Oh boy, talk about pet peeves. So many loved ones called me out for being “flaky,” “self-centered,” “emotionally unavailable,” and “selfish.” Nine times out of ten I never intended for my actions to be perceived in such a manner. Instead of spending time with my friends and family, I often curled up in a ball under my blanket in a dark room. I played funny YouTube videos or stupid games on my phone to pass the time in hopes that this feeling would just go away. Seldom it did. I stared blankly at the screen regardless of its content. Mixed in with the mindless banter were bouts of broken sleep, battles with ruminating thoughts, and crying spells. These episodes lasted anywhere from a few hours up to a week at its worst.
Most people do not understand the detrimental effects of depression on one’s social life. At first glance, I totally get why people consider it as selfishness. You see your so-called friend missing out on hanging out with you. They give you half-assed excuses for missing get-togethers. Your family member barely responds to your calls or messages. You reach out, and they respond with, “I’m fine.” You take it as they want nothing to do with you.
However, depression looms over and consumes the individual. Even the strongest person shuts down. The world around us becomes daunting and even getting out of bed feels like the end of existence. Even the slightest human interaction like going to the grocery store sucks what little energy we have right out of our soul. Depression takes a huge toll on one’s self-esteem as well. Why bother with anyone if we feel like we are not worthy of their time and effort?
At the time, it feels more comfortable to be alone by ourselves in our comfort zone. We feel more at home in our own bed where we feel in control. It is also easier to avoid triggers like social interaction rather than confronting them. That would take energy- energy that we do not necessarily have.
Another phenomenon called “cognitive narrowing” often occurs with depression. Think of a racehorse or horse and buggy. These horses often wear blinders to keep them focused on going forward. The blinders intend to keep the horses from being spooked or distracted from other stimuli in their peripheral view.
When depression strikes, the individual struggles to see the big picture. Their negative thought processes and feelings of sadness engulf them. They hone in on one single option and usually the one that feels the easiest to follow through on. At this point, they will ignore any incoming stimuli and focus on their solution only.
When this happened to me personally, I often felt that I was better off staying home rather than my friends seeing me like this. I feared that I would ruin a good time. I did not want to take away from the happiness or memories being made. I felt like I did not deserve to be happy with my loved ones. It was at times a form of self-sabotage.
I could not have been more wrong. I usually figured this out after the fact when my thoughts turned more rational. In the moment though, that is how it felt. When depression enveloped my psyche, your thoughts contradicted reality. I missed a lot of great times as a result including parties, deep conversations, and even weddings.
If you see your friend showing signs of depression, there are a few things you can do to help.
- Check in. It does not hurt to check in on how they are doing, especially if you know they have a history of depression. Even if they say they are okay and do not want to talk, just remind them that you are there when they are ready.
- Be understanding. It is not intentional. We are not purposely trying to shut people out. We just do not know what else to do. If you call them out, do so gently. Otherwise, our minds will use a disagreement against us. It will fuel the guilt and irrational beliefs we have about ourselves.
- Present them with options. Give your loved one a sense of control. During depressive episode, everything feels like it is headed towards a downward spiral. Decision making offers that individual a sense of empowerment.
- Do not give up on them. Your loved one already feels shitty about themselves. Be there for them. Make them feel like they are important to you. Sometimes just sitting there and being with them is more than we can ask for.
-The Caring Counselor