Mind the gap: the gulf between the depressed person and the rest of the world

This is a guest post I was asked to write for a site called In Good Company, a platform for people to share their stories about anxiety and depression.

Many years ago, a friend of mine started to suffer from depression. I remember feeling quite angry with her at the time. She was (and is!) bright, creative, talented, well-educated and supported. In fact on her day she’s an incredibly sparkly and wonderful human being, so with all of that being true, why the hell was she just sitting around all the time!

Try as I might, I just couldn’t get it. I reasoned that on some level, she was just being crap. That she was freeloading rather than taking action. I thought, rather self-righteously at the time, that everybody finds things tough sometimes but we the vast majority of ‘normal’ people just grit our teeth and get on with it, right?

Yes, my inner Daily Mail was outraged.

Some years later I suffered from depression myself, which lead to a breakdown. Suffice to say, my views towards depression have softened somewhat as a result.

When it was first put to me, I was flattered to be asked to write this post and immediately said yes. When the time came however, I felt resistant to going further.

One of the biggest obstacles to writing about depression is being able to remember what it actually felt like in the first place! Sitting here now, I have only a vague sense of how I was then. It’s like that time and state of mind is so far away I can’t connect to it easily anymore.

The converse is also true. When I was in the deepest part of the depression, I was so far away from a positive or even realistic state of mind, that I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be normal in any sense (and by ‘normal’ I mean happy, confident, at peace with myself, able to look other people in the eye, go outside without feeling anxious, that kind of thing).

This made it very difficult for me to talk to other people about how I felt. In a very real way, they couldn’t understand me and, at the time, I couldn’t understand them either. In fact for a long time I didn’t even understand myself, so how anybody else was going to have a chance was beyond me.

I think there’s a tendency for people to want to be practical around depression. They try to get the depressed person to ‘do’ something, they tell them: “it’s not so bad”. The thing is: it is that bad! And when I was depressed I didn’t have it in me to ‘do’ anything, especially things suggested by other people to make them feel better.

Did that sound harsh? I didn’t mean it to. It can be incredibly draining to be around a depressed person and folk just want their friend or family member to get better. They want to be able to ‘do’ something to help. I think depression can make the people surrounding the depressed person feel powerless too.

I remember being asked things like:

“But what do you actually need?”

“What would make you feel better?”

“When do you think you’ll be back to your old self again?”

I had no idea how to respond to any of those at the time. In fact it’s taken me years to even begin to answer the first and second questions and the third is a question I used to ask myself daily until I realised I would never be ‘my old self’ again and that that’s ok.

My point here is that depression, in my experience, isn’t rational or simple and it’s bound up with shame and guilt and lots of other things that make it tempting to hide. Talking about it is difficult at the best of times and most audiences are tough (without intending to be) because they are starting from the assumption that depression is simply a bad place we need to get out of, rather than a possibility for something better. That the ‘old you’ is the place you need to get back to, rather than the place you’re trying to leave.

But that’s a story for another day.

4 responses to “Mind the gap: the gulf between the depressed person and the rest of the world

  1. "That the ‘old you’ is the place you need to get back to, rather than the place you’re trying to leave."

    Yes. Not the easiest thing to figure out, when you're stuck between inertia and crippling anxiety. Thanks for this, Pete – it can't have been easy to write, but it's something I've been struggling with for a while myself so it's a bit of a (helpful) kick upside the head to see it expressed so clearly.

    • Thanks. It was hard to write and harder still to put in a public place! If you feel up to it, I know they're looking for more people to come forward on the site…

  2. The difficulty with dealing with someone else's depression is that every one is different. I've been depressed in different ways at different points in my life…

    When I dropped out of university and couldn't get a job, I sunk into an antisocial, insular depression I didn't even realise I was in until, looking back, I saw how I had been acting.

    When my first major love broke up with me, I faltered along for a few weeks and then simply stopped speaking; didn't say a single word for about a month. Because what if it was the wrong thing to say? How could you tell? I can't imagine what that was like for my parents looking after me. And this one still haunts me, at times.

    Depression is difficult… to acknowledge and identify and understand, from inside and out. I think the best thing people can do is talk about it and make people realise they are not alone in what they are going through. (says he who rarely talks about these things…)

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