Wanted: Family and Friends Who Get Depression

One June afternoon in between sessions of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), I sat on my bed in the psychiatric unit of Johns Hopkins Hospital and compiled a list of ten names, friends and family who loved me unconditionally.

Since I’m constantly fretting about saying the wrong thing to people and ruffling feathers, I decided that I need not concern myself about potential upsets of folks that weren’t on the list. Then, in my signature OCD way, I made a runner-up list of another ten people, relatives and pals who cared about me, but where there were a few more conditions (behavioral codes) attached. In the days after my discharge, my two lists afforded me great consolation, as I felt I had a network of support upon entering the safari of life.

Four months later my lists have changed.

I moved a few names from the “unconditional” list to the “care” list because it became obvious to me that certain people love everything about me with the exception of my depression. If I could just keep that part to myself, that would be appreciated.

Now ten is a beautifully round number — I wanted to keep them on the list — so I initially attempted to follow orders. I censored my statements and every time the topic of my hospitalization or memory difficulties came up, I would politely change the subject. But it felt very inauthentic. It occurred to me that their preference for a depression-free conversation was much like my asking my friend who is presently undergoing chemotherapy to tell me about her life, but please leave out the part about losing your hair, as that makes me feel uncomfortable.

I decided I am who I am, damn it, and my depression is as much as part of my DNA as my blue eyes, so while I appreciate your kindness and companionship, you just got moved from “unconditional” to “care.”

This list rearrangement made me think back to my hospital days. I reflected on who was really there for me – who actually made the trek to Baltimore during my month-long stay at Hopkins – and who pretended as though it never happened, afraid to broach the subject. It made me sad when I realized that I had received far more visitors, not to mention flowers and stuffed animals, during my three-day hospital stay for an appendectomy than I did for four weeks involving 11 seizures.

I do think we’ve come a little way in tacking the thick stigma that surrounds depression and all mood disorders, but not nearly far enough. Consider these results pulled from a public attitude survey in Tarrant County, Texas, conducted by the county’s Mental Health Connection and the University of North Texas in Denton to determine the community’s view of mental illness:

  • More than 50 percent believe major depression might be caused by the way someone was raised, while more than one in five believe it is “God’s will.”
  • More than 50 percent believe major depression might result from people “expecting too much from life,” and more than 40 percent believe it is the result of a lack of willpower.
  • More than 60 percent said an effective treatment for major depression is to “pull yourself together.”

I still can’t discuss my illness comfortably in a social situation. That doesn’t stop me from doing it, of course. These days I care much more about education and potentially saving lives than I do about popularity, but I have been told on numerous occasions to put a lid on it.

What I have found out is that I really only need five people in my life that get it. I am so very fortunate to have that. I did have several visitors in the hospital and even more people who reached out to me via calls and texts. But my outpouring of support was rare. Too many people don’t have an “unconditional” list because no one in their life fits that description. More often than not, family members and friends think that persons battling depression dug their own holes, so it’s up to them to get themselves out of it.

Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world in which there was no distinction in compassion between hospitalization for ECT and an appendectomy? Patients would get the same amount of visitors and roses for each?

That’s my dream. One that may never happen in my lifetime, but one worth breaking the social rules for and pursuing nonetheless.

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35 thoughts on “Wanted: Family and Friends Who Get Depression

  1. I hope this isn’t too tangential, but I’ve similarly thought that I got so much more help, care and attention when going through a fairly time limited treatment for cancer than my decade long struggle with chronic pain with no clear diagnosis (and depression). I’ve thought about you a lot❤️

  2. I suppose my first comment was inadvertently deleted to keep me from making statements I’d regret. You have my/our unconditional friendship – rest assured.

  3. Dear Therese,

    You so tough!!! Oh yeah! You’re into the Hero zone now!!! Get this lady a big ol’ batch of Milk Duds!!!

    I think that those of us who live with the beast, experience the aloneness that you did after being discharged. And THAT is why your ministry is sooooooo important!!!

    Thousands of us folks ‘know’ you through your ministry, your work. You, Therese Borchard, are on our short list!

    You’re not obligated to us, and we’re not dependent on your work. But, it is so therapeutic just to be able to hear from one who has experienced the gnash of the beast’s fangs also. You have also provided ways for us to connect with others through facebook, these emails, and your books.

    You are learning and growing and sharing, and you will continue to contribute to the well being of the many who have been blessed to discover your ministry.

    Therese, you, Eric, your children, are all prayed for. God hears. God answers.

    Hoping to read you soon!


  4. Thanks for this insight, dear Therese, as you hit another nail on the head!!…. I love the analogy/comparison of almost choosing to not talk about the issues of mental pain, as if you would be asked to not talk about the losing of your hair if you were having chemo. Wouldn’t that be ridiculous?? Yet in truth, there is a buffer between those you might tell the details of the vomiting episodes after a treatment for cancer, versus those you would say that you have gotten “sick to your stomach”, (without the full description), is always a reality. We have those people who need the redacted version, (lol, to use a “newsy” new word), and those who get the chunky descriptions, yuk!. and still want to know more, in such love and humility. (I want to be that person!)…But what touched me most, was your need to be real, to be genuine, and to be all of you. I love that. In times of great pain, I have unleashed too much to the wrong people; it felt pretty bad to do so. I am glad you know your five, and yet you are still holding on that it is important to teach the world about this kind of suffering in a genuine way. You are priceless… many hugs from virtual world… but very genuine!

    1. I remember hearing from a valued colleague that a 3rd party, also a colleague, indicated: “There’s something wrong with her (and that would be me).” Um….I knew what that “something” was. It [that something] hasn’t kept me from being a teacher, a counselor, a friend, a mom, a wife, a writer. But that mysterious “something” was enough to be ignored for a certain promotion, to be viewed as suspect, an “it,” not a fully functioning, warm human being who — by the way — would have really needed the health benefits.

      I knew what that “something” was. Stigma-free is not here yet.

  5. Thank You for sharing your personal experience and thoughts in this sensitive passage of your life’
    Indeed an eye opening article’ about the list of ” unconditionals” and “carers” in our family – friend ties’ As a recent widow ‘ going through immense grief ‘ anxiety ‘ and sadness ‘ guilt and remorse’ and daily outbursts of weeping in private’ I’m also realising how few are the true “unconditionals” even the ” carers” in my circle ‘ almost none’
    Seems for most people’ still inner and unseen emotional and mental pain and hurt is neglected and denied’ and doesn’t count a real illness’ as to the physical one’ which is observable and seen on the outside’
    By grace and faith and hope’ and the medical and professional help’ may you make it through this passage you are facing’


  6. It’s so true!! My therapist even says no one brings you a casserole if you are sick with depression. Thank you, thank you, thank you for speaking up and battling the stigma head on. You are one amazing and beautiful and stronger-than-ever child of God, Therese! I admire you so much. You are the very reason I began to talk about my own mental illness more!

    1. Hi Ann no one brings you a casserole for a lot of the “invisible” illnesses and it makes me mad. I have suffered from ME/CFS/FM for 35 years and when I lived with my parents when I first got sick as a 25yo my whole family took advantage of me for 10yrs. They never believed I was really sick even though I lost heaps of weight and looked like death warmed up.
      Then I went into counselling for depression when I was 32 and that eventually uncovered a real can of worms of blocked memories of severe child abuse/ sexual and other. I was diagnosed with DID and had to move away from my parents and even cut off contact for a time to get through some of the memories. It was a very difficult time as I was homeless for a year and the support network I had was breaking down because they could not cope with what I was remembering. How did they think I was coping? It all made my fatigue worse and my diet suffered.
      8 years ago I moved into a Retirement Village as I had no other options even though I was too young. I would be bedridden for weeks at a time and not able to shop for groceries or cook for myself and was existing on frozen meals. I BEGGED my brother and sister to provide me with some meals and they said they were too busy helping people in their church. I was so hurt!!😥 I had bent over backwards to be available to take care of their children for many many years. Often 8 hour days when both parents worked and during the school holidays when the children were older. I often had up to 14 children to watch – from babies to teens. And rarely has my sacrifice been reciprocated. They have very busy lives now and have no time for me and assume I have lots of friends I can ask for help of share Christmas and my birthday with. Instead it is just me isolated and alone.
      Very depressing. However, I am blessed to receive Homehelp weekly now.

  7. Therese,
    thank you for bringing this up. When I think about it, I have just a few people in my life that get my depression and anxiety. But that is really all I need to keep on making progress in my life.
    It is so true, that I wish getting treated for depression, that I would be treated the same as I would for a gallbladder operation. Thank you for being so brutally honest in your take on this. So glad you are blogging again and sharing your wisdom with us!

    God Bless,

  8. I’m trying to get scheduled for maintenance ECT as I perceive the gray moving in. A local Pastor committed suicide recently and he was a powerful leader to educate others as he struggled with chronic depression. The comments about him made my heart hurt. People don’t want to hear about our pain as we are still perceived as “weak”. Be encouraged. I had ECT about 10 months ago and it gave me so much hope and am praying that for you, too.

  9. Thank you Therese for helping to educate the world about a serious illness that affects our brains and bodies. How sad to contemplate the stigma and lack of awareness that still exists. Thank you for helping awareness to grow. I would not be alive if I didn’t have friends who support me unconditionally. Love to you. I hope you are well.

  10. We pronounce ourselves a “woke” society, but depression is the last permissible prejudice/stigma. All of us on this page have experienced this – sometimes from those as close to us as possible.

  11. Therese,

    I dream your dream often!!! I know at 61yo I won’t see a cure for mood disorders, but I am going to do my best to get the pendulum swinging in the right direction for my 22yo triplet nieces and nephew and their children to come!!!

    Blessings, 😘

  12. Thanks for writing the post. I totally agree and get it. It seems like progress is being made, but oh so slowly. You writing the post and continuing with your quest to educate people is making a big difference. I hope you are feeling a little better.

  13. You are so, so right, Therese. Too many avoid the obvious issue and I have too edited my list. I, too, just have five but they are enough. Outside the five I may casually mention that I have not reconciled with my son after seven years and they don’t inquire more. Which makes it uncomfortable. I had breast cancer years ago and people avoided that fact as well. I’m OCD and ADD so I just blurt out questions that others may think too forward but those I question, I think, are relieved that the subject is open. I know that is how I feel when someone mentions my son or, in the past, my cancer. You give me so much, thank you.

  14. Hi Therese beautifully written
    This could also apply to me not that I have been hospitalised or dealt with what you have been through in the past few months
    But making a list of 20 people who care or care unconditionally in my life right now is darn hard
    Therese eight months ago I lost my husband of 54 years and had known each other for 58 years
    I was 13 year old school girl and he a dashing 19 year . We got married when I was 17 and he 23
    And i also experienced the same thing with my friends and relatives
    I have to watch my words make sure i dont talk about the love of my life my best friend because nobody understands where I am with my pain , and God forbid if you show your true self you might just drag them down with you . Well I decided that i am hurting and in pain and if they dont like me talking about my grief then they were not the good family and friends i thought they were . I have so much respect and admiration for you .God Bless you

  15. Good for you Therese! 👏👏🙏 I think you are so brave making those lists and having the courage to move people from one to the other. I also feel that you are very fortunate to be able to count at least five people who love you unconditionally snd you can talk to freely. I have one person. My friend and I both suffer severe depression and DID as a result of severe childhood trauma and our families and other friends just don’t want to know. Neither do our church members so both of us have dropped out of church because of the judgemental actions of other members that hurt us deeply in the name of God.
    I have been also been battling physical illness (ME/CFS/FM) for the past 35 years on my own as no one understands or believes in this either.
    It all becomes very exhausting but knowing that in God there is perfect peace and rest is the only thing that keeps me going.

  16. I agree completely with you. Depression makes people uncomfortable; living with depression made me uncomfortable. Hiding it from the world because I was afraid no one would hire me was exhausting as was pretending not to be depressed. Waking up at 3 am nearly every morning was exhausting. Being on and off medications was damned disappointing as they didn’t make me happy as I expected they would. My ongoing recovery has been a complete accident and I, like you, am dedicated to sharing what happened to me that it may help others. For me, getting rid of all the foods that created inflammation in my body freed me from depression. I changed my diet to save my husband, and I was the one who was saved. I wrote my first book, “Eat Your Blues Away” to share my story and I’m writing another book now about how I eat. It’s not a diet; it’s a lifestyle. I know this may not be the answer for everyone, but I believe it will be the answer for many. I applaud your honesty and your courage. It’s a club I don’t want to belong to, but here we all are…

  17. Therese, thanks a million for this post (and for everything you do to make this world a better place)!!

    I can relate to everything you wrote. It’s therapeutic of itself to just read this. Then I went ahead and made the ‘unconditional’ list for myself. 4 persons on it made me so happy and thankful to Life for giving this gift.

    Finally I evaluated myself on how I myself fair out as an unconditionally loving person when somebody goes through a rough depressive patch. Well, here I’ve got room for improvement. In fact one of the 4 persons on my “unconditional” list is in depression. I am supporting her because I care. But God do I have a lot of inner argument and blaming ideas in my head towards her. No surprise those without own experience of depression cannot relate with our condition. It’s almost like subconscious xenophobia and fear to contract the virus of darkness.

    Thanks again!

  18. Hi Therese, it’s so wonderful to hear from you again. You give hope and strength to those you touch. Even by my own sisters, I feel I’m looked at differently because I deal with depression. Once it is known you struggle, it seems to cast a different light and not a good one. Thank you for being the shining light, even through your dark times and struggles, you are always there showing us the way.

  19. Thanks for this post Therese and I pray you are feeling better. Please don’t push yourself. You are too valuable to your husband and children. I’m 65 and it has taken all this time to realize people really don’t care unless you fit in their definition of “normal”. I’ve dealt with depression all my life, starting from an abusive family, both physically and emotionally, to unhealthy marriage and relationships, including friendships. I find when I try to be honest about myself, I get used and mistreated. Even my 46 year old daughter is abusive to me. I admit my depression turned into major depression, ptsd and severe anxiety after my son’s murder, but that wasn’t anything that other people hadn’t experienced and my daughter told me I needed to be locked up. And let’s not forget how much damage the church can do, especially the pentecostals, apostolic and charismatic churches. Those of us that deal with emotional or mental illness need deliverance from “our demons inside us” and if we take Prozac or any other type of antidepressants we don’t know Jesus and Jesus doesn’t know us. Does that mean I end up in hell? I’m petrified of what’s going to happen to me when I die.

    1. Dear Cheryl
      I have had this same reaction from people and even ministers in church when I have reached out for prayer at particularly difficult times and only receives judgement in return. Because I have also suffered from CFS/FM/ME as well for the past 35 years, which nobody believed was real, my not getting better no matter what I tried to them showed that I lacked faith or was not praying for healing hard enough. Or worse yet I still had some unconfessed sin I was hiding. And the fact that I was continuing in counselling just proved that I was not confessing all to the church!!.
      When my own Bible Study group ignored me when I was really sick and then had to go into hospital for total bedrest and the leader acaused me of whining about it I vowed never to go back and I never did. That was 10 years ago. I have not lost my faith in God just in the people in the churches, my own family- who claim to love and pray for me daily but have never once asked me what I need prayer for , they just assume they know. Ditto for the friends I used to have who have mostly dropped away because I am too exhausted to even take care of myself let alone be bothered with going to visit or ring them as they expect me to do. The only real friend I have left is in a similar situation to me though she has children and other friends who can be bothered to care.
      Life is hard and then we die – as goes the quote. But somehow we are still here so we must have a deep well of resilience that comes from the trials we suffered as children.
      I believe in you. You are stronger than you think you are. You had to be to survive to now.

      1. Dear Kathryn, thank you so much for the beautiful encouragement. I’m sorry about what you’re going through. I just found out I have severe spinal and neuro stenosis and if they operate its not guaranteed I won’t walk again but if I don’t have the surgery it’s definite that in 5-10 years I will be paralyzed. To say the depression is bad is an understatement. I haven’t wanted to go to church because I don’t want hear where’s my faith in God. I believe and God but right now I need encouragement not to be scolded. Even my friends have stopped calling since this diagnosis. But like you said it takes all we have to get up and take care of ourselves. You are a dear woman who deserves much better than you have received, and I pray that the Good Lord will bless you above and beyond your prayers and send the right people who will help you through this process. God bless you. Cherlyn

        1. Dear Cheryl,
          I am so sorry you have received such a terrible diagnosis. You really do need someone to just sit with you and hold your hand and pray with you. To be empathetic and encouraging and support you in the way YOU need not the way others think you need.
          After fighting for about 4 years to get accepted on the Aus National Disability Scheme and continually being rejected because Fibromyalgia is not recognised as a REAL disease I was blessed to be accepted onto our Aged Care Disability Scheme even though I was still under 60 at the time of assessment. God was good but I was really unwell on that day and could not even answer questions properly. J have just been upgraded go Level 2 so I can now afford to pay for more than the 1 1/2 hrs of Homecare/domestic care I get every week so I can potentially have somone come in and prepare meals for me. But the strict diet I am on at the moment and my iffy appetite makes meals difficult for others to prepare. I am just grateful to have my weekly massages paid for as well as transport to Specialist appointments if necessary or even grocery shopping if I am too exhausted.
          I am not sure where you live but I am wondering if there are any charities or community supports available to you that you could apply for. It is hard work and hard on the pride at times but it is better to receive the support you need when you need it from those willing to provide it than to suffer alone. If you would like to continue private communication let me know.

          1. Thank you Kathryn yes I would enjoy continuing to speak with you.

            Iron sharpens iron and I have to believe He will bring us through

          2. Hi Cherlyn,
            Sorry I have been spelling it wrong. Can you go through Pinterist to meet me there Kathryn8171 and I can give you contact details there as can’t do it here.

  20. I love and agree with the comment from Ron Barrett that you are now ‘into the hero zone’ and deserve ‘a big ol batch of milk duds’.
    It hurts that people are afraid of my depression and anxiety and don’t want to hear about it. There is so much support for the pink ribbon charities (rightly so) but it saddens me that we as a society can’t be as supportive of mental illness as we are for breast cancer. When I try to talk about my journey with anyone outside of my family most often I am met with awkward silence. I also have encountered comments that depression is self indulgent and is a lack of willpower.
    If they only knew what it takes to get through the lowest days, then they too would see that this person has entered ‘THE HERO ZONE’.

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