Don’t judge the depressive person – be their seratonin buddy

A friend of mine and I were talking the other day.

We were talking about depression.  She hates that I can reach such deep lows.  She hates that I can even have a dalliance with the idea of suicide.  She sees the beauty in me as a person, the value in what I am and what I bring to the table of the world and cannot understand how I can’t see it myself.

In reality, most days I do see glimpses of it.

I know that I am very much loved by my family and the increasing amount of friends I am making.  I know that my craziness, as evidenced by my bald lip-syncing decision, is brave and courageous and that every day I try to live my truth as best as I can.  I know that my daughter adores my creativity, that my husband cannot possibly imagine a life without me in it, that my son does love me even if he can’t express it,  that my grandchild adores sitting with me on my settee whilst we chomp our way through a mountain of grapes.  I have much to love, to be grateful for, to be positive about.

But the dark days exist.  Despite knowing how devastated my family would be at losing me to suicide, those thoughts do cross my mind.

I wish they didn’t, but they do.

And the most awful thing anyone can say to a person in those times is to tell them to buck up, to think positively, to be grateful for what they have.  It is terrible because, for the depressed person, it is an impossible thing to do.

And let me tell you why.

A person who is depressed has a fundamental chemical imbalance {at its most basic, a lack of seratonin}.  This chemical imbalance causes negative thoughts to predominate in the brain.   Asking a depressed person to “think positively” and to “buck up” or “chin up” is like asking a blind man to see.

Of course, depression is {largely} treatable.  There are a few things that have been proven to address the chemical imbalance.  By embarking on these things, seratonin levels rise and it is this that helps treat the depression, not just “thinking positively”.

In a nutshell they are eating correctly, exercising, sleeping well, doing something for someone else being altruistic and feeling connected (yes, this actually raises seratonin levels in the brain), getting outside into the sunshine (low vitamin D levels cause a decrease in seratonin), meditation and putting all of this into ACTION.

The problem with the depressive is that to actually act, especially when you are in the grip of a crippling episode, is really difficult.

Facing life on life’s terms is really challenging.  Us depressives tend to get caught in a loop of self talk, driven by that pesky low seratonin level, that immobilises us.  Rather than face a world we have convinced ourselves don’t want us, we remain indoors, we stay online (as this give us the illusion of being connected) and we get caught in a feedback loop of what alcoholics anonymous calls “stinking thinking”.  And so the cycle continues.  To the point where it can become so severe that the pain of that existence, the pain of living a life in so much pain becomes unbearable and suicide can feel like the only option.

Of course, we are all responsible for our own destinies.  We have choice.  But we need to be very careful about how we bandy that concept about.  As I mentioned, a biological chemical imbalance is at play here and those around the depressive must remember that.

A more helpful strategy would be to help the depressive address those things outlined above.  Phone them and offer to take them outside, to go for a walk, to ask them to come along to something you are doing.  Work with them to help them set up a routine with them that will get them exercising and sleeping well.  Become their “seratonin buddy“.

They will baulk at the idea, but gentle perseverance is the key here.  Choose moments where they are having a better day, and just sit with them when they are having a bad one.  Eventually better days will shine through.

Whatever you do, please please please don’t tell them to “just think positively”, to “stop with the pity party”, to “stop being a victim”, to “buck up”, to “put their best step forward”, to “just cheer up”.  I can tell you from personal experience that these comments do not help at all.  They are judgemental and end up making the depressive feel even worse than they did before.  They victimise the victim, assuming that being so depressed that they consider taking their own life is a choice.  Because that is what we do as humans, we wilfully choose to devastate those around us, we wilfully choose to end our life and with it all of our possible potential.

When Robin Williams committed suicide, a number of articles emerged as a counter measure to the amount of empathy he received for the tortured life he seemed to have lived.  These articles placed the blame for his suicide firmly at his feet.  “He had a choice,” they said.  They were ill informed.  They were judgements written by the authors, not one of which mentioned any of the research that proves that low seratonin levels (and others) drives negative thinking.

And there is another problem too.  Chemically dealing with this chemical imbalance is tenuous at best.  I have tried, believe me.  I have been on prozac, cymbalta as well as others, all of which represent different ways to deal with the same problem.  There are a myriad of drugs available, all attempting to increase seratonin uptake.  For some, they find the drug that works for them.  For a lot of people, however, they really struggle to find that chemically induced sweet spot.  I fell into the latter ground and eventually the side effects far outweighed any small benefit I might have been getting.  So I stopped taking them.

That decision brought with it issues of its own kind.  Some people saw it as an act of finally taking control of my own mind (because to them that is a choice I have), some saw it as being irresponsible.  None, it seemed, saw it as me making a conscious decision for the quality of my own life.  It is difficult I know for people to understand.  I live day by day without knowing from one day to the next how my seratonin levels are going to impact my thinking.

In this day and age of ra-ra positive thinking it is easy to assume that is all we need to get over the depressive hump.  It isn’t.  This movement has been the death knoll for many a depressive.  It has sparked a litany of guilt, which drives even further the stinking thinking I spoke of earlier.  Despite all the positive-talk rhetoric, suicide rates are on the increase.  Positive thinking on its own just does not work.

I urge you to please be that “seratonin buddy”.  Just be with your depressive friend/family member.  That alone will help them feel more connected, which we know helps raise seratonin levels, which we know helps to drive more positive thoughts.  You see, just being with them can have such an amazing impact.

Here at Sarah’s Heart Writes, I encourage you to come and just be.  Us depressives need to stick together, we need to know we are not alone, and more information needs to be disseminated about the ins and outs of depression and I can promise you, you will never ever be urged to think more positively, to stop playing the victim card or to stop being a martyr.

Much love from your fellow depressive,

SHW Signature

 

 

 

If you are feeling suicidal, please please talk to someone.

Lifeline 13 11 14

Beyond Blue 

Black Dog Institute

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Don’t judge the depressive person – be their seratonin buddy

  1. Wonderful Sarah. The first time I realise how debilitating depression can be was through following what was then the newsletter of Marian Keyes. Here is a best selling author, a funny funny lady who was caught in a grip of depression so deep that she struggled for over a year to just take one breath after another. She also talked in those newsletters about the unhelpful advice to think positively and snap out of it and like you she is really open and honest about what it’s like. I will be a serotonin buddy for you in any way I can.

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