Quarantine Series: Thoughts on how to connect to friends who are experiencing depression

Reminding you how beautiful the moon looks like.

I know everyone has plans once we’re done with this quarantine. Seeing some of my acquaintances create their own to-do (and to-go-to) lists is uplifting. It gives me an optimistic feeling about what lies ahead of us. I took inspiration from that gesture and so a few weeks ago, I wrote about my plans and what I have in mind once this situation is over and briefly talked about what my current situation is at home. We have every right to stay forward-looking and to keep a positive mindset about our future as a community. But it seemed like I was trying to forget about the ‘now’.

For weeks, despite having consciousness about what’s going on around us, I remained silent. My level of apathy was too much that I didn’t want to take part in any unnecessary debate, even if it concerns the right of anyone out there. My mind kept telling me to avoid everything that does not spark joy (borrowing this line from Marie Kondo!) and I have un-followed every news outlet on social media. I didn’t want this to be my norm. I did not obtain a degree in Development Studies to remain apathetic.

I did lots of introspection. I wrote everything down in my journal. I just couldn’t find the right words to share what’s on my mind. I was lost for words to explain things. However, despite constant denial in my head, I recognized there’s a level of sadness that I feel and these depressive episodes were brought about the prolonged limited human interaction over the last 2 months.

The truth is I find it awkward to talk about my feelings, most especially if I were to tell it to those people that are close to me. My fear is not being able to clearly express myself and end up getting judged. It’s not because I don’t want to open but it’s more of the lack of ability to properly communicate things that hinders me to strike a conversation with anyone. I also know that not a lot of people are trained to easily connect when someone’s experiencing depression. That’s why instead of starting an odd conversation with anyone, I end up writing things down, hence the reason I always resort to publishing blog entries every now and then.

Some people might ask “Why you got to be so depressed?”

Well, I don’t know either.

When you have already accepted sadness as your default feeling, you end up not doing anything about your episodes. For others, they think that’s weird because we should be happy most of the time but if you would understand where somebody is coming from, it’s actually not a bad thing to recognise that it’s okay to be sad most of the time.

To help us manage and get through the global pandemic situation, my company has put together a series of webinars we can all join in. Over the next few weeks, I will be publishing a series of blog entries to share more about my learning and Aha! moments.

Here are some of the amazing things I learned when dealing with depression amidst isolation due to quarantine:

Let them be heard, never forget to ask

If you’re experiencing depressive episodes and would like to let out some of your thoughts, please consider what the receiving end would feel. Consciously ask about their bandwidth to listen before you share anything. In that way, you find a common ground and adjust to each other’s level of emotions.

On the other hand, if your friend, who’s experiencing depression, would like to share what’s on their mind, and if your hands aren’t too tied up, please make time to listen. The simple yet powerful act of listening, even without offering any advice, helps reduce what we feel. By giving affirmation that you are listening to what they are saying makes them feel valued.

The greatest lesson I picked up during the webinars I’ve attended was breaking the bad habit of listening to respond. Instead of listening simply to respond or retaliate back, we have to listen to understand. Communication is a two-way street and it’s not enough that we listen to what they’re saying. We have to understand what they’re telling us and remain engaged.

We don’t want to shame ourselves when someone asks questions about what they’re saying and we wouldn’t be able to respond back because our mind is somewhere else, do we?

We cannot “just get over it” and that’s okay

It’s easier said than done. If we’re going to have it our way, we could’ve eliminated depression a long time ago. If ice cream could cure this depression away, I would’ve consumed more than what my body could hold but it doesn’t work that way.

Remember that we do not need any saving. It’s not your duty and it will never be anybody’s responsibility to fix anyone. Refrain from pressuring someone to feel normal. When someone’s having their episodes, we have to eliminate the feeling of disappointment simply because they cannot be normal.

Moreover, un-learning the idea that being sad and being OK cannot co-exist is difficult but it must be done. We were taught that when we experience sadness there must be something wrong about us. In reality, it’s healthy and natural to accept that it happens even to the best of us.

The best move you can do is to remind yourself, whether you experience depression or you’re helping out someone, that it will not last forever.

Connect wisely

The easiest way you can earn somebody’s trust is by establishing clear boundaries about how much you can help someone. When you give an idea about what you’re planning to do and when you outright ask for their consent in advance, you are empowering them by building confidence with you and giving them a sense of control so they wouldn’t overreact.

For example, instead of vaguely saying “you can reach out to me anytime,” you can say that they can reach out to you anytime through call or text but it might take a while for you to respond back. Instead of assuming that it’s okay to instantly call someone to check on them, why not message them ahead of time and remain sharp about your plans: “Hey, I want to check in with you. Do you think to call you every day is okay? If not, we can text every day and get on the phone sometime later in the week?”

Never take things personally

Here’s the thing: you can offer your advice as long as it’s solicited. Avoid the habit of taking the spotlight away when somebody is sharing something because you want to inject your idea. We have to recognise that there is no definite way of dealing with depression. What has worked for someone else may not be applicable to another person.

Please do not get discouraged to help when someone turns down your advice.

This home quarantine is not easy and I’m celebrating each day I’m able to pull myself out of my bed. During our work last week, my colleagues and I had an information-sharing session on how we’re coping up with this. After learning about everybody’s unique way of coping up, I felt insecure because I had nothing extraordinary to share. I said that acceptance was my coping mechanism – I go on with my day, do my very best at work, and accept that things won’t get any better soon. I thought they were expecting something out of the ordinary but really, there’s nothing special with the way I handle this. They were encouraging me to start a new hobby. They even shared some amazing movie titles and series to watch. Some of them introduced some new books to read. But I told them I’m fine and I’m glad they respect my take on this.

My learnings aren’t a one-stop-shop and should not be taken as the only. I’m sure many of you have more amazing things to share about this topic. These points are based on my principle of inclusion: each one of us has a voice and it’s meant to be heard; that all of us are connected in one way or another and we should never leave anyone.

When we talk to someone experiencing depression, we have to speak to that person like they were OK. Talk to them as if your life depended on them. Converse with them without hesitation. Keep in mind that their life is as vibrant, important, and amazing as yours. If you do that, you might just empower someone without you even realizing you did that.

(2020 v.2) What I have in mind once this is over!

To brighter days ahead! – here’s a photo of what the sunrise looked like last Saturday morning, 18 April 2020 at 06:03 AM (GMT+8)

 

Oh, girl!

I don’t usually complain about staying indoors because I’ve always been built for it. However, cabin fever is really creeping in with the limited human interaction I’ve got. We simply don’t have any choice this time. We cannot go out as we wish to and we have to stay inside our houses to avoid contracting COVID-19. It’s the best that we could do to follow the government’s orders and to remain healthy during these trying times.

Our prayers and thoughts go for all of our front liners – healthcare professionals, law enforcers, people working at the groceries and food outlets, the maintenance folks that keep our surroundings clean and orderly… you’re our heroes! Thanks for everything that you do and now, more than ever, we will all get through this!

With that, I would like to encourage everyone who has some more resources to spare to continuously give and help amidst the pandemic. Your donations, regardless of how big or small it may be, will create an impact. Whether you donate for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) of our front liners or spare some cash and in-kind goods to feed our community, it can go a long way.

But what comes next after this?

I don’t know, really, but hey! I don’t want to get stuck thinking about what I cannot do. I want to focus on what I will do. This entry was inspired by Victoria’s post (she’s an awesome writer, please follow her!) and now that I have some time in my hands, here’s what’s on my list:

Adapting a new work set up

I don’t see any problem with my work set up now. I’m extremely thankful that I work for a company that allows us to be agile; that we’re not seen as a mere seat-warmers. And so, once the situation is finally over, I’m thinking about the potential of limiting the days I’ll be reporting to the office and simply work from home. I also hope that work-from-home folks now and their companies realise this and the potential to minimise, if not solve, the Metro Manila traffic.

Travel, travel, and travel!

I have not traveled this year. My cousins and I were supposed to head out-of-town for our beach outing but it went down the drain because of the quarantine and lockdown situation in the Luzon island. Here’s what I have on my list:

  • Assuming that the quarantine won’t get extended, a visit to Baguio with my partner this May for his birthday;
  • Assuming the COVID-19 situation gets better, I want to celebrate my birthday out-of-town this June;
  • Rescheduled beach trip from April to August;
  • Assuming the COVID-19 situation gets better, I will head to Japan for a week this September

The rest of the days in between, I’ll make sure to dedicate some time for my long, out-of-town drives. I honestly miss driving and I can’t remember the last time I used my car!

Have some (amazing) food

Whilst I’m lucky that everything we need is right within our reach, I still crave for some good food outside. I know, this will sound whiny, but dining in a restaurant (or even getting some take-away food) has been part of my routine and I cannot even do that not simply because we’re not allowed to leave the village anymore. I’m craving for some good Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese food… you know, anything Asian. But my first order of business is to get either a McDonald’s or Burger King fix!

Continue my passion projects

For a long time, I’ve said a lot of excuses to start my passion projects. This time, since I was able to start with some of it, I’ll make sure to continue doing it even when things lighten up. It doesn’t help at all when you have to worry about deliverables for work, about the global pandemic situation that’s getting worse day after day, and the incompetency of our government. Now that I’m getting the rhythm, aside from using more of my camera, I will slowly but surely start reading books again and make sure to hit my target number of books to read for this year. Moreover, I’m revisiting all of my notes from my language classes and will hit the ground running once I have sorted out my schedule, too.

Meet people and tell them how much I missed them

Aside from dedicating more time for myself, I want to make sure I meet some important people in my life. I realised that whilst messaging them and having a video chat with them is important these days, it cannot replace the warmth you feel when you see them in person. Even if I rarely say what I have in mind, I will like to take time to meet each one of them, thank them for holding on and keeping it together.

I miss my dad so much. He couldn’t fly back here in the Philippines because of the lockdown. He’s still working abroad but was supposed to be with us this April.

I miss seeing my cousins, aunties, uncles and my grandma, and by the next time we meet, I’ll make sure to let them know how much I missed them and that they’ve always been on my mind.

I would like to meet my friends once again and say how much I missed them. As a huge fan of hugging, I would like to hug them but that’s not what social (and physical) distancing meant – see the change in the mindset of people? It has started!

What other interesting things do you have in mind that you’ll do after this quarantine? I’m sure most of you have already planned how they’ll spend their time once this is finally over. To everyone who needs help and is fighting to survive, please know that you can reach out to us and to anyone who can offer help. We’re here for you and we’re all in this together! xx