Depressed people are isolated people. Loneliness is a self-selecting symptom of the illness. And like their brothers-in-arms, the pessimists, we more accurately assess our total lack of control over life.
It’s called “Depressive Realism” by psychology professors Lauren Alloy and Lyn Yvonne Abramson — or to quote the term they coined — “The sadder are wiser.”(1)
Sadder and wiser and not a lot of fun. Even the best of friends do not show up at the door with homemade soup. Fairweather friends find the depressed exasperating, or worse, fodder for gossip.
What if, in addition to medicine, a doctor could prescribe a depression doula? The etymology of doula is “servant.” What if the depressed person had an able-bodied servant to mirror, to work beside? Let us chop the wood, let us carry water.
Someone to stanch the flow of negative self-regard and predictions of doom. A warm body to sit beside on the sofa, to help craft gratitude lists, gently extracting blessings from the depressive’s cloudy head, crafting reasons to persevere — a doula, like all doulas, charged with bringing forth life.
No agenda-driven extroverts need apply ... no Maria Von Trapps strumming guitars and drowning us in saccharine platitudes about happy endings. That’s called “optimism bias,” and is also skewed.(2)
We need pragmatists who know that misery simply needs company — healthy, objective, quiet company. And maybe chicken soup.
How to Interpret the Language of Depression
“I’ve been a little depressed lately,” from someone who doesn’t talk about it is something more.
Depressed people try to keep a “normal” facade, relying on earrings and a bit of lipstick, in whatever their forms — false smiles, forced small talk, nervous, upbeat chatter. They rarely share their depression because they are always a little depressed.
A few years ago, a woman I knew began to stop me after Mass on Sundays. Each week on the church patio, drinking bad coffee with powdered creamer out of styrofoam cups, she told me how depressed she was, how her medicine wasn’t working.