This was originally published on Scary Mommy.
I've watched people I love suffer from depression my whole life--I know what it's like to confront the disease from the outside looking in. I know about the very complicated mix of concern and anger and fear, and about trying to find that balance between helping someone you love suffer less while also taking care of your own needs. And even though there's no set formula for how to walk through all of it, here are a few things I've picked up along the way:
It's not personal. What I had to accept when my boyfriend was depressed was that despite how it felt, nothing was being done to me. It was just happening. It wasn't because I was doing anything wrong or because he was a bad person, and it wasn't because he didn't love me. It was so hard not to think, "If he loved me more..." or "If I could make him happier..." but ultimately I came to accept the fact that depression, like any disease, is bigger than even the strongest of relationships.
That's not really your person.Depression is so insidious precisely because it doesn't present like most diseases. It lives in the body and the mind -- it distorts perspective most of all. I had to continually remind myself that my boyfriend just wasn't there anymore. The more I could recognize when the disease was at work, the more patience I could muster.
It was so hard not to think, 'If he loved me more...' or 'If I could make him happier...' but ultimately I came to accept the fact that depression, like any disease, is bigger than even the strongest of relationships.
You are no one's savior.Despite what Hollywood might have you believe, love does not always conquer all, and yours won't either. It's only natural to think that if you just love this person enough and try hard enough, that you'll be able to save him. But depression isn't just a bad mood or a little sadness; it's embedded into genetic coding -- it lives in the chemicals in a person's brain that inform her sense of pain and pleasure. Trying to treat someone else's depression with care and concern is as futile as trying to treat someone's diabetes that way. And when you try, you both just end up feeling small. You can show up for them and make sure they know you love them. You can cut them some slack where you might not otherwise. That is all.
Take care of yourself. For a time I got so caught up in "fixing" my boyfriend that I forgot about everything else, including myself. Somewhere along the way I'd decided that nothing could be right in my life until he got better -- it got to the point where I couldn't even figure out how I was feeling until I knew what kind of mood he was in. All that did was add to the pressure and anxiety we were both already feeling. What I finally came to realize was that I was allowed to be happy even if he wasn't. In fact, it was better for both of us if I was. Once I began to step back into my own life, he had the space he needed to get better.
What I finally came to realize was that I was allowed to be happy even if he wasn't. In fact, it was better for both of us if I was.
Patience. It is a slow and grueling process, and it isn't always linear. Recovery will take exactly as long as it takes, and not a moment less.
Let go. You have no way of knowing how long it will take or what needs to happen before recovery can begin. Worrying and wondering about it will not make a bit of difference, and it will only take you further from your own life.
You're allowed to have your own feelings about it.I cannot stress this one enough. When my boyfriend got sick, I knew everything there was to know about depression: that it wasn't personal, that he wasn't choosing it, that it was so much bigger than our relationship and it had nothing to do with his feelings for me. And yet, when it was all happening -- when he wasn't showing up for me and I found myself alone in my relationship -- it didn't matter what I knew. It felt awful. And I was allowed to feel awful. Just because someone else has a disease doesn't mean that all of your feelings go away. Just because it's not a choice doesn't mean that you aren't hurting. And you get to feel whatever it is that you feel about it. You're allowed to be sad and frustrated and bewildered, and you're allowed to be angry that your needs aren't getting met.
Just because someone else has a disease doesn't mean that all of your feelings go away. Just because it's not a choice doesn't mean that you aren't hurting.
Compassion -- for both of you. Just because you get to have your feelings doesn't mean you get to act any way you want. You should strive for patience and compassion always. But when you fall short of them, you should also go easy on yourself -- it doesn't make you are a bad person. It makes you are a human being going through something that is hard and terrifying and real, and the fact is that you won't always be your best self. You will make mistakes and say things you wish you hadn't. Luckily, you are not powerful enough to make or break anyone's recovery.
You are collateral damage, plain and simple. Regardless of intentions or the nature of depression, your pain is real and isn't any less important than anyone else's. You are also a person standing in the muck of someone's depression -- allow yourself the space to recognize that reality.
Connect with Dani on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram, and check out her blog Sum of My Pieces, for grown-ups like her who don't have their shit together. She writes about her messy life in order to write about things she thinks are important: societal expectations, sexuality, relationships, and the vortex that is social media.