My doctor says I have depression. I am 81 years old, and I don’t have any friends to cheer me up at my retirement home. I’m just not very social, and I’m pretty much all alone right now. What should I do?
I’m tired of being depressed. I realize you don’t have time to answer an old woman, but I like the way you write.
Puh-leeez write back if you can,
Look. You don’t want advice from me. You know more about life than I ever will.
Moreover, if I gave you advice, your life would fall apart. One time, I gave my cousin some advice with his ex-wife and he actually followed it. And now he lives in a refrigerator carton.
Even so, I can tell you something with complete certainty. After having wrestled with depressive tendencies for my short lifetime, I have learned one thing about human beings.
We are social animals.
Read that last sentence again. Write it on your bathroom wall. Say it over and again to yourself. Because when we get depressed, no matter what the reason, we tend to withdraw. And this is the worst thing anyone can do.
I know you don’t like to think of yourself as an animal, but you are. And just like all animals, you need six crucial things to survive. Food, water, shelter, sleep, air and access to an iPhone. And as a human animal, you have an important seventh need:
The need to party.
I’m not joking. As humans, it’s important for us to pile up together sometimes, to laugh in group settings, and to drink potent beverages made from malted barley.
Not all animals on the planet are social like us. Koalas, for example, are non-social animals. So are bears, skunks, sloths and platypuses.
But you are not a skunk. Neither are you a sloth. And a platypus, if you’ll recall from third grade, is one of the only mammals that lays eggs. So if there are no eggs in your retirement-home commode, then you are definitely not a platypus.
After I received your message, I called a local psychologist, whom I will identify as “Doctor Elaine” so she can continue having a career. I asked her about your particular problem.
Here’s what she said:
“A lot of times, depression is directly related to isolation. There is a science behind this. Humans need face-to-face contact, it releases a river of real neurotransmitters.
“These brain hormones protect your body, like a vaccine, and they actually rewire your brain to be healthier.
“Giving someone a hug, or shaking their hand lowers your cortisol levels, lowers your stress, and it increases the hormone that raises the brain’s level of trust with other humans. Being social actually makes you want to be more social. It’s a cycle.”
I asked Doctor Elaine how an 81-year-old might go about making friends. She said this:
“Jus say yes. It can be that easy. Most of my patients don’t realize it, but they say no too often.
“Someone will ask them to go to a movie, or to go out for Mexican food, or whatever, and my patients will be, like, ‘No thanks.’ For them, saying no is just a reflex now.”
So Doctor Elaine recommends being conscious of how often you say no. Say yes more often. Say yes as often as you can. Say yes to whatever opportunity life gives you. Even if it involves card games wherein you may or may not be required to discard clothing.
The problem, of course, is that finding true, lifelong friends is not easy. And this might be what’s holding you back.
You probably want a friend who is an exceptional person. Someone who will be there when you need them, who listens more than they talk, who shares the same ambitions, who has a good sense of humor.
Simply put, you are looking for the perfect friend. Who isn’t? Someone who will be there through wind, rain, sleet and ACC Championship losses.
Well, listen to me clearly.
You’re not going to find the perfect friend because outside of a Jane Austen novel, they don’t exist. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.
What you WILL meet are imperfect people. People who will disappoint the Swiss cheese out of you. People who will let you down. Because all people are, by and large, extremely screwed up. Especially columnists. It’s just part of being a hominid.
So why not make friends with screwed-up people? Make as many friends as you can. Say yes.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying you have to be BFF with everyone, but you can become PGF (pretty good friends) with hundreds of people who will love you dearly. And you can start with me. I will love you dearly.
So anyway, I realize you don’t have the time to answer a young man like myself.
But puh-leez write back if you can.
Joyce Ann Lowder - August 3, 2022 9:01 am
GREAT AND ENCOURAGING ADVICE for this 81 yr. old lady. I am also 81 and it is easy to say no, because strength and stamina are more difficult. But the phone does work! And one way to be more social is to engage in church activities, even if you don’t see yourself as “religious”. Thanks, Sean, for your promise to love this little lady! You also encourage others, as you write and share your message! God Bless you! 🙂 PS, I also recommend reading your book, Will The Circle Be Unbroken. and listening to your Podcasts. e.g Making a Tomato Sandwich 🙂
Ed (Bear) - August 3, 2022 9:04 am
Your column today is spot on. It’s good advice from someone who’s been there. Thanks for sharing!
Ann Thompson - August 3, 2022 9:57 am
Great message. Thanks. Needed today. Say yes….
Ann - August 3, 2022 10:13 am
I can see this in family and friends and you are sooooo correct in your “advice”… thank you once again for a timely column!
Steve McCaleb - August 3, 2022 10:45 am
I found today’s post excellent on 3 different levels. First you gave some really good advice to “sleepless in Clemson”. It’s been my experience that being happy is mostly……well, wanting to be. So she’s taken an important first step. Second you’ve given your cousin in the Frigidaire Hotel under the viaduct on Fourth Avenue North away to his ex- wife. If she’s like most, she’ll hunt him up to continue to make his life as unpleasant as possible. From this point forward he may be miserable but hey! At least he won’t be alone. Last but not least, I now have a reasonable explanation why those 2 platypuses I waved at in front of Tim Scott’s last Thursday didn’t wave back. That had me worried. Whew…..
April McGough - August 7, 2022 2:02 pm
Enjoyed your comment. Maybe you should have a column!
Joan - August 3, 2022 11:04 am
Wonderful advice! Not one of us are perfect! Why do we all expect to find a perfect friend, spouse, child, boss, etc., ad nauseum? I am a depressed person for just the reasons you listed. But you’ve given me the impetus to change my modus operandi! Thanks!
Marianne Bryan - August 3, 2022 11:11 am
Good advice. Get out of your daily pattern. Talk to someone about their interests… share a cup of tea.. speak to everyone… go outside and talk to a neighbor…
Deborah Blount - August 3, 2022 11:19 am
I feel the need to thank you for being you. Keep doing what you do.
Paul McCutchen - August 3, 2022 11:45 am
I had to quit watching the news. With all the talk about virus’s and all the negativity, it can make you want to stay at the house and I am Seventy. It helps when you try to develop a positive attitude and hold on to that.
Trudy - August 3, 2022 11:52 am
Sean, excellent advise. Please feel free to give Clemson my email address. If she writes me, I’ll write her back and call her regularly. I would love to be her PGF.
Donna - August 3, 2022 6:18 pm
I would love to do as Trudy has offered, so please feel free to give her mine as well. 😊
WayneGina Yount - August 3, 2022 12:14 pm
Leigh Amiot - August 3, 2022 12:44 pm
“So if there are no eggs in your retirement-home commode, then you are definitely not a platypus.”—I ‘bout spit my coffee when I read that. Only you, Sean. Hilarious!
I’d be glad to drop this precious woman snail mail cards if she feels safe with sharing her address.
Cynthia Russell - August 3, 2022 12:47 pm
Wished this lady had given her address.. I love to write cards to those who need them.. Just to say hi.. give a cherry thought.. Or to let them know they are still loved.. We all need a reminder sometimes.. Thank You Sean, Cynthia Russell
Christine C Anderson - August 3, 2022 12:49 pm
What great advice! The pandemic helped me figure out that I’m not really an introvert. Feel like I wasted so many years by myself. I hope she’s brave enough to follow your advice. It takes courage to reach out or try something new. Thanks, Sean. I needed this reminder today.
Atticus Haygood Sims - August 3, 2022 1:05 pm
Another good one.. you’re on a roll…
Nancy - August 3, 2022 1:14 pm
I adore how well you use humor to make your point.
“Someone who will be there through wind, rain, sleet and ACC Championship losses.” was not lost on me. You are so clever. You may share my email as well.
virginia westlake - August 3, 2022 1:17 pm
Excellent advice! Even in assisted living, she can find people to relate to. They may have activities for residents she would enjoy.
While I’m here, I hope there will be another wonderful book like Winston Browne in the works.
Megan - August 3, 2022 1:54 pm
Beautiful advice for all of us!
Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - August 3, 2022 1:56 pm
You nailed it!
Ginger Smith - August 3, 2022 2:04 pm
Mom was in assisted living nine years. She made new friends. Not the same as her life-long friends, but it still was socializing. One outside friend came to see her every week. Mary Ellen Clement brought Mary Belle Powell every Friday, after they ate at Rosehill Seafood for lunch. Every Friday. All those friends are gone. They don’t make them like that any more. Mary Ellen and Mary Belle actually died before Mom. She was independent until three days before she died. It helped that Mom was in her own apartment and had many choices. Thanks for the memories!
Sandy - August 3, 2022 2:39 pm
That is terrific advice. I’m not the most sociable of people, but even introverts need people.
Some of us who are depressed and not 81 can find friends in a retirement home. My parents were both in a memory care unit for several years. We were visited them regularly, and we met the most precious people there. They are always happy to see a friendly face. Well, except for George, who tended to be grouchy and liked to chase my teenage son around in his wheelchair, but even that was a bit endearing.
I must, though, take exception to your Jane Austen comment. You won’t find the perfect friend in an Austen novel. The beauty of Austen is she creates deliciously flawed humans, so we can relate to them when two centuries and an ocean divide us.
I need tissues nearby when I read you. You always make me laugh and cry. Thanks for making my day!
Beverly - August 3, 2022 2:47 pm
What a perfect answer! You always say the right thing. I wish I lived near this lady. I would be her friend!!
James Hudgins - August 3, 2022 2:58 pm
Sean, I live in Clemson and would visit this lonely lady if I knew her name and address..
Karen - August 3, 2022 3:03 pm
Sean, your advice is great. I hope she finds some friends
Melanie Johnston Levy, LPC - August 3, 2022 3:18 pm
You’re awesome, Sean…
Helen De Prima - August 3, 2022 3:20 pm
The woes in your lifetime have made you so wise!
Jocelyn - August 3, 2022 3:27 pm
Sound advice…..PGF is best approach to not being lonely.
Susan O'Connell - August 3, 2022 4:13 pm
You are wayyyyyy to cute! Love your columns.
Marcia De Graaf - August 3, 2022 4:20 pm
Thanks for this one, Sean. I have a friend who is this lady. I’m sharing your column with her. Your response is spot on.
Michael Saunders - August 3, 2022 4:30 pm
everybody needs love. keep giving love, Sean. it just might fix the world!
Eva Marie Everson - August 3, 2022 5:58 pm
“Puh-lease write me back.”
That’s it. You’re an exceptional human being who just earned his crown in Glory.
Tracy Ann Nelson - August 3, 2022 6:17 pm
You’re so good. I love reading your blog. It really makes a difference. Keep going!
Susan Wade - August 3, 2022 6:35 pm
Sean, my Mom was in a nursing home. She was all over the place. She sat next to the rec counselors problem patients and kept them in line and became great friends. If you are in a high rise sign up for things.Lord knows I talk all the time. Mama did not but was social. She was almost totally blind did trig on an abacus and remembered Latin. That is a hard act to follow. I did well to keep my white gloves clean and she and I had major fights over flip flops worn to funerals. But put yourself out there someone else needs you too.
Becky Holbrook - August 3, 2022 6:38 pm
Sean, how kind of you to answer her letter. People need people. We were created to be social and interact with others. In the last few years too much isolation has occurred. We all need to make an effort to speak to others even those we don’t know. You never know how much a “hello” and smile might mean to someone.
Linda Moon - August 3, 2022 7:59 pm
Recently I’ve been thinking about mailing a snail-mail letter to cheer you up. I haven’t got around to it yet, plus you have a new address. So, I’ll simply say “PAARTAY Baby!” And I’m wondering…if columnists are especially screwed up does that mean that the columnists’ readers are all screwed up as well? I sure do hope the old woman will be too happily busy to write you back ..like I sometimes am with my late comments.
John L. - August 3, 2022 8:38 pm
I have dealt with depression my whole adult life. Your comments, and those of your psychologist friend, are spot on.
Mimi Phillips - August 3, 2022 11:46 pm
Dear Friendless in Clemson,
When I read the first few words in the letter you wrote to Sean, I was sure someone pretending to be me had written to Sean with my story.
I, too, am 81 years old and struggling with debilitating depression. My life has been made up of one trauma on top of another over the past two-plus years. So much has changed…I moved away from my spiritual family and my close circle of friends, sold my beloved home and most of my worldly possessions. I’m feeling very alone and without any purpose.
I share your deep pain, but I have no advice. I send only empathetic support. May we both find solace and grace to meet this challenge!
Debbie - August 4, 2022 9:35 am
Excellent advice for all. I remember a time when I was really down in the dumps and feeling sorry for myself. I was sitting alone in my house on my couch miserable. A dear friend told me sternly that I needed to get out of being so self absorbed and go see how someone else was doing. Trust me, I in no means felt like doing that but I found myself knocking on a retired neighbor’s door just to say “hi”. They were delighted and we had a nice chat. I felt better but not quite there so I went to another retired neighbor’s door and the same thing happened. My world opened up and I began to feel better because my focus changed to others instead of what was missing from my life. That was many years ago and I have some darn good friends that just happen to also be my neighbors. Just say yes.
Jane Nichols - August 4, 2022 11:43 am
Miriam isaac - August 4, 2022 3:13 pm
I would love to write this person a paper letter…can you get my email address off the comment and see if she can share her physical address with me?
Mim - August 4, 2022 3:17 pm
There’s a poem by Faith Shearin called My Grandparents Generation. We need these elderly people, need to sit beside them and listen to the important facts of life like how to fry green zucchini so the breading stays crispy.
Jennifer Carson - August 4, 2022 10:07 pm
I bet even Dabo would listen to you as a Bama fan if you suggested sending over some football players to visit this woman. Try and see what happens. Clemson is a tiny town with the campus numbers larger than the town and it’s a great place!
TA - August 6, 2022 1:39 am
❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ Can’t love this enough ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
April McGough - August 7, 2022 1:59 pm
I am always buoyed up after reading your columns. You have wise insights and I love your sense of humor. This column has convinced me to say, “Yes!”
Rose - August 8, 2022 12:04 am
What a beautiful, loving response. I’ve never had a best friend, the type of person who knows you, your history, your quirks and perhaps where the bodies are buried. But, as you said, Pretty Good Friends have wonderful value and are to be treasured.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - August 13, 2022 10:27 pm
Julie, RN - October 22, 2022 2:49 pm
We should all say “YESSSSS‼️‼️“ more often, and open up a brand new world❣️