By Lou Dos Santos
Let me introduce myself. I am a fifty six year old man that has been battling depression for most of my life. I will be writing a series of articles regarding depression so I m not looking to discuss every aspect of the illness in this one article. And yes, it is an illness as many of you know, but unfortunately many don’t seem to have the ability to understand this. I’ll discuss that in another article. What I really want to discuss is, as the title states, ‘loneliness’. It’s understandable when someone is physically alone to feel lonely. We can all relate to that of course, you’re alone, hence you feel lonely. However, I want to discuss how it feels for someone battling depression, to physically have someone close to you, in your home, and still feel alone. How is that possible? Well it’s not only quite possible, sadly it’s quite common. I’ll tell you my most recent story that involves someone in my house, my own wife.
I’d like to first explain the most common and obvious sign to me that I am not starting the day off well. I’m sure there are others that can relate to what I’m about to explain. The first sign for me is this, the difficulty in being able to speak. I’m not saying I lose the power of speech, no, that’s not it. I am able to speak, answer a question, but unable or unwilling at times to carry out a conversation. That part of my brain seems to almost shut down. Thoughts are running through my head and again, I lack the ability or willingness to leave those thoughts to focus on what my mind processes at the time as trivial conversation. Now, this is something I have worked on and continue to work on to this day. To open my mind and change my thoughts. For me there are days that I do well, my strategy works and there are days that are a struggle. My hope is that you have a bit of an understanding regarding this one sign that I’m not having a good day. So now that you have some understanding on this trigger sign of mine, and there are others, but those will be discussed another time. Let me tell you about a conversation I had with my wife.
It was a pleasant evening and my wife and I were sitting outside on our front porch. Now, this day was a very difficult day for me. I woke up, barely spoke a word from that moment until early evening. My brain was analyzing all day. Analyzing my past, analyzing the day and analyzing where my life is going. By the way, against my will. I did what typically works for me when I’m having one of those days, I kept myself very busy. I worked on my house all day trying hard to focus on what I was working on. It’s sometimes difficult as I become forgetful, such as when I take a measurement and immediately forget and have to re-measure and actually write things down. On a ‘normal’ day, that is not an issue for me. But this was not a ‘normal’ day. Now I can’t break down how many different thoughts were floating around in my head that day because breaking them all down and categorizing each thought would be draining and I would also prefer not to in all honestly. However, there is a thought that bothered me to a point that I really wanted an answer, an honest answer. Because I’ve wanted an answer to this question for quite some time, but for whatever reason, it took me several years to ask. Perhaps I wouldn’t like the answer? Perhaps It would have been better if I had never asked? Well there is only one way to find out. And that is to communicate with one another. I do not possess any mind reading abilities so the only thing to do was to ask the question.
As we are sitting there on our porch, I turned to my wife and asked her “are you able to tell when I am feeling depressed?” To my surprise and perhaps not so surprised, I’m still not sure, she immediately responded, without hesitation “yes.” so I asked her how she knew? What were the signs that she picked up on? Again, she had an immediate response. She said “you’re quite, you barely speak.” I remember I had to process her answer for a moment, because her answer wasn’t comforting, in fact it bothered me. Here is why. So after a few moments to think, I told her that she was right. But I also felt the need to tell her this. That she knows when I’m struggling and knowing that, I asked her “how many times have you asked me how I’m doing or how I’m feeling?” She thought for a moment and responded “never.” I asked her why? She stated that she just didn’t know what to say. So I tried to explain how that feels. To have someone right there physically, but to feel completely alone. I tried, but not everyone has the ability to understand how another person feels. It’s not easy and I understand that. Now my wife did say that she was “going to do better” and she was sincere. I believe she really want’s to. However after the conversation I just explained, I’ve have had many bouts of depression and sadly I can say that, nothing has changed. What is it with mental illness that seems to push people away? Their lack of understanding could be a big cause. But if you care for someone who is battling mental illness, asking questions, research and learning would be so helpful. Just as people would research a physical illness a loved one might have. You would want to know what you can or need to do for them if they have cancer or diabetes or any other disease. If you think mental Illness is scary or confusing to you, then try to imagine for the person living it, and fighting it.
The reason for me writing this is the hope that someone out there might pause and think and also ask him or herself what they can do better for someone they love battling mental illness. It could be your spouse or partner, a parent, a brother or sister, a close friend or think about this, your own child. It’s not on you to ‘cure’ them. But it really is up to you, if you truly love someone battling mental illness to do what you can for them so that they feel supported, and by having them feel that support, you may be able to guide them to get professional help that they may desperately need. Now you may say that you want to be there, you want to be supportive but sometimes it’s just not that easy. Well, yes, in many cases you are correct. But ask yourself if the person you love battling mental illness: Is it easy for them? I know you can do better for a simple reason. All of us can do better, all of us. Let that loved one know, this one thing that is so important: “You are not alone.”
Copyright Lou Dos Santos. All rights reserved. Reprinting not allowed without permission.
Photo Credit: Umberto Shaw