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.
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.