By Jessica Kantrowitz
Depression can be incredibly isolating. The new landscape we are living in because of the pandemic can also be incredibly isolating.
Those of us who struggle with depression now have to deal with the additional challenges of finding support in this strange new world. Besides doctors and therapists, we also need the support of a community—friends, family, and neighbors we can reach out to, and who reach out to us.
Are you afraid you’re too much?
There is a quote that I see shared often, “You will be too much for some people. Those are not your people.” I think there’s some truth in that. Some people can’t truly accept us for who we are, and so it’s time for us to move on.
But I actually think some of the people for whom we’re too much may be our people—they just can’t be our only people.
We can go to some people for a certain kind of support, and others for another. Or we can split the support we need—as well as the support we can offer—between more than one person.
As Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Can you even know what you need?
Depression complicates this, though, for several reasons. You can’t always think clearly enough to articulate your needs or sort out what you need from whom. And, of course, you don’t know what you need, really, especially at first. You don’t know what people could do to help, you just wish somebody would do something.
Sometimes even when you’re able to identify and name what you need, the people around you are not able to offer it to you. And when you’re knocked out, exhausted from fighting the beast of depression every moment of every day, it’s often impossible to even take a shower, much less make new friends.
Sometimes, too, your people are trying to tell you what they can offer, but all you can hear is rejection. They may be simply telling you their own needs and boundaries, but what you hear is that you are too much for them, and probably for anyone. Depression weaves scraps of truth into lies so convincingly.
Henri Nouwen wrote a lot about his own feelings of loneliness and rejection, particularly when a close friend had to set boundaries with him. He wrote to himself,
You keep listening to those who seem to reject you. But they never speak about you. They speak about their own limitations. They confess their poverty in the face of your needs and desires. They simply ask for your compassion. They do not say that you are bad, ugly, or despicable. They say only that you are asking for something they cannot give.1
When to use your lifelines
As I’ve recovered from major depression and rebuilt my support system, I’ve begun thinking of my various friends and family as lifelines. In the TV game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, contestants answer questions of increasing difficulty to earn increasingly more money. If they do not know the answer, or do not feel confident in their response, they can use one of their three lifelines: Ask the audience, 50:50, or phone a friend. Each lifeline has different strategic benefits, and since they can only use each one once, they must decide which question best fits with each lifeline.
I often think of my various friends and communities in this way. I don’t have one friend that I can go to with every emotion, question, desire, or need—I don’t think it is even healthy to ask another person to bear that much for me. But I know I can vent about chronic illness to Matteo and he will understand, or text Gina she will immediately pray for me, or message Susi and she will be ready to offer her limited free time for a lunch date. In other words, I’ve built a team.
Depression makes you feel alone, and rejection, or felt‐rejection, from friends can intensify this feeling. But maybe you have more friends than you realize. Maybe you just have been asking the wrong people for the wrong things.
Someone who would be overwhelmed by a phone call at 3:00 a.m. may be happy and grateful to respond to a daytime text for prayer or to swing by with a bag of groceries. Another person may feel overwhelmed at the thought of buying groceries but goes to bed late anyway and would be glad to talk. And for another person, just knowing you are there and understand what they’re going through might make you a vital part of their own team.
Write a list of the people who are potential lifelines, and what they have offered, or might offer, in support. Then write a list of your own needs, and consider asking friends if they can help. Write, also, one or two things that you might be able to offer others, even if they seem small.
Adapted from The Long Night by Jessica Kantrowitz, copyright © 2020 Fortress Press. Reproduced by permission.