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Living with a loved one with depression is challenging and it can be scary.
Before I dive in to healthy ways to overhaul the way that you view mental health (for your own benefit and for theirs), just think about that for a moment.
It’s challenging and it’s scary.
If it’s challenging and scary for you to deal with when you are at the ‘healthy’ end of the mental health scale, just imagine how much more scary it is for the person living with that condition day in day out.
Day in, day out.
In G’s (my husband’s) case, depression isn’t linear. Some days are an absolute battle for him and others less so. And some well, from the outside, you can’t tell that there’s a battle going on at all.
In the aftermath of a period of ‘absolute battle’ I’m usually emotionally exhausted.
But I am not fighting it every day.
On his ok and good days I’m often nowhere near the battlefield. Yet depression can still exhaust me. It can put a pause on the normal running of our home. Household chores get missed, meal plans go out of the window and the washing basket, well let’s not talk about that!
If dealing full on with G’s depression for a day or two can impact the normal functioning of our home (and me) for the best part of a week, is it really any wonder that facing it, whether he wants to or not, every single day makes him tired, cranky and someone that very often leaves a task half finished? As frustrating as it is for me (and I’ll openly admit that it is) it should be no wonder at all.
Stepping aside from the impact that it has on me and the timely running of our home for a moment, I’m surprised that it has taken me a good 15 years of our relationship (which has been touched by depression on and off, throughout) to figure that one out.
He’s unwell and that limits him. It limits him in some ways that are inconvenient for me. And it’s not his choice. Exactly as it wasn’t my choice to need chemo in 2009.
I had cancer, was unwell and it physically, mentally and emotionally limited me. We, as a society, have little problem getting on board with that. Yet, saying G has depression, is unwell and it limits him physically, mentally and emotionally well, that’s not something that sits so easily with many of us, is it?
Yet, we never judge another human being for having a potentially life limiting physical illness in the same way that we judge someone whose mental health is fragile. Someone whose mental health is also potentially life limiting.
Frankly, because G gets up and goes to work nearly every day and because of how functional he can be, until very recently, I hadn’t even considered that his mental health might affect him emotionally and physically too.
G’s depression limits him and it limits us as a family. And if he was physically unwell, that’s not a sentence that I would ever have needed to write.
As it is, that sentence is:
- A fact,
- Sometimes really damn frustrating,
- Not his choice
- Something that I hope my children’s generation will never feel the need to explain; because it
- should be obvious.
The reason that I do feel the need to say it today is because mental health is still incredibly misunderstood (including by those of us that try really hard to understand it) and surrounded by stigma.
We fear it in, I think, a much more complex way than our general physical ill health.
And there’s the truth of it.
We fear it.
We fear it, and it’s that fear that keeps it locked behind closed doors and keeps the stigma alive.
We fear it because:
- We don’t understand it.
- It’s closely connected, at least from the outside, with personality – the very essence of who we are.
- Historically, people with mental health conditions have been demonised and kept away from the rest of ‘polite’ society.
- It can be frightening.
- We worry about it happening to us.
- There is no sticking plaster – we don’t know what to say to fix it.
- The lack of understanding makes it difficult to feel sympathy or empathy in the same wy as we do when someone is in hospital with a broken leg.
- We don’t talk about it
- It’s easier to blame them for their difficult behaviour than to try to understand – understanding requires us to take a look at ourselves.
But, it doesn’t have to be like that. I’m learning that acknowledging my own feelings about G’s depression has enabled me to switch my perspective. That shift makes it feel like less of a challenge and enables me to approach the situation with greater compassion – both for G and for me. And if I’m meeting both of us with greater compassion, then our children are benefitting too.
Those things that bring me understanding may not all resonate with you, so I’m viewing this list as an invitation to listen to your own needs in whatever way works for you and your family, by reference to what works for me.
Shifting my perspective has begun to look something like this:
- Let go of the judgement.
- Remove your own ego from the equation
- Stop trying to fix it
- Start a sentence with ‘What do you need’ rather than ‘I want to’.
- Focus on the positives
- Have compassion for yourself
Each of those shifts is a whole topic in itself and I’ll be delving into each one over the coming weeks.
Which would you like me to delve into first? Let me know below!
And, if you can add to my list, I’d love to hear about that too.
Here’s this week’s reminder just for you:
I’m thinking of you,
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