Many of us will experience depression in our lifetimes. And it sucks. I’ve been there myself.
And many more of us will not only experience it ourselves, but will experience living with or loving someone who is anxious or depressed. I’ve been there, too.
So I wanted to write a blog, not about overcoming depression yourself, but to help you if you, like me, find yourself struggling to deal with the fallout from another person’s depression.
Because ultimately, the person dealing with depression will need to find their way out, and there are few things more frustrating than watching helplessly as someone you love suffers.
This frustration can lead you to try to help, to end their suffering as quickly as possible.
It can appear in your life as anger for their apparent unwillingness or inability to help themselves.
It can show up as added stress while you try to shoulder more and more of the burden of life to protect them, or simply because their depression makes being productive and helpful difficult for them.
So it’s frustrating for you, and you also need care and attention. So this post is not about them. It’s for you.
Find your support
As I say, there are loads of ways that someone else’s depression can impact you. Having a safe space where you can talk about this can be so beneficial.
That may sound easier than it can be. For one, it’s finding someone you can talk to openly about your loved one’s behaviour that won’t hold it against your loved one. It can be someone who doesn’t know your loved one at all, or someone who might know them but understands the nature of depression and can keep your confidences. If your loved one is self-conscious, finding someone he or she won’t ever likely be in contact with can help.
Once you’ve found that safe space, you can talk about your frustrations, your fears, the impact it’s having on you.
Depression can, unfortunately, go hand in hand with self-absorption, so as the nearest and dearest to a depressed person it may be that you rarely have space to talk about your feelings, so find a space that can be about you, whether that’s a coach, a counsellor, a friend, or family member.
I found that the moment I started to share what was going on, I felt far more resilient to face it. Nothing changed in my circumstances, but it changed everything in terms of how I was feeling.
Up your self care practices
When coping with a depressed person, you may find the demands on you increase. Depressed people often lack motivation to clean, or run errands, or take the kids to the park. They may be easily overwhelmed when kids become ill or if there’s a battle of wills over homework. So more of the household work and childcare may fall to you.
This is when it’s tempting to cut the things you do for self care from your too-busy diary.
In a word, don’t.
You need that self care more now than ever.
Maybe it’s your regular yoga class or a session at the gym. Maybe it’s meditation. Coffee date with friends. Time to read in bed. Writing in your journal. Even watching a favourite television programme.
Whatever it is, carve out time for it.
I find my weekly gym sessions, writing in my journal on my morning commute, getting plenty of sleep, running Happy Parent UK, and attending my weekly Quaker meeting all help me cope when the going gets tough.
To do this, I’ve had to be creative. I have a gym membership with a crèche so I have childcare sorted and I get a good hour to myself every Saturday morning. I combine my workout with listening to podcasts, and it’s one of the highlights of my week. And I don’t need to rely on anyone for me to be able to do this.
Another example (that’s free) is using my commute more effectively. I journal on my morning commute (when I’m more likely to get a seat). It was awkward at first, but no one cares what I’m writing. I plug headphones in so I’m less likely to be disturbed. In the evening commute, I email and/or write blogs on my WordPress app on my phone. This I can do whilst standing, which I usually am for the commute home. This has turned two hours of my day into some of the best self-care time of my week.
What do you need to do to keep in touch with you?
Learn how to support your loved one
This has been the biggest challenge for me.
I’ve tried urging my loved one to see a counsellor. A doctor. Take medication. Take herbal remedies. Exercise. Find hobbies. Connect to others. It’s all come across as nagging and ends in frustration on all sides.
I’ve tried listening sympathetically, but find I cannot bite my tongue well enough when my loved one says something I think is untrue, when they state a belief that my training has taught me to challenge. For instance, my loved one might say how there’s always some fire to put out and I point out the times when there haven’t been. This, too, has not helped things for either of us.
Your loved one might benefit from some suggestions. Or listening. Or even challenging unhelpful beliefs. Or they might be like mine and resent it. It’s not one size fits all.
I read a book about living with a depressive that seemed to suggest your role as their nearest and dearest is to convince them at all costs to get help, preferably medication. I found this supremely unhelpful in my case.
So my suggestion from my experience is to find out what support looks like for you and your loved one. Then do that.
After all the things I’ve tried, what am I finding my way to be? Well, I’m not sure I’ve cracked it completely, but I basically have found not pushing my loved one to talk, giving them space, and focusing on my own happiness when the depression and anxiety really take hold, seems to be the best way to support. Eventually my loved one may want to talk – or not. It’s hard, because it almost looks like ignoring, but this seems to help the most.
In the midst of a really bad bout, it’s hard to imagine anything will ever be different. But it will. Depression tends to shift and flex over time. It will probably always be there in your life, but it will ease at times and will worsen at times.
Keeping a perspective of life beyond your loved one’s depression can help you bear it when times are dark. You are more than their depression.