Mary lives and works in Toronto as a Registered Professional Counsellor in private practice. When she isn’t busy being an advocate for feeling feelings and helping people find meharmony she enjoys the finer things in life, particularly burritos and classic rock.
I’ve recently lost my first child, in a stillbirth at 5 months pregnant.
I’ve been struggling to accept my loss, and feel flung into a pain I’ve never experienced before.
What I have learned is that those who have been able to be most present with me in my pain, are those who have also experienced a great loss or have experienced depression themselves. That got me to thinking, how have I been there for others? Did I say the right things?
I’m grateful to have loving friends, family, and a wonderful therapist to hold a space for my pain. That being said, there have been times when what people have said didn’t land within the intention it was given. Here are 9 things, although well intentioned, never to say to someone who is depressed.
1. I Know How You’re Feeling
No you don’t. What I’ve learned is that you never know what someone has been through. Every person is unique, so is their story. Most often what they are showing is the surface of their experience. Relating empathically is an opportunity to make real contact with that person. Be curious and imagine what it must be like to be that other person, rather than assuming you know what they are experiencing. Also, saying “I know how you’re feeling” makes their pain about you, it’s like an emotional one-upping.
2. You’re So Strong
Strength is fleeting. When I hear this, I feel tired. Tired of trying to hold it together, tired of being strong for other people. What I want to know is that I can fall apart with you, and that you’ll be there when I’m tired, and weak. I know that I can be strong, but in my grief trying to stay strong often gets in the way of feeling my pain, which is necessary to heal and move forward.
3. You’ll Get Through This
This isn’t what I’m worried about. I have experienced pain before, and here I am. I’m a little emotionally bruised and battered, but I’ve lived through it. “I know you’ll get through this” feels invalidating for where I currently am, which is, in it. I’m in the dirty, dark, ugly place and I need you to meet me where I’m at – not where we want me to be.
4. I’m Here if You Need Me
For me, it’s hard to ask for support, especially when I’m in the darkness of depression. Reaching out is a real obstacle. “I’m here if you need me” puts the action in the hands of the depressed person. The weight of my depression affects my ability to do the simplest of things, like getting out of bed. Instead, please check in on me. Text, email, or phone me. Ask if you can stop by, and kindly persist if I say no. Also, I don’t want to feel like a burden to you. Who wants to be a happiness buzzkill? Not me.
5. My Sister/Friend/Co-Worker/Neighbour/3rd Cousin Once Removed has Gone Through the Same Thing as You
See point 1. This is a version of that. I’m not sure what to do with that information, are you hoping to normalize my experience? Are you suggesting we get together and talk? Talking about it, when I’ve been ready, has been helpful. However, this statement can feel like a deflection, like I’m not sure what else to say so I’m going to search my memory files to try to find some common ground. Trauma or depression matchmaking isn’t what I’m looking for. It’s kind of like setting up your gay friend with your other gay friend. Two gay or depressed people aren’t one and the same.
6. What Can I Do for You?
Instead, let me know what you can do for me. Please don’t leave it up to me, I feel like a burden, I’m tired, it’s hard for me to ask and even connect with what I need. Offer to bring food, or take me grocery shopping, go for a walk with me, bring me flowers, come over and watch a movie. I might say no, or I don’t need your help, and tell you that I’m doing ok. But truthfully, I’d love for you to take charge, and be there for me.
7. Just Give it Time
Time doesn’t work the same way when you’re depressed. Time can be brutally slow, and I’m not feeling patient. I’m also not able to fantasize about being pain-free. I’m currently in pain, and the crappy part is I need to feel it in order to move on. Let’s talk in smaller steps. When I hear “Just give it time”, it feels like depression freedom is a million years ahead. Stay in the present with me, and move day by day, hour by hour – that feels more manageable.
8. Everything’s Going to Be Okay
This is similar to point 3, “You’ll Get Through This”. Everything isn’t okay right now, and that’s what matters. A good friend once described her depression as a feeling of drowning. When someone would say “Don’t worry, everything’s going to be okay” she didn’t feel relief, she felt annoyed. It’s like someone looking at you while you’re drowning, and saying “You’ll be fine”. I don’t need promises, I’d like for you to just be real: “This sucks right now. I love you, and I hope you don’t have to go through this again.”
9. Be Grateful for All That You Do Have
Don’t assume I’m not. Trust me, I am. Especially now, more than ever. But I’m still really sad. I’m depressed, I need to feel my sadness and feeling grateful doesn’t cancel that out. They are separate things, and both deserve to be honoured.