This week, I’ve been struggling with depression. I hesitate to talk about it for a number of reasons. The most obvious is the personal nature of depression. It’s hard to put into words and there’s a fear that other people just won’t understand. And I’d rather not get into the circumstances that have contributed to my depression. Another reason I don’t like to talk about it is because of what people are going to say. I have enough experience to know that others are likely to react in one of three ways—two of which are not very helpful to me at all.
The first group that comes to mind are the well-intentioned positive thinkers. An example of what someone in this group might say is: “Don’t be depressed! You’re such a wonderful, beautiful, talented woman. Here is an article that you should read.” What I hear is: “You aren’t allowed to have human emotions! Snap out of it! You’re great, even though you’re lonely and ignored. And I don’t trust you to find a solution to your problems, so here’s what I think you should be doing.” Many people don’t realize the harmful internal monologue of depression, especially if they haven’t experienced it themselves. It can twist even the most positive statements into damaging criticisms.
The second group are the one-uppers. From them I’m likely to hear: “You think you have it bad? Just listen to what I’m going through.” Or, alternatively: “You have no right to complain. There are people all over the world who don’t have it as well as you do, no matter what you’re dealing with.” The message from them is similar: “You aren’t allowed to have human emotions. Your depression is just selfishness. Get over yourself.” Instead of helping, these comments are very destructive and are likely to only deepen my depression. If I listen to this group and suppress my feelings, it will eventually lead to a full breakdown and make it impossible for me to take care of my family. That would add stress to my already stressed-out husband, and my toddlers need me.
A year or so ago, I was loaned a book called I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better by Gary B. Lundberg and Joy Saunders Lundberg. It changed the way I react to others when they express their feelings and showed me the kinds of comments that help me the most when I express my own. The third group—the most helpful group—are the validators. These people respond with empathy, saying something like: “I’ve felt that way, too. Life is hard. When I feel depressed, I just want to hide in my room and cry.” They don’t tell me what to do our how I should feel. They don’t give advice. They just listen. Talking with a validator is cathartic. Hearing about their experiences helps me to see that I’m not alone. And knowing that, I feel more motivated to do what I already know I need to do.
I have the tools I need to deal with this affliction. After years of suffering from clinical depression, I take medication, know which foods and activities will help, and have a treasure trove of talks, articles, and other resources that help me to address my feelings. Years ago I found that I really connect with Elder Richard G. Scott and Sister Patricia Holland, both of whom have given a number of talks about anxiety and depression. My children and I have also been listening to Owl City, whose musical style helps to improve my mood—especially the song “Tidal Wave.”
The depression will pass, even though the challenges are still there. But, in my case, at least, it will pass much faster when ears are willing to listen more than mouths are willing to open. And when it passes, my husband and I will be able to find solutions that only we can find, because those are the solutions that will help us the most.
Originally Published August 2018