Thanks to everyone who's commented in the last few days: JayPeeFreely, Mariposa, Meredith, Danielle, Gianna, Nanci, Tony C., KJ, and Pixie. It's been nice coming back from an absence and having such interesting discussions.
As I've been visiting a few blogs in the last few hours, it seems like depression (and mania) have hit a few dear readers and friends. Trying to help people who are despairing is a difficult task even for those of us who have been there ourselves, and feel that our own pain and suffering should give us the insight to provide comfort or counsel. If we can't help our fellow sufferers, who can?
I read the most amazing example of someone who "can," not in a book about depression, but rather in Parker J. Palmer's book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.
Palmer wrote that when he was depressed, most of his friends who visited (and many didn't) made him feel worse. They would either recommend that he do activities, which he couldn't; tell him what a good person he was, which pointed out the disconnect between how he felt and how others perceived him; or try to "fix" his pain, which was not possible.
He writes, "Blessedly, there were several people, family, and friends, who had the courage to stand by me in a healing way. One of them was a friend named Bill, who having asked my permission to do so, stopped by my house every afternoon, sat me down in a chair, knelt in front of me, removed my shoes and socks, and for half an hour simply massaged my feet. He found the one place in my body where I could still experience feeling--and feel somewhat connected with the human race.
"Bill rarely spoke a word. When he did, he rarely gave advice but simply mirrored my condition. He would say, 'I can sense your struggle today,' or 'It feels like you are getting stronger.' I could not always respond, but his words were deeply helpful: they reassured me that I could still be seen by someone--life-giving knowledge in the midst of an experience that makes one feel annihilated and invisible. It is impossible to put into words what my friend's ministry meant to me. Perhaps it is enough to say that I now have deep appreciation for the biblical stories of Jesus and the washing of the feet."
I must admit that this is the most extraordinary story I've ever read about receiving help during a depression. When a friend or family member is unhappy, I, who should know better, always try to "fix" the situation. On the one hand, it is inconceivable for me to think about being there and feeling so helpless. On the other hand, I think that we would all hope to have a friend like Bill and be a friend like Bill.