My life has been speckled and spattered with depressive states. I am a series of ups and downs, highs and lows. I didn’t become aware of my depression until college, before that I just thought I was having an uninterrupted series of bad days. Or bad months. Or bad years.
When I was in college, I started to put a name on my depression. In my head it became various metaphors (a beast, a hole, a succubus). As I started to come to terms with my depression and learn about what triggered it, I fell even deeper into the hole because I started to wonder if anyone could ever love me if I was depressed. How could someone love me? How could someone withstand this if I could barely withstand this on my own? How could someone understand what is going on in my head if I couldn’t even understand it?
I felt extremely sad because I felt like no one could ever love me if I was depressed. I very quickly learned that depression isn’t something that can be cured. It is always here. It has built a home within the eaves of my skeleton and it comes out when it wants to. I also quickly realized that I am not the only person who has depression and that there are literally millions of people on this earth who struggle like I do. So there was hope! Someone could love me!
In the few serious relationships that I’ve had, my depression has caused tension in the relationship. It is difficult to love someone with depression and to be there for them the way they need you to be. It can’t feel like a burden. It can’t feel like things would be so much easier if one of you just didn’t have depression. It can’t be fixed with a band-aid. You can love someone through their depression, you just have to know how to.
Of course not every person’s depression is alike though, so there isn’t a formula for it. But there are some things you can do as a partner, as a lover, as a friend, to help someone you love who is struggling with depression.
- Realize that you can’t fix it
This is something that has been challenging for many of my partners in the past. Depression can’t be solved. You can’t just realize the weight of the universe resting on your shoulders one day and say fuck it. No one can fix or solve their own depression, and you can’t fix or solve anyone else’s depression. You can help people cope though. Coping is important. Help your loved one figure out the best way to cope. Then help them do that. It is easy to feel like you want to be their superhero, swooping in to save them from anything causing them pain, but you can’t be. Realize that. Trust that.
- Don’t claim that you understand, even if you think you do
I’ve made this mistake with past partners. Since I have been struggling with depression for years now, I have claimed that I understand what others are going through. But how could I? I’m not in their head. I couldn’t possibly know or understand exactly what they’re dealing with. We sometimes feel if we say that we understand what someone else is going through that it will be comforting, but really most of the time it is just annoying. You couldn’t possibly know or understand what someone is dealing with or going through because you aren’t them.
- Be there
This seems really simple, but it isn’t. This is by far the most necessary thing on this list. You have to be supportive. In whatever way they need you to be. Whether that be holding them or from afar. You have to respect what they need. The boundaries they draw in the sand. Be there. Let them know you are there for them no matter what they need. Let them know you aren’t going anywhere. Let them fall apart in front of you. Let them pick up the pieces however quickly or slowly they need to. Be there.
I remember a year or so ago, I was going through a particularly rough patch mentally and my relationship was suffering as a result, but also because of other factors. I remember being in the car with my girlfriend at the time, she was driving. It was raining outside. And I just burst into tears. I’m not much of a crier, especially in front of people, so she always knew when I cried openly in front of her that something was going on. I just started sobbing into my hands and she pulled the car over. She kept asking me what was wrong and why I was crying, and I kept saying I didn’t know. That I just felt sad. And all she said was, it’s okay not to be okay. I sat there crying and she rubbed my back and didn’t say anything else. That meant more to me than anything she could have said. She acknowledged the hurdle I was trying to clear, and that I recognized I might not have jumped high enough.
If you love someone with depression realize that it is a selfish beast. It will isolate. It will make your loved one feel crazy and sad and hopeless and confused and lonely sometimes. But the best thing you can do is be there and let them know you are there. Let them find their way through the maze, but be there to encourage them and hold their hand along the way. Be there.