the other day i looked over what some people with depression say about their experience. descriptions of numbness and emptiness outnumbered anything else by far. they talked of being in a dark place that made it impossible for them to feel anything, the kind of unmotivating emptiness that creates nothing but apathy and a complete lack of passion or often even mild interest.
what helps in a situation like that? medication helps some people but not others; for some people, medication makes the situation worse. it’s really important to keep in mind that this awful place, while it shares some similarities with the experience of others who suffer in like ways, is in the end quite different for each and every person who struggles with it. for that reason, the response needs to be individualized as well.
the last thing a person with deep depression needs to hear are platitudes like “no-one ever said life was fair”. if it was that easy, the person would have “snapped himself out of it” (another platitude) a long time ago.
having someone around who just hangs out quietly and patiently can be a good thing. knowing that there is someone who cares helps. any kind of exercise or movement is useful.
as a therapist, usually i find that with a bit of patient hanging out, a few sparks can be found in the dark. supporting the client in fanning these sparks is perhaps one of the most healing things. these sparks can be anything. maybe the person still cares about how they look – they haven’t reached the point where even washing their hair has become impossible. or work still carries some importance. or there are some social obligations that they feel they should still fulfill.
however, fanning the flame does not mean to bring it on full blast. jumping up and down with excitement because finally there is something that the depressed person cares about is not going to help at all – to the contrary, it may collapse him or her even more.
sometimes it seems that working with the person’s anger is particularly useful. that may be because for many people, an important component of the depression is anger turned inward. anger is full of energy – when the anger can be brought out of hiding, it can be the first step out of the, dark, cold, empty cave of depression.
for some people it also turns out that this cave actually has therapeutic qualities. maybe they need to turn away from the world for a while. then the therapist’s job (and/or the job of anyone who cares for the person) might be to simply sit outside the cave and hold watch and be there for when the person inside needs the occasional assistance, and, finally, when she or he is ready to come out again.
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