Trying to understand someone's depression

About six years ago, a friend was telling me about a friend of his who was a high school teacher and he lost his job because of depression. He was in a hospital for it and was diagnosed as having major depression and being bi-polar. At the time a group of friends decided to collect money from everyone to help this guy out. He needed a place to live, and needed a computer so someone give him an old one which still worked. From time to time, people have told me if they have something they think he could use or would enjoy, the ship it to him.

I got to know this guy a little through Facebook myself and told me he wanted to start an online business since he couldn’t find a job. I’m an IT guy, so I offered to do a website for him and host it too, for free. I never made that offer to anyone before, but him being a former teacher and so many people helping him out, and I’ve never heard anything but good things about him, so I felt comfortable.

It’s been six years now. He never took me up on my offer to do a website for him. For the first year or so I would mention it to him and never any action. He still doesn’t have a website. Every so often I think of him, look at his Facebook timeline and he is still troubled and getting assistance from people for every day things. I can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. He is very open about what is going on his in life such as what medications he is on, and his daily struggles, and what he needs.

Now, I didn’t know this guy before he lost his job, so I can’t speak to how he was before, but all I can do is observe now and I find it strange that he can’t work, never took me up on an offer to get him going, yet he is able to post to Facebook about 4 or 5 times a day commenting on news stories, discussion sports and other leisure activities. He also takes trips to teacher conference type events, and post tons of photos saying he’s having a great time.

I’ve know close friends with depression, and none of them so bad they hold a job, but I have heard of their struggles. One told me it was the hardest thing in the world for them to make it through a normal work day when they were feeling depressed, but managed to do it.

It takes time and energy to do the activities he is posting about on Facebook, so I don’t fully understand why he can’t have a job of any kind. Yet he got evicted from his apartment and was forced to move. He posted thanking the tons of people who showed up to help him move. I’m sure others bought items and did other things for him too, even though not all of it was mentioned on his Facebook page.

Anyone have experience with this? Is his condition with depression typical that he can put in effort to do things he likes doing, but not to do anything that would actually help himself out and stop accepting hand-outs from well-meaning people? Is part of this condition that he works against his own best interests?

I’m asking because I’m just trying to understand. Are the people who are helping him doing the wrong thing? Does that just make him worse?

Regardless of what he does on social media, I don’t see how a guy supposedly suffering from depression has no problem depending on other people for every little thing, for years! This alone is liable to make a ‘normal’ people depressed, since it involves a lot of humiliation, no matter how nice those people are.

If he indeed is that depressed, then he needs to get to work, because that’ll help, and he won’t be forced to take this step when people are supporting him in the name of that depression of his.

If he isn’t depressed, then those around him need to stop supporting him.

I hate to be cruel, but that’s how I see things. And listen, I’m the first person willing to give someone a fish every day instead of teaching them how to fish, but I’d only do that if I know they’re incapable of getting that fish themselves for any number of reasons. If they are, in fact, capable of fishing, then I wouldn’t be willing to either give them a fish or teach them anything.

Being able to post on Facebook 4 or 5 times a day doesn’t necessarily show ability to sustain eight hours of reasonably concentrated effort, and there aren’t many jobs willing to cut a whole lot of slack for somebody whose efforts come in fits and starts. Saying, “oh, he needs to get a job” doesn’t mean that there are employers out there willing to give him a job, particularly now that he has a long resume gap. If he lost one job as a teacher due to depression, odds are that he will have extreme difficulty getting another, because most school boards value stability and want to hire somebody they are reasonably confident will be there for an entire school year. That means he’s going to need a new career, and for somebody battling depression, the thought of starting not just a new job but a whole new line of work is even more daunting than it is for people without that issue.

Is he under the regular care of a psychotherapist, psychiatrist, etc.? That person should be evaluating whether work is a reasonable possibility or something that is beyond him or even likely to set him back (severe depression and office politics can be a bad, *bad *combination).

I had technically “mild” depression and I already could not face the world and attempted suicide sorta (I tried to buy the ingredients to make a poison and the store passed on my details to the police).

It’s a much more serious condition than many people appreciate. Severe depression resulting in a complete shutdown for years? Sounds about right, but clearly that person needs more help than just financial aid to get out of the hole they are in.

You’re right, but that’s the thing with depression: it’s self-destructive.
It seems to take superhuman effort to do the kind of things that may make you less depressed.

When I was depressed, the only dialogue in my mind was negative thoughts. I had perfect recollection of every dumb thing I’d done in my life, and no recollection of things that went right. So any time I thought “I should do X” immediately it would be shot down with “Remember that time you did X and screwed up, and humiliated yourself”?

I appreciate what you’re saying, and I’m glad you managed to get over it, but I’m no stranger to depression myself, and I imagine that, regardless of how severe the depression is, depending on other people for sustenance and errands brings things to a whole new scary level that I personally would rather take my own life than live with. That means asking for things, and asking again, and again, and again, and having to deal with some rejection sometimes, and having to get over that rejection, and get over myself, and reach out again, and again, and at the end of the day look at what I’ve got and know I’ll have to do it again tomorrow, and after tomorrow, and adding all that up to the list of reasons I’m depressed, which expands the carry-over, and again.

This is what I’m talking about. I don’t want to sound like a cold-hearted, judgmental bastard who’s sitting down somewhere talking about what he doesn’t know anything about, but does the above scenario sound like anything a depressed person could survive for years, with the horrible clarity of all of the daily details that neither you nor I can imagine?

What’s the alternative?

Instead of asking others for help with sustenance, even every day, try asking “paper or plastic?” or “would you like fries with that?” over and over and over, interspersed with getting yelled at by the customers, and yelled at by the manager, and having to deal with all of the daily details and petty politics that permeate every workplace. At the end of the day look at what I’ve got and I know I’ll have to do it again tomorrow, and the day after and the day after that. They call jobs like that “soul-crushing” for a reason.

Sure, if I’ve got a good job and am capable of keeping it by doing high-quality work, a different calculus applies. A common problem with depression, however, is the inability to focus on a project for sustained periods, whether that project is work or a hobby. (When I get depressed, for example, I can’t concentrate enough to enjoy reading.) That means most higher-order jobs are going to be out of reach, so you’re left with retail and food service and other mostly low-end jobs that don’t demand a lot of focus. Those tend not to be really satisfying or fulfilling or “feel good about yourself” jobs, or jobs that are going to do much to help a depressive work through their problems.

I have a friend who was in the exact same position as the OP’s friend - teacher who lost her job due to her depression, hospitalized a bunch, bi-polar and now just kind of stuck at home for the time-being (it’s a relatively new development in her life - not 6 years like the OP).

One of the things about the job is that they are people with degrees in teaching. And teaching is suuuuper stressful and getting to be moreso every year. I don’t think that teaching is a good fit for anyone who has trouble motiviating themselves to get out of bed. So they can’t just go do teaching anymore.

But like others said, every job can be stressful. Just the thought of knowing you are responsible for keeping customers happy and the till in check at Target could send you a bad place.

Hanging out with friends and reading articles online - how is that even related to having a job?

Having depression isn’t like having a bad back. Like if you can sit on a stool and play slots, you can sit on a stool and run a cash register, you lazy bum.

I’m glad to know that your friend is able to travel and spend time out and have a wonderful time. Because my friend isn’t there yet. She’s fairly house-bound and not even really able to take care of her kids. Everyone would love to see her out having fun, and worry about her working much later down the line.

A couple of points:

  1. It is totally possible to be depressed to the point that you can’t function. My Dad has a doctor’s assessment that says he is, and I quote, “unlikely to ever hold meaningful employment.” That’s a hell of a thing to say about somebody, but that’s how it is. I struggled with it myself, and there were days it was literally all I could do to drag myself to work. Then I would just sit there and stew over how horrible my life was, and how I was inevitably going to fail, and contemplate ways to kill myself. I had no social relationships worth mentioning, and if my job had required any degree of cooperation or collaboration with others I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Teaching is not a job that is conducive to this kind of disorder.

  2. Depression and bipolar disorder are both cyclical. Depression comes in episodes and bipolar disorder swings between manic and depressed states. It is entirely possible that he might have a “good week” (or even a good month) where he is functional followed by several weeks or months where he is not.

  3. Facebook is basically notorious for presenting a very jaundiced and selective view of a person’s life. It’s something people are only now beginning to look at clinically. When a person uses Facebook they have the luxury of filtering what others see of them. If I were to judge people solely based on their Facebook posts, I would conclude that almost 100% of the people I know are happier, smarter, and more successful than me, just because they naturally exclude all the crappy parts of their life.

People often assume that all a depressed person needs is to “get back into the swing of things” and they’ll be alright. Maybe this is true for a significant portion of the depressed. But I dunno. I’m guessing it depends on what “swing of things” is and how sick the person is.

When I was depressed, I missed very few days of work. Coworkers sensed that I was “off”, but that’s because I was especially isolated at that time. But I didn’t miss any meetings or any deadlines. Sticking with my work routine really did help me, I think. I think I would have only grown sicker if I had stayed home.

But my job couldn’t be any more perfect for a person who has depressive spells. I only rarely have to be “on”. If I’m in a poor mood, all I have to do is close my door and pretend that I’m on an all-day conference call. I can even work at home, if I want. Teachers don’t have this luxury.

edwardcoast, there are a lot of potential reasons why the guy hasn’t taken you up on your offer. Maybe he’s shy…you did say you didn’t know him, correct? Maybe he doesn’t have any business acumen and he’s knows the online business thing is a pipe dream. Also, intractable depression is a thing. Being able to tap out a few Facebook posts a day does not translate into actual productivity.

His situation strikes me as being little different from how a person might become dependent on their SO during a prolonged illness. In this case, he’s very fortunate that his friends seem to care about him, and I hope he’s not taking anyone for granted. But without knowing anything more about him, it’s hard to judge him for leaning on his social network. So many depressed people are either unable to do this or refuse to do this, and the end result isn’t pretty at all. I’m assuming that everyone who is lending a helping hand are doing so on their own volition, because it makes them feel good. Hopefully there is someone in this group who is also holding him accountable at the same time.

These are both VERY true. I have a former co-worker who’s on FB with me and post semi-regularly, mostly pictures of her grandchildren. I found out several days ago that her marriage of over 30 years ended in divorce in 2014. :eek: I had absolutely no idea! That was quite a shock to me, although I knew that she and her husband had several very traumatic experiences over the past decade or so. Another co-worker has been called out by me, and some other people, for not-very-carefully-disguising her opinion of her ex-husband on Facebook. :smack: She’s already lost primary custody of her children, and if she keeps it up, she might well see her visitation rights restricted too.

As for the person described in the OP, he may be on disability, whether through Social Security or his employer, or maybe even both.

Alas, not uncommon in depression. People suffering from severe clinical depression can drive others away, not consciously or deliberately, but just as a pattern.

Just in general, really depressed people are tough to be around. They aren’t fun. Their behaviors are stereotyped, and so very often negative. They start to sound like Marvin the Android, or Eeyore.

This makes us have to work harder to stay friends with them. It’s a noble effort, and we do it because we love them. But it is hard work, just as any nursing is. Ever stayed with a friend who was really sick with the flu, to mop up their vomit and change their bedding? It isn’t fun: it’s what we do for our loved ones.

Your friend might try to drive you away. (Might not; there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules.) If so, try not to let that happen.

I’m currently not working due to depression and anxiety.

You guys see me posting here. You do not see me going to Target at 9:00 because no one is there and still wandering in a fog of stress. You don’t see me get half the family room vacuumed and then just stop and leave the vacuum there and then an hour later think “oh, I was doing that.” You don’t see the hysteric tears or the moments I feel most secure in the closet or on the floor or the times I’m convinced I need to remember to breathe or I’ll die. Or someone who medicates to sleep.

Facebook doesn’t see it either. They see someone whose husband drags her out of the house for donuts or whose friends call her up to tell her to get in the car to go to bookclub.

One of these days the meds will stabilize (hopefully - we are still working on them) and I’ll go find another job. Or this episode will pass.

Posting on Facebook takes very little effort or focus, and there can easily be 10 abandoned posts for every made post. Posting pics is the same way. Putting up a false front and showing people near you the happy stuff is part of coping with it. It’s much, much easier to intermittently post random junk to facebook than to hold down a serious job. It’s quite possible that you’re taking his one lifeline to something that feels like meaning or normalcy and saying ‘gosh, if you can manage this, clearly you can do everything else a person does normally’.

I’m not saying it is exactly the same, but it does require effort to read articles and then post them with thoughtful commentary. Not just one line messages, but writes a long post about what he has read and thinks about it. It seems similar to other professions. He has almost no money, but he is able to raise the funds from people to take these trips to conferences to hang out with them. That requires planning and meeting a deadline. Not much different than I’ve seen the marketing people do to prepare for a trade show or planning an event. His time is being spent with activities, just none of them that generate an income. He was the one who told me about this online business he wanted to start and what was stopping him was lack of funds and technical knowledge to do a website. I entirely removed that obstacle for him by offering to do it for free just as a favor, and he ended up not taking any action on it. I even presented to him several templates to help decide on a design, and after six years nothing has come out of it.

I’m trying to better understand depression. Is the depression preventing him from doing anything that is helpful for himself to earn a living and return to a normal life because the condition makes him feel he isn’t deserving? Or is the depression making it so he can’t cope with anything that requires long-term focus? Or is he being enabled by this constant flood of pity from others that are giving him things without any expectations he will improve, and this is causing him not to return to a normal life?

Among the friends of his that are friends of mine, none of them has commented or raised the questions of concerns that six years later nothing has changed. But scrolling back on his timeline on Facebook, I see postings of him describing what problem he is having and someone always comes up with donating something to him to fix it. One friend told me he was going to meet with him at a conference and buy him a meal to help him out. I’m starting to wonder if people are doing this because they like having a charity case to brag about to others to show what a wonderful person they are by supporting this guy.

I’m not ignoring he may have a serious mental problem, but I am starting to wonder if the environment he is in that makes no demands on him at all is really a good thing.

He includes the bad parts of this life, which people rush to his rescue with providing something for him. I mention Facebook mostly that it is a demonstration that he is able to do some kind of activity on a daily basis 4-5 times a day. If he were only posting once a month then I wouldn’t know what he spends his day doing. He could be in bed without the motivation to do anything at all, but Facebook shows that is not the case based on the postings.

I think even being told “unlikely to ever hold meaningful employment” to anyone, depressed or otherwise would be a crushing thing to be told and could negatively program someone internally to believe that and act as if that statement were 100% true and can’t be changed. But is that phrase being used to get disability benefits, or is an actual statement from a doctor to the patient?

Thanks for sharing that. So in-between these episodes, do you feel functional? Followed by without any warning the episodes return? And when they do, you don’t know for how long?

I see ads for new medications all the time. Looks like there is a lot to select from and different combinations so I get the impression it is finding the right mix for now for many people with depression.

And part of the problem is what worked last month might not work this month. Tachyphylaxis (suddenly reduced response to medication) is fairly common with some of the antidepressants; it’s informally known as "Prozac poop-out’ but can occur with a number of psych drugs. Sometimes changing the dose will get it working again, sometimes you just have to take a break from this drug and find something else for awhile, and sometimes it will never work again for you.

Depression and bipolar disorder are also cyclic–symptoms wax and wane, so your meds require adjustments to match your current level of symptoms.

Side effects are also a problem, and even something you’ve been taking for awhile can suddenly start affecting you in new ways. Lethargy, gastrointestinal problems, and sexual dysfunction are probably the most common, and all of those are guaranteed to make somebody with depression feel even worse. Zyprexa is perhaps one of the most effective of the anti-psychotics, and is often prescribed for bipolar disorder; it’s sometimes said that you gain ten pounds just by filling the prescription, and the FDA has mandated extra warnings due to the risk of developing diabetes and blood sugar problems.

Pysch meds are almost never “find the right mix and stay on it forever after”; it’s a constant battle to keep the right mix that doesn’t cause too many other issues.

And how much time is he spending preparing each of those posts, particularly compared to how much time it would take you or me to write them?

As written, that sounds like something out of a disability benefits application, but yes, the doctor probably made a generally similar statement to the patient. In the first few weeks or months of treatment, the doctors are usually pretty optimistic about the chances for recovery, but if the months start rolling by without significant improvement, the patient and/or his family need to start making arrangements for a life without a steady paycheck. There’s no point in spending the time to apply for Social Security disability benefits if you’re likely to be recovered before the case ever gets in front of an examiner, but if the long-term prognosis isn’t good, that paperwork needs to be started sooner rather than later. For example, there’s a waiting period after SocSec disability benefits are approved, e.g., before you’re eligible for medical and prescription coverage through Medicare; if you need the pills, being unable to afford them really sucks.

Just because someone can do minimal work doesn’t mean others are obligated to hire him. It may be that this guy has tried to apply for jobs and keeps getting struck out because the depression always bleeds through. Actually, in this economy you don’t even need to be depressed to have a hard time getting a job.

This message board shows that you don’t have to be of great intellect to construct a post. Writing commentary is easy. I’m guessing his postings aren’t going to be winning the Pulitzer prize anytime soon. And doing something completely voluntary is a different thing than meeting a deadline and having to deal with unhappy boss and clientele.

It’s a difficult thing being a shut-in. Look at this way: if he were a complete shut-in and didn’t interact with anyone, that wouldn’t be healthy either, right? So at least he’s staying in the land of the living and trying to make the best of his circumstances. Going to conferences is good, because he’s maintaining professional ties and staying active. So at least he’s doing more with his life than just being Mr. Depressed Guy. Try to look at the good that he’s doing rather than what you perceive as the “bad”.

One of my brothers may be bipolar (I don’t know if he has an actual diagnosis, but he goes from the top of the world to the pits of despair and back); my aunt is officially bipolar plus PTSD plus has the sensitivity of a dead rock (that’s a rock that’s even deader than a fossil).

Lately bro has been… amazingly normal. He’s pleasant to be around. He talks and listens. He sees his kid do something wrong in church that the boy hasn’t previously been told is wrong, and makes a note that he must tell the kid later in private. He explains things calmly. I don’t know if it’s medication or finally finding his “life track” or what, but God please make it last! It’s been too many years of walking on eggshells because you never knew what would produce either a Rant from Hell or the decision that his life sucks, his sister sucks, his children suck…

I hope you guys can find your “good meds” soon, Dangerosa. Depression is the one thing that sucks more than a black hole.

Teaching, in particular, is a really bad match for depression. Teaching is fundamentally emotional work-- a certain level of vulnerability is needed to create a strong connection with the students, and when you don’t have that you end up with bad classes. And because you are such an important part of your kids’ lives, being a mediocre teacher is guilt-inducing in a way that being, say, a mediocre file clerk isn’t. You can’t do it unless you are 100% “on” when the kids are in the classroom.

Changing professions is hard enough for even the most motivated people. It requires confidence, organizational skills and above all, a sense of hope about the future. If the future just looks black, how motivated are you to retrain, go through the entry-level jobs, etc.? Starting over is a long-term project, and depressed people can’t think in the long term.

And yes, these are the same kinds of problems that everyone has. But the difference is that depressed people don’t have the emotional resources to cope with them like we do.

Now, he may be in an enabling environment. It does happen. But it may also be what he needs to stay above water. Sometimes tough love works, sometimes it kills you. It’s not really easy to tell which it is.