how to support a friend with depression (or: how to support a friend with depression?)

Mer,

Until only a few days ago, Miles has been throwing up. For three weeks or so, every time he exerted himself—played too hard, cried too hard, coughed too hard, looked too hard at Evie’s spit-up—he’d hurl. You’ve told me before that your kids hardly ever throw up, so I’m in the midst of forgiving you for that. I felt like I was cleaning up puke for a living.

The first time it happened, we were at Jason’s Deli. Miles had just had mac and cheese (one of the only dishes he’ll eat when we’re out). It was gross. All over him, all over the restaurant floor, all over me and Scott by the time we were finished cleaning everything up. And then it was in the car.

The next week, we were back at Jason’s Deli. We were having dinner with a bunch of people from church, and I was recounting the story. My friend Tim is a total germaphob and could barely listen to the story without going a bit pale-faced. “I don’t care what people say,” he said, “it isn’t different when it’s your own kid. It’s disgusting.” Right after he said that, Miles (once again) hurled up the mac and cheese I was stupid enough to order for him a second time.

Since I’ve been so completely consumed by barf the last three weeks, I’ve had some time to think about it. I agree with Tim—it’s not different when it’s your own kid. It’s disgusting—especially when he’s had milk or anything oddly colored. And yet, I cleaned up all that vomit without hesitation. I did not even do the whole dry-heave-y thing that I usually do when things gross me out. I wondered about why.

Part of it, I’m sure, was that it was my kid. My baby. I didn’t think about anything other than making sure he was okay. (Well, in all honesty, toward the end I may have threatened him with an early bedtime if he threw up again. Not one for the parenting books, I’m afraid.) But part of it was that I knew it needed doing, and I knew he needed me to do it.

Scott preached this Sunday and part of his sermon reminded me of what we’d been going through. The sermon was about the famous “doubting Thomas” passage, and here, Scott is referencing the scars the resurrected Jesus shows when Thomas is having trouble believing:

One of the things I love about the gospel of John is how earthy and messy it is. There is a consistent downward pattern all throughout the gospel. Jesus heals the blind man by spitting on the ground, making clay, and then putting it on the man’s eyes. Or when He bends down to scribble in the sand when they bring before Him the woman accused of adultery. Or when He BBQ’s fish with His disciples on the shores of the sea. Or when He bends down to wash the disciples’ feet. Even when He breathes into them the Holy Spirit we are reminded of a God who got His hands dirty with the creation, shaping and forming us out of the dust of the earth. And of course none of this surprises us about the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. There is this earthy, messy, dirty, compassionate kind of nature to God. It’s compassionate because it’s about solidarity. Joining in the pain and suffering and brokenness of the world in an utterly redemptive way because the scars of Jesus are not only proof His sufferings but proof of His victory over death and all his friends. And it’s not a victory that’s out there somewhere. It’s one we rub up against. Scars that reach out and touch us.

I don’t usually give myself credit for the compassion that I show my kids. But, at the heart of it, I suppose that’s what cleaning up Miles’s puke is. Messy, disgusting compassion.

“But what does this have to do with having a friend who deals with depression?” you may be thinking. If you read the title. Probably not a lot of people care too much about titles, but you might be one of them. All of this was on my mind when I read your last post. I’ve wondered many times if I’ve been the kind of friend you needed when you were going through some rough patches. Chances are, I probably haven’t always. I’ve not had to deal with depression myself (except in high school, when I was so depressed that I missed the sale at Changing Times or when I was so depressed that we had a calculus test or, maybe my most frequent foray into depression, when I was so depressed that that cute guy didn’t like me like I liked him. He only liked me, he didn’t like me like me). I don’t know what it feels like to go through the kinds of emotions you describe. I can’t pretend to. I don’t know what helps and what is a supreme annoyance.

What I have done is to try and be with you. To never mind if your house was a mess or if you hadn’t showered when I came over to visit. I once helped you cook dinner and put away some toys and laundry. And those things seemed to mean something to you. I didn’t do it enough, I’m sure, but I did it a little bit. Maybe it made up for the times when I said the wrong thing—or a string of wrong things.

And, as I try and figure out what it means for me to be a good friend from a lot of miles away, I think about the sort of compassion that Scott was talking about in his sermon. Messy, earthy, spit-covered. It’s harder to do from farther away. So I hope you feel that I’m on your side, in solidarity with you even though I’ve never gone through what you’re going through, and even though I can’t cook you dinner from Kansas.

Still, you can call whenever you need to, or not call whenever you need to not call, and I will be here. I will not mind if you tell the truth. And I will probably say something dumb, like how depressed I am that there’s not a new episode of New Girl on tonight. Sorry about that.

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8 thoughts on “how to support a friend with depression (or: how to support a friend with depression?)

  1. I have had two things on my mind lately, a friend who has cancer, and the awfullness of depression: Depression and Cancer make me want to throw-up!

  2. this makes me cry, and it hits so close to home. i have been the depressed one and the one who wanted to much to help the depressed one. thank you for this post.

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  4. My brother recommended I might like this blog.

    He was totally right. This post truly made my day. You can not
    imagine simply how much time I had spent for this
    info! Thanks!

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