Living with depression, or any mental illness, is challenging. But what happens when you live with someone who is suffering? That comes with its own set of challenges and obstacles. It’s even more fun when both parties (or all parties) have mental illness. I think the key to all of it is patience and empathy. It is frustrating beyond belief to watch someone you love sink deeper into a hole, sleeping all the time, missing deadlines, skipping things. You just hope they will decide to change something. It can be doubly frustrating when that person refuses to get help. A lot of people have biases against mental health professionals, against medication and other treatments. And when you’re in the throes of depression, it can be hard to start those processes, even if you’re not biased against them. Even if you have Drs., sometimes it’s hard to get to see them because you have no energy or motivation. It’s a fine line between trying to help and being hurtful. Sometimes reminding the person that they’re not doing what they could to help themselves just sends them deeper into a spiral of guilt and self-hatred. That’s one thing to remember when you are with someone who is depressed or suffering: they often know what they need to do, they just can’t. It’s kind of like when you’re suffering from an addiction. They say you need to hit rock bottom before you can fix it, and I thoroughly believe that’s true. Rock bottom is different for everyone, but the point is you hit a threshold of frustration that turns on your motivation to change.
It can be very difficult for the person living with a depressed person. Relationship norms go out the window. Sometimes that person doesn’t even respond to you when you’re talking because they’re so stuck in their head, or they decide that it’s not worth responding. It’s also hard not to turn that on yourself, and think, what am I doing wrong? Am I not worth responding to? My therapist is great at reminding me “it’s not all about you” and this is advice I would give to everyone. She doesn’t mean it in a harsh way, just a “don’t focus all the energy on yourself” way. Because likely it has nothing to do with you, which is painful in and of itself but at least you don’t have to blame yourself for their reaction.
I think it’s very easy to get angry at someone who’s depressed, especially if it has lasted for a long time. I know I spent years in a mood cycling funk and my SO was absolutely angry at me, one for the suicide attempt and two because it took me so long to recover from everything. I know everything happens in its own time, and for me I have my own timelines that I don’t particularly feel like I can control. I hadn’t hit my rock bottom. I wasn’t bored enough to motivate. When you are functioning, it can be so hard to sympathize with someone who isn’t functioning as well, even if you understand depression. It’s hard. It puts a strain on everything, especially if you love that person deeply. It can be very lonely, isolating. You feel like that person has been lost to you. But they’re not, they’re just on low power mode: not all functions are accessible but the basic programming is still working. So again, patience. I would say calmly asking questions is a good place to start, like, “Do you feel like doing anything?” “Is there something I can help with?” but questions like, “Are you ok?” can be daunting and can actually lead to a deeper shutdown than you intend. So try to focus on light things that lead to more important things. “Do you want to go out and see so-and-so?” “Hey I read this article, want to talk with me about it?” Engage and persevere, but don’t be afraid to back off if that person becomes overwhelmed and remember that it’s not you doing something wrong. Don’t get angry if you can help it. If you’re going to be angry, vent to a third party. I think it is important that your SO or whoever you’re living with knows how you feel, but it’s also important to temper how you express how you feel so that you don’t drive a bigger wedge between you. Depression is nobody’s fault. It’s a chemical problem. Yes, of course we can do things to make it worse (or rather, stop doing things that will make it better), but nobody wakes up one day and says, “I think I’ll be depressed for a few years.” Why on Earth would we?? It’s the pits.
Patience. Empathy. Gentle suggestion. And support for yourself outside of the relationship. These are essential for living with someone with depression.
Borderline personality is fucking confusing as hell. When I go into my weird cyclic dips, something primal in my brain takes over and I become a shadow of myself. My brain feels like it’s on fire, I can’t focus on anything, I don’t want to be anywhere, and I get so many flashes of “I just want to be dead.” It’s disturbing to be sitting on the couch, minding my own business, but without me noticing my head is spiraling out of control and suddenly I have this feeling like, if I had a gun I would absolutely shoot myself in the head because it’s quick, accessible, and final. The weird part is that I don’t generally feel suicidal in these moments, I just have these insta bursts of suicidality that pass almost immediately. It’s very disorienting, the whole thing. I tend to think everyone hates me and I’ve done everything wrong. I cry at the drop of a hat. This time I think the med change is helping a little bit. I don’t feel heavily dissociated like I usually do, just a little sleepy and unfocused. I was trying to do math yesterday and it was just painful. Not only because my professor isn’t really teaching us how to do things, but because I had to work through the maze of whatever this feeling is to get out to my cognitive performance areas. It’s like being in a jungle with a compass that keeps spinning out of control but sometimes decides to point north so you can navigate your way to the clearing. I need a better compass.