Navigating someone else’s depression

Remember Porcupine? My good friend who not only has had a rather shit life, but currently is going through a firestorm of an unfair, disastrous crisis? Of course, since it is Porcupine, the Universe is making this affliction as drawn out as possible. It started 3 months ago, and has no end in sight for another 6-12months. It breaks my heart. As Porcupine’s firestorm worsens, I’m as confident as a non-medical practitioner can be, he is tumbling ever more deeply into a depression. A bad one. Surprising? Hell no. What IS surprising to me is how he avoided depression before these past few months. The guy is a source of never-ending inspiration.

Most of the time.

Here’s the thing. As the weeks go by, I’m finding it harder and harder to ignore just how much of a dick Porcupine can be. I’m uncomfortable acknowledging this, even less writing it, without rushing into paragraphs of disclaimers proving that I understand how depression can appear as selfishness to the outsider, when it is actually caused by the overwhelming pain blotting out almost every other possible sensation. I’m not sure if, because of my own history of depression, he knows he can let his guard down around me, take a breather from the burden of appearing normal. I’m delighted to give him that gift of space and not having to keep up the pretence of being normal. But when he lets his guard down, what he shows is sometimes hurtful and repellent. I don’t expect him to be a saint with all he has going on, and the injustice of it all makes his anger and rage very understandable. I try discount most of it. I try ignore a lot of it. I tell myself is not the time to expect the normal reciprocity of friendship.

But I am finding it hard. The rudeness of his frequent silences, born of apathy of being unable to muster the energy to answer texts; the resentment of feeling taken for granted – he knows I won’t get miffed. Walking on eggshells – trying to get him to talk about anything, only to be met with sighs of disinterest. Occasionally asking how he is doing, only to get snapped at that he doesn’t want to talk about it. Trying to be there for him, only to get what seems like endless reminders that he does not fucking want me there.

I’m torn with accepting the signals I am getting, leaving his unpleasantness miserably alone, and real concern with how badly he is doing. He has isolated himself from most of his friends, I know, and has limited how much most of them know about his current mess – I think they believe he is just a bit busier than normal, and is taking a bit more time for himself, not aware that this time, he needs support and help. I don’t think he realizes he is being a total asshole with me. I tried to make it clear that I am separating real-Porcupine-my-friend from stressed-out-rude-unpleasant-possibly-depressed-Porcupine, and that I only have issues with the 2nd alter-Porcupine, but basically my message was internalized as another example of how quick people are to judge incorrectly. Which isn’t totally false right now – I am judging, which is a failure in and of itself.

I’m worried for myself. I know that my trials and tribulations must undoubtedly appear like Marie-Antoinette’s to him. I feel a little ashamed at how weak my mental health is. But it is what it is… and I have seen my own symptoms of anxiety and depression reappear with increasing frequency over the past 2 months, as I continue to hang out with him. He is a vortex of despair.

So yeah. Don’t want to bail on my friend when he has so few ppl around him, and when by ANY possible yardstick, his life sucks balls right now. A friend in need is a friend indeed. But I’m having a real hard time staying there for him, and have no idea how to navigate this – how can you be there for someone who 95% of the time is hurting so bad, he just disappears, and when he does surface, it is self-evident he is counting down the seconds until he can disappear again? I wish he would get help, but my hints have fallen on deaf ears. I think I am supposed to give space, something I am rather skilled at doing… when my friends are NOT going through a crisis. I have trouble staying away when I am very concerned about my dear ones. For all I know, I am just another source of stress for him. Trying to get that line just right between giving space, and keeping a steady line of support, and my selfish worry/anxiety everytime he goes silent for close to 36 hours because I am scared of what that means.

Anyone with any advice of how to actually practice love… your advice is welcome. Help me be a true friend, without jeopardizing my own mental health.

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8 comments

  1. When my dad was dealing with depression following my parents’ messy divorce, I was simply there for him. I let him know that and allow him to open up when he was ready. It kind of comes from the old school mentality that is it “unmanly” to admit vulnerability or weakness.

    The one thing I’ve learned over the years is people have to want to get better or have to make their own effort. Everyone has to take their own time and sort through things before they either choose to get help or settle it on their own.

    Whenever there are expectations placed on the person, they feel they have to prioritize meeting them ahead of their own things. However, in the case of depression, they might not be in the proper frame of mind to meet said expectations. If and when they fail, they beat themselves up over it and it can be projected outwardly (the whole asshole behaviour you mentioned).

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    1. Yeah, I agree with the theory of that.

      I’m having trouble given the gravity of the crisis. I’m rather worried when the silences stretch too long, because of what they might mean.

      I don’t quite understand how to step by and let someone fight battles and demons so terrible. But that is my problem, I guess? I dunno.

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  2. I know exactly what you are inferring. I have been dealing with family member/s depression for over ten years. It can drag you down. Some things I have found helped me cope were:
    Letting my feelings go. Thinking it is what it is and moving on, not thinking too much about their hurtful response or when they ignore you.

    Reminding them gently that mental illness is not an excuse for rudeness or arrogance. (I think they do sometimes take their nearest for granted)

    Acknowleding and distancing.
    Reminding myself that they must be having an especially bad day.

    Laugh. Find something to laugh at. A comedy show on Tv etc.

    Talking about it to another trusted family member in confidence. Stops you from bottling it up

    A good long holiday away from the person. May sound cruel but a month holiday whilst still being contactable by message or phone was vert therapeutic for me and allowed me to reset my tolerance.

    Realizing their negativity is a type of habit that is hard to break. You cannot fix it for them.

    And the most important:
    Create the positivity they are not able to do for themselves. When they make a negative comment , rephrase it to a positive one.

    Now please don’t think I know you or your friend. Like all advice, take what applies and discard the rest. If any of it is helpful to you, great. If not: know that I can at least understand how difficult it is.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I wish I could help but I fear I’m right there with you – caring for a porcupine and never really knowing how. I guess one thing I’ve learned is I can’t neglect taking care of myself… it can be exhausting always having someone lean on you while fearing that if you lean back they’ll fall over… make sure you have other people you can reach out to and lean on in your life.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am currently having some similar issues with my younger daughter. She’s so entrenched in how horrible things are, that’s all she can focus on – even though there is plenty of good in her life. ❤ Good luck with your porcupine!

    Liked by 1 person

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