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Depression is a bastard. And so is Anxiety. I hate the very bones of the blood-sucking monster with all its Dementor powers.
JK Rowling famously suffered with depression and if anyone who knows anything about depression doubts this they only need to read this quote.
“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself — soul-less and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
This is the best description of Depression I have ever read. One of my favourite poets, Gerad Manley Hopkins wrote ‘I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark not Day’ describing the power of depression to seep into every cell of your being, leaving everything – present, past and future – tainted by its black, oily, sickness. ‘I am gall, I am heartburn’ cries the narrator; his blood ‘brims the curse’ of the darkness that ‘fells’ him.
Powerful stuff, and the agony of Depression has fuelled many a creative artist who struggles with doubt and despair. I have come across depression not only through being married to someone who suffers from it, but I have worked with a lot of young people who have had it too. My best description of knowing whether someone is depressed or just down is that if it feels like you are talking to someone at the bottom of a very deep hole, then they are probably depressed not just having a bad day.
Rob’s Depression first impacted our lives after we lost our son, James. But looking back to the early days of our relationship the tendency to darkness was always within him. But losing James allowed the crack to yawn wide open so the darkness flooded out and into our lives
I find it very difficult to deal with. My natural inclination is to optimism, cheerfulness, looking on the bright side. Losing James reinforced that part of my personality because my response was ‘the next baby will be fine’, ‘we’ll get through this’, and ‘it’ll be OK’, then ‘if we got through that, and survived, we can get through anything.’
It has also meant that the health of my loved ones became more important than anything – there’s not much more horrifying than losing a child and, for me, it’s a blessing. Losing a job? Losing a house? Co-worker being a pain? Nothing to holding a dead baby in your arms, or sitting by your father’s death bed.
One positive thing to come from James’ death is it has forced me to try and think every day – God, I’m so lucky my children are healthy, my parents are living, the people I love are well and happy. Lots of times I don’t or can’t do this, but I do try and it makes me feel better when things are shit. (I am aware I am writing this during a pandemic)
It breaks my heart that losing James brought the monster of depression into Rob’s world. He had the sense of a perspective that nothing else mattered but some days it led to hatred. The people at his work were uncaring, they lacked understanding. The whole attitude towards fathers sucked, as I have written elsewhere.
So, for nigh on 15 years Rob and I have fought the war against Depression. I’ve got to admit I have been crap. I have said the wrong thing, done the wrong thing, got caught up in my own self-pitying feelings and yelled ‘but what about me!?’ dramatically on more than one, shameful, occasion.
So these tips I am passing on are from experience, but you should take them as more of a ‘learn from me because this is what I should have done,’ it’s not necessarily what I did.
I hate Depression. My Rob is a handsome, tall, kind, clever, generous, honourable and thoughtful man. I fell in love with him because he came and rodded my drains two days after our first date and was the only person I knew who had read Ulysses all the way through. He went to a crap school with no support and got into university through being bright and determined
When he got there he met loads of people with brilliant educations who had read all sorts of things he had never heard of. So he got a list of the top 20 books everyone should read and read them all. From Dostoevsky to James Joyce he worked his was through those huge novels, despite being dyslexic, in an effort to improve himself.
He went to university despite his family not supporting him (except his Dad), his grandfather told his mother she should stop him from going because university was full of ‘drug dealers and prostitutes.’
Not only is he now an academic with a PhD, as well as an MSc in Maths (which he did for fun (!) with the Open University – took years) with many publications in learned journals, he has also made a kitchen, built patios, brick walls and fences. He has fixed windows, cleared gardens and designed extensions, and taken down walls. All skills he learned from his builder Dad who, sadly died a few years ago.
And BLOODY Depression makes him feel he is worthless! GOD it make me angry. I HATE the days when I see him, hood up, staring into space his shoulders hunched.
His speech becomes laden with negatives. Everything is wrong, everything is hopeless. He is useless. We’d be better off without him. He yells, he swears, he kicks things. Darkness comes into the house.
But this is the same guy who will run around the garden naked (as I discovered to my surprise when I was checking out my bird cam). Someone who will make the children hoot with laughter – which drives me mad as *I* am supposed to be the funny one – and dances to James Brown when he gets out of the shower.
But when Depression comes to fucking visit it’s like it takes my man away and replaces him with a stranger. Depression stops you being able to love. To be able to laugh. To be able to see any hope in the future.
And there’s no cure.
We have tried EVERYTHING. And this is why I wrote this list. Rob is good at the moment. The lockdown is a blessing for him as he can spend hours in the garden, where he is happiest. He is off the meds and the Down Days, as I call them, don’t last too long.
I hope you find this list of some use. I am not a Doctor, my only insight comes from personal, everyday experience. Do share in the comments what you have found helps.
MOST IMPORTANTLY nobody knows better than I do how shitty it is living with someone with depression. I get annoyed, frustrated, furious. Some days I can’t help it and I make him feel guilty, have a go at him, make him feel shit for not being able to feel better. (I hate myself writing this as I know it’s true and it makes me a shitty person) If you want to understand what Depression is read this book.
Rob said this was the one book that came closest to putting into words – or pictures – what Depression is like.
And that’s the thing. I KNOW it’s an illness. I KNOW he can’t help it. But that doesn’t stop me thinking ‘just get up and get on with it, for God’s sake,’ on occasion. And then I feel guilty. I wouldn’t say that to someone with cancer, would I? Or a broken leg? I’m a bad person.
But then I have to stop and remind myself, no I’m not a bad person. I’m just human, and this is a difficult situation. And sometimes Rob can just be an arse, and it’s OK to be cross with him.
So a BIG piece of advice to someone who is generally quite a happy person but whose partner is depressed is this – be kind to yourself. See friends. Drink wine. Go dancing. Look after yourself as well – as you will be more able to look after your partner when Depression next comes knocking.
10 Ways to Cope With a Depressed Partner
1. Leave them Alone
I cannot stress this enough. And it is something I struggle with. But remember this. YOU CAN’T MAKE IT GO AWAY. YOU CAN’T HELP.
Talking it though, reasoning with them. Pointing out the lack of logic in their thinking: WON’T HELP OR MAKE A DIFFERENCE
I have lost count of the times I have done this and it very rarely works. Sometimes it does, if they are just a bit blue and need some cheering up, or a robust stream of confidence building words.
But if they aren’t looking at you. Are unable to smile and either disappear into their hoodie, or march up and down in agitation then…
LEAVE THEM ALONE.
Not for long. Keep an eye on them. But sometimes they just need to process things through themselves. Saying things like ‘but that’s a stupid thing to say!’ or ‘why don’t you get up and do some exercise or go into the garden?’ just makes them think ‘I’m stupid’ and ‘I am so useless I can’t even do a bit of exercise.’
Sometimes letting them go and sleep can help, which brings me on to…
2. Let them Sleep
It’s taken me a long time to realise this, but sleep is a blessing. As Shakespeare says it ‘knits up the raveled sleeve of care’ and he’s absolutely on the money with this one. Persuading your partner to go and have a nap can stop the obsessive, negative, downward spiral of thinking that can trigger a major depressive episode.
I think it gives the brain a break, resets it, if you like, and that is a powerful weapon in the armory in your war against Depression. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does.
I know many people are against this, but in my experience sometimes you have to get them to look into medication. I think Rob’s Depression is triggered by events, bad weather, and anxiety. A responsive form of Depression is how I think of it.
I think events like loss, threats of redundancy – bad things happening in general – has an impact on his brain chemistry, and when something really bad has happened – losing James, losing his Dad – he has to use medication to keep his head above water. When really bad things happen all the exercise, therapy, vitamin pills and sunshine in the world isn’t going to help.
Depression is an illness, and sometimes you need medicine to treat it. Rob has tried every single medication there is.
Vortioxetine: Made him feel sick – all the time. For months and months every time he ate he’d feel sick. Otherwise they worked well. It’s what he’s been on up until now but the sickness never wore off so he stopped taking them. With the lockdown and spring he is coping well so far. Fingers crossed.
Venaflaxin: Great for REALLY bad days. This got him through losing his Dad to Aplastic Anaemia, a cruel and terrible disease. The good thing is it gives you a cloud to float on, but it turns you into a zombie. Coming off them is HORRENDOUS. I never want to go through Rob withdrawing from Venaflaxin ever again (and I’m sure he doesn’t either)
Sertraline: OK but made him sleepy all the time and affected his concentration.
Citalopram: helped with anxiety but not depression, another one that made him sleepy.
Prozac: Worked well but had a bad impact on life in the *ahem* bedroom.
Agomelatin: Fantastic as it made him sleep really well and gave him lots of energy (it is how he got the new kitchen built) but also sped up his negative thinking (leading to panic attacks every morning) and we had to buy it privately so it cost a bomb.
Overall, I think the worst was Venaflaxin as although it was exactly what he needed when things were really, really bad, it meant he didn’t feel like himself, and when he started to feel better he found its effect intolerable. The withdrawal was also appalling – the time when he was coming off them was the closest I came to leaving him!
A very good GP said to Rob (who really didn’t want to be on meds) to think of it as treating diabetes, or high blood pressure. ‘We need to sort your head out so you can go on being brilliant in your career so we get better WiFi’ he said. Ha!
Bear in mind that medication doesn’t need to be forever. Rob finds Vortioxetine to work well and he can take it during the dark, winter months and then in the summer when things are better he comes off them. They don’t seem to have withdrawal issues so it seems to be an effective approach.
My point is there are a huge range of anti-depressant meds out there, you just need to get your partner to find the right one. They take at least six weeks to take effect so you both need to be patient. We have learned that they all have side-effects, it’s just a case of finding what works with the least troubling side-effects.
Remember, sometimes they need the meds to be able to do all the other stuff. If they are really depressed they simply CAN’T go and exercise. They can’t pull themselves up out of the hole to even imagine doing anything productive like that – oh and telling them going on a walk will make them feel better will just make them feel even more useless, so don’t say it.
The most annoying thing about when Rob sees his therapist is that he says EXACTLY the same thing I do to him but, for some reason, Rob listens to his therapist when he doesn’t listen to me.
So, send them off to a therapist as you may find they take on board advice better from someone outside the relationship.
Choose your therapist carefully, though. I know it sounds awful, but experienced and older therapist do tend to be more effective – that’s just a personal opinion but there is some evidence to back it up. I have been amazed at how many therapist we have come across are also medicating with anti-depressants.
The most brilliant thing a therapist can do is guide your partner in directing their thinking in a more positive way. They can give constructive help with scientifically proven methods. Also, they have probably trained for years so know what they are talking about, whereas you probably don’t.
Use the experts.
5. Eating and Drinking
Eating crap will not help their moods. Chuck them a vegetable as often as you can, or encourage them to shop for good food. Too much fat, sugar, salt etc will make them physically feel worse and that adds to a sense of a lack of well being – I know, I know, it’s obvious, but that’s because it’s also true.
Alcohol will make them feel better, temporarily. There have been many a night when Rob has cracked open a bottle of wine and I know he will feel worse in the morning. Sometimes I nag. Sometimes I don’t. I know it will make him feel better for a few hours that evening and that’s enough.
However, don’t be surprised when they are a nightmare the next day. If they are taking meds then the alcohol will rob them of their effectiveness. Also: Hangover.
6. Exercise and Fresh Air
This is only going to work if they are not at the worst point of their depression. It’s HOPELESS to force them up and out if they are very bad, in fact it will just make them feel worse.
However, if you feel they are not quite at the bottom force them out, preferably somewhere green. Walking through a wood, or across a field has been SCIENTIFICALLY PROVED to have a beneficial impact on well being.
It’s not that it will cure the Depression straight away, but I have found sometimes it can head it off at the pass. Watch out for the warning signs and try and get them out on a walk as quick as you can.
Ask them a few times, don’t listen to the first ‘no, I can’t be bothered.’ Keep nagging but not for too long. You’ll know when its hopeless, but if you see a weakening, ‘maybe later’ then take them up on it. Pass them their coat, boots and dog lead and get them out the front door.
If they are definite and say no more than, ooohhh, may four times? Then go back to tip number 1 – leave them alone.
7. Anger, Shouting, Nastiness, Aggression: It’s the Depression, It’s Not You.
People with depression can be HORRIBLE! Rude, nasty, unkind, mean. It is so easy to sit there and think why doesn’t he love me? Why is he picking on the kids?
What have I done? I think. Has he gone off with someone else?
It’s that bastard Depression. Rob has told me time and time again that when he is bad he can’t feel anything other than despair. Of course he loves me and the kids, but Depression sucks all of that away.
When he is being mean and nasty and cutting I have to think to myself that’s the Depression talking. The Black Dog barking, it’s not Rob. This doesn’t always work and I get hurt and shouty and guilt inducing, but that is not the best way to respond. It just causes nasty arguments.
It’s like a scared dog snarling and snapping. In his head is a maelstrom of fear and darkness and lack of self-worth. Any reaction to the outside world is governed by that current mess in his head, it poisons everything.
Just walk away for a bit. Leave them alone.
If you can’t, or don’t want to, then don’t interject. Let them rant on, draw the poison out. Sometimes they just need to talk and in doing so can talk themselves round. The last time I interjected with what I thought was a positive and supportive comment I got: ‘You’re always interrupting me. You think my opinion is of so little value you won’t even let me finish a point.’
So do what I do, keep quiet, let them rant on and smugly think what a selfish twat they are being and you will get your revenge later. I know this doesn’t sound very moral, but needs must.
8. Don’t Guilt Trip Them
Oh God. This is hard. I find myself doing it all the time. Emotional blackmail will NOT make them feel better. It just makes things much worse.
‘Why can’t you help me?’ I whine. ‘It’s not fair I have to do everything.’ ‘I feel sad too’. All those awful things I say and the only effect is that it makes him feel like the worst little worm in the world.
It makes him feel shit when he can’t help me. That I can get on with things when he can’t, makes him feel useless. So saying things like ‘the kids need their Dad’ and ‘but you did it last time with no problems, why can’t you do it now?’ just reinforce his already deeply entrenched sense of self-loathing.
So when he then says scary things like ‘you’re better off without me’ why am I surprised? When he is depressed all the usual nagging that any partnership involves gets grotesquely transformed into ‘you’re useless, I can do without you, we’re much better without you bringing us down, what kind of example are you setting to our children? You’re worthless. There’s no point.’
I struggle with this whenever he is down. I know I shouldn’t do it, but I still do. I’m working on it, though.
9. It’s an Illness
Not the first or last time this will be said, but it’s worth repeating because it is true.
Depression means something is wrong with the brain or body. It is a trite thing to say, but if your partner had a broken leg or cancer, you wouldn’t get so frustrated with them. Well maybe not quite as much.
You can encourage them to get meds, see a therapist, go for a walk, but ultimately you can’t cure their illness. You can support them, but they are not your responsibility. (This does not apply if your child is depressed, I’m talking about adult partners)
YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR HAPPINESS
If they refuse to do anything to help themselves then you have to think carefully about whether you want to spend the rest of your life with someone with depression.
It’s not an easy thing to live with and I have only stayed with Rob because most of the time he is making fucking HEROIC efforts to fight off Depression. Trying all the meds, going to a therapist, coming to the gym. Sometimes he fails, it doesn’t work, but I know he’ll keep trying and I love him for it.
That makes it easier to cope with, but I can’t imagine the horror of living with someone who has it and does nothing to challenge it. It’s awful for them, but is can also destroy their relationship.
10. Treat Depression as Bad Weather – This Too Will Pass
I think it was a very wise man – Stephen Fry – who said this. I wish I could grab everyone by the collar and yell this in their face.
IT WILL PASS
It may take a while, and chances are it will come back, but depression episodes don’t last forever. One day they will walk along on a sunny day and realise they feel happy.
Sometimes you both have to hunker down and weather the storm. Really. Think of it as those weeks when it rains every day. You know it’s awful but you also know, without any doubt, that you will see the sun again.
Of course you will! That’s the trouble with depression, those who are depressed can’t see that, they are incapable of thinking that.
But you know. You know the sun will come out again. So hang on tight, do whatever you need to do to keep sane, and remind them, and yourself, that the clouds do go, eventually. And the sun is always there, somewhere.
Thank you for reading this far! I hope you found it useful.
My experiences with stillbirth and Rob’s depression helped a lot to fuel my writing. Writing helped me get out all my complex and muddled feelings about Depression. It also helped me understand it to a certain extent as I wrote two characters who suffer different forms.
One, a boy, recovers because two women save him from a monster who is blackmailing him. The other, Angie, used medication and a bit of magic to climb out of her hole.
I wanted the book to offer hope. It does and will pass. And that’s the one thing Depression robs you of. Hope.
So really this post is to those girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands and wives who live with someone with Depression. You are the ones who hold the secret that there is hope, and the sun will come out again. Hold onto that and as they get better, use it as a rope to pull them out of the darkness.
Here is the book if you fancy it! (Shameless plug. Sorry)