I think my experience with depression and anxiety has allowed me to be empathetic and supportive of those who are also dealing with mental illness. I may not always be able to understand what they’re going through, and I certainly can’t cure them (if I could, I would – in a heartbeat), but I can listen to them, and be there for them. Usually.
I have a dear friend with depression and anxiety. He suffers greatly from it. He will be incredibly depressed for incredibly long periods of time. He has attempted suicide more times than I wish to know. He self-harms to the extent that his skin is more a map of misery than a bodily organ. Whether or not he is able to realize it, he is much more than those things. He is witty, and intelligent, and caring, and beautiful, and strong. I can tell him these things and he will not believe me, not really. When he went through a particularly difficult period, I tried to be there for him. Here is what I learnt from it
The first lesson was garnering an outside impression of depression. I don’t truly remember life without depression, so what I’ve known of it has always been my insider’s impression. From the inside, depression is terrible. From the outside, it’s not much better. I’d hear him say “I’m worthless.”,and I’d think “Well, that’s a silly thing to say. It’s clearly untrue.” But it’s not clear to him through the haze of depression. It’s not something that’s clear to me about myself much of the time. I was able to witness the distortions of depression and see them for what they are. It is hard to remember that when you’re depressed, but I think on it when I can. More than anything, I like to think this has helped me to understand what it’s like to be our friends and family members who watch us deal with our depression.
The second lesson was that it can be dangerous for a person with depression to try to support another person with depression. He ask “What’s the point if I’ll be alone?” and I would not be able to answer. It’s a question I ask myself in the depths of depression, and I’ve never found an answer. I could offer him no hope, and I could feel my own slip away. I was being dragged down and before I knew it, my depression rivaled his. I was at a loss. My counselor had to remind me of the importance of boundaries, and that I was not responsible for his well-being. Though I felt bad, I had to withdraw.
I imagine I’m not the only one who has been in that position before. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t support your friends (or family, or peers, etc.). You should, if you are able, because you can understand their plight. Being there can help them feel better, and can help you feel better about yourself. However, it is important to know your limits and to remember them. Hurting yourself will not help them. Yes, they are important, but so are you!