I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on my blog. I’ve broken my New Year’s resolution, but it lasted 2 months which is more than they normally last for me! Things have kinda been hectic, stressful and confusing in my life the past month or so, which leads on to what this article is about…..
As people may know, or have perhaps gathered from previous articles I’ve written, I suffer with mild depression and anxiety. Most of the time when I have low days/periods I’m able to manage my feelings and thoughts without an adverse effect to anyone around me. This has changed in recent months since I’ve been back in a relationship with my boyfriend. Up until then, I’ve only had to look after myself, and deal with things my way, which has been fine. The past month or so has been really rough, and it’s been difficult for me to try to keep a brave face in our relationship when inside I feel like curling up in a ball and crying all day long. It’s fair to say this has caused some problems in our relationship.
People who are depressed are literally not themselves, and that has made it difficult for both myself and my boyfriend to remain committed to working things out together. We’ve since talked ALOT about our relationship, how I deal with my illness, if we both believe we should/can continue our relationship and we’ve both agreed to try to make more of an effort to work things out and salvage our relationship. But it’s been hard for me to try to explain to him how I’m feeling and give some sort of explanation. I think it can be very hard for people to understand depression, and accept that some days there’s no reason why you’re upset. You simply just feel sad.
So I wanted to write this blog to give some advice, or if not then at least my experiences, perception and thoughts on trying to maintain a healthy relationship while you, or indeed your partner, are suffering depression.
If your loved one is struggling with depression, you may feel confused, frustrated and distraught yourself. You may feel like you’re walking on eggshells because you’re afraid of upsetting them even more. Or maybe you keep giving your partner advice, which they just aren’t taking. Depression is an isolating disorder, which can sabotage relationships. And this can make not knowing how to help all the more confusing. But your support is significant. The best support you can give someone who’s struggling is simply just to be there for them. When I’m struggling with my own depression, the most healing moments are when someone I love simply sits with me while I cry, listen to me and give me reassurance such as saying ‘You’re so important to me’ ‘I love you’ or ‘We’re going to find a way to help you to feel better.’ Tell them you’re there for them – It’s simple, it’s sweet and it communicates everything you need to say: I care, I get it, I don’t really understand it, but I love you, and I support you.
Sometimes supporting someone with depression may feel like you’re walking a tight rope. What do I say? What do I not say? What do I do? What do I not do? But remember that just by being there and asking how you can help can be an incredible gift.
If you’re uncomfortable showing emotional affection then you can show support in other ways. Something as simple as sending a loving good morning text message or leaving a voicemail message on their phone will show that person you’ve been thinking about them.
Educating yourself on depression will also help you avoid making things worse for someone suffering. Once you can understand depression’s symptoms, course and consequences, you can better support your partner. Many people assume that if a person with depression has a good day, then they’re cured. But depression doesn’t work like that. There is a flowing high and low spectrum to symptoms that many non-depressed people can’t understand. People who are feeling hopeless may still laugh at a joke, seem cheerful and act ‘like themselves’. But the truth is that depressive symptoms are lingering elsewhere, hidden or not easy to see, so it’s important to know that depression has a far and often invisible range.
I really believe that patience is a pivotal part of supporting someone who’s depressed. When you’re patient, you’re letting them know that it doesn’t matter how long this is going to take, or how involved the treatments are going to be, or the difficulties that accompany the passage bad to good, because you will be there. To me, this is incredibly important because you can’t give someone a timescale of when you will get better. But having loving support, and knowing someone is going to be there for you continuously, however long it takes, can make the world of difference. With such patience, comes hope, and when you have depression, hope can be hard to come by.
Try to avoid the tough-love approach. Many people think that being tough on their partner will undo their depression or inspire positive behavioural changes. For example, some people might intentionally be impatient with their partner, push their boundaries, use silence, be callous or even give an ultimatum of saying ‘You need to sort yourself out, snap out of it, or I’m going to leave.’ This is useless, hurtful and unproductive. On the flip side, if someone does give you such an ultimatum, you need to think about what they really feel for you if they are willing to walk away from your relationship when you are ill, and probably need them more than ever.
It’s also not a good idea to judge, criticize or give advice on something you don’t understand. Try to avoid saying things such as ‘You just need to see things as half full, not half empty’ or ‘I think this is really all just in your head. If you got up out of bed and moved around, you’d see things better.’ The worst thing anyone can say to me is ‘Why can’t you just snap out of it?’ After hearing this, I wanted to throw a hammer at their head! By saying things like that, you’re implying that the person has a choice in how they feel, and has chosen to be depressed. It’s not only insensitive but can isolate your partner even more. Also asking ‘Why do you let every little thing bother you?’ can shame a person with depression. It undermines what they’re experiencing and completely glosses over the fact that they’re struggling with a difficult disorder, not some weakness or personality flaw.
Ask your partner if there’s anything you can do to help them. Again, this is a SHOW not TELL moment. Chances are that the depressed person will just shake her head as she cries, but I can assure you that she will register your offer in that place instead her heart that says, ‘This person cares about me.’ She may not ever ask for your help, but it will make her feel loved, that you are there for her to support her and that you actually want to help her, not that you feel obliged to.
Tell your partner that things will get better and they won’t always feel like this. This is the perfect sentence that I can hear 50 times a day when I want out, out, out, of this world. These words don’t judge, impose, or manipulate. What they do is convey hope, and hope is what keeps a person alive, or at least motivated to get to the next day.
Avoid trying to make comparisons regarding depression. Unless you’ve experienced a depressive episode yourself, saying that you know how a person feels is not helpful. While your intention is probably to help your loved one feel less alone in their despair, this can cut short your conversation and minimize their experience. Also, don’t try saying that everyone has their own problems. Forget people starving in Africa when talking to someone who’s depressed. This infuriates me so much! Some people absolutely do have it worse. But that doesn’t make their pain any less real or profound. Chances are if you do bring it up, your partner will also feel weak and pathetic, like she has no right to feel the way she’s feeling, which will, of course, make her feel worse.
Depressed people usually feel withdrawn. They don’t feel they can raise enough energy to pursue their normal routine, do things with the family or even notice when their partners are being attentive. This can quickly lead to the non-depressed partner feeling that he or she is in the way, unwanted, or unloved. It can be easy to misinterpret the low moods as hostility, or as evidence that the depressed person has lost interest in the relationship. Frankly, it’s really hard to stay calm and confident when the person you love most is acting strangely and appears to be so unhappy. So if you’re finding your partner’s depression a real pain, try to take heart from the fact that this is natural. I appreciate that being the partner of a depressed person is very difficult. So, even if you’re at your wits’ end because your loved one has lost the ability to concentrate on what you’re saying, or to raise a smile, or to appreciate any of the good moments in life, try to accept that all these things are part of the illness. Don’t take this personally.
I certainly don’t know much about the chemical changes that occur in the brain during depression and how these changes affect sex. However, from what I do know, it’s clear that a depressive illness tends to affect all the bodily systems, dislocating them and often slowing them down. This effect is most marked with regard to sleep, which is invariably disrupted. But there can be adverse effects on any activity that requires energy, spontaneity and good co-ordination – and that includes sex. And, sadly, lots of people who are depressed often appear to lose interest in sex. I know that in women, this diminished brain activity tends to be associated with lack of interest in sex and very often with difficulty in reaching orgasm. All these problems tend to diminish as the depressive illness gets better. Indeed, renewed interest in sex may be the first sign of recovery. Admittedly, this isn’t always the case, and some depressed people manage to maintain normal sex lives – sometimes even finding that sex is the only thing that gives them comfort and reassurance.
Although I truly believe a relationship shouldn’t be based on sex, I have to admit that it’s an important part and you need to get a balance. Being depressed and not wanting to have sex can definitely cause problems in relationships. Your partner may feel unwanted, unattractive and not important. But as I’ve said, this shouldn’t be taken personally. Things will soon get better if you can offer your partner love, affection and support. I may be a cliché or old-fashioned, but I truly believe there’s a difference between having sex and making love. And for me, my boyfriend making the effort to look after me, cuddle me, be there for me, and (if appropriate if the timing is right) make love to me made me feel so much better. It doesn’t have to be a physical thing acting about ramping like animals.
I believe the best way to try to maintain a healthy relationship is both trying to communicate honestly and effectively. If something has upset you, then say. If you are happy, then say. A relationship shouldn’t be single sided, it’s a two-way process, but when someone is suffering with depression, it can feel so hard to give out loving, appreciative, happy attitudes if you don’t yourself feel those emotions. But you have to try, and in my experience, it hasn’t hurt, it’s made things a lot easier.
Thanks for reading, hope it helps!