Stop Trying to Fix Someone’s Depression, Just Listen

There’s a smart, funny, and dynamic woman who follows my blog. We knew each other only as loose acquaintances before I launched this blog. But now I deeply know her, because she trusts me with her truths, which she shares by email.

One of her secrets is that, unbeknownst to most around her, she struggles tremendously with depression, the kind where it’s hard to get out bed. We’ve emailed back and forth about how important it is to reach out, to let those around you know you’re suffering.

But she’s grappling with the question of who to trust her truths with, who can hang with it, and who “gets uncomfortable and tries to immediately turn things positive, which drives me fucking bonkers.” Me too.

It’s really hard to sit with a loved one’s pain without trying to eliminate it, fix it, or put a cherry on top. Intentions are well intended. Yet, when you’re the one suffering, when someone wants to “solve” your struggle, it can feel like abandonment.

Instead you want to beg, “Please just sit here with me in the mess for a little while. Let me do the best I can to tell you how lonely and hard it is in here. If you can’t be with me for a short stint in this pain, how do you expect me to live with it every single day?”

This is one of the beliefs I’m most passionate about in my life: when we feel like our heartaches are deeply listened to, witnessed, and held, it’s the best chance for our pain to loosen its’ grip. And one of the most invaluable gifts we can give to another.

I’m not so naive to suggest this is a panacea for depression. It’s not. But it sure as hell makes a difference. I’d bet my dog on that. That little white one, the creature I love more than life itself. That’s how sure I am.

There will be times, many of them, when people can’t sit with our pain for a variety of reasons, like maybe it reminds them of their own that they’re trying desperately to suppress. And they might even inadvertently try to shame us for our feelings because they’re just that uncomfortable.

But to answer your question, my blog reader friend, about how to decide who’s safe to share your struggle with, and who’s not, my therapist would say that “believe it or not, we’re always safer with our hearts open.”

He often reminds me of this mantra when I’m feeling particularly down, and I usually want to slap him when he does. But I totally get it. And dig it. Even if I hate it.

One of my own spins on this open-hearted idea is that, if we persist at the tough work of learning how to give ourselves the loving attention we crave so deeply from another, it will matter less and less how someone reacts to our stuff. It doesn’t mean we should stop reaching out, but maybe it will sting less when someone doesn’t respond in the way we hoped for or needed.

But I know it can feel like a long road from deep depression to self-love. In the meantime? Hang the fuck on.

Historically, I’m accustomed to perceiving myself as weak and too sensitive because of my health and depression struggles.

But these days, even in the midst of the struggle, I’m training myself to see my strength everywhere. Each time you reach out and survive the reaching, in a culture that tells you to keep your struggle to yourself, you realize just how powerful and brave you are. And slowly the self-effacing thoughts that are the lifeline of depression, will be replaced by thoughts like “I am a fucking warrior.”

10 thoughts on “Stop Trying to Fix Someone’s Depression, Just Listen

  1. Kyle … wow. I am the woman who you so dearly opened your heart to and wrote this blog post about. I am stunned and more touched than I can possibly describe.

    As you know, I spent today mostly lying in bed dwelling in my own isolation and depression. I then wrote you a long email. After which I lay in bed with my beloved dog and played solitaire on my phone. When my (incredible) husband came home he lay down with me. I was trying to be brave (really fucking hard) and tell him how I desperately needed help somehow. I said I wanted an intervention, like … then I grabbed the laptop and opened it up to this blog to show him your “isolation intervention” piece from February. I clicked on “isolation remedies” in the categories section and then— this post came up. My heart stopped. I said to my husband, “I think she wrote a blog post for … ME.” He asked me to read it aloud. I did – through tears and a shaky voice. It is beautiful. It is *exactly* what I need to hear.

    The most powerful feeling you have given me with this post is that of being respected. Sometimes when I write to you – during my darkest depths of crazy – I wonder if you think to yourself, “Oh dear. Here is the kooky lady again.” Since we've never met in person and you only know the “ugly” side of my personality, I really have no idea what you think. It's pretty much the opposite of how everyone else in the world knows me! This post has shown me that even through all the crazy and depressive thoughts (or maybe because of them?) you think I am “a smart, funny, dynamic, and loving woman.” Wow.

    Thank you, Kyle … the love you've given me today is so awesome my heart can barely contain it. Your strength is contagious. Your courage, wondrous. Your heart, whole. And because of you, I know I will survive … somehow.

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  2. Hi again – this is the woman who Kyle write the post about …

    Kyle, I had a crazy idea inspired by your ideas and if you'd so permit, I'd like to invite anyone reading this to write to me. It's my first attempt to really ask for help. I haven't been able to do it with friends, so I thought – why not ask strangers? I just set up this email address: laughingintrafficwithfriends@gmail.com

    If enough people write to me who are also looking for some sort of connection, we can turn it into a list-serve os sorts. Who knows. I am just posting it before I convince myself this is a bad idea!

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  3. just sit still with it.
    ego needs to be so emptied out of me to be able to do this with/for both myself and others.
    and while i agree that 'fix it mode' comes from love, it also involves ego, and when pain just needs to be felt, well, that's just it. period.
    it just needs to be felt.

    beautifully expressed.

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  4. I'm so touched by all of your replies, especially my blog reader / corresponder! I know exactly how easy it is to lose sight of your strengths when all you can see is your depression. But I do see amazing things in you! And awesome for reaching out! Love, Kyle

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  5. “we're always safer with our hearts open” – love this quote, so often I find myself walling others out to feel safe, which never really helps. -K

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  6. Thank you for sharing your life through this blog. My professor recommended it and it has inspired me to start writing about my own depression. This really changed everything for me and I am finally opening up to others in my life about it. You are a true inspiration

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