Last year my partner, John, had a major depressive episode. It had been building for months but I put it down to his shift work, tiredness, grieving over his dad and other family issues. Unfortunately it came out as anger, and seeing as I was the closest one to him, I bore the brunt of it.
He would fly off the handle at any little thing, have a go at me over things that I hadn’t said or done (he created imaginary scenarios in his head), blame me for absolutely everything, and, at his worst, tell me that he wanted to commit suicide.
Thankfully, after getting help, the right medication and ongoing cognitive behaviour therapy, he has come through it. As a couple, at one point, I thought we weren’t going to make it. He was never physically violent, but the hateful, nasty words he spat out at me definitely had an effect. In January as he seemed to be getting better, I broke down. I felt like I had some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder. My anxiety levels were through the roof and I cried. A lot.
I thought he hated me, and for a time I felt like I hated him for what he had put me (and Molly) through. But I knew it was just my emotions spilling out. I had had to hold it together for so long that I finally broke. But we talked, we held eachother, we cried. We took some time off when Molly was at nursery to just be together. We completely opened up, John said he couldn’t remember half of the stuff he had said to me when he was ill, and the guilt was almost too much to bear.
But it was no-one’s fault, and finally he realised that depression is an illness that doesn’t discriminate. It is a chemical imbalance that can be fixed. After opening up to me it became apparent that John’s depression started a long time ago over things that had happened in his past and wasn’t treated properly.
We started to rebuild, to laugh, joke and live again. We both know how deep our love goes, and now we are stronger than ever. There have been no arguments, we are talking more, and most importantly, Molly has her dad back.
It was such a horrendous time, and I don’t think I have ever been so scared. But the main thing is – we got through it. So with that in mind, I wanted to share some things that I learned when dealing with depression in a loved one…
- Accept that they are ill and it will take time to get better.
- Get help immediately…brushing it under the carpet and hoping it will go away won’t work. Our GP was our first port of call and she was brilliant.
- They will be angry, but don’t take it personally. I know this is easier said than done, and it shocked me at how angry John was, but the fact of the matter was he was ill.
- Give them (and you) some space. I was constantly asking John if he was ok (because I was so anxious), but it just wound him up even more. Take time out to breathe.
- Don’t shout back. John would fly off the handle over anything, and it was so hard not to retaliate (especially if I had PMT), but I had to keep reminding myself that he wasn’t well.
- Try to stay calm. This was hard for me as my go-to emotion for any kind of turmoil is to panic. The hardest thing for me was hearing John saying he wanted to kill himself. Inside my heart was breaking, but I knew I had to be strong for him.
- Try to get outdoors. On the days that John wanted to lie in bed in the dark, I would encourage him to come out with me and Molly. We would go to the park or even just for a walk in the countryside, and each time he said it made him feel better.
- Listen/Encourage to talk. I think it’s a known fact that men find it harder to open up than women, so I wanted John to be able to tell me anything, even his darkest thoughts. As hard as it was to hear them, it meant that he could offload.
- Do something kind. I ordered John a couple of books (a happiness journal and one about CBT), made him lovely meals and sent him nice texts. It might not be much but it shows you’re thinking of them.
- Remember that it’s worth fighting for. I knew deep down that John didn’t mean the things he was saying, it just wasn’t him. You don’t throw in the towel just because things get rough.
- Take time off for yourself. When I knew John was getting better I went to my mum’s for a night. I was able just to talk and be myself, and get it all off my chest. I needed to regroup and get my head together, and I felt better for it.
- Keep reminding yourself that it WILL get better. I had to tell myself this daily, and it has. Depression is just an illness just like any other, and responds well to medication and therapy.
- If you’re not happy with the help/medication being offered, then change it. Keep pushing until you find what works.
I hope this post has helped any of you that might be going through something similar. Just remember that it will get better and there is always hope. Have a look at my mental health support page for more information.