Anyone who has experienced depression has almost certainly also fallen victim to the ‘at least’ response. ‘At least you have your health.’ ‘At least you have your family.’ ‘At least you have a good job.’ And so it goes…
At least. As if to say that we should look on the bright side of things, because it could certainly be worse, and we shouldn’t feel so down. As if to say that we don’t have cause to feel the way the do – that our depression has no merit because our life circumstances don’t call for depression.
This is probably one of the biggest misconceptions of depression that there is. Depression has nothing to do with circumstances. It isn’t the same as being sad. Some depressions might be triggered by circumstances, but in and of themselves, circumstances don’t dictate whether or not a person suffers from depression.
For me, the ‘at least’ response is probably one of the most hurtful things someone can say to me. It’s as if they are saying that I am choosing to feel the way I feel, and that if I would just wake up and see that my situation is really pretty good, I would realize that I have nothing to be depressed about. That it’s my fault that I feel this way, and I have the power to instantly change it.
I’m going to share about a very specific ‘at least’ experience that I once had, but I write about it with a great deal of hesitancy because I don’t want to hurt anyone in the process. It’s been several years since this happened, but the words my friend spoke to me have haunted me ever since they left her lips. I know her intentions were good. I know she never intended to harm me. But, her words left a lasting impression on my heart. You see, my beautiful friend, whom I love very much, lost her mother at a young age. This is a pain that I would never pretend to understand. This is a loss that is unimaginable to me. So, when she said to me, ‘At least your mom is still alive,’ I don’t think I breathed for a while. Her words just hung there, suspended in the air between us, and I stifled my sobs the best I could. What could I possibly say? My mother is alive, and hers is not, so how could I possibly be depressed?
I don’t know.
I had no words in that moment. I don’t think I have ever felt so bad for feeling depressed in my entire life. What right did I have to feel that way? What right did I have when things in my life were going so well? When other people have it so much worse than I do? When my mom is still alive? How could I possibly feel like this?
The ‘at least’ that my friend thought would help me feel better did nothing but send me spiraling further into the darkest pit of despair. You see, I already knew that there was nothing tangible that should be causing me to feel the way I was feeling, but I was feeling that way anyway, and I couldn’t make it stop. The guilt I felt from that only made it worse. The guilt I felt from feeling depressed even though I still had my mom when my friend didn’t just made me feel worse. It made me feel like the most worthless friend – like the most worthless person.
‘At least’ strategies don’t typically help depressed people. Instead, they simply remind us that the depression we feel has a grip on us that makes no sense. They remind us that we feel powerless against its grasp. They pile on guilt in addition to the depression. ‘At least’ strategies are probably best left alone, but if you just simply have to use an ‘at least’ statement, how about one that says, ‘Friend, you may be depressed, but at least you don’t have to go through it alone, because I’m right by your side.’ Letting your loved one know you are there for them is always the best thing. As much as you want to cheer them up, the best thing you can do for someone with depression is just simply be present and available for them.
By Melissa Anderson