The dictionary is just as full of words today as it was last week, or in the last century. In fact, we make up new ones all the time – to fit our growing experiences and inventions. Still, some things are very hard for us to express. So, what’s up?
The song titled ‘Unspoken’ posed a lyrical question that seems perfect for this article. It asked … ‘How many love songs never get sung; How many sweet thoughts die on the tip of the tongue – victims of unspoken love?’
Sharing our thoughts and touching hearts, in conversation, represents real intimacy. Since intimacy can feel risky – we might wonder if we’re ready for that.
I think the ‘right’ words are often hard to find because we allow fear to grow in our anxious imaginations. We wonder what they will think, do, or say in response. Will we get a negative reaction?
In past articles we reviewed the futility of ‘mind-reading’ (See Post #49).
We can’t know how others will respond until we make the first move.
In coping with depression – we want to take positive steps towards recovery. We don’t want to distance our friends and family. We do want understanding, and the support and comfort they can share with us. That support doesn’t exist in isolation – so, we need to speak UP.
Where to begin?
By now, you probably understand why this conversation is important. You identified who you will talk with – and thought about when, and where to have that conversation. Now let’s focus on What to say – when words are hard to find.
Planning is good. Think about your goals for the conversation. How much information do you want to give?
Try a mental role-play: What concerns would you have for a loved one who is depressed? If you were being told about a loved one’s difficulty – what would you want to know about depression, and about their personal experience of it?
OK, now back into your own head: What misunderstandings do you fear – and how could you clarify the topic? What kind of support do you need?
In this conversation, you don’t need to explain why you have depression. Reasons are not required – and may not even be clear. You just need to share your experience, and to ask for what you need.
Don’t worry about burdening your friend with your feelings. They will probably appreciate your trust, and be glad for the explanation. Remember, they have most likely noticed change – and may have already become concerned about you.
Here is a suggested three-part plan to help you get the support you need.
Prepare your listener. You might say:
- “ I want to share something important with you – and I’m not sure how to begin. I need your patience, and I hope you will understand.”
- “I’ve had a hard time lately and I need support. Could we talk about it?”
If you want your conversation to be confidential – say so at the start. Also, let your listener know if you just want them to listen, or if opinions and suggestions are welcome.
If emotions become hard to handle in this conversation (either yours or your listener’s), just acknowledge them. You will understand – trust that your listener will too. Acknowledge the difficulty. It’s ok to take a breath, or even a break.
Help your listener to understand. You may not feel up to giving a detailed explanation about the diagnosis – but you will need to tell them that you are going through depression. You may offer printed material after you talk, or refer them to other sources (such as NAMI.org). But, for now, stay focused on personal experience. Give them details of what you’re going through. For example:
- “I have no energy or motivation. All I want to do is sleep all day.”
- “I can’t seem to think straight. I feel overwhelmed. I’ve started missing work”
- “I have trouble sleeping for more than one or two hours. I feel like a zombie.”
Offer concrete suggestions for ways your listener may be able to help. They care (or else they wouldn’t be listening). They want to know how to support you.
Think about the goals you had for this conversation. You thought about your needs ahead of time – and whether or not your listener would be able to help. Now is the time to ask. Offer specifics:
- “I probably won’t have the energy (or desire) to do some of the things we used to enjoy, but knowing that you understand if I need to slow down, and that you support me, will really help.”
- “I’m having trouble getting organized. Could you help me set up a planner (or other project).”
- “I’m doing ok right now, but if I drop out of circulation – could you call or check in on me from time to time?”
- “May I call you now and then when I need someone to talk to?”
It hurts to see someone we care about in pain. It helps when we know how to offer support. There is no faster way to feel better, than to help someone else. You may ask if your listener is comfortable in offering this level of support.
It will probably be up to you to end the conversation. Your listener may be reluctant to end it – because they don’t want to risk leaving you unsatisfied. So, be alert to verbal and non-verbal responses. When you feel the time is right – make your move to wrap things up.
Ease out of the conversation as gently as you eased into it. You could say …“I appreciate your time – I don’t want to take too much of it. Thank you for … (listening)”
Your friends and family will probably feel honored that you confided in them, and relieved to know of some way that they can help.
What to expect – in response:
“Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re ‘gonna’ get.” (Forrest Gump, 1994)
That famous movie quote fits this topic. It’s good to prepare for a variety of reactions. To start – put yourself in your listener’s shoes and imagine how you might feel in their place. Here are a few more thoughts:
Take a breath and answer the questions you feel comfortable with. Then refer others to material or resources your listener can read or check to learn more about depression.
Don’t be surprised if you are not immediately understood. Depression is confusing for those who have not experienced it.
Prepare to be unintentionally, hurt.
Your listener may offer knee jerk responses such as: “Cheer up”; “Come on – it can’t be that bad”; “Get a grip”, or “Count your blessings – things could be a lot worse.”
As painful as it may be to hear this kind of immediate reaction, keep in mind that rather than insensitivity, lack of compassion, these comments may actually be misguided efforts to help you feel better fast. They are delivered with good intentions – but without understanding.
Take a few deep, calming breaths. You could say; “If I could just ‘get a grip’ – I would. I’m working on recovery, and I’m getting better – but it takes time, so please be patient.”
Also, let them know their presence and willingness to listen is a great help. You could say “… I do count my blessings, and you are one of them that I really appreciate.”
Expect the unexpected.
You have just told someone close to you about a serious difficulty and you may have asked for help in keeping your secret.
You may get surprisingly unexpected responses if your listener is emotionally engaged – and has no idea of how to respond; If your listener is going through their own crisis; or if they can’t handle the emotions of yours. Fear, anger, denial and/or even ‘nervous giggles’ may erupt. Be prepared to just keep breathing – and carry on.
Expect some listener anxiety.
It’s natural for your friends and family to be concerned. They care about you. Confusion, fear, or even reactions of anger or denial are not signals of rejection. They are normal reactions to upsetting or painful news about someone near and dear – especially when they don’t know how to help.
Reassure them that you will come to them if you need someone to talk to – and that you don’t need constant monitoring. You will be safe, you will get the help you need to work through this. Be honest about what kind of things would and what would not be helpful. Breathe.
Other stories: Your listener may confide in you about his or her own experience. They may be trying to show they can relate to your feelings and that they understand. If this turns the conversation around, then after attending to your listeners disclosure, be sure that you come back to resolve your own issue as well.
Your listener may think they can dive in and help you pick yourself up. They may feel that it’s their responsibility (since, after all, you came to them with your issue).
Or, they may just naturally be ‘doers’, and immediately want to do something to help ‘fix’ whatever is wrong… because they care.
Take a deep breath. Then help them understand that you’re not broken – you are depressed. You don’t need to be ‘fixed’ – just supported as you work through recovery, yourself. You could say something like … “I know you would like to fix this for me – but you can’t. Your support means everything to me – but I have to work through this myself.” (This might be a good time to remind them of the specific ways they can help).
Friends and family may also have a wealth of advice and ‘home-grown’ cures to suggest. You might even enjoy a few of these – but avoid suggestions that include use of alcohol or other self-medication. Alcohol itself is a depressant and taking anything that could upset the balance of brain chemistry becomes a high-risk venture.
If ‘natural’ supplements are recommended – check with your doctor and/or ask your pharmacist about potential interaction between the supplement and other medications you may be using. Also check with your doctor before making radical changes to your diet.
Reassure your listener that you don’t expect them to have solutions or answers. Give them solid reasons for hope about your illness. Tell them you are getting better – working on recovery and reaching out for help. Your conversation with them is a great example. Let them know you appreciate their support.
Expect ‘Normal’ efforts:
Others may try to make you feel more normal by minimizing your difficulty. They may say things like ‘The whole world is depressed right now;’ or ‘Everyone gets depressed sometimes.’ This is most likely not rejection of you or your difficulty – but an effort to show support and acceptance.
Just breathe – and go on with your conversation. Talk about your own feelings, experience and goals.
Have you noticed how many times ‘breathing’ has been suggested? It’s important.
When stressed, we unconsciously interrupt, or reduce our normal breathing patterns. A few deep breaths can make a great difference with emotions – and has an immediate positive effect on brain chemistry.
Have you seen the animated movie ‘Finding Nemo’? Dorie, (the adorable near- sighted fish) often encouraged herself and her cohorts – repeating her mantra (…‘Just keep Swimming’) as they went through one crisis after another – on their way to a final happy ending. I would paraphrase Dorie’s advice and say – ‘Just keep breathing’ … and carry on.
How can you handle difficult conversations?
These ideas may help:
- Ask questions and observe: You might say something like … “Have I upset you?” – or – “You look uncomfortable. I’d like to know how you’re feeling.”
- Paraphrase and summarize what your listener says. This works to be sure of your correct understanding – and to help them feel it.
- Give Assurance: When you do understand your listener’s point of view –clarify any questions or confusion. Reassure your listener of their innocence in your difficulty, and of their importance to you. For example: you might say “… My depression doesn’t change our relationship. You are one of the few bright spots in my shadows.”
- Problem Solving: Finish saying what you need to express. Brainstorm ideas, with your listener, for ways they can support you.
If all else fails – just keep breathing. Reassure your listener as best you can, and bring the conversation to an acceptable end. You might both just need more processing time
Despite the challenges we may face – we have reason for incredible hope and joy, as explained in the New Testament (NKJV):
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
“For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered”. Romans 8:24–26
- Life’s potentials outweigh the struggles – including depression, or anxiety.
- We may not yet see it – but the fulfillment of hope is just ahead. Hold on.
- When we can’t find words, trust that God knows our deepest needs – without them.
Faith, Hope and Love – we can’t ask for more than that. Well, maybe one other thing; As my favorite cartoon artist once said …
Until next time – Blessings, Love and Laughter to you,
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