By: Liz Wilson
I often wonder if everyone has experienced the miracle of a well-spoken or well-meaning word during times of crisis or need? I grew up in a home fraught with poverty, but my Mother was constantly trying to make small things go a long way—both physically and emotionally. I can remember the day I finally realized I was poor: I was 15.
The lesson I learned by this—very slow—realization, was that perception is everything! Later, during my first severe depressive episode, when everything seemed hopeless and I wanted to give up; I was able to lean on my Mother’s and others’ words and small acts of kindness for hope. Mental health professionals, case managers and support people often deepened Mom’s sentiments through repetition or a novel seed about how to cope and the importance of coping. Every subsequent depressive episode is met with the mantra—an amalgamation of seeds planted by others—“You can do this Liz. You have been here before and it WILL pass!”
So, how can you be a perspective-changer? Below are things that have helped me or that I have used to help others (it is in no way comprehensive):
Depressed State Seeds Worth Planting:
1) The words you use, especially to describe what is happening to me during a depressed state are issues of high sensitivity.
a. Use reassuring words that will instill hope.
b. Don’t say you understand, rather say “When I was dealing with my depression…(XYZ)….helped me.” This might be a person, activity or a perspective tip.
c. Remind them about past successes in coming out of depression and what you saw them do to get relief (medication, et al). Ask them what they think might work, even if you know they cannot muster a clear answer—empower them. No-one knows me or my Bipolar Disorder like I do (I just cannot always see the forest when the darkness blots out the trees).
d. Use helpful body language: from your tone of voice (soft, patient and kind) to your hugs or a hand on my shoulder to tell me you care. Understand that some people dealing with depression won’t want to be touched, so just ask if it’s okay. Lean in when they talk to you; it expresses listening intently (and DO listen intently).
e. Tokens: I have received cards, letters, kudos, candy, silly magnets, cartoon and meme printouts, poetry and other items that cost very little or nothing at all and, quite literately, saved my life.
f. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask what they need and follow up with more questions if they are not sure what they need. “Do you want me to call your doctor or therapist? Can I bring over some macaroni and cheese or cake? Would you like to go to the hospital? Do you feel hopeless? Are you wanting to hurt yourself hun?”
Hypomanic/Mania Seeds Worth Planting:
Realize that I will not always hear what you say or recognize your efforts when I am in this state and don’t be dissuaded. Repetition is often necessary in either polar state. Things worth trying:
a. Help me see that my moods are elevated, if I don’t know, by asking about:
i. My eating/appetite (prone to eat less now)
ii. My sleep (also less)
iii. My cognition (“You seem to be thinking very fast…”)
iv. My levels of impulsivity regarding sex and money and/or substance/alcohol use.
b. Tones should be more firm, though still kind. Hugs are almost certainly not desired in these states. However, rubbing from my shoulder to elbow firmly will calm me down if I am agitated (this method is used in hospitals a lot and is a great alternative to overmedication).
c. Don’t take my irritation and impatience personally, but also don’t excuse it or let me get by with being abusive or mean spirited. One of the greatest seeds ever planted was “Liz, you will not talk to me disrespectfully. I understand that you are agitated, but you cannot be abusive!”
d. Babysit my kids or anything important that my impulsivity may endanger or interfere with (ask if I want help first though).
e. Suggest hospitalization or calling the doctor for a medication adjustment.
Sometimes yours is the only smile I receive all day, please remember this! Being kind, even to strangers, can change the entire world!