Yesterday I shared this post written by an anonymous person about what it’s like to live with depression.
The post likens living with depression to living where it snows every day. It’s the best analogy I’ve ever read.
At the conclusion of the post, the author says:
I don’t have a message for people with depression like “keep shovelling”. It’s asinine. Of course you’re going to keep shovelling the best you can, until you physically can’t, because who wants to freeze to death inside their own house? We know what the stakes are. My message is to everyone else. Grab a f***ing shovel and help your neighbour. Slap a mini snow plow on the front of your truck and plough your neighbourhood. Petition the city council to buy more salt trucks, so to speak.
Depression is blind chemistry and physics, like snow. And like the weather, it is a mindless process, powerful and unpredictable with great potential for harm. But like climate change, that doesn’t mean we are helpless. If we want to stop losing so many people to this disease, it will require action at every level.
This morning I woke up to a message from a friend of mine:
What does it mean to grab a fucking shovel and help someone in a blizzard? How do you help someone in depression, so it’s help that truly helps? At various times, I haven’t known how to give help, or ask for help… I think the people who love people caught in blizzards feel scared and powerless.
I’ve been thinking about this all day.
Because it’s tough to grab the proverbial shovel when you aren’t sure where your loved one needs you to shovel without some direction.
And many people in the midst of a bout of depression aren’t able to ask for help or give direction.
The people who are so far gone just can’t physically bring themselves to do much of anything.
If you are trying to function, your brain can be so foggy, you just can’t think straight.
(Today I went to heat something up for one of the kids in the microwave and I entered the password to my cell phone. Let’s just say that food was seriously hot).
Then there are the people who are embarrassed or ashamed of their depression. They think they should have a handle on things. They think they are weak for needing help.
They’re not gonna ask for anything either.
So how do you grab a fucking shovel?
First I want to share pretty incredible story. It’s the story of how a group of my friends (one who I’ve still never even met in person) came together to shovel me out of a total blizzard a couple years ago.
Four and a half years ago in January of 2014, I wrote a blog post entitled Today’s Goal: Just Breathe.
It was one of the first posts I wrote where I was pretty open about what my depression felt like. And a woman who lives clear across the country from me in California picked up on what was going on with me.
I was off, and she could tell.
I’ve never met this woman. She’s the friend of one of my best friends from high school, and she stumbled across the blog when my friend from high school commented on a post on Facebook. And somehow we became online friends.
I don’t remember all the details of that night, but after reading that post, I got a phone call from this woman. It was like 2 a.m. and I was sitting on the floor of the living room in front of the fireplace, staring blankly at the flames inside of it.
And she asked me something like, “If you could have anything right now, what would it be?”
I answered something along the lines of, “I just need some sleep.” Or a break. Or something like that.
My California friend jumped into action, and by phone, from across the country, in the next eight hours, orchestrated something pretty spectacular.
She made arrangements for me to stay at a spa hotel in the Catskills about two hours from my house. She booked a massage for me, and she took care of every single detail. She contacted three or four of my closest friends and together they made arrangements for all the kids.
She texted me in the morning and told me to have a bag packed and be ready to go before ten. And at 10:00 a.m. the next morning, three of my friends walked through my front door. They had bags of food, toys, books and activities for the kids. They had the itinerary and schedules for the kids, and they even had directions to the hotel printed out for me to take. (This was before the days of Waze). My parents and my husband had been notified of the plan, and everything was taken care of for me.
I was worried about the kids, about the schedules, about bedtimes, about everything.
“WE’VE GOT IT,” my friends said.
And then they literally prodded me out the door, and I headed to the Emerson Resort and Spa.
It was and incredible 48 hours.
I left my house feeling angry and exhausted and resentful, and I returned feeling rested, clear-headed, and optimistic.
Now that is grabbing a fucking shovel.
That’s actually more like hijacking a state snow plow truck.
I realize that pulling off a feat like that is more than most people can do.
But that weekend and some of the months that would follow were so helpful to me. They saved me.
And they helped me come up with this actionable list of doable things that can help those of you witnessing a person struggle through depression feel a little less scared and a little more empowered.
How can you grab a fucking shovel?
1. Take the shovel by the horns.
Don’t wait for he depressed person to tell you what they could use. Instead, give them what they need.
2. Be pushy.
The depressed person most likely doesn’t want to do anything or they feel tremendous guilt for receiving help. Give them a nudge. But don’t be a dick about it. Be reassuring, and don’t take no for an answer.
How else can you grab a fucking shovel?
3. Send a text or a message WITH A DISCLAIMER.
This morning I got a text from a friend letting me know she was thinking about me, she was there if I needed anything, and that she didn’t expect a text back.
This was HUGE. Because sometimes even replying to messages seems a daunting task.
4. Share a story of a time he or she helped you.
Another friend texted me today and shared a way one of the kids helped her to get through some of her own depression. Not only did that make me smile, but it reminded me that depression affects so many people, and you often never know who is going through something or when they are going through it.
5. Make them laugh.
Depressed people still have a sense of humor. Tag a depressed friend when a Facebook video makes you laugh out loud. Sent them the link to a clip from a comedian. Take them to a funny movie at the movie theater. Get their brain moving in another direction.
6. Remove them from their surroundings.
Sometimes it’s hard to change your mindset when you are in your home where the pressures of life are weighing the heaviest on you. If your house is a disaster and you can’t get yourself to do anything about it and you are staring at it all day long, it makes your feel even worse.
7. Take care of the day-to-day stuff.
So often when you slip into depression, the day-to-day things become overwhelming. The dishes pile up, the laundry is everywhere, the house is a shit hole.
Arrange for a cleaning crew to come do a one-time deep clean and give your friend a clean slate to begin from. Arrange for a professional organizer to come over and set up a system for your overwhelmed friend. If you can’t afford that (most of us can’t), pitch in with a bunch of friends and collectively arrange for this.
Or you can be the helper. Fold the laundry for her. Go grocery shopping or sit down with your friend and help her order groceries online with a gift card.
Four years ago after my friends organized that getaway for me tot he Catskills, they started coming over every Thursday morning for about three hours and helping me with whatever I needed help with.
They helped me prep stuff in the kitchen.
They read to my kids and brought stickers and games and kept them occupied.
They even took down my Christmas tree when I just couldn’t muster up the energy to do that!
8. Make an actual appointment.
Rather than giving a gift card for, say, a massage, make an actual appointment. A gift card is great, but a depressed person may not have the wherewithal to actually use it. Book the appointment, and then drive your loved one there yourself.
9. Organize a meal train.
Meal trains aren’t just for people who had surgery, have lost a loved one, or who just had a baby. Meal trains are for people who need a break and a hand. For whatever reason.
10. Take the kids for a night or a day or an afternoon or an hour.
Anything to give parents a break.
11. Help them to get moving.
Exercise is SO effective at combating depression. Of course there is the catch-22 that when you are depressed you lack the motivation to get off the couch or out of bed. But arranging to meet your friend for a walk or a run or a hike or a swim or taking him or her to your gym or yoga studio as your guest may be all that it takes to get them moving.
Individually, these things probably won’t completely lift a loved one out of the depths of depression. But there is a good chance doing just one thing on this list will get the ball rolling.
And that is the first step to healing.