was all because I was so deeply ashamed of what I felt I had become. I felt like I had become a shell of who I used to be, and I was asking people to love me with new terms they hadn’t agreed to.
But love saves people. It makes them feel valuable and worthy. It lights up the darkness. So please continue loving people with depression, even if you don’t see the direct impact of your affection. Please visit, call, text, make food, bake a pie, send memes, send voice notes, cat/dog pics, anything you know your loved one with depression likes. That’s not to say that you should overexert yourself, or feel responsible, or think your job is to end their depression, and if you feel like you can’t be there for them, be honest with them, but communicate, so they don’t keep believing they’re a burden.
If you are currently depressed or anxious, seek people that are going through similar struggles online and around you. Reddit has amazing subreddits on medications and therapy. If you like podcasts, you should give the Mental Illness Happy Hour a listen, and if you don’t have access to talk therapy try betterhelp.com. We are not alone, I promise.