But my thoughts tonight are not about Robin. They are about his wife, or actually his wives, and his children. My thoughts are taken up with his caregivers, those who loved him the most, who spent their days dealing with his depression in its deepest and darkest form.
His wife and kids grieve now, and no doubt it will be hard, and they may never recover. But they will be supported. People will rally around them. Death brings out compassion and love, death scares the crap out of us, and death makes us realize how short life is; we find our own comfort in supporting each other.
But it isn't now that I think about. I wonder how supported his family was during the last few weeks, months, and past years of struggling with Robin's depression. I wonder about his wife, who undoubtedly spent her own hours desperately pleading with him to get the help he needed, reassuring him things were okay, feeling helpless and frustrated. Even knowing she had every resource available to her, she found herself in a losing battle.
Google “depression” - you will find millions of resources for those depressed, you will find advice, help sites, counseling, and meds. If you are a caregiver of a depressed person, you have already done it. You have done it a thousand times. You have already searched everywhere for help.
But what you won't find, is enough support for you. There are a few articles here and there, and yeah, sure you could buy a book (which you don't have time to read). But truly, you are on your own.
We recognize depression as a disease, we talk about it in the media, we share about it as if people really understand it, and we pretend that we care. The reality is that you cannot find a proper support group for caregivers of depressed people (and you wouldn't have time anyway), you cannot find intelligent groups of caregivers to share information with, and you will not find the support in your friends, because they will not know what you are going through. You cannot tell them. They will not understand.
So, my call to action is to the friends. If you know of a depressed person, you probably know their caregiver. Or maybe you just know the caregiver. Listen carefully.
Depression casts a cloud on a family that is larger than one person. It drags its mysterious shadow around the entire family and it doesn't appear obvious, nor are the symptoms easily identifiable. Sometimes the depression is shrouded in suicidal thoughts, sometimes it is in immense fear of everything, sometimes it is in deep seeded anger of nothing. It is not the same as what you have seen, nor what you have read, nor even what you have experienced.
Your caregiver friend does NOT need your advice, they need your support. They already know what needs to be done, they already know should happen, they get it. Or maybe they don’t. But they live it.
But maybe you didn't know:
- That sometimes caregivers cannot get their depressed person out of bed. And it makes them want to stay there too.
- That at a social event, the depressed person may appear perfectly fine, and then break down completely out of the public view.
- That sometimes just getting to that social event is like World War III.
- That caregivers are playing parent, teacher, counselor, nursemaid, and spouse all at the same time.
- That caregivers are never allowed to break down, they must remain strong. That is part of the unwritten rules.
- That caregivers can lie well, cuz their job is to make everything appear normal.
- That caregivers don't have time for things in life that they want. Let alone for the things they need.
- That caregivers oscillate between feelings of guilt, helplessness, fear, and anger themselves. Repeat.
Guilt - that they can smile sometimes still & enjoy life, while their loved one does not.
Helplessness - that they cannot ever do enough to fix the problem.
Fear - that this is never going to end.
Anger - that this is happening to them.
Your job, O Friend of the Caregiver, is to not rally around the family when the depressed person is gone... but to be there for them right now. Take a meal over. Take the kids for a few hours. Do the things you would do for a family struggling with cancer... remembering this is the "unspoken" disease. Speak about it if they want, and don't if they don't want. Let your friend cry. Help your friend laugh. Surround your friend with love.
When you ask how their day was, and they say, "fine," you hug them and understand they are lying. And when you ask how their day was, and they honestly say "shitty," you buy them a drink. And when you ask how their day was, and they say, "it was actually okay," you celebrate with them. Because "okay" is as good as the days get sometimes.
Above all, do not judge. Do not judge when they don't show up to your party, or when they cannot stay to the end, or why they aren't as happy as they used to be. Do not judge their messy house, or their fight in the parking lot. Do not judge when they don't return your phone call. Do not judge when they don't share with you everything. Or when they do. You do not know the struggles. They both are trying.
Find that caregiver. Hug him or her. Tell them you are unconditionally their friend. And then prove it.