When you have a friend who is depressed, you'll start with the facts. You'll want to know what's the matter. You'll want to talk her out of it. You'll want to explain away her sorrow so that she can get on with her life (refusing to acknowledge, even to yourself, that a significant part of the reason is so that you can get on with yours).
I have gotten all the facts. Fifteen or 16, times I've gotten all the facts and reminded her of them. The physical illness that set this mental misery in motion is under control. Her doctors have said, "Good news!" and, "We expect this is the end of it!" And, "Prognosis: excellent!"
"Your doctors are speaking with happy exclamation points!" I told her, pointing out that doctors don't do that unless they mean it.
She nodded. "I know all this," she said. "Why can't I hold on to the facts?"
"You're fine," I said.
She nodded in that way again, a whole new movement of her head. She can't eat. She can't sleep. She's lost weight. She needs a haircut. She needs a manicure. She needs to sleep for 30 days and 30 nights.
I don't recognize her. She is not the person I signed up to be friends with way back when.
When you have a friend who is depressed, you will wonder what you are made of, relationship-wise.
She lives an hour away. She comes to my house on weekends, an escape. I live on a farm. She isn't the farm type. She avoids my daughter's new baby ducks, and when we bottle-feed our sweet little lamb, she fakes a smile. I don't understand a person who isn't healed, instantly, by the sight of a baby lamb. "Or, look at the magnolia tree in bloom!" I said. "Look at this beautiful day!"
She looked at me with eyes full of tears.
When you have a friend who is depressed, one thing that never works is rubbing her nose in all the things she can't appreciate.
We have a little guest room upstairs. The walls are lemon yellow, and the ceiling is all bead-board painted glossy white, falling into steep slopes around the bed. I go there when I have the flu. It's a cocoon. It's a room that holds you in its embrace until you get good and claustrophobic. I usually come out screaming within 24 hours. She never comes out screaming. She tiptoes out reluctantly. We talk. Well, I talk. She looks at me and nods. Does she want me to keep talking like this?
I told her, good job getting herself a therapist. And, yeah, go for the drugs, if that's what they suggest. I told her I sure would. I told her I'd also thank the lord in Heaven if, like her, I lived within walking distance of a Starbucks. I told her to order a large mocha latte with whipped cream, and none of that skim milk business. I told her to celebrate a time when calories are friends instead of enemies. I told her I would.
When you have a friend who is depressed, you will completely fill in all her blanks with your own nonsense. You should go ahead and forgive yourself for that one. You are running out of ideas.
Sometimes I'll find her in the yellow room, just lying there, staring at that shiny white ceiling. "There's a TV," I'll say.
"I can't watch TV," she'll say.
I try to coax a smile with offers of popcorn, ice cream, bacon, a trip to Blockbuster, a game of Go Fish with my kids. Everything I offer is more stupid than the thing before. When you have a friend who is depressed, you will earn a profound and renewed appreciation of your own uselessness.
"Everybody's trying to change me," she said, finally. "Do they think I don't want to change? I never thought I would be like this. I thought I was a fighter."
"So you're depressed because you're depressed?" I said, suggesting she get herself out of that particular spiral.
She was nodding again. I was trying to change her again. We were getting nowhere in circles.
When I talk to my shrink friends about her, they are relieved to hear she is functioning fine during the week, going to work, getting herself from here to there. They say the main thing is to offer support. To go ahead and be the crutch she needs right now. But I want to be a better crutch. I have more to offer than just a yellow room with a ceiling that falls in slopes. Don't I?
One day I ask her. She says she likes it in there, finds comfort just hearing all the family noise going on downstairs, while she hides and gathers strength.
When you have a friend who is depressed, you should consider letting her be. You should be the one nodding, not her. One thing you can do is provide a safe place where there are no expectations.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is email@example.com.