There are many things I hate about depression. The lack of energy. The spiralling thoughts. The tendency to rely on cheesy snacks as a coping mechanism. There’s something else that bothers me a lot, and I don’t think it’s specific to depression, just any long-term chronic illness – the fact that people stop asking for your help.
The amount of times I’ve asked someone how they are only to hear them say “Oh, I don’t want to burden you with my problems – you’ve got enough to deal with” is quite staggering. It’s as if I’m about to undertake a mission to Mars or perform a quadruple bypass operation on someone, not just deal with the day-to-day suckage of depression. I know the intention is good and people really feel like they’re helping, but all this avoidance does is make me feel more like an alien than I really am.
I like being able to provide the space someone needs to talk something out. I like to work at developing the skill of listening – it’s really interesting to me. The balance between Helpful Friend and Egotistical Know-It-All is precarious – just because I want to help doesn’t mean I’ll always be the right person to do it. That and all the times when I’ve had to catch myself and think, “Am I really listening to this person or am I just thinking about what I’d do in their shoes?” It’s something I really value.
So when someone says they don’t want to talk to me, even if they’re trying to help me, I can’t help feeling crap about it. Of course, it could just be an excuse to get me to leave them in peace which of course I can respect. But it is irritating when people assume that I’m incapable of helping them out just because I’m depressed. Not only that but apparently they want to assume total responsibility for my actions and choices by ignoring the fact I could just say “no” if I wasn’t feeling up to it.
I’ve heard people with illnesses such as cancer say the same thing – that when they become ill, no one wanted to go to them for help anymore. They felt isolated from their friends because people assumed they didn’t want to be “burdened”. There are limitations involved with having a serious illness but it doesn’t change who you are – if you were a helpful person before, you’ll be a helpful person afterwards. Telling someone you used to go to for help that you’re not going to do that anymore is like giving them another bereavement to suffer – not only do they not have their health, they also aren’t allowed access to an important part of their personality.
Pretty much everyone knows that it’s easier to help other people with their issues than it is to fix your own. The “burden” of someone else’s problems doesn’t sit in the same place as my own personal problems – it’s not the same thing. Don’t assume that just because someone is depressed, they’re incapable of helping anyone else going through the same experience.