I used to joke that only men with depression were attracted to me, because that’s the only experience I have 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. 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 am becoming a social worker. It is not until recently that I’ve been able to adequately actualize my thoughts, experiences and 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 and their muscles hurt and their bed is 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 someone 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 for the intelligent, dynamic and thoughtful person that 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 as well. Instead of going out on a date to the movies or going to a restaurant, sometimes your together time is just lying in your bed cuddling for three hours at 2 pm, because that’s all the energy they can muster. Depression depletes your energy and sends 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 anymore. 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. And 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 Liason at University, their 3 doctors 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 counselor who can equip you with some skills to learn to cope. Nobody teaches you how to look after yourself, when you look after others. And you cannot be the best support system for someone else if your own mental health is impacted from his or her depression. While I was in Canada I joined a 12 week Mindfulness Based Stressed Reduction course that 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 symptom’s 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, 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.