An Ally’s Guide To Clinical Depression

Seth Shellhouse
9 min readAug 10, 2019


You Just Got Outfoxed By A Fox

Full disclosure: I’ve been writing this post for about 3 years. I keep going back, and editing a few words, reorganizing some sections, rethinking an analogy or two, worrying about how it might be viewed, generally procrastinating and questioning whether it’s my place to chime in on clinical depression. I’m not an expert, I’m miles and miles from a medical professional. I definitely use a lot of improper terms and jumbled context.

But fuck it.

After 40 years on the front lines in my personal life, as a family member, as a significant other, as a BFF, in crews, on teams, in bands, as a sparring partner, as a community manager, as a moderator and as a damn human, I’ve decided I can probably give the whole world the same talk I’ve given to so many friends to help them understand depression and help them be a better ally to their people.

And before we start…

If you hit this link because you’re going through it yourself: I’m here with you. A lot of people are here with you. Literally millions. If you have nothing else to believe in, believe that. We’re here.

If you are dealing with any sort of depression and you need someone to talk to, stop reading and click here. Don’t get intimidated by any of the heavy words or wonder if you should call. The whole point is for YOU to call, because there are people who care and can actually help (and nobody will ever know you called anyway and it’s free so do it).

OK. Here goes…

Only a fox can spot a fox. And sometimes, even a fox can’t spot a fox.

You might know someone who is clinically depressed. And you might not know you know someone who is clinically depressed.

Clinical depression can be hard to see from the outside. It’s different for everybody. It’s ill-defined. And it’s rarely discussed by people who live with it. A lot of times, the people who are the most revealing and talk to you openly about their chronic depression, or major sadness, or being overwhelmed, or being an empath (there’s no such thing) are not clinically depressed. That is not to say that they aren’t battling depression, but that they may not be clinically depressed. They may not have a chemical imbalance. And that’s important because the depression they are facing (situational depression) and clinical depression are very different animals. Very different animals. They can have the same symptoms, and wear similar coats, but at a certain distance, they have nothing in common.

Situational depression can be brutal. I’m convinced it can be as bad as clinical depression, but it’s not the same. With situational depression, there is rhyme, there’s reason. There are meds and practices for normal depression. There is music and meditation and religion and there are things that can ultimately help. There are behavioral clues and there are circumstantial cues. People can kind of tell. You can tell when the circumstances in a friend’s life are overwhelming. You can see the changes in someone who is temporarily depressed. You can tell when they are down. Most importantly, there is a “normal” to which they can return.

This is not necessarily the case with clinically depressed people. People who are clinically depressed are lifers. And they are conditioned by life, by a special kind of embarrassment, and by themselves, to hide their condition. They are notoriously averse to discussing their depression. They are sly, sneaky, manipulative and evasive. They set traps. They create distractions. They blend in. They are foxes.

Only a fox can spot a fox. And sometimes, even a fox can’t spot a fox.

When people suffer from clinical depression, there is often no noticeable change in their behavior or demeanor during episodes. There is, more often than not, no change in circumstance, no inciting incident during their episodes. Sometimes, there aren’t even episodes, per se. For people who are clinically depressed, circumstances can potentially trigger better or worse periods, but in general, a chemical imbalance has nothing to do with circumstance

People who are clinically depressed may never discuss their depression. They may never even know what it is or name it. They may think it’s normal. They may hide it. They may be hilarious and outgoing. They may be the brightest smile in any room they enter. They may have a selection of masks at their disposal that is so vast and so complex that you could never possibly understand what’s real and what’s not. They are excellent hiders. And they may hide the truth from you and evade you in ways you couldn’t even imagine imagining.

Only a fox can spot a fox. And sometimes, even a fox can’t spot a fox.

What I always tell people about clinical depression is this:
“Imagine leaving your annual medical checkup in Beverly Hills with a clean bill of health, quickly depositing a few million dollars in a bank on Sunset (where your personal wealth manager gives you a free espresso) and then opening up your OTHER Lamborghini (the really fancy one) on Mullholland to so you can feel the evening breeze on your way to your date with two legit supermodels at Malibu Nobu at 9 and all you can think about is how much you just really want to kill yourself, and wondering if maybe today is the day, or if you should just hang out for a while and see what happens.”

You’re not sad, you’re not anxious. you’re not really anything. You’re just forever baseline nothing.

But that’s my description. Again, depression is different for everyone. That’s another thing that makes clinical depression tough to nail down.

-For some people it’s sadness.

-For some it’s anger.

-For some it’s constant, low-level anxiety with random spikes of high-level anxiety.

-For some people it’s intense feelings.

-For some, it’s no feelings at all, ever.

-Some people have stomach problems or headaches.

-Some people are constantly exhausted and don’t get out of bed for years at a time.

-Some people stay busy all the time and don’t sleep for years.

-Some people hallucinate.

-Some people are outwardly the happiest people you’ve ever met.

-Some are fucking hilarious and extroverted.

-Some people isolate.

-Some can never, ever be alone with themselves.

-Some of them are so nice all the time.

-Some are the coldest, meanest people you’ll ever meet.

-Some people get fat.

-Some people get skinny.

-Some believe they are skinny when they’re not.

-Some believe they are fat when they’re not.

-For some people depression is like having another person, like a best friend, who’s with you all the time. And that friend is kind of an asshole. But he’s very comfortable, and you’ve never been apart, so you’d rather be with him than anyone else.

-For some people, depression is like standing on a cliff, staring into the void and leaning over, more or less, to different extents, throughout their lives, from the time they’re about six years old until whenever they die. Sometimes they die from leaning too far.

Confusing, right? Of course it is. Clinical depression is different for everybody.

Only a fox can spot a fox. And sometimes, even a fox can’t spot a fox.

That being said, I think there are two beliefs that all depression lifers share:

Belief 1: Everyone hates you. By default. Even strangers. Even people who haven’t met you. Everyone hates you without context or pretext. Even the people you love. Even the people you treat well. Even the people closest to you, and there is nothing you can do to change that. At all. Ever.

Belief 2: You shouldn’t make your problems somebody else’s problems.
Now, as you may have noticed…some people who are depressed don’t practice this belief, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hold it. Some people who deal with clinical depression go out of their way to make their problem someone/everyone else’s problem…but they know they shouldn’t. Deep down, they feel like a burden. And feeling like a burden eats a depressed individual more than anything. Depression, in the mind of the afflicted individual, is humiliating. It’s a helpless, gnawing need and it is so embarrassing when that need bleeds on those around you.

So what do you do if someone you love is dealing with clinical depression?

To be honest, there isn’t much you can do. It’s not that you aren’t equipped to give help, so much as your friend isn’t equipped to receive help. And as hard as it is to not get offended, or not feel rejected, you shouldn’t take it personally.

When someone you love is dealing with clinical depression and does something that fucks up your life, don’t blame yourself. You aren’t dealing with someone who sees reality as you see it. You’re dealing with a fox. A fox who maybe sees you as a threat, or who doesn’t want to hurt you and steers clear. You’re dealing with a fox who may be in survival mode. A fox who doesn’t necessarily see you as a separate, sentient being right now. You’re dealing with a fox who blends into the snow, who moves without a sound, who can track you far better than you can track him.

Only a fox can spot a fox. And sometimes, even a fox can’t spot a fox.

If your fox hurts you or himself or just can’t connect anymore, remember this: You didn’t necessarily do anything wrong…you just got outfoxed by a fox.

So when your fox ghosts you or snaps on you or shuts down or goes away or hides or chooses other people, don’t blame yourself. There was nothing you could have done. You just got outfoxed by a fox.

And if your fox doesn’t do any of these things, but just seem unreachable, don’t assume you’ve failed to help them. Clinically depressed people aren’t going to snap out of their depression…well they are going to snap out of it…and then back into it…and out…and in…at random intervals, for random durations, throughout their entire lives. But you can’t affect that. You just got outfoxed by a fox.

Here’s the rub though. When I say there’s nothing you could have done, I don’t mean there’s nothing you should have done.

Just because you don’t know what will help, doesn’t mean you know what won’t help. Helping people who are depressed is like firing a hundred shotguns by remote with your eyes closed…you just fire a bucket of buckshot as broad and often as you can and hope something hits. You may never score, but the sheer volume of shot increases your chances exponentially.

And it’s particularly important that you do something when people you love isolate themselves. When people engage with others regularly, one interaction may be a drop in the bucket. But when people are starved for interaction, the difference between one and zero is infinity. When someone hasn’t connected with another human in months, one “I care” might make the absolute, binary difference between that person being here tomorrow and that person not being here tomorrow. Sometimes it’s that one small, quiet, random interaction that makes the most impact.

If your fox can name just one person who cares that he exists, your fox is tethered to the world.

Keep reaching out. Keep being annoying. Keep feeling silly for trying. Keep serving. Keep loving. And love hard. Love so fucking hard.

It may not help. But it can’t hurt. Even if it hurts.

Spoiler: it will probably hurt.



Seth Shellhouse

Built the grid so I could spend more time off of it.