The Worst Thing You Can Say To Someone Dealing With Depression

Written by Derek Doepker

Photo by Maximilian Guy McNair MacEwan

It doesn’t take a tragedy to bring on depression—in truth, depression is more a result of the internal environment than the external. I was 27 years old, pursuing my dreams in beautiful Los Angeles, and I’d finally had a breakthrough in my business that allowed me to quit my job and do more fulfilling work. I wrote in a gratitude journal, exercised, and practiced personal development. I was privileged, and I knew to count my blessings. To any outsider, there was no room for depression in such a complete life.

Yet there I was, lying on the floor in my bedroom, feeling utterly unmotivated, uninspired, unworthy. Normally a high-achiever, I felt completely apathetic about life. Thought after disempowering thought ran through my head: "What does any of this matter? I could die and it wouldn't make a difference to the rest of the world. I don’t know what I want, and even if I get it, it probably won’t fulfill me. There is so much suffering in the world, and I can’t do anything about it."

The worst part for me wasn't feeling depressed; it was being told that my feelings were wrong.

"You have so much to be happy about. You should be grateful!" Even more hurtful was when I'd open up about what I was struggling with and people would seem resentful or angry about my feelings: "You don’t have a right to be depressed! There are people out there who have it so much worse. Suck it up and stop being such a wimp."

But I was no better. I did the same thing to myself. Because of all my privilege, I felt like I didn’t deserve to be unhappy. I made myself feel bad for feeling bad.

As hopeless and lost as I felt during those times, I look back on them now with gratitude. That experience helped me cultivate a sense of appreciation, empathy, and peace.

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My first breakthrough came when someone reached out to me to ask for coaching.

Before being consumed by apathy, I dreamed of being a personal development speaker and coach. I thought, "It’s funny how I can help others but still feel so stuck myself." Then, suddenly, the most obvious question came to mind: "If I were my own client, how would I coach me through this?"

The wheels began to turn, and I recognized that being stuck and depressed wasn’t a sign of my failure. Instead, it was a necessary tool for growth. I had a eureka moment: "This experience is exactly what I need to prepare myself to best serve others."

I no longer saw my situation as "wrong" or "bad" but rather as a crucial learning experience to help myself and others—as part of the training for me to live my true purpose.

That’s when I uncovered one of the most liberating insights of my life:

It’s OK to not be OK.

The problem wasn’t that I was feeling bad. The real problem was that I was feeling bad about feeling bad. Hearing "You should feel grateful. You should be happy. You should have clarity and direction" was just making things worse.

We all have the right to feel bad, and those feelings are equally important messengers as good feelings. I let go of my obsession with always thinking positively and allowed for a fuller spectrum of emotions.

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I learned that my lack of clarity was a sign that I needed to take a break and reassess what mattered to me.

I had read so much in personal development about deciding what you want and then making a plan to go after it. But this advice does very little to help if you don't know what you want. It only made me feel worse about my lack of direction.

In the past, when my life had felt directionless, it had also felt meaningless. But after this realization, I began to allow myself to inhabit uncertainty with grace and ease. I stopped seeing the knowledge of what I must be doing as the goal and started enjoyed the process of discovery.

I also learned to be more understanding about the struggles of others. I cultivated more empathy and compassion I recognized that in some ways, having more can make you feel more isolated. The feeling that they have too much to validate unhappiness makes it incredibly difficult to acknowledge those feelings.

Want more insights on how to level up your life? Check out your July horoscope, then find out why holding on to past relationships is the worst thing you can do for yourself.

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