I stumbled upon an excellent essay by my old childhood friend, Michael Redhill.
It is entitled, “Thoughts on depression from an artistic mind.” It appeared in the Globe and Mail on Aug. 15, 2014.
I am not an expert in the causes of depression, only an expert in the experience of it, and after four or so decades living with the illness, I know a few things about it:
There’s no cure, only remission. People who suffer from depression (not “normal unhappiness,” which was the goal of Freud’s talking cure), are never fully out of danger because it is depression’s nature to recur. Sufferers of depression have “episodes” the same way those who suffer from multiple sclerosis do. It comes, wipes the floor with you, and then somehow returns you to the world. But it comes back.
Suicidal thoughts become suicidal action when the thought of your loved ones arranged around your grave is no longer a deterrent. When a depressive who wants to die thinks of the suffering it will cause others, it’s a restraint, but it also feels like a trap. It’s the last barrier between them and eternity, which the depressed person longs for. Once the idea of others’ pain is trumped by their own, a peace descends and suicide is often inevitable. I’m not arguing for suicide, only acknowledging its draw. In a terrible way, self-murder is an act of self-love. It ends someone’s suffering.
The only thing you can do for someone who is depressed is to be around them and love them despite their illness. Living with a depressive is a bloody nightmare. They say things they don’t mean, about themselves and others. They cancel dinners. They won’t look you in the eye. They use the words “always” and “never” liberally. The symptoms of depression often seem like they’re directed at you. But it’s not personal. If you can accept this, you’ll be doing the most you can for the sufferer in your life. Be silent and useful and remember it’s not about you.