I have, at times, been a difficult person to love.
I struggle with depression and have been suicidal a handful of times over my decades.
I’ve done that dance enough times that I know that getting enough sleep, staying connected to people, eating well, and exercising every day in a way that raises my heart rate substantially (looking at you, running and bleachers) will prevent or reverse a downward spiral.
I also know that sometimes things just hit out of nowhere, or there are enough things that hit simultaneously that without warning, I’m in the pit.
When I’m depressed, I am unpleasant and frustrating to deal with. And I know it, but I also desperately need people. But people really don’t want to be around me (and truthfully, I don’t blame them). As people disengage, I become more frantically needy. It’s a horrible cycle that I’ve experienced more times than I care to recall.
I’m on the other side of that friendship right now. A friend’s wife left him without warning and he’s devastated, to say the least. He’s also unemployed, which adds a stressful layer of financial complication. He’s definitely depressed, having trouble functioning, having trouble seeing out of the hole he’s in. It’s totally understandable.
We were texting the other night, and he said, “Don’t get frustrated with me please. I am trying. Even when it seems like I’m not.”
I told him I’m totally frustrated, but it’s not a bad thing, because I understand where he is. It’s the kind of situation where getting out of bed and taking a shower is a major accomplishment—not in a joking meme sort of way, but a serious burn on energy and focus.
I get it.
I also get that if you’ve never experienced that, you might think they’re (we’re) exaggerating or “just wanting attention” (that phrase makes my skin crawl) or wanting other people to do their work for them.
Certainly there are people who exaggerate or are lazy, but in a depression situation, that’s not what’s going on.
Your friend needs you. Even if they’re ridiculously uncomfortable to talk with. Even if their reason and rationalizations are mind-boggling to you. Talk about other stuff if you need to. Tell them explicitly that you want to help them stay connected to people, but you need to talk about lighter and/or different things.
Create boundaries and stick to them, but be loving and assume positive intent. (If you say that you need to talk about lighter things and they continue not to, remind them—explicitly, not hinting—that this is what you need to be able to talk to them right now, and if they can’t respect the boundary, then cut off the conversation. If they need to talk about their stuff, they’ll need to talk to someone else right this moment.)
Depression is insidious. Be a good friend. Take care of yourself, but be a good friend.