We, as people, have this driving need to make everything okay. When things are okay (normal routine of life) we are comfortable. However, when something goes upside down and inside out, we feel it, and we struggle. We want to make it better. The only thing harder than pushing through our own tragedies is watching someone we care about face their own challenges.
Getting to the other side isn’t easy. It hurts like hell. We feel alone. We feel lost, unable to choose a direction that might lead us on the correct path. Some of us pray. Some of us keep a brave face and hide our grief, going about our daily lives as if not much has changed. Some of us growl. Some of us go silent–us silent ones, we cause the most gossip and schemes to ‘fix’ us.
When we pray, our supporters feel better because we are reaching out to a higher power. We we go about our normal days, we seem good to the outside world. We look like we are on the right track– even though inside we are tied in knots. When we growl, people might take a step back, yet there is comfort in knowing we have some fight left in us. But those that go silent worry our family and friends the most.
Depression. That’s what swirls around the minds of those looking in. We must have depression. Sometimes, they are absolutely correct and it is important to know the signs of depression (www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-adjustment-disorder). Other times, we just need space. I tend to be one of the silent.
Here is the truth about me (and many others like me):
I am a talker by nature. I love words (just ask my husband). Usually my words are day-to-day stuff or concern for others. I want to know about you and how you are. I want to hear all the funny things your toddler did and how impossible work was this week. When I am struggling or working through an issue I am often silent.
For people who love me, this sets off the alarms. In part, panic ensues because I am the rock for many and when my foundation shakes, it rattles those who depend on me to hold them up. Those same people care what happen to me and it concerns them when I change so suddenly. Rest assured, I am okay. I won’t crumble anytime soon–this rock may roll a bit, but at the end of the day, it is steady. I don’t walk around asking for help–believe me, when I say, I know when I need help and am not afraid to ask for it when I need to.
My silence is necessary–for me. Know that I may not return your call. I might ‘forget’ a lunch date or I might genuinely forget an appointment. I probably won’t cook and clean like I should–and I might not make it to the store to buy groceries so someone else can do it. I probably will miss paying a bill. I’ll nap more than I should and I will end nearly every night with time alone in a hot bath. For me, that isn’t depression, it’s coping.
In times of trouble, I don’t have room in my head to worry about your day–I’m doing good to get through my own. My head gets so full of stuff that dentist appointments and due dates might go unnoticed. You should call before you come over because I might need to make a path through my cluttered house. No one in this family has ever been starving, so someone else can find the store and everyone needs to learn that leftovers are fabulous–get used to them. While I am in bed, chances are I am doing plenty of sleeping, but I am also running through scenarios, memories, and praying–sometimes doing those things exhausts me so much I need another nap. In the bath I read and I think and I think about what I read (I love receiving words as much as I like giving them away). I probably will growl–probably more than I should ever admit–because sometimes my sadness comes through as anger. This is grieving, not depression.
I can also tell you what I won’t do. I will not feel guilty. We all will be better off if that is clear up front. I know I am doing what I need to so that I will be healthy and whole again. When you struggle, I will allow you to growl a bit too. I have enough guilt about other things, I can’t carry guilt for this too. I won’t be the person who is pretends struggles don’t affect me; I know myself too well to be that foolish. I will not apologize for not being myself. When I go through earth-shattering changes, I am not myself for a long time and I will never be the me I was before the experience. I will be different and hopefully for the better. That is the journey.
Fortunately, most of those who care about me know these things about me. Everyone has been wonderful through the loss of my grandparents (honestly). Losing them brought grief back into my life and made me more sensitive to the things people say and do when grieving, but also how it might be perceived by those who are trying to support them through this difficult journey. I watch people on TV and on social media platforms and sometimes comments are cringe-worthy for me. As much as we want to help, many times we aren’t sure what to do.
So for those of you who are struggling, whether it be custody battles, medical crisis, divorce, someone’s death, or loss of employment, please know that however you feel it is okay. There is a difference between being sad and being depressed. Don’t let well-intentioned people looking in convince you of your path. At the same time, if you are feeling hopeless, or if you are trapped by sadness to the point where you can’t function, or if you feel like you need to get off the couch but just can’t–seek help. There is absolutely no shame in knowing you don’t have the answers to see the way out. Start with your family physician and if you feel comfortable, seek counseling–it can be more help than you can imagine (I have done both of these things in the past).
If you want to help someone grieve, here are some things to consider. First things first, you cannot get your friend or loved one through this strugge. It is their struggle. Doing it for them or keeping them from the task at hand can do more damage than good. Be a leaning post, carry tissues with you when you see them, and listen when they want to share. As much as we want to have the right words and come up with some quick fix, often that just isn’t feasable. You are not responsible for making them whole again. You are a supporter.
With that said, look for serious signs of depression. Sometimes a depressed person cannot see how deep their struggle is. In that case, sometimes an outsider can share their concern and what they are seeing. Be their mirror.
Please understand, just because they seem sad and sleep a lot does not mean they are depressed. Silence does not equate depression either. Chances are, as they heal they will open up–when they are ready. It might be different than when you were grieving and it might be uncomfortable for you to watch. If you were in the car with someone who managed to get lost, you wouldn’t rip the wheel from their hands. That wouldn’t be good for anyone. This is their journey–you are there for entertainment and to read the map–let them drive.