Sunday, January 30, 2011

"These four things, monks, I have taught you..."

I recently have been struggling with depression. Not my own. Somebody else’s. And I find it truly uncanny how a person with depression can find the gloomiest part in everything, how easily he or she can focus and latch onto even the merest bit of negative element in even the most beautiful things.

Those of you who have suffered with depression in the past, who are dealing with it now, must admit something that is very clear: you people can be very manipulative. It’s as though you treat those around you who seek to help as if they were balloons – you suck the air right out of us until we have nothing left to give.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that depression is a serious matter. I don’t blame you for draining my enthusiasm; after all, it was my decision to be involved, to offer help. I am the owner of my own kamma. But the refusal to see how one’s own distorted thinking feeds and nurtures one’s depression, and that this distorted thinking is often deliberate, absolutely astounds me. Finding the right mix of being blunt and supportive is difficult. Yet to abandon someone suffering a mental health issue is precisely what the illness desires. If we think of depression like a parasite that has latched onto a vulnerable host, it wants others to abandon the host, to give up on the host. So the depression feeds the mind with distorted logic to confuse, frustrate and even anger anyone who tries to help.

I don’t think there is a clearer example of the First and Second Noble Truths than a person with depression. Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe I’m not showing compassion or empathy. Maybe I need to work a little more on my loving kindness.

I showed my friend how to chant the Daimoku and that has helped. He feels some relief with that. However, it’s difficult to ensure he is really doing it. OK, we haven’t met face-to-face. Our communication has strictly been by email, text message and phone. While I think his depressive thinking had been developing for a while, it only recently became acutely severe because of a harsh breakup he went through with another man. While I want to help, offer support and even love, I am worried that a personal meeting with this man would just lead to him latching onto me as a new boyfriend. He is very cute and admittedly, my initial attraction to this young man was based pretty much on his appearance. So already, I cannot trust my intentions. And yet, I am afraid that it is too late for me to walk away without making matters worse. I have reason to believe he has already made one attempt on his life; the gesture was really quite superficial. He also admits that he is afraid of dying, that he doesn’t want to die.

I Am a Rock

So what to do? I ask you, my readers. If you’ve ever suffered with depression, or if someone close to you ever suffered with depression, your insight would be very helpful. Maybe all I need is patience and to work on my compassion and loving kindness. But knowing how to communicate with such a person without falling for their manipulative traps would be very helpful right now.


  1. here's what i can say in a relatively short comment:

    1) re: "Those of you who have suffered with depression in the past, who are dealing with it now, must admit something that is very clear: you people can be very manipulative."

    i know you're frustrated, but looking at it this way doesn't help anyone. vent, then move on. having been on both sides of this situation, i can say this: yes, people suffering from depression can exhibit seemingly (very!) manipulative behaviors. but that's just it: the people suffering with depression are not their behaviors, nor are they their depression. try not to generalize the behavior to the being. it is the depression clouding the mind that results in speech/actions that are truly unfortunate. i can't believe some of the things i said/did while i was in a serious depression last year; truly, that wasn't "me" or my typical behavior, as anyone who knows me well could tell you.

    2) i cannot recommend enough that you suggest this person pick up a copy of Noah Levine's Against the Stream. he directly addresses depression, suicide/not-wanting-to-exist, along with addictions. i read it last year when i was still pretty deep in my depression, and it helped so much. i wish i had found it sooner!

    3) make sure he has local/national suicide hotline numbers... even if it's just to talk. check out the @unsuicide feed for links and resources. you can tell him he's not alone; i didn't want to die, either, but i was having suicidal ideations (basically thinking things like "if i were dead, i wouldn't be suffering"; "i don't want to exist anymore).

    4) it's going to be hard being the support person. i thank you for that, and even if he doesn't, he appreciates it. however, if you are not a professional, you can only do that: support him. it sounds like this individual needs to talk to someone, whether it be a therapist or a social worker. it's hard at frist, but it really helps!

    other than what i have summarized here... i don't know. it's all so complex. i've been in at least 3 major clinical depressions over my short life (i'm in my mid-twenties), and probably a couple others that went undiagnosed... but after i got through the first one, and the second one, each time i come out stronger, realizing that it really was just my mind... and now, a chemical imbalance because of the relapses. i'm likely going to be on a low dose of meds the rest of my life (silly chemicals in my body!), but i am doing so much better through reading Levine's book and others, and practicing.

    "if you're going through Hell, keep going..." —Winston Churchill


  2. Thanks nerdisattva, I really appreciate your feedback. I can recognize now how I was "trying to be the professional" when what I really need to do is be a friend. As they say, just try a little kindness.

  3. I agree with what nerdisattva said. And also. Since some of the emotional reaction is coming from a breakup there is possibly a grief reaction mixed up in there too. That is different than depression. So perhaps this person could benefit from some grief counseling. There are stages to grief that were first delineated by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Here's something on that

    And a note of caution. Sometimes people with certain personality traits can use something like a depressive episode (or anything else) for manipulative purposes. They may generally have that tendency.

    Those I know who've had depressive episodes tend to seem like they're stuck in the mud with little or no energy which may seem like they're trying to be contrary but really it's a combination of fear (of something worse happening), anger (at whatever has happened) and despondency at their apparent ineffectiveness (a distorted thought) to change things. Plus possibly a few other similar things. It can be complicated to untangle that so a professional is useful.

  4. Thanks NellaLou. My friend has been seeing a counselor, and the grief aspect is a good point. Sometimes he and I will be chatting and things are fine, and then he suddenly goes quiet. The next thing he says is, "That's what He would say," or "That's what He likes," referring to his former bf. Sigh. I need to practice some more deep listening.

  5. nerdisattva said: the people suffering with depression are not their behaviors, nor are they their depression.

    I definitely agree with that.

    As a depressed one cannot see clearly, and seeks for compassion with twisted ways without seeing it themselves. Depressed ones seek attention and caring and never-ending love and support. Best thing to do is to be with them and listen. But that is also the worst thing to do. It doesn't help if you always understand and always take care how you put the words. It doesn't help if you're always there. And yet it does, but not if your air is sucked out time after time.

    Depressed ones need also some shaking and waking that reveals them how they are not right when they grieve for those things. They need to get out of their head, which is not that easy, but yet it is effective.
    Depression changes one's perspective for everything. It changes everything to be personal, everything go around them (although depressed might not see that).

    And as I'm saying this, I have to say that it depends on the situation and severeness of it.

    I guess you have to be firm and clear and make some limits and also let them know. They might take it as rudeness, but if you still will be there and make that also clear, I guess that helps. A depressed one shouldn't always rely on others, he/she should also start to think outside of the depression box, to do things instead of just thinking.

    I've been depressed, but with help and with un-help I made it through. Thinking was not good, un-thinking was. Also doing and exercising helped a lot. Medication helped when I was at worst, but soon I was able to let it go.

    I still recognise if someone is depressed although they might not admit it at first, since their behavior reveals them. And it's not always easy to be with them, or work with them, your balloon example is so correct! But as I've tried to not to be too hard on them or me, I've come to the point where I have to admit that in a relations you're never alone. If it's not working (at work, school, etc) with someone, I'm not the only one. Other one has his/her responsibility also.

    I hope you got some points of view out of this, as I'm not so good explaining things with a foreign language. Learning by trying :)

    P.s. One book which helped me a lot was Akong Tulku's Taming the Tiger: Tibetan Teachings for Improving Daily Life. Before that I had read Anthony De Mello's Awakening which really opened my eyes.

  6. we can be friends to others, and keep gentle boundaries in place... in my (admittedly limited) experience, this tends to work. if we give others the fishing pole and they still just sit on the bank of the pond, then we perhaps can view them as an emanation (mirror of ourselves), teaching us to understand when to let go. best wishes!

  7. Thanks @pihlaja and @Leslee. As a follow-up, @NellaLou was correct too about the stages of mourning. But another element that is becoming clear is his Chinese upbringing. I am seeing how he is viewing this failed relationship as a personal failure of character, such a freaking Confucian thing. But he seems more stable now, though still perpetually melancholic. Of course, my next post reveals as well how my own past experiences are playing into my reactions.

    Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

  8. I can understand your dilemma, but as someone who has lived with depression for over 50 years, I know that there is nothing you can do except to be there for your friend. Trying to help or "fix" someone can often be construed as manipulative or judgmental, and may alienate them or make them feel somehow defective. I've dealt with judgmental people in AA (I'm also an alcohlic) who condemned me for "depending" on antidepressants, and been told by friends that I can control depression with the right attitude. Both are wrong and ill-advised, and I've stopped even mentioning my condition except to medical professionals or therapists. The best thing to do is for the friend to seek professional help and get the appropriate medication.