I used to joke that only men with depression were attracted to me, mainly because that’s the only experience I have ever had with long-term boyfriends and a variety of short-term flings.
I’ve never dated anyone who hasn’t been on anti-depressants or seen a psychiatrist in their life. The dark, brooding, introspective types fascinate me. I have always been able to empathise with this type of person as I have experienced my own difficulties with anxiety, bouts of light depression and in my role as becoming a social worker. It is not until recently that I’ve been able to adequately actualize my thoughts, experiences and the coping techniques one must employ when they are in love with somebody who probably cannot love them back in the same way.
I aim not to detract from the experiences of the person with depression, or even contend that my experience as a partner of someone who is depressed is remotely anywhere near as awful and lamenting as their experience. But to provide perspective to the many, many partners who have sat in silence with their loved one, watching them eat for the first time in 2 days because their brain has been a fog, their muscles hurt and their bed has been the only safe space for them to hide in.
When you’re in love with someone who has depression, it can seem really life changing to connect with this person who was previously unable to connect with anyone else. You feel special because your presence makes their bad days less frequent and good days more common. When you’re in love with someone who has depression you swear to yourself that you will never see them for their illness but as the intelligent, dynamic and thoughtful person they are. That chain of thought usually stays strong and true right until the end.
When you’re in love with someone who has depression, the seemingly lonely and isolating disease somehow manages to wrangle you in too. Their bad days become your bad days. Instead of going out on a date, to the movies or a restaurant, your together time can just mean lying in your bed, cuddling for three hours at 2 pm, because that’s the only energy they can muster. Depression depletes your energy sending waves of lethargy and exhaustion crashing through both your bodies.
When the person you are in love with has depression, you don’t sleep because the conversation you had with them earlier today went along the lines of them not seeing the point of being alive any more. You don’t sleep because life without the person you are in love with seems more excruciating than the pain you are feeling for them currently. The anxiety this causes for you turns into compulsions – if you don’t think about them, their disease and caring for them, then bad things will happen to them. You feel the need to be constantly thinking how you can help them next.
When you are in love with someone who has depression sometimes but not always, your phone conversations for a week or two will revolve around them scheduling their appointments with a new psychiatrist, contacting the Disability Support Liaison at their University, their three doctor’s appointments and their visit to hospital for routine tests. You are their pillar of support because you love them.
In retrospect it is easy to see that the way I tried to handle myself and my partners’ depression was not healthy or sustainable. By the end of several relationships, I was left feeling exhausted and depleted of my coping tools and ability to look after my own wellbeing.
If your partner has depression, I can recommend seeking your own counsellor who can equip you with some skills to learn to cope. Nobody teaches you how to look after yourself when you look after others. You cannot be the best support system for someone else if your own mental health is impacted from someone else’s depression.
One thing I tried while I was in Canada was a 12 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course and I found that it really helped with my severe and debilitating anxiety over my ex-boyfriend’s depression.
I have never regretted choosing to pursue a relationship with someone who has depression, mostly because their illness is not what made them attractive to me. I do however regret not establishing firm boundaries and support networks when I chose to become someone’s lover and sometimes carer.
Despite its symptoms, depression is not a solitary or selfish disease. It affects everyone in the individual’s support network and is by no means the individual’s fault.
Set your boundaries. Have your own support system in place. And understand despite how much you love them or how many hours you cuddle them for you will never be able to cure them. They are the only person alive who holds the key to their own healing.
Written by Louise Mapleston.