If you’re reading this, there’s a chance you or someone you love lives with depression, and I say lives with for a reason. In this blog, I want to pose a different way to approach understanding your depression. Instead of pushing depression away and hating on it, I want you to love it. I want you to go to the store with it, to the bank, your favorite deli. Sit at home watching TV holding hands while eating popcorn. I want you to think of depression as not something you have—like a disease or an iPhone—but to think of depression as your partner, your friend. I encourage you to flip your entire perspective about depression from something internal to something external, like the imaginary friend’s kids have. And I want you to get to know this friend because this friend can teach you a lot about yourself.
To quote Harper Lee from To Kill A Mockingbird: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Depression isn’t something you catch like a cold, it’s a relationship you create. But are you really aware of why you’re sharing your life with this bleak friend?
For now, forget the clinical meaning of depression because you don’t really understand who or what depression is until you’ve lived with it for a while. To understand it a little more, I’d like you to think about why you choose depression as your partner, because you have chosen it. It doesn’t just arrive at your door one day without an invitation. It’s true, there might be a million explanations why you live with depression, but we can typically boil it down to just two overarching reasons – failure or hopelessness. “How dare you suggest I choose to live with depression? I don’t want to be depressed. I hate depression!” Yeah-yeah, I know, I’m a terrible person for making such a generalization but stick with me and we’ll see if we can get to the bottom of this.
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- First, I’d like you to close your eyes and imagine what your depression partner looks like. Does it look like you? Is it a shapeless blob or does it appear like George Clooney in a Hawaiian shirt? Whatever your depression image, define it. See it in your mind. Make it real and externalize it.
- Give your depression partner a name. And don’t just call it depression or the black dog, be original. Call it something like Pookie, Flump or Roger. A name is important for its identity.
- Find somewhere quiet and ask Pookie to sit down while you make him—her or it—a drink or a snack (I’m serious, go do it).
- Now start a conversation but begin with humility and not sarcasm. Be open to understanding what Pookie has to say. In the beginning it might not start well, for Pookie might hold a lot of resentment towards you. He may call you names and act hurt, because friends often do this when they feel taken advantage of or pushed to their limits with little regard for their wellbeing. And there’s a good chance you have hurt Pookie.
Here’s a brief example conversation:
“Hi, Pookie, how’s it going today?”
“Don’t talk to me, loser.”
“I’m sorry, Pookie. I’m trying to be thoughtful and understand you. That way I might be able to help you feel better?”
“You want to help me, then stop being irresponsible and get a backbone!”
“What do you mean, irresponsible?”
“For not speaking up. You ask me to do so much and when it doesn’t go right, you blame me and start demanding I do better and work longer hours. You’re pushing me to do something I just can’t do. And instead of owning that and asking for help, you keep quiet and demand I do more. But I can’t. I’m exhausted.”
“But Pookie, if you don’t succeed, we’ll fail, and I can’t fail. My boss will be angry.”
“But failing is okay. Failing at something doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Be strong and accept that. Otherwise you’re hurting me and not accepting reality.”
Pookie knows what’s really going on. He shows you hold an unhealthy internal belief of: “I must not fail, because if I fail it means I’m a worthless human and nobody will love me.” But that belief doesn’t make sense. It’s irrational and easily reversible. And it’s this type of belief that is probably at the heart of your depression problem. If you sit down and talk to your Pookie, the chances are you’ll soon understand your reason for depression. I bet deep down you really know anyway, but probably don’t want to admit it. Often we don’t admit something to ourselves because it means accepting we need to change to feel better. And for many, doing something seems way harder than living with depression. But change is an inevitable path for growth. Even slow growth is surely preferable over depression?
The reality is things don’t always go to plan. You know life isn’t fair, no matter how much you demand it. There is always someone better, stronger, smarter and more productive than you and that’s okay. So, stand up straight and accept life’s realities, whatever they are and no matter how tough they seem. Asking for help doesn’t mean you are weak. Asking for help means you’re smart. Failing at one thing doesn’t make you a complete failure, it means you failed at this one task. And even when things look gloomy, you have choices. Depression doesn’t have to live with you forever.
Regardless of whether you like this or not, depression for most of us is a choice. You don’t have to live with depression, but you do need to accept your part in creating it. And understanding your why will go a long way to helping you figure out your next step.
Pookie knows this, but will you listen to Pookie?