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The Great Depression

Recently I’ve experienced depression for the first time in my life. Not as a sufferer, but living with someone who is. Firstly, I should say that this post has been published with full consent from her, I’d have happily binned it if she didn’t approve. I’ve been reading up on depression and how to cope with someone who is suffering from it (belatedly, after spending a long time in denial) and, at least from the partner’s view (mine) it hasn’t been very helpful. There are a lot of articles out there which seem to offer a list of things you should and shouldn’t do, but it all seems rather trite: “Get them to exercise.” etc. So I thought I would write about my own experience, to maybe help both of us get through this and hopefully help someone else out there in a similar situation. Secondly, I’ll add a couple of disclaimers: 1) You could fit my medical and psychological knowledge into a jam jar that’s already packed with jam, so my viewpoints have no basis in anything other than my own personal experience; 2) Parts of this will come off as self-serving considering it’s my partner that is suffering from depression itself. It is impossible to empathise with a sufferer without having experienced it yourself, so I can only write from my point of view.

Ok, here we go. The articles you will find online will say “it will be hard”. No shit. What they don’t say is that it will be possibly the greatest challenge you both ever have to face, and if you aren’t strong enough to deal with what’s to come then you may as well bail now before you both get dragged down and things get a lot worse.

I would say the best place to start is trying to spot it early. If I’d have known anything at all about depression, I could and would have probably noticed it sooner. After learning about the symptoms now it’s clear they’ve been evident for a while. Because I didn’t, it gradually became worse, and what’s more, I associated her behaviour as something personal. Even though I now know it’s not, it’s still hard to shake it sometimes, which makes this process even harder. If you’re like me and have never experienced it before, it’s too easy to shut the gate after the horse has bolted. With depression becoming more and more common, it might be worth just having a quick glance at an article and having a very quick education. So spot it, and start treatment for it, as early as possible.

Now, the hard stuff. As the one without depression in the relationship, you will have your own special kind of turmoil. I can only assume it’s not half as bad as what they are going through, but it’s no picnic either. You will feel unappreciated and rejected, physically and emotionally. You will be the target of anger and of anxiety. You will have to pick up the slack, be that emotionally or in something like daily tasks. You will be the motivation and the glue. I should say “try to be” because god knows I’ve failed at all of these so far, and it’s only now I’m really adjusting. I have found that repeating a few things to myself, like a mantra, helps a little. Only a little, but that is something: ‘They did not choose this’; ‘they do not want this’; ‘they are not the person you love’; ‘help them get back to that’.

As I said before, if you don’t think you are strong enough to deal with all that then you need to have a serious look at things, otherwise everything will go downhill fast. You will resent them because you take it personally and they will resent you for not being there for them, all that will then happen is irreparable damage to you, your partner and your relationship.

Understanding and patience are the keys. Even if you can’t muster patience, a little tolerance will do. When depression causes arguments, and it inevitably will, there will be an urge to lash out at each other. This is the worst thing you can do. You have to be compassionate without being patronising, remember that depression causes them to see the negative in everything, their feelings of self-worth are non-existent and they don’t see anything like a light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, every now and again they might improve and you start to think that it’s over, but it’s only temporary. Appreciate those moments, but appreciate them for what they are and be patient. Even when they start treatment, it takes a long time for it to take effect.

I may paint a pretty bleak picture, but that’s a good thing, as you don’t want to go into this blind, as I did. You need to try and keep it together knowing and experiencing all of this, for both of you, and if you survive it, chances are you’ll both be much, much stronger for it when you do.

I can’t offer any more advice, such as it is, than that as I’m still learning myself. We’re nowhere near anything like good at the minute but I know we’ll get there, together.

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  1. Jamie
    February 18, 2011 at 8:38 am

    I’ve been through this from both ends – and having experienced depression yourself doesn’t change much of what you point out here. Much advice for those with depression can also be pretty trite (stuff about mountains and journey as well as ‘do some exercise’), and I’d guess most of that for partners is the same.

    I guess the main thing to do is to be in a position where the one with depression is comfortable telling the partner when they’re having a bad day. That way they’ll understand, hopefully, a bit better why it seems like you’re being a dick. Feeling like I’m being a dick makes it worse, which makes me more likely to be a dick, etc. etc. etc. (Not at all blaming you for feeling unwanted and all though, just try to remember you are!)

  2. February 18, 2011 at 8:43 am

    Sorry to hear that you’ve both been affected by this, as someone whose mother has also been a sufferer over the years I can relate to some of this. It will take a long time, though I wish you luck at getting the help needed and come through at the other end.

  3. February 18, 2011 at 8:51 am

    A really meaningful article. I wish all the best for you both, keep going. I’m sure you’ll come out on top.

  4. February 18, 2011 at 8:57 am

    I’m sorry that you’re both suffering with this, especially given what else is going on. I hope that the world starts to swing back in your favour and that life becomes easier for you both.

  5. February 18, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Hi Paul. Want to briefly say two things, and to try to do so without being too platitudinous.

    First, thanks to both of you for this; every time someone shares an honest experience of mental illness it helps break down barriers.

    Second, I’ve been where you are, it does get better (and worse again, and better again) and the very best thing you can do is keep yourself well. Lean on people in whatever way makes you feel better, because you need to be as strong as you can be when you are leant on, and depression can be contagious.

    The very best of luck to both of you.

  6. Mark Saunders
    February 18, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Give it 6 months, then bail. It’s not your fault, it’s not your responsibility unless you choose to make it so, you’re not on a rehearsal, and you don’t get a do-over in twenty years. ‘K?

  7. 1nothingspecial
    February 18, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Sorry to hear this. You don’t say if she’s on any pills, but have some free advice anyway. I’ve been on them for a while, and I find the important thing to keep in mind is they don’t necessarially make you feel “happy”, more “flat”. It certainly takes the edge off the times when you feel like the world is about to end. Try to keep a normal sleeping pattern too, because waking up at night after sleeping all day doesn’t help at all.
    Hope that helps. Give her hugs when she needs them, not when you feel you should. And when she does, put my name to one of them. S

  8. Polly
    February 19, 2011 at 12:31 am

    Thank you for sharing this Paul. As someone who is a sufferer of depression, living with another sufferer, a lot of what you say resonates deeply.
    Advice is hard as how Sarah feels will probably be much different to how I feel. I guess just be there as much as you can. Sometimes she will push you away and sometimes she will cling to you. The drugs will take the edge off once they kick in. And if they’re not helping then get her back to the docs to talk to them. Lots of cuddles and reassurance always helps me.
    And, as someone else said – please look after yourself too. Take time out sometimes, do stuff just for you and get plenty of sleep. All of that will help you stay strong.

    You’re brave to publish this and obviously a very good man who is determined to help someone you love through a difficult time.

    Ok, so I ended up trying to give advice. Sorry!

    Take care – both of you

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