“Stop Pretending to Care: How to Avoid Killing Somebody with Kindness” by T.L. Loper, August 2014
Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock this week, perhaps in one of those “off the grid” houses tucked into the trees on a mountainside, you know the score; the comedic genius, Robin Williams has died by his own hand, and across the world, talk of the dangers of depression runs wild. As much as I’d like to sit this one out, just sip my whiskey in my quiet corner of the world, I simply cannot. Why? Because some very well meaning people are going to actually kill others with kindness. Tragically, they won’t even know they’re doing it.
This year, my physician and my therapist both diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). I was moving in a high velocity downward tailspin, throwing off friends, a job and nearly my life as I went. To put it mildly, I was in pretty bad shape. Am I cured? I’m not sure I even know what cured means in the context of depression. I’m not sure that depression can be cured. Those who know it, know that it is a relentless, merciless beast, one that hunts you in the dark places of your soul. The best you can do is shake it off your trail, hoping it doesn’t pick up your scent again. So, I’m speaking from experience when I tell you that your kindness may be lethal to a depressed person. What I’m going to say now may unfortunately strike many as counterintuitive. It’s probably going to run against what we’ve been instructed, coached to do when being helpful to someone struggling with depression. So be it. Do you want to actually help save a life or just look the damn part? You choose, but here’s my advice.
Know Thy Enemy. Depression means business, the killing kind of business. Everybody gets the “blues” from time to time, but the “blues” are like a common cold compared to Ebola when it comes to clinical depression. There’s a reason I’m coming in with this one at the top, because if you take depression lightly in others or in yourself, the sufferer will never see it coming when it comes to finish them off, and it will come in for the kill if it can. If you are serious about helping someone, then pack your gear bag for big game hunting, because this one is a scary lion.
You Can’t Fix Them. What nobody is going to tell you is that it doesn’t matter if you are the best friend, best psychologist, best listener in the world, you can’t fix someone struggling with true depression. I know this is where I start to pet the kitty’s fur in the wrong direction. All of your good advice is going to feel to the depressed person like you are handing them a weight, a set of barbells to them as they are drowning. Maybe that hurts your feelings, your pride, your sense of expertise but I’m trying to save lives right now, so I don’t really care if you don’t like to hear that. The best word picture I can give you to describe depression is that it is a figuratively a huge, wet tarp completely covering you up. All of your good intentions, acted out on your own intuition, is going to feel to the depressed person like laying down on top of them while they are under the tarp of depression. Trust me, your help is going to be perceived as a horrible weight. If you really want to make a difference, then you are going to have to crawl under there with them. Which brings me to my final point.
Either Jump Into the Ring or Stay the Hell Out of the Fight. Do you really want to help someone fighting for their life with depression? Do you really? If you seriously mean it, then you better be prepared to be in the fight for real. Clint Eastwood, in the film “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976), tells frightened homesteaders that when all looks lost, that’s when you have to get mean, fighting mean. What does that look like in the harsh, murky reality of helping someone battling depression? It means this, and only this; you have to show up in their world, be sacrificial in spirit and be ready for anything. Years ago, a friend of mine interceded for a severely depressed friend. Here’s what he did: he and several other friends forced their way into the depressed friends house, then sat around him in a circle for several long hours silently. How the hell they pulled off not giving advice or something is beyond me, but they did it. Finally, the afflicted person wept, sought human touch, and began to stagger back into the light of being loved. Loved hard, no quarter given, without mercy. Nobody offered any magic bullets, no words of advice, they just showed up. This is going to be a challenge in a overly connected, disconnected world but no matter, it’s the only way through the storm of the mind known as depression. You have to walk into someone else’s storm, knowing there may not be a lovely rainbow at the end.
I hope this helps somebody. If you know me, my writing, then you know I don’t give a damn about glory, fame. Sometimes though, we just have to say something if it might save lives. Now, please be a friend today. A real friend, one who goes into the dark places of life, brings a candle of hope when all other lights have faded away.
T.L. is a Texas based freelance writer. BA, M.Div., veteran blogger, published author of social commentary and short fiction. He is currently working on a new book based on the hardships and humor of raising an Autistic family.