In 2013, Kate and I suffered from depression at the same time. When we came out the other side of that, we said we would never go back. But Kate had to for a time. And I probably knew before she did. It was probably as far back as October of last year or a bit before. Depression doesn’t always look like you think it does. Just because someone is happy, doesn’t mean they aren’t depressed. Depression isn’t always unending, bottomless sorrow or deep, paralysing fear. Sometimes it starts in a more insidious way than that. Often it starts that way, I think. It sneaks in, like it was there all along, or like it was invited and it lies in wait before revealing its true form in all of its brutal ugliness.

At a certain point, I guess I noticed that she couldn’t feel or express empathy towards me. I think that’s when I noticed, because you take notice of things when they are so far outside someone’s character. It can be a tough thing to be a friend to a depressed person. Just because it isn’t personal, doesn’t mean it isn’t deeply hurtful. And it certainly feels personal. But it isn’t. There is the person, and then there is the disease and they are not the same thing. If you are going to be a friend to someone who is depressed, then you need to be able to figure out the difference between the two.

Because you aren’t depressed it can be easy to fall into unrealistic expectations or unfair comparisons. You aren’t in the box, so you can’t possibly know what that person is capable of. Sometimes all they will be capable of is feeding themselves for the day and sometimes that might even be a stretch. So there where lots of gaps to fill in Operation Move, and I was so happy to do that. Because when you are friends with someone who is depressed you cling for dear life to anything practical that can be done. Anything at all. There’s nothing you can do, really. All you can do is smooth out some of the rough edges.

Partnerships are like marriages. When something happens, the other one will pick up all the slack, but it is a temporary measure, because a marriage doesn’t work with one person, it needs two. It can be a lot of pressure in those temporary periods. Because there is no fallback position from you. So it doesn’t matter if you are having a fight with your husband or your kids are feral or you are working more than is healthy – things still need to be done. And you cling to that because it’s the one thing that you can fix.

And then you wait. You wait for them to accept they need help. You wait for them to see the disease. And then you wait for that person you know to shake the disease loose. And you hope. You do a lot of hoping.

As a coach, looking after someone with depression is an exercise in nurture and intuition. Before Kate made the decision to have some great half marathon runs this year instead of spending so much time on marathon training, I knew. I’d been pushing her to run some moderate speed workouts for a couple of months because I knew the reason she didn’t want to do that was the reason she didn’t want to run a marathon.

My theory in training and in life is choose your hard. Sometimes there is so much hard in your life, that your training has to be easy. When you’ve used up all of your hard elsewhere, it has to be fun and joyful. It has to be capable of giving you more than you give it.

As a friend, you can’t keep those deep wounds in your heart, they belong to the disease and you have to let them go.

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Zoey Dowling

Written by: Zoey Dowling

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  1. Depression is a disease that I've had to fight my whole life and I will continue to, unfortunately mine is not one that I can get over. I've witnessed you with depression too and I want you to know I'm there for you too. Kate is so lucky to have you, depression is lonely and soul destroying. Its like being in a deep hole with no ladder to get out. Unfortunately each time I've been there Ive had to find my own eacape route, for Kate to have you, carrying her load, holding her hand and shining a torch; well that's the greatest thing a friend can do. Operation Move is more than learning to run or getting fit, its about friendship and love and you demonstrate that in every way.

  2. This is beautiful Zoey. And so painfully true.

  3. You're a beautiful friend, Zoey. I've lived with depression my entire life and I know all about choosing your hard. When things get hard in all aspects of my life, I fall down and struggle to get up. I then have to give up all the hard and just make things easy. Because I need to live.

  4. I think Operation Move has introduced me to the most amazing group of women, who inspire me every day. Not just to be a better runner or a better athlete, but to be a better human. Zoey, I salute you and your stamina and resilience in all things. Kate and Treacy and Dorothy and the rest of you, I admire your courage to keep fighting the black dog. You are all A.M.A.Z.E. and I draw strength every day from being part of this super special tribe. I aspire to your standards of fortitude. xx