I have recently begun to look at depression from the other side.
It is easy for me to feel depression, to fight it, to live it, to agonise over its nuances and ups and downs – but what about what depression looks like to others, what is it like to live with? I have tried to empathise and draw from my experience but thats not like thinking about how the illness effects all around it. Its not like I don’t have backgroud from that angle but I haven’t previously contemplated its impacts on our relationships and on me.
I want to start with the basic fact/point – Your Mileage May Vary.
1st. I come to this idea as a depressive, it colours my views, tints my world and means that I react in certain ways. 2nd. Depression is not a single simple thing – having been in a relationship with two different people with depression, even when the thoughts seem similar the reactions can be so very different.
Living with someone with depression is precarious..it is a balancing act of trying to work out what might upset them or anger them added to the never-ending wearying battle to find things to make them smile or laugh and the constant feeling of failure when you don’t do the right thing. A relationship with someone who is apathetic, distant or negative about the future can feel like trying to do all the work on your own.
The other person in your life seems to barely respond to you or responds desperately and violently for no apparent reason, they tell you they want to leave you, the sex is gone, they are permanently in pain, they are forgetful, don’t seem to listen, sleep and eat erratically and tell you how miserable they are or don’t speak to you at all.
It is lonely, demoralising and exhausting – Its absolutely heartbreaking
In fact in some ways its a wonder any relationships survive it.
As with many things many people want to understand what is going on in the other person’s head. There is a temptation to blame yourself or generically blame the illness and offer the other person no chance to take control of their own life. With your own inability to control their feelings and their seeming inability to do so or even care to, there surface the alternate feelings of hopelessness and rage at the situation.. In even the non-depressed individual you are starting to be more like a depressed person.
The key point that my therapist made to me was about how not taking responsibility for others feelings is not the same as not caring about how they feel. Loving someone is not enough to make them happy. Take a deep breath, step back, recognise that there are some things you cannot change. It is ok to not want someone to feel bad without assuming you are the sole giver or remover of their happiness. (Interestingly of course as a depressive I habitually attribute good things to external causes and negative things to myself as cause) This is where mindfulness has its part, everyday I must acknowledge that this is how things are and accept it, I don’t have to like it and I am allowed to work towards change but some things can’t be changed and most can’t be changed by one person acting alone.
Self-help books and groups and every webpage I have ever seen will tell you to do things for yourself, do things to boost your own mood, spend time with friends and alone looking after you – which is sound, if impractical, advice – which you should definitely follow and I’m sure I would do better at if…
So what has helped? Well, therapy and drugs all round and some mutual support…
But in a more personal way perhaps the most important things we have learned to do is to talk to each other – to ask questions, to resist the temptation to avoid answering, to express feelings. It is a mutual agreement, not a way of one partner coping with another but a sense of negotiation. It helps to be able to say “I’m not feeling good today would you mind staying here with me”, or “I can’t cope with your moods today and I think I will only get angry – this is not your fault, but in order to deal with it I am going for a walk”
Also Physical contact, not sex per se but rather the ability to reconnect by simply holding hands.