Whilst doing my morning scroll through Facebook this morning, I came across this quote from Stephen Fry. He is a sufferer of manic depression, and a highly intelligent man, however, I don’t entirely agree with what he has to say. The sentiment is all there, the wording perhaps is not…
Yes, it is important to understand that asking someone you love why they have depression is like trying to understand how humans came to be on earth. There is no clear cut answer, or reasoning. Yes, it can also be extremely hard being a friend to someone who has depression, as we can be unpredictable, unreliable, snappy and hard to understand.
It is not however “noble” to be our friend. You will not receive a medal for being in our company, and nor should you. It does not make you a hero to stand by us in our times of need, and nor should you expect the treatment of one. Actually, to be our friend is indeed kind, but it is also supportive, respectful and showing yourself to be a patient, understanding individual. In return, you get a friend who will show you the same support, patience and kindness, and someone who understands the hardships of life.
I have always struggled to express to my friends and family how I need them to be in order to work around my depression, which is sometimes so debilitating that it makes me say and do things that are out of character. I know how hard it can be to ask for what you need, in the fear that you will not be given it. I have constructed a letter to all my friends and family, to express what I need from them in way of support, and by way of a fore-thought apology, for when my depression takes over my mind, and turns me into someone I don’t want to be.
To those whom I love,
Firstly I would like you to understand that my depression, at times, becomes me. It encompasses my being and takes over my normality, making my senses heightened. When at its worst, there is a dark cloud above everything I do. It is like it is raining, hard, when I have just got everything dry from the last bout. It leaves me angry that I cannot control my own mind, sad that this is the way my life has turned out, confused at the lack of understanding I have for my own head, resentful of all that got me to where I am today, and guilty for the way my depression not only punishes me, but punishes and pushes away those around me.
My depression is ironic. Why? Because it will push you away, when the real me needs you most. It will criticise, snap, bear it’s teeth and argue with you until you leave. Then it is happy. The me inside this shell does not wish to push you way, I want you close. Quite frankly, it’s power scares me. Please understand that when I snap, or express anger, it is not directed at you. Not consciously anyway. It is like I live in a boat who’s captain is steering me away from calm waters and towards a storm. I have no control, I’m just a passenger at present. What I need you to know is that I never mean to hurt or offend you, and I don’t want to push you away. I want you close. I want you to hold me and tell me I’ll be ok. I want you to tell me you understand. I want you to know I don’t mean it. I want you to hold my hand and let me know I’m not alone. I want you to encourage me to outgrow this demon, and to recognise when it takes control of me and when I don’t mean what I say.
I’ll tell you what this disease is (because that is what it is, it’s an infectious disease that destroys the mind of the person in which it lives), it’s confusing. It makes me believe that black is white, even though my intellect tells me otherwise. What I ask of you, is that you tell me in no uncertain terms, how you are feeling, and what you want from me. That way, I can’t confuse it, misinterpret it, think on it too hard, get upset by it, or convince myself into paranoia.
I ask you to be patient, always. Be patient when I’m not making sense. Be patient when I can’t explain myself. Be patient when I need you to just sit with me in silence. Be patient when I need you to wipe away my tears. Be patient when I am ill. Be patient when I am unkind. Be patient when my anxiety leads me to be unnecessarily scared. Be patient when my depression cocoons me in my duvet and holds me hostage for days. Be patient when I miss things that are important to you. I know I’m asking for a lot of patience, and I know it may challenge you. But I beg that you are patient with me.
Trust me, I understand this illness and its effects on me just as little as you do. It’s confusing, isolating and debilitating.
When I’m having an episode of anxiety, or a panic attack, please don’t smother me, it is the worst thing you could do. Ask me what I need. Ask me if I want physical contact or to be left alone. Be my silent support. Don’t try to rationalise the stressor – I assure you I have already done this.
Never underestimate or downplay my intelligence. I know this illness is irrational and does not make sense. I know my behaviour is ridiculous. But I know this. I know this but I can’t change it. You cannot will a broken leg to fix itself. If I could, I would. Intelligence makes no difference when I am captive in my own head.
When I want to be alone, don’t take this as being offensive or hurtful. It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with you, it’s that I need to be alone. I need to think, to calm down, to be at peace. It may also be because I know myself more than you think, I know when this illness will make me snappy and aggressive and I know when best to be on my own in order to prevent this hurting you.
Pay me compliments, boost me up, help to improve my confidence. I am incredibly insecure and on most days do not like what I see in the mirror. You never know how much a few simple words may make my day, and how much they may change my opinion of myself.
Ask me about my dreams. I have wishes, hopes and dreams for the future. I want to put time into truly believing that these can come true.
My eating habit might not reflect what you think it should be, but please allow me some grace. I have improved a lot since the start of my illness and I will continue improving. Don’t embarrass me in front of others, patronise me or talk down to me. I know that I’m not taking care of my body as I should, I know I need to nourish myself better. But knowing doesn’t make it any easier to beat the habit of a lifetime. I will, though. But in my own yime. And improvements are better than being stagnant, and not eating at all, as was my previous routine.
Be kind. I’m hurting. I am sad. I do not choose this. And I need your kindness.
Forgive me. I am not a vengeful, hurtful person. I do not mean to be a reflection of my depression. With everyday, I am fighting a battle. Somedays, I get it wrong. Please forgive me.
Trust me when I say I am thankful. I am so grateful for what you have done, and what you are yet to do.
What do you get in return? When I delete this parasite from my life once and for all, which I will, then I shall be me. I will love you harder than anyone can, I will be loyal, I will protect you and stand by you. I will respect you. I will laugh with you, cry with you, listen to you, wait for you, stay up all hours of the night making sense of the world with you. I will show you kindness, generosity, understanding and honesty. I am all of these things now; There is just a shadow over their true force. I will beat this, and your patience and kindnes, and support through the hardest battle of my life so far, will be the greatest present I could ever wish to receive.
With love, and hope for brighter days,