Despair like the mafia, my father and bullies in general demand silence. “You can’t do anything to stop me and if you do, I’ll kill you. Anyway, it’s your fault.” (See Never Tell, my memoir of childhood joycehowe.com) Convinced of the hopelessness of speaking, we fall silent.
Quite the opposite is true. Loose lips, where depression is concerned, sinks the ship of despair.
Talking is just a riff on union with the divine or connection, assuming a more earthly contact. A phone is a useful tool.
The listener needs no training, except in the art of silence and the odd encouraging remark – how do you feel about that. While it’s hard listening to an hour of weeping and absolute despair, -wine helps, or half an Atavan – it is rewarding because the speaker eventually runs down and may even say she feels better.
The depressed person is only required to voice her conviction that life is totally meaningless, unfair, unbearable and not to be endured, with specific examples drawn from the present at first and then from the dismal past.
There is one essential question: are you suicidal?, followed by what plan have you made? Once this is on the table, strategies can be developed. Such strategies do not involve, “You can’t do that!” They need to be practical and effective. Once a Salvation Army officer sat with me far into the night until I was too tired for self-harm.
In those days, I was too far gone for my immediate family, but suicide hotlines were there 24/7.
In less exigent circumstances, your best friend is your journal. “Dear Constance”, one of my creative writing students began each of her mandatory journal entries. I didn’t actually read these entries, although, as I recorded journal completed, I noted the salutation. I have a 6-ft-high bookcase filled with 159 journals, written between phone calls. After many years, I write less, call less and listen more.
Life’s a bitch. But hang on. Lean on me. Lean on you. Let’s make it through.