It feels disloyal to describe my fiance as ‘someone with depression.’ Because he is so very, very much more than that.
I don’t think of Jack as depressed. In my head a depressed person is someone who can’t get off the sofa, who’s constantly plagued by misery. A sad person.
J is not a sad person. He’s one of the most positive, optimistic, life-affirming people I’ve ever known. He’s the king of ‘we’ll get through this’ and ‘don’t be silly, of course we can.’
Or at least most of the time he is.
Sometimes, and there’s no real rhyme or reason to it, the mists come down and he sinks back into a horribly familiar routine. Sometimes I can see the signs coming, more often I can’t.
But, when it happens, it’s like an eclipse over the person I know and love.
I know he’s still in there and I still love him just as much as ever. But I can’t see him, and I can’t get to him.
We’re luckier than a lot of people. His bouts of depression are generally short-lived – a couple of days at most – and have seemed to happen less and less frequently over the three years we’ve been together.
But, when they come, there’s no denying it. He finds talking to me hard, he finds getting out of bed hard. Going to parties or the pub is a gargantuan task, going to work is almost impossible.
One of the most frustrating things is how guilty he seems to feel. He continually apologises for being low, while I try to assure him that it’s fine. I’ve learned that those reassurances aren’t for me. They’re for him. He needs to hear me say that it’s okay, that I don’t mind, and that I’m not going anywhere.
The worst way that Jack’s depression affects our relationship is in how it changes his ability tolerate alcohol. He’s a guy who can usually drink half a bottle of wine and still seem pretty sober. But when he’s depressed even one beer will turn him into a monosyllabic drunk.
He tries to avoid drinking when he’s low, but when he feels like crap I can see how the fuzzy insulation of booze must be incredibly hard to resist.
When you talk about someone else’s mental health issue it’s important to note that of course it’s harder for them than it is for you. But, that said, talking to friends of mine whose other halves also suffer in the same way has been incredibly helpful.
Even friends who have little or no experience of depression are an invaluable support.
When the person you love, especially if it’s the person you live with, is suffering, it can make you feel pretty lonely. You don’t want to heap more pressure on.
Complaining about Linda from accounts giving you a dirty look might seem selfish or trivial.
But, as the partner of a depressed person, you still have your own needs. If you don’t look after yourself, you’re not going to be able to look after anyone else. That’s why they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before you secure anyone else’s.
And that’s why, if your significant other doesn’t want you to talk about their depression to your friends or family, I’d strongly suggest you at least find a counsellor or a hotline to talk to.
I never take it for granted that my partner is open to discussing his illness. In fact I’m lucky that he sees it as an illness at all. Seeing it as a condition, something medical that’s beyond your control, that’s the kind of thinking that starts to slowly erode the stigma.
There are no tips and tricks for making life better when depression is a cloud that you both live under. It doesn’t work like that. The only advice that I would ever give is to gently encourage your other half to talk, especially if he’s a bloke.
Men are taught from infancy that ‘big boys don’t cry’ – a sentiment which explains exactly why suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK.
It’s why months like Movember, for all its mustachioed jollity, are so important. The more we talk about mental health, particularly male mental health, the less the stigma becomes. And, once you rid something of a stigma, you start to take away the power.
Loving someone who has depression isn’t easy. It can be exhausting, frustrating, thankless and painful. Acknowledging how hard it can be doesn’t make you disloyal and it certainly doesn’t mean you don’t love your other half.
The truth is, whoever you’re dating, you don’t stop being you. You still have wants and needs and problems of your own. And, while it can be tempting to put those all on the back burner to look after the person you love, that’s not going to make you happy in the long run.
However hard things might be for your other half, taking care of yourself is a priority. If you can’t do that, you can’t begin to take care of anyone else.