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How to Talk to Depressed People

This is an excerpt from Hyberbole and a Half’s illustrated guide to depression.

Hyberbole and a Half

The beginning of my depression had been nothing but feelings, so the emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief.  I had always wanted to not give a fuck about anything. I viewed feelings as a weakness — annoying obstacles on my quest for total power over myself. And I finally didn’t have to feel them anymore.

But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there’s a huge difference between not giving a fuck and not being able to give a fuck.

[…]

But people want to help. So they try harder to make you feel hopeful and positive about the situation. You explain it again, hoping they’ll try a less hope-centric approach, but re-explaining your total inability to experience joy inevitably sounds kind of negative; like maybe you WANT to be depressed. The positivity starts coming out in a spray — a giant, desperate happiness sprinkler pointed directly at your face.

I loved and married a woman who became depressed. I didn’t do a very good job of helping her deal with it. The problem with non-depressed people is they don’t understand what depressed people need—what would actually help them.

Maybe this guide can help fix that, plus it’s funny. I hope you’ll read the whole thing, then leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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13 thoughts on “How to Talk to Depressed People

  1. I just read the whole illustrated article, and then I burst into tears. It described my life as if the author had snuck into my home one night and had some sort of secret access to my thoughts.

    After reading it, I couldn’t help but cry; I felt awful.

    I was just telling my roommate yesterday that sometimes things happen to me that I know I should care about, but that I don’t, and I try to pretend to care about them, because ‘fake it until you make it’ y’know? …but I feel like such a wretched excuse for human life when it’s like that.

    Thank you for posting this.

  2. Kate Jacob says:

    Excellent! I will share this with the needy depressed people I know who don’t even know they’re needy!

  3. Joel says:

    Thank you for sharing this Drew. I now have something to point people to to give them a glimpse of my mind.

  4. Read, understood, agreed, still have bad bouts that last for months, but once you have got though it once, you know that you will again, even if you do not care about it. And trying to find that piece of corn again just does not work like the first time.

    Thanks Drew

      • Taking his example, seeing the corn all alone, covered in dust and dirt could kick start the brain and all of the emotion stored up is released in Laughter. It could quite easily have been anger, at it being there alone, or sadness. Once the Brain latches onto that emotion it is free from the wasteland and can then release other emotions.

        I found that the same situation will not help again, because if during another bout you see another piece of corn under the fridge, your brain has already worked though that “Surprise”. It is like watching a horror film, you watch it once and jump at everything, watching it again, you remember the scary bits from last time, so it will not have the same effect, unless you are a very nervous person. So you will not give a fuck about that new piece of corn.

        The last major bout I had ended about two years ago. I had had it for about 10 years. 10 years not even able to give a fuck about anything. Not even my Faith and Path. I was lost in the wilderness. But it was not a piece of corn under the fridge which pulled me out, it was my Gods. By the scruff of the neck they pulled me upright and demanded I write everything down again, all my Path, my hate, anger, joy, happiness, everything. I was so behind the times with how much “Paganism” had moved on in those 10 years I was shocked, and felt like I was just starting out again. But I was feeling something, my brain latched on to those feelings, expanded hate to loathing, distrust, dislike. Et al.

        All without Pills, which can do more harm and bring you down even further than without them. But sometimes you only realise how bad you were when you resurface again. I did not realise I was that bad until I wrote it down.

  5. Justina says:

    I’m not depressed, but I can sympathies so much with the giant spray of positivity that sometimes makes one feel even worse. Sometimes, when bad crap happens, it’s just crap and there’s no “silver lining” to it, really. :)

  6. That was an interesting read, and the comics with it were really great at expressing the feeling – or lack of feelings, the words were trying to convey. Its been years since I broke out of depression and reading this reminded me of what it was like and it surprised me on how much I forgot it was like. There doesn’t seem like there is any way out and it all looked pointless, nothing was motivating, and every thing was depressing at how useless it all seemed – what is the point? I don’t remember a defining moment when I realized I wasn’t depressed, it was more like a moment when I realized looking back, that I was no longer depressed. It was a very long transition process. The biggest thing that helped me personally, was to change my thought patterns to see things differently instead of going on the depressing loop of seeing everything as useless. Finding something you deem to be good and focus on causing good in relation to that causes motivation to come back. Emotions after that, and a long time after that, understanding those emotions and beginning to control them. Once you figured that out joy is something you can understand and figure out how to harness more of that – what makes you happy and why? I’ve found that motivation is key to happiness. Without motivation there is no happiness or anything else. Going back to motivation and ending the dull loop, I suggest a Gratitude Journal (I didn’t have or use one, But I did essentially the same thing in my head), being outdoors, and growing plants. If you don’t want to own plants or just feel like a black thumb, try seed bombing things – it is more interesting on many levels, and is an excuse to go outside and do a simple thing regarded as a positive to most people. And then you can see the results of your acts over time – to realize you can make change is a huge motivator because you realize it isn’t just the same old thing all the time, and it can be good and become fun. I don’t recommend volunteering for the most part because doing stuff with people all the time can be numbing and overwhelming when your emotionally dulled, I recommend volunteering solo – do things for yourself and experiencing your impacts between you and what your solo volunteer endeavor. As you avoid the judgements that you don’t understand – good or bad. All in all, find what you deem to be good, acknowledge what good you have, and find what good you can do for yourself. Because you can’t please others if you are unable to first please yourself. Call it selfish, but its true. That is how I dealt with it.

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