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A letter to those who love someone with depression

I don’t claim to speak on behalf of everyone who suffers from depression. It’s a tremendously personal illness and over the years I’ve noticed that those of us in the ‘depression camp’ cope in very different ways. How we interact with our closest friends or partners is particular to each of us. Our reaction to those around us might be influenced by the nature of our illness (whether we also suffer from anxiety, for example) as well as the ways in which we’ve learned to cope historically (whether with the support of others or without).

A clear and conspicuous characteristic of my own sloping dips into a depressive episode is the overwhelming need to retreat; to hide away. I’m sure you might recognise this if your depression persuades you to do the same; or maybe you recognise this tendency in someone you love and/or care for.

The difference in what I consider my ‘normal’ way of navigating friendships and relationships, and conversely in this desperate urge to physically separate myself from people and from the harshness of my senses, is really very striking. It is a manifestation of the sudden mental or emotional separation I feel, and the disconnect can be unbearable.

Usually, I am in no control of the severe changes in my mood. All I have to time to do, if I manage to be pro-actively aware, is to react to the fundamental shift in how I feel. For me, this shift may have no discernible cause at all; for you, maybe it’s different. I’m not aware of any triggers, I just start to slide.

Being in the world can be painful sometimes, in a way that’s very hard to describe. Senses begin to overload: sights and sounds accumulate. Everywhere I look, thoughts and feelings are prompted. They may be minor, even harmless, but my brain, the part that processes my thoughts at least, starts to feel raw and heavy. I know that my illness has a hold on me right now and I know that I am not myself; depression lies, it absorbs and poisons and distorts the truth. I know that it is safest to hide away in the quiet and in the dark and let this battle pass. This is a great act of self-preservation. It overwhelms and the emotional ‘noise’ can be unbearable and so to grant myself the time and space to recover is a very kind gesture.

For those of us who retreat, while our minds are operating on the weakest of emergency power, against our wishes and our will, we are very unlikely to be rejecting our friends, family or loved ones during these times. An episode like this might last one evening, or it might last weeks. But we are not passive, and we don’t ignore or forget the important people in our lives. Our energy and our power is sapped; we are fighting, trying to stop ourselves from stumbling further down the slope we found ourselves on. We are trying to reach back up to where our friends, family and loved ones wait for us.

So please, look a little deeper.

So very often, when we appear cold, distant or disconnected, we are trying so hard to make our way back to you, and when we finally return, we can catch up with everything we missed.

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