Draining Depression

silly tree

The main reason that depressed people are so draining is because they make us feel unsuccessful as caregivers.  We give and give, we try to be kind, to cheer them up, to make helpful suggestions, and they shoot them down and stay stuck to their negativity.  We tell them that they are negative, and they feel angry and ashamed—they can’t help it—we just don’t understand what it’s like…

Now, unless you’ve suffered from depression, this is probably true.  And if you love a clinically depressed child, or grown-up (and not just someone who is sad right now), you might like to read something about the experience (William Styron, author of Sophie’s Choice, had major depression onset at sixty, and writes about it in Darkness Visible).

As a caregiver, or depression sufferer, it helps to understand that the depressed person very often (I would say virtually always in my clinical experience) also has wounds to the self.  This means that they are much more like a colander than a bowl.  To the extent that this is true, healing depression is more about patching holes in the vessel than it is about trying to fill a colander.  You might prefer to image a ship being repaired, but whatever the visual, a glass full of holes is neither half-full nor half empty; and depression is not solely about optimism (although, as Marvin Seligman very usefully instructs, optimism can be learned).

A Chinese parable tells of a man who has fallen on the ice and cannot get up.  Everyone from the village comes to pull him up, but they simply fall down.  Then the old master comes along and simply lies down next to the man on the ice.  The man gets up.

This is empathy 101.  Don’t fix, don’t try to move the person off their depressed position; if you can handle it, feel it with them.  If you are not a bowl, you will only feel depleted, like you caught an emotional cold (in this case, imagine a bowl with your child’s name on it, and imagine putting his or her sadness in that bowl); but if you’re feeling game, just let yourself feel you kid’s sorrow, stuckness, bleakness and helplessness.  It’s not pleasant, but this makes it safer for them, and this is one of the most effective ways to communicate your core message:  that you love them and that you care.

So, if you need understanding and compassion, speak up and perhaps other readers will venture forth to say that they hear you (rather than telling you what to do to “fix” it); and if you are loving someone who is depressed, try your best to “be the bowl” (and keep in mind that parenting itself can help you become the bowl; if done with heart and consistency, parenting itself is a path to healing and happiness).  Perhaps imagine that all parents-who-care (with or without any given blog), form a sort of invisible bowl that holds our collective children’s collective sorrows.  Trust that on any given day when we may personally be depleted and tattered, someone somewhere may be pitching in to mentally help our kid—and that we’ll return the favor as soon as we are blessed to be able.

Namaste, Bruce

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2 Responses to “Draining Depression”

  1. Laurie Says:

    Just spent 2 days with my depressed 81 year old aunt…thank you so much for this.

  2. Sue Says:

    Very wise – so comforting to hear from a therapist who truly seems to “understand” depression. So many think they do, and really don’t. You are apparently very good at being a “bowl” for your patients and others!

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