This week is Mental Health Awareness Week This year’s theme is Mindfulness, which I’ll write about later in the week, but today I wanted to write about something else.
Living with a depressed partner is without doubt the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
It’s even harder than dealing with a partner with a physical illness. Not that it was easy for him either but as the partner you’re the first to be rejected, the first to face mood swings, the one who has to hold everything else together.
Below is what I’ve learned – how to help yourself and your partner (or whoever it is you care for). All of these tips come from bitter experience and none of it is easy, but they are key things to bear in mind when you feel your entire life has been swamped by this selfish, nasty, unforgiving illness that can be as much of a killer as any physical disease.
Remember, its not personal
Easy to say but hard to remember when the person you love barely speaks to you and flinches when you try to hug them, not to mention the fact that not only have they withdrawn all affection and interaction, they now expect you to be at their beck and call and manage the entire household yourself. They can’t help it. They don’t want to be like this and they are not doing it on purpose. It is not about you. The person you love is still there, albeit shrouded in a black cloud that they can’t see through. They are not the enemy. The depression is.
Be supportive…but choose your words carefully
It is soooo tempting to tell them to snap out of it, to get a grip, to tell them to look at how good their life is, how they have no reason to be depressed. Depression does not need a reason. Support and encouragement is important though; reminders that you love them even if they can’t currently express that love back to you, are important because they need to know someone cares. They may well seem ungrateful or unresponsive, but as stated above, that’s the illness. It isn’t them. They might not tell you want they want or need, as they may feel too worthless to ask for help, so be vigilant.
Encourage them to talk to their GP
If they aren’t diagnosed but you believe they’re depressed, its absolutely vital that they see a doctor. This isn’t a ‘low mood’, it isn’t something that will go away on its own, and there’s a high chance you’ll notice it before they do. Encourage them to talk to you about how they’re feeling but don’t force it because sometimes they just won’t want to talk. Remind them you’re a partnership and that this is something you can face, and learn about, together. They may be more willing to talk to a GP or Counsellor about it than to you. Again, don’t take it personally. Sometimes its easier to talk to a stranger about these things, and if its helping their recovery, it can only be a good thing. It goes without saying that if they mention suicide or harming themselves, don’t take this as an empty threat. Contact your GP, NHS 24 or call 999.
Stay on track with your own life
They might not want to leave the house, eat well or see people. But it doesn’t mean you can’t do these things, and its imperative that you do. Spend time with others, but equally spend time alone. Eat well and regularly. Go out for a walk. Go out for a cup of coffee. Meet your friends. You’ll probably feel bad leaving your partner to wallow at home, but if you’re not in good mental and physical health, you can’t support them in the way they need you to. So make sure your own needs are met. Looking after someone with depression can be very isolating so its important that you keep up that connection to the outside world. Local carer’s groups can be a great support aswell.
Set clear limits
They won’t always have control over their actions or moods, but they are still responsible for their behaviour, so don’t feel you have to tolerate everything they throw at you. For example I refused to tolerate him swearing at me or blaming me. He was just lashing out in frustration but I clearly told him that any time he did that, I would walk away. I also wouldn’t tolerate him spending 24 hours in front of the television, and I wouldn’t tolerate shouldering all the housework. I gave him small tasks he could do. Set your limits early on, and don’t be swayed.
Acknowledge your own negative feelings
I can guarantee you will feel angry, resentful, helpless, frustrated, guilty, rejected, and many more. On a regular basis. But don’t take your feelings out on your partner. Write them down, cry, go for a run, punch a pillow, talk to a Counsellor. But there’s nothing wrong with clearly telling your partner how you feel, for example, ‘I’m feeling quite frustrated today so I’m going out for a walk.’ You’re entitled to these feelings and you need to let yourself feel them.
Talk to someone
I’ve already touched on this above, but I can’t stress how important this is. You absolutely need to talk to people about this. A GP, Counsellor, trusted friend or family member, online group, the Samaritans, someone who’s been through it (feel absolutely free to email me if need be – I’m no doctor but I can completely relate to how you feel and will help as much as I can). Once I had told my Mum and best friend what was going on, it was like a weight had been lifted. I was no longer alone. You need support. Go and find it.
Go easy on yourself, and on them
You will lose your temper with them. You will cry in front of them. But these are natural reactions and there will be times where you will be less than perfect because guess what, that’s life. And there will be times where you will expect something of them and they won’t do it. They may promise to come out a walk tomorrow, but when tomorrow arrives they change their mind. It happens. Perhaps they feel worse today that they did yesterday. There will be times where you feel you’re getting nowhere, going backwards, losing your grip or not being supportive. Accept those moments for what they are and let them pass. You’re going through a seriously hard time here so don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
Accept things have changed
Depression can affect people and relationships in the long term – sometimes in a positive way, sometimes in a negative way. They may never be completely the same person again, and there’s always the possibility that the illness will recur. It might also spell the end of your relationship, depending on how both of you feel. Be realistic about these things. Don’t resist change, go with it and see where it takes you both.
Remember, it isn’t your fault
None of this is your fault and never feel ashamed of what has happened. It’s horrible, but you will get through it one way or another. You absolutely will. Trust me on that.
Have you ever been affected by depression, either as a victim or as a carer? Do you have any tips to add?