A Letter to My Family and Friends

Sometimes, I struggle with depression.

Whenever I am depressed, I become someone else. I’m ruled by apathy, isolation, and entirely too much self-reflection. Getting out of bed is an accomplishment, and going to classes is a serious achievement; if I actually look decent, I should receive an award because that’s the definition of success in the midst of a depressive episode.

I get that this doesn’t make much sense to the majority of the population that doesn’t struggle with depression.

I should “just stop being lazy;” I should “try harder;” I should “exercise more and eat healthier;” I should “just cheer up.” I understand that that seems like good advice because I’ve tried telling myself the same things. I also understand that living with and loving someone struggling with depression isn’t always easy.

This is my attempt to help my family and friends understand what is going on inside the head of someone struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, or any sort of mental illness. But today, I’m primarily focusing on depression, so everything I say may not, and probably will not, apply to every mental illness

[Perhaps, you are someone struggling with depression and you need someone to put your feelings into words, so you can help those around you help you–because remember: this is a process; you are trying to learn how to love yourself and navigate through life with a mental illness, but those around you are also trying to learn how to love you. Sometimes, depression is blinding. Don’t forget that you’re not the only one learning; others want to love you–they just need practical guidelines for loving you well. May this post be helpful.

Perhaps, you are a family member, significant other, or friend of someone struggling with a mental illness. Imagine this is their letter to you. First off, it means a lot to them that you are actually taking the time to try to understand what is going on in their head, and like I previously said, depression is blinding, so let me thank you for them, in case they’re struggling to see your efforts: thank you for making an effort to love your friend and to understand them. We need people in the world like you.

With that being said, I feel it is important for you to first know that every mental illness is not the same, and that each individual who is struggling has valid, individual feelings and their emotions that can’t be assumed by a broad generalization of any blog post, psychological explanation, or definition of their disorder.]

Some days, I don’t want to be around people. I don’t want to go do things; I don’t want to fulfill my responsibilities; I don’t want to get out of bed; I don’t want to get dressed; I don’t want to take care of myself.  AND I don’t have a tangible reason. I just don’t. A lot of the time, it’s because I don’t feel pretty enough or happy enough or awake enough, and I don’t have enough energy to pretend that I am happy or pretty or awake. Depression physically exhausts me.

However, no matter how much I push people away during these days, I deeply crave love. Depression may say that I’m not good enough, pretty enough, happy enough, worthy enough, smart enough, funny enough, or friendly enough to be loved; and it may tell me to stop sharing my feelings because they are invalid, annoying, or nobody cares, but during this time, I need you to love me. I need you to remind me that you haven’t given up on me or forgotten me, and that I still have some sort of value to you. Sometimes, love looks like a kind, random letter; sometimes, love is telling me to take care of myself by setting boundaries or saying “no;” sometimes, it’s getting me out of the house and going for a walk or a drive; sometimes, it’s forcing me to talk about how I’m feeling, while other times, it’s just embracing silence with me; sometimes, it’s doing my dishes for me; other times, it’s a hug; sometimes, it’s an encouraging word; sometimes, it’s praying with me. Sometimes, I feel unlovable and like my depression has defined me. I need you to speak truth and identity over me. Just because you can’t see my sickness doesn’t invalidate that I am sick; just like you would love someone battling cancer, those battling mental illnesses also need to be loved.

Despite how much I struggle to love myself during these days, I am going to try my best to love you well. If I fail at loving others well, which is going to happen when I don’t want to even get out of bed, I will take it personally and go over and over again in my head regarding how I could have loved him or her better. Most of the time, if I can make someone else happy, then I can feel better. It shows that I can still succeed at something, even though I feel like a failure. It reminds me that there is some sort of purpose to my life. So just keep in mind that I am working really hard to love you, and I really want to love you well because it gives me purpose when I can’t see any purpose. However, I know I’m going to fail because sometimes all I can see is my depression, so please have grace. I need you to have grace.

I need grace because depression makes me selfish. Say you put on a pair of glasses that have weird, foggy lenses at random times, and you don’t know when these glasses will be clear or when they’ll be foggy. You’re constantly going to be thinking about these lenses; you’ll have an anxiety about not knowing when you’ll see clearly or foggily; you’ll see things strangely when they are foggy; you’ll be frustrated often; these lenses will consume your thoughts and your time. This is somewhat how depression is with me. I never know if I’m going to be enthusiastic about life or hate life; I don’t know if life will be clear or foggy; I don’t know if I’ll have energy to conquer the world, or if I’ll even get out of bed. Then whenever I am looking through the foggy, hating life, in bed, depressed lenses, I can’t get out of my head. I am battling thoughts, and overwhelmed by where my mind wants to take me. I am analyzing everything I do and reassessing every decision I have made. I get really really deep in my thoughts some days. My mind is the scariest monster of them all. Therefore, I sometimes don’t see things from other perspectives, and oftentimes, when I do, it’s too late, and I will think of every way I could have done better and criticize myself for failing. That’s why I need you to have grace because if you’re disappointed, hurt, frustrated, or confused by me, I’m more so.

However, having grace is not an excuse for letting me walk all over you. Set appropriate boundaries and remind me that you deserve to be treated with respect. Keep me accountable for not focusing on just myself when I am blinded by my depression. Stand up for yourself if I ever mistreat you, and remember that your feelings are valid. Please communicate with me because I need that.

Depression isn’t always marked by sadness. I can get really pissed off during my depression, and I am mad at everyone and everything. If someone looks at me a weird way, I’ll be ready to fight them, but I mean, obviously I wouldn’t because I don’t have that sort of energy to waste on fighting; although, it wouldn’t seem like a waste at the time. I can also feel incredibly numb during my depression. I won’t feel anything. At all. I’m just an empty, emotionless person taking up time and space. It is the lack of emotion and the extreme emotions that are the most dangerous for me. If I cannot control my raging anger, I feel like I am out of control. During these times, I will do anything to feel in control, which sometimes involves self-harm or suicidal thoughts. If I don’t feel anything, I feel like I’m wasting everyone’s time and like I have no reason to exist. During these times, I will often self-medicate or have suicidal thoughts. I need you to just be there during these times. They’re scary for me, and I know they’ll probably be scary for you, but I apologize in advance if it appears that I don’t care how you feel.

It’s a lot to love me. I’m even learning how to do it. But to everyone who has been patient with  me and hasn’t given up on me, thank you. You have kept my head above water, keeping me from drowning. To those who are actively working to understand what all is going on in my head (even though I don’t even understand fully), and are going on this journey with me–whether it be on the mountaintop or in the valley–thank you. Words will never adequately describe how much of a blessing you have been to me. Thank you for loving me through the darkest nights. Thank you for making efforts to understand. Thank you for reading this incredibly long blog post. You deserve the keys to a city, five thousand latex-free balloons, and a parade in your honor.

Thank you for keeping me alive long enough to have stories from both the mountains and the valleys.

-Abigail

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