She took a deep breath and said, “I want you to be with me, whatever I am, however I want to be. I am tired of people telling me what to do.” I had met her after a long time after her numerous refusals to step out of the house. She consistently felt lethargic and lugged through the day. She lost oodles of weight in a short span of time and had begun sleeping most of the day. She skipped meals and did not feel hungry. These, the symptoms of mild depression have plagued for past few years.
I wanted to make her feel better. I wanted her to feel loved in her relationships. I wanted her to fulfill her dreams. I wanted her to live a healthy and happy life. I wanted her to seek help from a psychologist to overcome it. But I could not tell her what I wanted for her. She would withdraw from me.
She knew I meant well. But all she wanted was for me to be by her side and accept her as she is. It meant respecting her need for space, time to stay away, her need to connect, not telling her what she could do: loving her for what she was.
She was a different person with a jest for life when I first met her. She smiled a lot then. She was interested in food and we explored the different food joints in the city regularly. Every happy news was a moment of celebration for us. We made many plans and created stories of our life based on our fantasies. All this appears to be a thing of the past now. She slowly began to withdraw from friends and family which included me. I felt rejected. I felt anger towards her when she refused to meet me or accompany me on occasions for various activities. She stopped sharing about her life, her dreams, her plans. In anger I did the same too.
And then I slowly learnt to let go of my expectations for her. I slowly stopped defining friendship as two people with an equal give and take in terms of time, emotional support, to fun activities, meaningful conversations, regular meetings, travelling, sharing everything about each other, over the years.
Friendship also meant; to understand and be patient. To wait for your friend to take the next step no matter how small. It also meant walking beside her without really talking, but communicating nonetheless. It meant that I could give her more in terms of emotional support only when she wanted it. It also meant not misunderstanding her behavior as self-centered or selfish. It meant, understanding that she is in distress.
Being with her in this state of mind was not easy for me. Loving a person who has closed herself to the world and love around is difficult. I could not count on her for receiving emotional support for myself when I was in distress. I had even thought of ending communication with her. I could not just walk away from our friendship either. And I could not let her condition affect our friendship. I wanted to be with her in her difficult times. So what I am doing is taking one day at a time at being a friend. And this has made our friendship stronger. She is slowly communicating more and more with me. She has begun sharing her life with me again. I am doing my best. And she knows it.
Sometimes I am able to understand that my friend is sad without reason and sometimes I do not. I will not be able to understand what she is going through completely. I will not tell her to snap out of it and get over it. I will not give her suggestions as to what she can do to make her life better. All I want to do is walk beside her when she wants me to and as long as she wants me to. I’ve realised now that this is me loving my depressed friend.
World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies depression as a common mental disorder, characterised by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness, and poor concentration; and it has affected 350 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of disability.
It has become a major public health importance, in terms of its prevalence and the suffering, dysfunction, morbidity, and economic burden (Grover, Dutt and Avasthi: 2010).
Depression could be terminal, recurrent or of short duration. In a milder state it affects our emotional state thus affecting our relationships with those around us, productivity at work and physical wellbeing. And in severe form affects our everyday life and makes us feel incapable of even moving around which requires medication and professional counselling for treatment.
Sandeep Grover, A. D. (2010). An overview of Indian research in depression. Indian J Psychiatry, 178-188.