How to Support a Depressed Friend or Partner

It can be hard to know how to help a partner or friend who is feeling depressed. The following suggestions might help with this:

1. Find out the kind of depression they are suffering from. Symptoms of clinical depression include sleep difficulties, loss of appetite, a desire to isolate themselves, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, suicidal tendencies and an inability to determine the cause of their depression.

Those with situational depression may have some of the same symptoms but they generally know why they feel the way they do. Also, once the specific issue is resolved, they are able to function normally again.

2. Be available to listen, or to just be there for them. Sometimes you don’t need to say a word. Don’t offer opinions; don’t give them advice; don’t be judgmental. Be kind and understanding; be gentle empathic, patient, accepting and compassionate.

3. Take them out of their environment as a change of scenery can help to change our mood. It doesn’t have to be somewhere that is wildly exciting. Just a walk by the river or a coffee at the mall is often enough to shift our mood for a while.

4. Don’t comment on their lifestyle (habits and patterns). Comments like “You ought to try and sleep more … or exercise … or change your diet …” are likely to hurt, and shut the person down. They show a lack of understanding, and send the message: “It’s your fault.”

5. Encourage them to seek out professional help. A friend or family member can be a real lifeline. We need a sense of belonging, and to know that others care.   However, objective, insightful support from a professional counsellor can help them deal with the real issues in a more effective way.

Quote of the Day

I promise you, little by little, the healing adds up.” – Ella Hicks

Maybe it doesn’t always feel like it’s true, but every investment in your healing counts. It all makes a difference, over time.

So hang on to that truth when it’s hard to believe. When you’re in the thick of battle and you don’t feel brave or strong.

You are starting to heal. You are different from before.

All that hard work: it is worth it.

Keep on going.

Don’t give up.

An Interview with Sakina, a Trauma Survivor

“What we lived through is now living in us.”

Counsellor: You said you would like to share a bit about your life – as a person who is trying to recover from trauma?  

Sakina: Yes. Perhaps I should begin by saying I now divide my life up into two parts: life before the trauma and life after the trauma. It may sound dramatic but it’s how it feels to me.

It’s not like I never experienced anything difficult in my life before this happened. I’ve experienced plenty of hard things. Really hard things. I was unemployed for a while. I’ve known major rejections in relationships. But terrible as these seemed at the time, they were nothing compared to living in the aftermath of trauma. It’s completely turned my life upside down.

Counsellor: Wow. It sounds like this has had a very dramatic effect on your life.   

Sakina: Yes. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully recover, even although I wish I could. I used to think that after 6 months, or a year, or 2 years, or even 5 years, life would be back to normal. But it isn’t. I think I simply have to face the truth that this is a new normal for me.

Counsellor: What does a new normal mean to you?

Sakina: It means that I’ve come to accept that every day something will come up that reminds me of the trauma. I don’t go looking for triggers, but they’re always there. There is always something that reminds me of what happened. Every day. Honestly, I wish I could just be my old self again but that’s not how it is. I don’t think it’s possible. I really believe this has changed my brain, in some fundamental way.

Counsellor: When you say it has changed your brain, what do you mean?

Sakina: I feel as if my brain is always on high alert now, and I’m continually reacting to things I don’t want to react to. Things that seem stupid, irrational and over-the-top to other people, to people who haven’t been traumatized. I have to consciously work on bringing these reactions under control. I have to calm myself down internally, and speak gently and logically to myself. I never had to do this in the past – but now it’s a way of life for me.

Also, it I try to suppress the different thoughts and feelings … and just keep on acting calmly and reasonably … I end up having my sleep disturbed. I am wakened in the night by a racing heart, by tingling in my feet and feelings of panic. It’s like I’ve been catapulted back in time, and I’m reliving the trauma, in the middle of the night.

And this happens ALL THE TIME.

Counsellor: Yes, I can see why you say your brain has been changed. It sounds really tough. That’s a lot to deal with. But, clearly, you have been working hard on your recovery for a while. You seem to be very self-aware, and to have learned a lot. So, I’m wondering … What advice would you share with others who are going through something similar to this?

Sakina: I would say: Get as much information as you can about trauma, and about recovery from trauma. Read up about it. Listen to podcasts on it. Try to understand what is going on inside your brain. Try to identify your own patterned reactions, and accept that your brain is trying to protect you from being traumatized again. Although it feels frustrating it is actually a healthy sign. Your brain is taking care of you.

Also, don’t attack or shame yourself for feeling the way you do. What you are experiencing is absolutely normal. You’re not going crazy. There are others who’re reacting in the same way as you.

But try to find out what helps you, too. What makes a difference, and calms you when you’re triggered? Is it observing the feelings as an outside observer? Is it escaping, and going for a walk or jog? Is it playing relaxing music? Doing yoga? Meditating?

Counsellor: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Sakina: I think being able to share my experience, and having it witnessed by people who cared has helped a lot. It’s really destructive to keep that stuff inside. You feel as if you’re going to explode at times, and you also feel as if you’re living a lie. You’re not being congruent … and it’s hard to keep on living like that – as a divided person.

You need to talk. You need to be heard. You need to be able to unite “life before the trauma” and “life after the trauma” You need to be able to draw one long continuous thread through your life’s story.

Does that make sense?

Counsellor: Yes, it does. It makes a lot of sense! Thanks, Sakina, for your honesty. I really appreciate you sharing this with us.

Quote of the Day

When you can’t look on the bright side, I will sit in the dark with you.”

We all need people who will do this for us; but it’s not an easy thing to do at all.

Why? Because others’ pain reminds us of our own.

So not everyone you know can be there for you.

But I hope you find someone who will offer you that gift

Who will help to bear the burden so you don’t feel so alone.

Make Today a Beautiful Day

“Make today a beautiful day. A beautiful day that you’ve created just for you.” 

Today …

Take a few moments to quieten your heart, and to remind yourself again that it’s good to be alive. And to remind yourself, again, that there’s a place down deep inside where you’re grounded, calm and settled. Where you know just who you are.

And then go out from that place into the rest of your day, making sure that you make space for the people you love most. Give your kids a longer hug. Send a message to a friend. Play a song that’s filled with memories, and reminds you of good times.

And perhaps you’ll read some pages from a book that you’re enjoying, or you’ll spend some extra seconds soaking up the winter sun. Or you’ll watch the silent snowflakes falling gently to the ground, or you’ll sit out on the porch and watch the sunset fill the sky.   

Yes, I’m sure you’ll find some magic in these ordinary moments – these beautiful, inconsequential, simple, precious moments.

Then, as your head rests on your pillow, say a prayer of thankfulness for the things that turned this day into a very special day.    

“The time to be happy is now.”

Trauma: The Road to Recovery

Some facts on recovery from trauma include:

1. We should never downplay the horror of trauma. Trauma is trauma, and its impact is profound … And life after trauma is absolutely awful.

2. Recovering from trauma is slow and difficult. Nothing works for everyone, or every type of trauma. There is no ‘one size fits all’.

3. It is worth trying different types of therapy. If the therapy you try doesn’t really seems to help, then try something else.

4. It is important that we have our story heard. We need to have our suffering witnessed and affirmed. We can’t suppress and hide that kind of intense pain forever.

5. Cognitive approaches are helpful on some level. They can help us to identify unhelpful false beliefs – like “I am worthless”; “I deserve to be rejected.” However, changing core beliefs is often very difficult.  

Thus, although it can be helpful to “see” we’re not to blame, this knowledge in itself doesn’t usually set us free. For example, we might know that a betrayal was not our fault, but we still feel ashamed and inadequate.

6. For healing to occur we need to alter the brain circuits, and scientific evidence appears to indicate that moving the body is often helpful for this. For example, exercise and yoga appear to make a difference.

EMDR and meditation are effective as well.  

(Note: EMDR appear to be more effective at healing trauma associated with ‘single event traumas’ – such as car accidents – and less effective at treating relationship trauma, like domestic violence and betrayal trauma.)   

7. People heal from trauma at very different rates. For some, it is straightforward – when they face what they’ve been through, and get proper support, and find a helpful therapy.

For others, it’s a longer, and a much torturous road. It may take years – or even decades – and they’re triggered constantly. 

8. People have a powerful drive to truly live again, despite being deeply hurt or being profoundly traumatized.  In fact, traumatized often people find unusual ways of carving out a meaningful life for themselves.

Progress. Just make progress. It’s OK to have setbacks … It’s OK to draw a line in the sand and start over again – and again. Just make sure you’re moving the line forward … Take baby steps, but at least take steps that stop you from being stuck. Then change will come. And it will be good.” – Lysa TerKeurst

Quote of the Day

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out. But when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

I pray that you will find that tiny spark within you.

The spark that is still there, and which hasn’t been extinguished.

The spark in a soft heart that is genuine and tender.

The spark in a brave heart that is strong, and will survive.

Changing the Stories we Tell Ourselves

The way we see ourselves, and the things that happened to us, are not true reflections of reality. They are merely constructs that our mind has pieced together.

Yet those constructs are believed, and they influence what we do, how we see ourselves, and our relationships with others. Thus, they’re very, very powerful, for they influence everything.

For example, if I think that you don’t like me … that you’re tolerating me … that the lovely things you say are really fake and insincere… then this will shape and influence how I feel and act with you.

It will become my embodied experience.

Mostly likely …

I’ll feel bad about myself. A bit unsure and insecure. And I’ll start to feel quite anxious when I’m hanging out with you. Perhaps I’ll stutter and I’ll stammer, and I’ll say some stupid things … for I can’t be my real self … Because I’ve lost my confidence.  

However, if I’m able to reframe this, and believe: “Perhaps you like me”, then I’ll likely feel relaxed, and I will feel more confident.

Thus, it will change my experience, and the lens I view life through.

But Here’s the Thing …

Because these stories have deep roots, we cannot change them overnight.

It’s not a simple thing to change our ingrained, core beliefs.

We need to start by casting doubt upon these faulty narratives, and to contemplate the fact that this might not be the whole truth.

It’s one interpretation that, perhaps, could be reframed.

Taking Some Other Examples …

We can internalize “bad things” like being mistreated by my mom, or being abused by my dad, or being betrayed by my life partner as being confirmation that: “There’s something wrong with me.”

Alternatively, we can think:

“My parents had real problems”, or

“My partner or my spouse had issues with attachment that he worked out on me.”

And that kind of mental shift makes all the difference in the world.

Reframing your Narrative Could be Important too …

If you think about your narrative – the stories you believe – you may well find they’re negative, distorted and untrue.

And yet these false beliefs affect the way you live your life, the way you treat yourself, and how you form relationships.

How do we Move Forward?

In counselling, we start to chip away at these beliefs. The things clients believe which cause them grief, and keep them stuck.

We ask if they’ll be brave and start to play with the idea that, maybe, people like them, and think they are worthwhile.

Then, we look for some exceptions – times when others respond well … or seem to care about them … and see their gifts and strengths.

Thus, this process of being curious helps to open up their mind. It gives them the permission to reframe old beliefs.

It starts them on the journey of challenging wrong thoughts, and writing a new story: a much better narrative.

“The only person who can pull me down is myself, and I’m not going to let myself pull me down anymore.” – C. JoyBell C.   

10 Indicators of Unhealed Trauma

Unhealed trauma can sometimes look like:

1. An inability to relax and feel safe in relationships. Always being afraid that the relationship will end, or you’ll be supplanted by someone else. Having a deep fear of abandonment.

2. Having a deeply ingrained sense of shame. Believing there is something badly wrong with you. Believing you are deeply flawed at your core.

3. Having a fragile self-esteem. Never feeling you are truly good enough. Believing you don’t deserve to be wanted, loved, respected, valued, and treated as well as other people.

4. Craving external validation. Needing constant reassurance from others.

5. Always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Being afraid to relax in case things fall apart. Living with high levels of anxious. Feeling you are always on high alert.

6. Feeling you have to change yourself for other people (in order to be loved, or accepted by them).

7. Feeling you have to put others’ needs and wishes first. Having problems standing up for what you want and need. Finding it hard to establish boundaries – and then enforce those boundaries.

8.Tolerating mistreatment, and even abuse. Attracting and tolerating narcissistic partners, or partners with avoidant attachment styles.

9. Not taking proper care of yourself (physically, mentally and emotionally).

1o. Being afraid of conflict and displays of emotion (because they trigger painful memories).

 “Being traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma were still going on—unchanged and immutable—as every new encounter or event is contaminated by the past.” – Bessel van der Kolk

Beautiful has Nothing to do with Looks

“Beautiful has nothing to do with looks. It’s who you are as a person, and how you make people feel about themselves.”

Today is Remembrance Day: a sad and painful day for so many people as they think about the losses they’ve experienced due to war.

Some people were maimed, and some were scarred and changed forever by things they heard and saw, by the traumatic memories.

And in the last two months, I’ve experienced loss as well. I’ve lost two family members who had meant a lot to me. And I’m sure that you’ve lost people, friends and family that you loved. Their death has left a void, a space that no-one else can fill.

And when we think about these people, we don’t think about their looks – for we all know, in the end, that kind of beauty’s just skin deep.

But the beauty that endures is their personality. The way they treated others, and the way they made you feel.

Did you feel peaceful around them?

Did they make you laugh and smile?

Were they caring, kind and thoughtful?

Did they love you “as you are”?   

It’s these kinds of attributes that leave a lasting memory of someone who was precious, and who left their mark on us.

Yes, it’s true, external beauty may turn heads initially … but deeper inner beauty is what leaves a legacy.