If only . . . what can we do to help our friends who are struggling?

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun;
Nor the furious winter’s rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney sweepers come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,
Nor the all-dread thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan;
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

I’ve been there. Standing outside a funeral home as pallbearers loaded a coffin into a hearse. A coffin in which lay a beautiful laughing woman, while mourners stood about, dumb-founded, in shock, dismayed – wondering how it had happened, wondering if only they had done something, anything. How could we be here? Only nine months earlier, this beautiful woman with a laugh that filled a room had been a bride. We, the mourners, had gathered together to celebrate a wedding. She had been so happy, laughing, toasting her big day with champagne.

Then, slowly over the next few months she disappeared from sight and… odd things happened. The car accident when she drove off the road. Phone calls unanswered, evasive answers. My friends disappeared from sight, until a sunny evening in November when the phone rang. Something had happened, the bride of nine months ago had walked up a hill, done something terrible and it taken her a night to die.

The wedding guests returned as mourners – in shock that in only nine quick months, depression had seized our friend, swept her away into a black hole from which she never returned.

And all we could say was “if only”. If only we had known, we could have told her how much we valued her, how much we admired her, how much she meant to us. If only…

But even today, I don’t know what we could have done. I just don’t know. I still don’t understand how it could have happened so fast. I go and visit her grave sometimes, leave flowers, wonder how her life would have turned out. She would be in her forties now, maybe with the babies she wanted, grown up and at school. She and I were just becoming good friends, and she was so vital and funny, sweet and caring. What was this storm that swept her up so catastrophically?

This life of ours can be tough. Not in the sense of struggling to survive – but as the Buddhists say, we suffer from our privilege. We have all we need, food, clothing, shelter – so why do some days feel so hard to get through?

Our suffering is no less valid because of our privilege, because in many ways we are brainwashed every moment of every day. We are bludgeoned with continual messages that scream why we aren’t good enough. Too fat, too thin, too stupid, too poor – too old – we will be happy when we buy this thing, that we must buy now for NO INTEREST! And this message is relentless and merciless. And where is the other side of this message? The message that we are all worthwhile, that our life has meaning, that we matter. Too often this message is never given or lost in the unceasing noise.

Depression – such a misnomer. If you have been there, it’s more like a black thundercloud the enshrouds you and never lifts.  All lives have their dark moments, but some of us have never been taught the tools or given the love and acceptance we needed as children to provide the buffer we all need to cushion us from life’s blows. And they don’t have to be heavy blows, more often it is death by a 1000 cuts until slowly the battle becomes too hard, and the fight to survive is overwhelmed by the need to escape the pain. And our mind plays tricks – it gets stuck in the moment, becomes the great deceiver, it loses its ability to see that tomorrow is another day that might be different – we only see that tomorrow is another day of pain – hope is lost.

Depression – it is the abyss, and unless you are incredibly fortunate, we all end up in there at some time in our lives. When I heard this, I realised how true it was. It was in an essay by Matt Zoller on Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Express:

Halfway through Zoller diverges into a profound personal insight.

When you have suffered a loss, you fall into the abyss, Not An abyss, THE abyss, it is all the same abyss – how you end up in it, the circumstances, those are all just details, it’s all the same abyss, and no-one can pull you out of it, one day you just start climbing out of it. A lot of times you start climbing out of it because you have made peace with being in it, accepted you have no control over it. That is what the higher power of AA means to a secular person.. you are surrendering… To what – it doesn’t really matter, as longs as you are giving up the illusion that you have control over all of this.”

Maybe that is the illusion we all live under – that we have control of this vast life – over aging, over wealth, over others. But we can’t control what others do, say think, feel. Perhaps all we can do is learn to control how we respond so that it doesn’t matter. So we aren’t a toy of suffering.

We base our lives on the past, when we can only perceive the present and the future is unknown. Everything is our lives is just stuff other people have made up – we don’t really have to do it, it is just busy work to keep us occupied. Aging and death is the great leveller, so how about we use our time on Earth a bit better and just be nice to each other for a change?

I don’t know what the solution to depression is. I miss my friend and I wish she was still here. All I can think to do is be compassionate and kind to others, understand that we weren’t all blessed with childhoods that gave us the resilience we need to cope with life’s challenges. Understand that we all are just making it up as we go, and we all struggle. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes it is just meh, and sometime we end up in the abyss. Some of us can climb out on our own, but some of us need help to start. How about we reach out that hand?

One thought on “If only . . . what can we do to help our friends who are struggling?”

  1. Depression is a beast. I am sorry your friend had such a sad death – and so unnecessary. I am glad I have managed to pull myself out. Bottom line though is pretty much only you can do it. Although, yes, it helps having people be supportive on the sidelines.

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