What you hear when you're depressed
October 18, 2010 9:06 AM   Subscribe

When you were in the midst of deep depression, painful painful fear...were there words, stories that helped, even for just a moment?

Someone I'm close to is in the depths of a brutal depression. She is with family, getting help, seeing doctors, on meds, looking into various treatments...but it is brutal and so painful, she is very frightened, paralyzed, desperate for miracles, and also going through major life upheaval to boot.

She doesn't entirely believe that she's sick -- some of her thinking is rather 'outside reality' right now. While she knows she has depression, she is utterly convinced that this is "how she is" --convinced that she is a burden, an incapable person. Of course those of us who know and love her know that this is not true, but there is no convincing her.

I am not with her right now. I speak to her often on the telephone. There was a time when I think my conversation was helpful --redirecting catastrophic thinking back to reality...but now I don't know what to say to counteract the fearful self-loathing. There is no soothing her.

Sometimes I find stories of people who are depressed - I took some of the small anecdotes from this Being/Speaking of Faith episode and told them to her...stuff like how one of the interviewees described how unhelpful it is to have someone point out all the 'great things you've accomplished' because you just feel that you've defrauded another person...anecdotes that have similarities to things she has said to me. I think it helped to hear such anecdotes and realize that other people have suffered with similar feelings - she is not the only one.

I'm hoping for resources for such things, and advice on 'what to say'. And generally -- when you, or a loved one, were in deep anxiety and depression, what words helped ...and what else helped, beyond meds/talk therapy? (We are looking into some more radical treatments, eg. TMS, etc)

anonymous for her privacy.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Emphasize that she has a medical condition that distorts her perceptions.

People in the manic phase of a bipolar episode are not able to rationally judge whether their art project will win them a Nobel Prize. People in the pit of a depressive episode are not rationally able to judge whether their life is worthless or not.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:11 AM on October 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

IANA shrink, but IA A Depression Sufferer. I don't always like someone trying to "talk me out of it" - depression-thought is as stubborn as it is brutal; it does not always respond to logic.

What DOES help, to some degree, is when people offer sentiments that don't have a lot to do with my perception (because, in a really bang-up depressive episode, your mind can twist ANYTHING into "I suck and I'm worthless"): to wit, "I don't care WHAT you think about yourself: I love you, I think you're awesome, I would be heartbroken without you in my life," etc. You can't really argue with someone loving you - it's THEIR emotion, not YOURS.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:15 AM on October 18, 2010 [12 favorites]

Personally, I have found this book to be very helpful: Get It Done When You're Depressed

It's co-written by a severe depressive and her therapist, and focuses on what's realistically achievable when in the grips of the illness.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:19 AM on October 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine battles depression, and she once told me that it never helps to tell her "Cheer up! Look at all of the great things you have going for you! " because it just made her feel ungrateful and undeserving.

She also said that it helped to acknowledge her feelings, because the entire world seems to think trivializing one's depression helps. Instead, statements of support were helpful: “I'm sorry you're in so much pain", "I can't imagine what it's like for you. It must be very difficult and lonely", "I can't really fully understand what you are feeling, but I’m here to support you", “I’m here for you no matter what, you are important to me", etc. were a lot more helpful.

posted by magstheaxe at 9:20 AM on October 18, 2010 [15 favorites]

For me, it's honestly reminding myself that regardless of how completely awful everything is and how terrible I am and how hopeless and stuck everything feels, the world keeps on turning and the sun comes up every morning regardless. It's a "this too shall pass" kind of thing. It's pretty easy for me to fall into the mental trap of "things will never get any better!!!", but making a conscious effort to pay attention to the passing of time helps.
posted by agress at 9:21 AM on October 18, 2010

Fellow depression sufferer here: I absolutely detest it when people say things like "this isn't you, you'll get better". When I'm depressed, that is me. The sort of message I get is to hurry up and get over this little thing, because that person likes the "real" me more than the depressed me.
posted by wayland at 9:23 AM on October 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

"This too shall pass."
posted by lhall at 9:23 AM on October 18, 2010

I have been there, not that deep, but on the way there. There was nothing that anyone could say or do that would have helped. The thing I found being in that state was that I was fully consumed.

It sounds like she is doing what needs to be done, and so are you. I'm sure it is very painful to watch, but this, too, shall pass.
posted by TheBones at 9:23 AM on October 18, 2010

When my entire world collapsed in the span of two months I spent a lot of time dwelling and reminiscing about when things were better and then dwelling some more and I had to make a conscious effort to try to stay in the now and focused and aware of what was going on right then. It helped to remind myself that, as previous posters mentioned, eventually things would regain some sense of normalcy and that emotions ebb and flow.

I had a post it on my mirror in my bathroom that read, "Hope is the feeling that what you are feeling isn't permanent."
posted by splitinfinitive at 9:27 AM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

During the time I was most depressed, I actually was most inspired by the very darkest things. I read Tennessee Williams tragedies obsessively, and Barry Gifford novels, and anything that seemed to speak to the unbearable miseries that were out there lying in wait for those who seemed to deserve them the least. Because I felt I could relate in some way, and if these characters happend to transcend their tragedies I was elated and inspired, but when they succumbed to them I still felt very awed, because I was bearing witness to their downfall in an acute way which no one was able to do for me. It seemed important.

When you are depressed you think you are seeing a side of reality that other people are oblivious to or in denial about. And you know, there is a kernel of truth in this which is what makes depressive thinking so difficult to overcome. It's like the addition of an extra sense, an extra layer of awareness that may depressed people can't imagine living without, because they have grown so accustomed to it.

Good literature helped me. It was like a mirror showing other views of the world which weren't (necessarily) contaminated by my head- and heart-sickness. Being an artist helped, in that I had a way to stay busy and paint (usually pretty lame) pictures of what was in my mind. My friends were helpful not in what they said, but in their refusal to just give up and walk away. I put on a brave face for many of them, and having people whom I was held accountable for acting normal around was a great help. As was having others who were wilder and crazier and would take me out and fill my head with animated conversation and wild hopes for the future.

Please don't see yourself as part of her therapy. Don't recommend books to her "because of her depression". Recommend awesome books to her because they are awesome, and because it would be fun to be able to discuss it with someone. Ask what SHE'S reading, and read it yourself. Thinking "outside of reality" might seem like a disease to you, but you probably do it yourself all the time. It's just that other factors in your life prevent this from leading you to ruin. Enjoy her wonderful mind for what it is, refrain from trying to determine which of her thoughts and hopes are healthy or "real."

I'm so glad she has your friendship. I hope her situation improves.
posted by hermitosis at 9:27 AM on October 18, 2010 [16 favorites]

I have a friend who has serious depression issues and she has told me when not depressed that I should tell her when she is depressed:

Take it one day at a time. And if that's too much, take an hour at a time. And if that's too much, take a minute at a time. And, when even that's too much, live in the moment.

It seems to help her and it even helps me on bad days.
posted by eleanna at 9:29 AM on October 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

When you were in the midst of deep depression, painful painful fear...were there words, stories that helped, even for just a moment?

My answer to this is emphatically no. As other people have said, the sort of help you want to offer would have at best not helped, and usually made it worse. Stuff about how other people feel better than I do... was Not Helpful.

That said, I can imagine it would be helpful for some people. Just be very, very careful in what you say. The Chicken Soup stuff only helps when your down in the dumps, not when you're seriously depressed.
posted by brainmouse at 9:31 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

What music does she like? Buy her lots of that genre and other than making sure she's not going to hurt herself, let her be.

Be careful of your own mental state and energy. Trying to "fix" someone who is clinically depressed can be exhausting and frustrating.
posted by nomadicink at 9:35 AM on October 18, 2010

When I was horribly depressed, my father said something which still makes me feel so loved and weirdly understood, it still surprises me.

I'm a songwriter in my spare time and it's very much my passion, it means a lot to me to be able to write original music.

He said, "maybe these horrific lows are what you endure in order to experience the creative highs which allow you to write lovely music"

I know it may seem a little cavalier, like - is it worth it? and do i really have to put up with one for the other? I don't actually know the answer to the latter, but when I thought about it, I realised that I really do love music so much, it is DEFINITELY worth it. It makes the hard times easier to bear.
posted by greenish at 9:36 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Words/stories did not help at all when I was severely depressed (and I'm a person who basically lives in books!). This is one reason why depression is so terrible - you can't think yourself out of it, and other people can't talk yourself out of it...I had the impression that everything that has to "go through your brain" first is lost and doesn't reach you, no matter how true, wise, friendly it is. Your friend's MMV, but that's how it was/is for me.

What did help, at least for some moments, were very basic "sensual" things like: soaking in a hot tub, a massage, going on a walk. Warm sun, or cool wind, on your skin. A foot/back rub. A hot shower. Picking flowers. Collecting chestnuts, which feel so nice in your hands. The smell of ripe peaches. You cannot provide those things via the phone, obviously, but maybe you can send a gift certificate, or a nice body lotion, or a pretty orchid, or something like that?

This only applies to moderate to severe depression, however. In periods of light depression, it might help to explain to her that it will get better, bolstered by actual past experience. My husband often says something like - "Remember when you were really down, X months ago? It got much better soon!" - and this often helps if I'm just feeling a little bit down. Even if you rationally know, you tend to forget that it will get better at some point.
posted by The Toad at 9:39 AM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Something that helped (and helps) me the more deeply I understand it is my total insignificance in the scope and scale of the universe. And that's just the world of matter and gravity that I can kinda sorta wrap my mind around. I also know that there are potentially infinite layers of quantum realities, other big bangs separated from our bubble by The Void, and things that humans will never have math or words for.

I understand that this is the terror of existential despair for many people, but it means to me that I have total freedom. There's nothing I can "do wrong" and even if there were a god to judge me, it wouldn't really give a shit about this particular short-lived eddy of energy one way or another.
posted by cmoj at 9:44 AM on October 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

One of my favorite pithy little phrases when I went through a particularly bad time is one that's generally applied devastating medical conditions like aggressive cancers, but works equally well for depression (which is, of course, a devastating medical condition in its own very real way). "Accept the diagnosis. Defy the prognosis." I've always liked it because it doesn't suggest that the inner reality of how terrible things are is invalid, or that it's something to be ignored, or that it's not powerful, or even assuming that getting better is just a given (which can sound sort of dismissive when you're in the depths of whatever suffering life can throw at one), or even a likelihood. But that despite all that, it's worth fighting it purely for the sake of fighting it.

I don't like most pithy sayings, but I like that one.
posted by Drastic at 9:46 AM on October 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

When I can't soothe myself any other way, I distract myself. I'll watch an entire series of television that I missed when it aired. Or I'll read books, lots of them, as much juicy and mindless fiction as I can get my hands on. I stick to comedies, romances, mysteries. Things that don't remind me of my own failures.

Obviously you can't really watch a movie with your friend, unless you're willing to be on the phone with her while you both queue it up on your computers. But when you talk to her, be funny. That's the best advice I can give. Make things fun, and funny, and distracting. A lot of people expect depressed people to talk about how they're feeling all the time. And we don't like that. We'd rather talk about Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck, or about what happened on Mad Men. Or, if you want to tell us your problems, provided they're real problems and not obnoxious neuroses about how you have too much and are too awesome, we may also be able to give good advice. Somehow, activating empathy seems to elevate a person's mood.

In those moments when we are very, very low, it's good to try to get through to us and tell us that we're good people who are loved. It's good to tell us that you're there to help us through it. Phone hugs are almost as good as in-person hugs.

And also, we're all different. You know, some people may not like to be reminded of their successes. Most of us will say, "Hey, no, the fact that I used to be an astronaut/space ambassador* is just a mistake, a tragedy really, because I didn't deserve to be an astronaut." But if you can point to specific things that we did as astronauts/space ambassadors*, like how we saved an entire planet from extinction that one time by convincing the king not to cut down all the trees, it can break the ANTs. If the automatic negative thought is, "I'm no good, nothing I've ever done was ever good, any good thing that I've ever done was actually a bad thing," then pointing to specific moments in time and identifying real actual good things ... that's helpful.

So is telling us that we're good right now. Yeah, you know we chronically depressed folk tend to think that we're a burden on everyone, and it's hard to dispute that. Unless you tell us, actually tell us, that we've done something -- anything -- you appreciated. Thank us for listening, or for advice, or for sharing. Don't be sarcastic about this stuff, either. The whole "I'm a burden" thing is one thing you cannot joke about. And you can't dispute it, either. You know it's true, to some extent.

Being depressed to the extent your friend is depressed is like being a baby. You can't do things for yourself, and it's embarrassing and painful and yes, wouldn't you think you were a burden if you were in that situation? (To some degree, don't you yourself believe she is a burden at this point?) The only way to soothe that particular line of thought is by demonstrating that you believe in her and care for her and that she is not just a burden. And then you help her. You commit yourself to helping her become something other than a burden. Whether that means more intensive treatment, more structure, more mobility -- that's something that will depend on your friend's situation. You remind her that this is a thing to get through, and that you and her family are there to help her through it.

And then you take time for yourself when you need it, because this sort of thing takes a toll on everyone, especially those who are closest to the person who is depressed. And when you're the depressed person in this situation, you feel really guilty about making other people feel depressed, too. Or tired. Or frustrated. You feel radioactive. You want those around you to care well for themselves, because otherwise all you can see is yourself as an anchor. So whatever you do, please take care of yourself.

*insert real profession here
posted by brina at 9:50 AM on October 18, 2010 [7 favorites]

nthing what people say about you can't change it. I am in a bit of a depression myself after a major high a few weeks ago. Some days I just want to sleep all day, and then I feel worthless for not getting anything done that day... doesn't matter what other people do.

But little tasks and fun things / trivial errands that you can look back on and say "hey, I didn't do ABSOLUTELY nothing today, even though that's what I felt like doing" can help. Those things seem more surmountable if there is another person around (which I don't have but... wish I did)

Also, if your friend has any Comedians they like, or if they like comedy in general, that could be a big pick me up. Dark Comedy is dark, but it makes you laugh, which is a good thing in my estimation. Even if the laughter is just holding back tears. My favorites, Lewis Black, Jim Gaffagan, Louie CK. YMMV

ALSO, something routine to look forward to. If your friend likes talking to you then make a pact that you will call every Thursday or something. I find I get through my day/week better when I have something to look forward to at some point in the near future... a weekly TV show, a phone call, even knowing I'll be going out to dinner with friends tonight. The thinking is "no matter how bad right now feels, I know I'll be talking to my friend on Thursday" or something like that. Again YMMV
posted by DetonatedManiac at 10:05 AM on October 18, 2010

Something that helped me: having my funniest, most sarcastic friends and family around and making sure I didn't watch/listen to anything depressing.
Also, medication.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:05 AM on October 18, 2010

My mantra was "Depression lies." Sometimes expanded to "Depression lies like a motherfucker." Depression is an agent in your brain that LIES TO YOU, tells you that you are not good enough, that other people have a serious mental illness but you, YOU have a character flaw, and that there's nothing wrong with you that being willing to get up off the couch and do a little work for once in your god damn life.

It's a lie. It's all a lie. But depression keeps telling it, and the person with the depression keeps believing it, because they've heard it for so long. So sometimes having it externalized really, really helps.
posted by KathrynT at 10:07 AM on October 18, 2010 [21 favorites]

Reading You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay helped me to completely turned my life around. I used to be depressed a lot and kind of hopeless and lost. The book is about how to really nurture ourselves where we're at right now. It's also about how we are in control of ourselves and our lives and really helped me to feel empowered in small and big ways in my life.

I gave it to a friend once and she got so mad she threw it at me ("What do you mean I'm responsible for my life?!") after trying to read it, but a few months later went back to it and it really opened some doors for her as well.
posted by Kimberly at 10:25 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everybody has troubles like this. Maybe not to the same degree, but EVERYBODY has them. The richest, happiest people still have their friends and family die or have to deal with disabling, disfiguring, saddening ailments that prevent them from living life as they'd prefer.

My dad once presented at a conference, and a woman came up to him afterwards and said, "Wow, that was such a fantastic presentation! I was watching you and said to myself, 'Now THERE is a guy who has it all together and knows what he's talking about!'" He thanked her, but he didn't tell her that he'd had terrible insomnia the night before (and pretty much every other night) because he was worrying about how awfully uninformed and stupid he thought he was. Also he probably has a worse case of ADD than I do, and the insomnia doesn't help at all.

This goes a long way towards helping me remember that there's not such a huge chasm between fucked-up little me and the sparkling, shining, perfect world of "everybody else." We're all here on the same planet with a lot more of the same hurts and limitations than we usually realize.

Honestly, I ran into a grumpy spot with my mom this weekend where I wanted to scream at her, "When are you going to stop letting your depression do the talking for you???" I think I might (don't laugh!) make some videos about it, because it really does seem like there are multiple parts of people (including me) that work at cross-purposes with each other. You're desperately lonely, but you can't stand to be around people because you're too scared about what they might think or that they might notice your discomfort.

Meanwhile, everybody else is thinking the same thing.

Hang in there.
posted by Madamina at 10:31 AM on October 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

hermitosis' whole post hits the mark but also -- yes, please don't think of yourself as part of her therapy. I had some friends that I put at extreme distance because they wanted to "challenge my thinking," which was something I completely trusted my therapist to do, but not friends. I think challenging you is a fair thing to do amongst trusted friends when everyone is healthy, but when someone is really struggling with depression, trying to challenge them is like administering antibiotics to a friend with a serious, life threatening infection -- don't do it, even if you've had severe depression, your family/coworkers/friends, whatever. I think we can see from this thread that depression is really a different experience for different people, so something that works for one person doesn't work for another.

One thing that would really help would be to take her seriously, I don't know exactly how to explain this one, but I had some friends who would write off grievances I had with them as " the depression talking," and just would write everything off to the illness. I still felt and still feel like those grievances were legitimate, and the depression definitely made everything more extreme, so I was a little more angry and more sad and more confused than I would ordinarily have been, but if those things had happened today, I would still be angry and would have the same point of view.

When I was depressed, and when I still go through episodes, colors look different, food tastes different, my memory deteriorates, it's just this whole other dark world where everything is terrifying and disorienting and slightly incomplete. It's not possible for anyone to say or do anything to get me out of that, but sometimes it's enough to sit beside me quietly, living in their world while I struggle through mine.
posted by sweetkid at 10:34 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two things that have helped me through some really dark times (just mentioned in another thread, but just as relevant here):

Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince has always struck me as being about love and hope and the triumph of the heart. It's easy to read when focus is hard to come by.

Rumi's poetry is also about love and joy. But, in a mystical kind of way, it's mainly about finding an anchor amongst a whirling twirling chaotic world. As with the Little Prince, many of his poems are short and simple enough to suit times when reading's hard.
posted by Ahab at 11:00 AM on October 18, 2010

"...stuff like how one of the interviewees described how unhelpful it is to have someone point out all the 'great things you've accomplished' because you just feel that you've defrauded another person...anecdotes that have similarities to things she has said to me. I think it helped to hear such anecdotes and realize that other people have suffered with similar feelings - she is not the only one."

There is an actual term for this. It has a name. Impostor syndrome. For me, it was a tremendous relief just knowing that it was a real thing, and that it was something that tends to go along with high-achievers in a lot of fields. Your friend might be reassured to know that, or she may not. When I learned about the impostor syndrome, I had already taken several important steps to confronting my own depression.

What made me finally confront my depression was the realization of how it worked in my life; what it was saying when it whispered in my ears, and how jealously seductive it was. What I mean by that is this: the promise of sadness is that it is forever. It is the ground-state, the point to which you will always return. And because sorrow is forever, anything that is not sorrow must be a lie, because it cannot last.

There is a certain logic to this: for instance, all of your prior romantic relationships have, in a sense, failed, and the best that you can say of your present romantic relationship is that it has not yet failed. But you can't live in that, though it is at least facially correct. I can't look across a bowl of pasta to my wife and think, "even if I never leave her, and she never leaves me, someday one of us will die and leave the other, cold and alone," and then tuck into my dinner. Ultimately, that day is far off, and right now, I am sharing pasta with my wife, and that is enough.

The way I conceptualized it is that the sorrow is a desert that stretches in every direction, while happiness is the sunlight glinting in a drop of dew hanging on a spiderweb. But here's the thing: the happiness doesn't care that it is ephemeral, because it is, in its moment, perfect. It is the briefest of eternities. It's not like one of these perspectives is wrong and the other right, or that you can reason from one to the other; it is simply that the one is irrelevant to the other. The desert will still be there, after the dew has evaporated and the sun has moved, but that doesn't matter, because there was something beautiful that didn't care about forever.

How the depression worked was, even when I was looking at the dewdrop, it kept saying, "hey, giant soul-crushing desert of despair here. Right here. What are you looking at? That thing, that moment of happiness? That was a lie. I'm right here, I'm the only thing that will always be here for you. Stop paying attention to the dewdrop. That accomplishment you just completed, that feels really good, doesn't it? But you know they will someday find out who you really are and they will abandon you. You're lucky I'm around because I'm the only one who knows who you really are. Stick with me."

It was a jealous lover, depression was, and ultimately its jealousy proved our undoing. Because it had to be the only real thing in the room for me, it had to keep undermining everything else that took my attention away from it. I am embarrassed to admit how long I put up with this before I realized that it was buffing and was really deeply insecure. Honestly, at times it was like being in an abusive relationship with myself, and it wasn't until I realized that, in the good times, I was giving depression the power to create the more-and-more frequent dark times, that I could get free of it. The only reason to privilege the darkness over the light was that the darkness kept saying so, while the light wasn't concerned with the darkness.

The thing is, it's not like much has changed. Life is still too short and too hard, and we are all too selfish and too self-defeating to make the most of it, and ultimately I, like all of us, will probably die suddenly and alone. But in the meantime, I can either wander lost through an endless desert, or I can go looking for another sunbeam with a dewdrop in it, then another, and another.
posted by gauche at 11:04 AM on October 18, 2010 [9 favorites]

convinced that she is a burden, an incapable person. Of course those of us who know and love her know that this is not true, but there is no convincing her.

No, no there wouldn't be. *sigh*

That was me, when I was suicidal. I felt that I had failed at my very first "real" job, the one I went to college for, and so I was doomed to be a failure and a burden to my parents and loved ones forever.

Yes, I really thought like that. I remember vividly the hell I put my family through, and my eventual husband, insisting in what I felt was a very rational argument, that they would all be better off if I were dead.

Here's what helped me: sunlight and pretty scenery and walking outside. My mind felt like soup and "blue sky, trees pretty" was about all I could handle. Talking about anything other than the depression. My sister, who also suffered from depression sometimes, betting me a six-pack of IBC root beer that I would feel better in a month--and then bringing the root beer and drinking it with me even when it turned out she was right and I was through the worst of it, without her ever saying "I told you so". And then giving me a space to stay when I needed to get away from my very well-meaning, overprotective, supportive hurting parents--a place where I could start over and do some things for myself and feel like I was actually accomplishing tasks, on a very small scale. My partner, listening with ridiculous patience when was going on and on about myself, then deftly turning the discussion away and getting me to forget for a little while.

In short: Distraction.

No lecturing. No trying to argue with my distorted perceptions. No guilt about feeling what I was feeling even though I had "so much"--I knew that, that's why I felt like a burden!

And, silly as it sounds, Calvin and Hobbes collections and The Far Side books and anything absurd that took me out of myself. I think that's when I discovered Terry Pratchett for the first time, actually.

You're a good friend to want to help. I know it gets frustrating and can weigh you down, too. Thanks for being there for her.
posted by misha at 11:11 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I found An Unquiet Mind to be incredibly helpful. It doesn't matter (to me) that it deals with bipolar instead of straight depression; it's a very truthful memoir of the hell that is depression and beautifully written as a bonus. You can read more about the author, Kay Redfield Jamison, who is a Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:15 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

The books (Regardless of What You Were Taught to Believe) There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate and The Depression Book: Depression as an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth by American Zen teacher Cheri Huber saved my life. When I found them, 7-ish years ago, I was deeply depressed and feeling suicidal (at the level of asking my partner to remove all the medications from the house because I didn't trust myself with them around). These days, my emotional state is most often "content" and edges up into "happy" and even "optimistic" on a fairly regular basis.

I mention Cheri's work rather a lot when the subject of depression comes up because it has been literally lifechanging and lifesaving for me.

Nthing movement and exercise and getting out into the sun and fresh air. I found walking to be incredibly helpful. I think that moving through one's environment under one's own power with one's head held up is very useful for anyone struggling with this damn disease.

And to everybody saying "no, words don't help, and you shouldn't even try" — the question wasn't "what can I tell my friend to make her cheer up", it was "were there words, stories that helped, even for just a moment?" The OP doesn't sound like somebody who's going to say something like "you should be grateful for what you have and you're a bad person for feeling bad." Didn't you notice the part where they describe telling their depressed friend about reading about "how unhelpful it is to have someone point out all the 'great things you've accomplished' because you just feel that you've defrauded another person"? It sounds like the OP gets it, as much as somebody who doesn't have depression can. Sheesh.
posted by Lexica at 1:56 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

When you were in the midst of deep depression, painful painful fear...were there words, stories that helped, even for just a moment?

During one of my very worst depressive episodes, I became fixated on "Wait," a song by Andrew Bird. In looking up the lyrics, I discovered that the song is based on a poem of the same name by Galway Kinnell. I carry the text of the poem with me in my wallet, and though it by no means brings me out of my depression, reading it always moves me and manages to reach that place in me that needs reminding that things will get better, will not always be this way. Perhaps it will speak to your friend, or perhaps you can help her to find her own touchstone, but that's what helps me.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 3:02 PM on October 18, 2010

The Myth of Sisyphus essentially changes the way I look at live, dramatically for the better.
posted by Dmenet at 3:11 PM on October 18, 2010

posted by Dmenet at 3:11 PM on October 18, 2010

Reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull helped me a lot.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:20 AM on October 19, 2010

I am surprised that noone has mentioned The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression yet. It was a 2002 Purlitzer Price finalist and helped me a lot during my depressive episodes. Another great book is Stefan Zweig's Holderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche: The Struggle with the Daemon about the alienation and inner daemons of these three writers.
posted by jfricke at 11:55 AM on October 19, 2010

I have to agree with the folks above who say there isn't a lot you can offer. Navigating a major depressive episode is unique each time. What works for one person might have no effect on someone else.

I think it's a slippery slope to talk feelings too much with her - at some point it will become exhausting for you because her recovery will likely take longer than you would hope, and it can create a sense of pressure for her that she's letting down people who care by not feeling better or thinking "right" faster. When I was depressed, the people I was most grateful to were the ones who just let me be and acted normal when the interacted with me. Sometimes the pressure to get better is just as upsetting as the depression.

It sounds like she is doing the right things and has a great support system around her. Ultimately the rest is up to her - she has to be open to changing her habits, her worldview, and her view of herself. That's a journey you can't really join her on, but you can certainly let her know you're available if she'd like some company at any point.

I also agree with the commenter who suggested giving her books and music you think she might like that are not depression related. You might just point her in the direction of something that will inspire her - a rare and cherished experience for someone who is depressed.
posted by amycup at 2:09 PM on October 19, 2010

I'd start with the easy quizzes on the Positive Psychology site. It's honest to god science aimed at hacking our brains towards happiness.
posted by talldean at 6:38 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

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