People who don’t struggle with depression can sometimes feel at a loss for how to help loved ones who do.
If you’ve never fallen into a mental hole you couldn't climb out of, it’s hard to understand how depression can be so debilitating. And when you're peering down at a loved one at the bottom of that hole, it’s hard to know how to help them out.
You can try to coach them on how to climb, but you don't understand how slippery the walls are. You can try to offer them a rope, but you don't realize that their muscles are too spent to grab it and hold on.
How do you help someone who is stuck?
While there are no universal right answers, this story demonstrates just one powerful way these friends showed up for their struggling pal.
Sheila O’Malley spiraled into a deep depression the year her dad died. She had moved into a new apartment but found herself unable to unpack for months. She felt ashamed at her inability to do something so straightforward, but depression does that — it makes basic things feel insurmountable, then makes you feel bad about not surmounting them.
O'Malley shared on Twitter that her friend David checked in with her and offered words of support. But he knew she needed more than that. So he did something bold.
My good friend David - whom I've known since high school - knew I was struggling and he felt helpless. He said "you… https://t.co/Gg9AMmEtsx— Sheila O'Malley (@Sheila O'Malley)1528473641.0
He contacted a bunch of O'Malley's friends and organized an unpacking party — unbeknownst to her.
David sent me an email saying "will you be home Thursday night? Can I stop by?" I said "Sure." Sitting surrounded by 200 unpacked boxes. /4— Sheila O'Malley (@Sheila O'Malley)1528473755.0
Ten friends showed up, food in hand, and ignored her protesting that her apartment wasn't ready for visitors.
"They unpacked my boxes. They put away my 1,500 books. They hung pictures for me ... By the end of the night, my apartment was all set up," O'Malley wrote.
They unpacked my boxes. They put away my 1,500 books. They hung pictures for me. They organized my closet and put a… https://t.co/VQKuV1p51e— Sheila O'Malley (@Sheila O'Malley)1528473939.0
Sometimes showing up for a friend means simply doing what needs to be done without fuss or fanfare.
O'Malley explained that she had been unable to do even the simplest things. But her friends didn't judge. "They were like superheroes sweeping in," she said. They showed up ready to do what needed to be done. And they didn't let her get in the way of that important work.
And she was so much better at hanging stuff than I was! Here are my friends putting away my books. /9 https://t.co/YM87gF1pLs— Sheila O'Malley (@Sheila O'Malley)1528474409.0
Here's a break for dinner. Please note that my friend Sheila's dinner plate is resting on my DVD player. /10 https://t.co/L1izHmR30P— Sheila O'Malley (@Sheila O'Malley)1528474446.0
"I was overwhelmed at the sight of all of my friends turning themselves into Santa's workshop," O'Malley wrote. "On my behalf. With out asking me. They just showed up and barged in. I was embarrassed for like 10 minutes but they were all so practical and bossy I had no choice but to let that go."
"Listen, baby, what we did today was a barn-raising."
This is what a supportive community looks like.
He looked at me, saw the look on my face, understood the look, understood everything that was behind it - and said,… https://t.co/lZBXlnTWIt— Sheila O'Malley (@Sheila O'Malley)1528474866.0
That's what it was — a beautiful modern version of a community coming together to serve the needs of one of its own. A group easing the burden of an individual. A line of friends forming a human chain to grab hold of the friend at the bottom of a hole and attempt to pull her up.
By providing practical help, her friends also provided emotional support.
Many people who are struggling with depression won't ask for help because they're ashamed. Often they won't accept help even if it's offered sincerely, because they feel unworthy. But O'Malley's friends showed up anyway. And by showing up physically, they supported her emotionally — not by taking away her grief, but by removing some of the practical burdens that made it harder to manage emotionally.
When they all swept out of there 4 hours later, my place was a home. Not only was everything put away - but now it… https://t.co/od6eAMdikN— Sheila O'Malley (@Sheila O'Malley)1528475048.0
O'Malley pointed out that it could have gone another way. She could have felt offended or hurt. But even if she had, she'd have known her friends cared about her enough to rally together and let her know she wasn't alone.
"These are the kinds of friends I have," she wrote. "Be that kind of friend to others."
An excellent reminder to us all of what love in action can look like.