Learning how to communicate with others when we feel down can be key to recovery. Depression can be a deeply isolating experience, but if we are able to recognise the signs and reach out to others, we have a better chance to recover faster.
Why we isolate ourselves when we feel depressed
There are many reasons for that. We think people won’t understand. We don’t want to bother anyone. Or sometimes we don’t want to hear what others have to say. But the more we isolate ourselves, the worse it gets.
Back in 2003…
When I was studying law in Montpellier, I went through a really rough patch. This was before my very first therapy and I had been carrying my emotional luggage with me for over 10 years already. I had even managed to forget some of it. And I was doing fine. Or so I thought.
A relationship triggered the deep wound I had, and I started to feel low. I decided to go and see a therapist for the very first time. I went in for a relationship issue but the therapist asked me about my family. Everything, all the traumas of my childhood came rushing back in and I cried for the entire session. I couldn’t stop for days.
So I ended the relationship (i.e. the faster way to deal with the present issue), did not book another appointment as requested by the therapist (the memories that came up were just too painful), and self-medicated (i.e. I started smoking weed 24/7). The isolation started. I was physically present, attending lectures, even going to some parties, but I was not mentally there. I was a zombie.
People tried to communicate with me. One by one, my friends attempted to reach out to me but I would just roll another joint. This lasted about 6 months.
One weekend I had a wake-up call
I got fired from a job as a waitress for being too slow (weed will do that to you) and nearly got kicked out of the prestigious business law school I was attending due to a complete drop in my results.
I would not have survived the shame of getting kicked out of that school so I had to do something. This is when I decided to finally book that second appointment with the therapist and slowly got things back on track.
During these months I had done a lot of damage, and not just to my grades. Without realising it I had cut myself from all of my friends and family. I had some serious amends to make and it took a while. Fortunately for me, most people were forgiving because they could see I had been in pain.
But I learnt an important lesson back then. Your support network is the most important thing when you get low. It should be nurtured. I have never let myself become that disconnected from the world around me after that, and this literally saved me when I went back in severe depression in 2014.
Learning how to communicate with others when we feel down instead of isolating ourselves does not come naturally so here are a few tips on first how to stop the isolating process and second how to communicate with others effectively.
How to stop the downward spiral
Do not listen to that inner voice!
When I feel down, I often feel like there is no one I can call. This could be a hangover from my teenage years. Back then the rule in the house was that you were not allowed to look sad if you didn’t want to open up. So if you were feeling down but didn’t feel like talking about it, you were asked to smile. The damage parents do…
But let’s come back to now. When I feel sad, I don’t want to call my friends because I don’t want to bother them. I feel like I am a burden and it’s best I keep my low mood to myself. And I live on my own. And I work from home. You get it; it is pretty easy for me to hide out if I want to. But it is not helpful.
Over the years I have learnt how important it is it to reach out to friends and family when I feel down because when I do reach out, miracles happen. Just talking to someone can be enough to boost my mood. It all depends on what is going on, how deep rooted the problem and on how long I have left it to fester.
The longer you wait to connect with someone, the worst it will be
If you stay with your thoughts, you have very little chance of ending the broken record of your inner voice. You are not going to suddenly wake up and feel great. As Albert Einstein so eloquently said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
You need to take action and one of the best actions you can take is to speak to a friend. People who love you and care about you will want you to speak to them about how you feel because they want to help you. Do not let your inner voice tell you otherwise.
And if you think you have no friends and nobody loves you, that’s probably that inner voice talking again.
How to communicate with others when we feel down
#1 Make the first move
It is not easy, but it is essential, and you will feel so much better afterwards! Every time I feel down and call a friend, I feel 10 times better afterwards. Like everything, it takes practice. What you can do is create a list of the people you can call when you are feeling down. But make the list when you feel good as you will be a lot more objective then!
#2 Start by asking about them
Try (to the extent possible) not to make it all about you. Take an interest in their lives, especially if you haven’t talked to them for a while. Ask about them, what is going on with them. Not only this will help connect with them, but it will also help you get out of your own head. It is the concept of this beautiful quote “If you’re feeling helpless, help someone” by Aung San Suu Kyi.
#3 Let people know what is going on with you
It’s ok to tell people that you are not feeling at your best at the moment. It’s even recommended if you don’t want to be pestered with questions as to why you are more quiet than usual. You will see two types of reactions; the people who are comfortable with talking about mental health will empathise and let you know they are available if you want to chat; and those who aren’t. It’s ok. You can only control how you act, not how others react.
#4 Your friends are not your therapists
Be careful about what you share and with whom. Some people are great at listening and understand mental health. But a lot of people will not know what to say and what to do and the last thing you want is to alienate them. So be gentle. Share a little and take the temperature. In any case, whether your friends are great listeners or not, you should remember that they are your friends. They are not trained therapists, even thought they might offer solutions just because it is in their nature.
#5 Your wellbeing is your responsibility, no one else
Do not make your wellbeing other people’s problem. Relying too much on one individual is not fair to them. Your friends have their own lives and their own things going on. They might not always be available to support you and that is allowed. That’s why it is important to have a support network (not just one supportive friend). I have been on both sides of the coin and witness friendships end because of one person felt betrayed by another because this person was not available for a few hours.
#6 Learn to accept help
If you open up about feeling down, most people will want to help. This is a good thing, and it will support your recovery so please accept the help that is kindly offered. And if people want to help you but don’t know how to and ask what they can do to support you, send them a link to my article The 6 things to know when supporting someone who suffers from depression.
To sum up
- Stop the isolating spiral by watching your inner talk and taking action as early as possible
- Make the first move and reach out to someone you trust
- Don’t make it all about you
- Tell people how you really feel
- Your friends aren’t your therapists
- Take responsibility for your wellbeing
- It’s ok to receive help
I hope “how to communicate with others when we feel down” has been helpful to you. Let me know in the comments if you have other points to add to the list!