“It’s all in your mind.”
“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
“Stop playing the victim.”
“You brought it on yourself.”
What do these statements have in common? And what do they have to do with depression?
All the statements above are dismissals of what is called “lived experience.” Lived experience is a scholarly term used to describe the “first-hand accounts and impressions of living as a member of a minority or oppressed group.”(1) Interestingly, the above statements, taken out of context, could easily be (and often are) applied to people who have experienced sexual abuse, racism, gender discrimination, or other forms of systemic cultural discrimination.
But today, we’re talking about depression because that’s what we do here.
From a personal perspective, the statements above hurt more than they help. I’ve had friends use them on me. Often, they’re well-intentioned; delivered by people who would never dream of hurting me and would be shocked to discover that they had. And here’s the thing…I’m sure I’ve done it to other people myself on other issues. I’ve done it and I’ve learned from it. I’ll share what I’ve learned and maybe it will help you.
The thing you’ve got to realize…the thing you have to hammer into your psyches every damned day…is that no matter how connected you are through social and traditional media, no matter how many mentally ill friends you have, no matter how many books you’ve read or classes we’ve taken, you DON’T GET IT. You don’t. Because you haven’t lived it.
And you know what? That’s OK.
You are not required to have struggled with depression in order to support someone who has. Just like you are not required to have struggled with racism or sexual assault to support someone who has. But if you haven’t experienced those things, how can you help? Glad you asked.
Listen more than you talk.
Be humble about the fact that there are things you don’t know.
Exorcise the world “should” from your vocabulary (those people should, you should, I should)
Accept that people are heavily influenced by their lived experience, which is not the same as yours.
Understand that you are not required to have an opinion on every issue.
Forgive yourself for not having a solution to every problem.
Do the best you can. You are an imperfect person in an imperfect world.