Helping and Holding Onto Your Sanity
Nobody wants to see someone they love suffer—and with depression, it is difficult to understand why someone does not want to "get better." It is equally frustrating just standing by and doing nothing, especially when it begins to affect you and your wellbeing.
I know; I've been there.
Motivating and convincing someone to go to therapy is a huge task that a person living with a depressed individual is likely to undertake.
Medication can take weeks to begin working, and even then, it may require trying several different types before the right one is found. All the while, you feel more helpless than supportive, which is terrible for your own mental health.
The #1 truth for someone living with a depressed loved one is that you can not fix them.
Their anger and sadness are not your fault. It's very convenient sometimes for a depressed individual to have someone to live with so that they don't entirely have to take all responsibility for their emotions, actions, and thoughts. They can easily blame it on the other person.
Many depressed individuals go undiagnosed until someone becomes close enough to them to notice the symptoms.
Sometimes, you don't realize someone is suffering from depression until you're already living with them. In the mind of the depressed individual, they could attribute their symptoms to you: “Why do YOU make me so angry?” This adds tension to the relationship.
Usually, it is out of care and concern that a person will prompt a loved one to look into their depressed mood, anger, and other symptoms. This can be a step forward, but it can also make things worse.
Symptoms of Depression
- Markedly diminished pleasure in almost all activities.
- Depressed mood.
- Social withdrawal.
- Easily irritated.
- Significant weight loss or weight gain when not dieting, or decrease or increase in appetite.
- Sleeping more or insomnia.
- Slow reaction and motor skills or irritability and agitation.
- Fatigue or loss of energy.
- Emotional outbursts.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt.
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness.
- Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation, attempting suicide, or specific planning for suicide.
Everyone Does Better With This One Thing...
There are ways to live better with a depressed individual:
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A routine: Besides therapy and medications, the best way to keep your own sanity is through a routine. Routines can help pull depressed people out of the normal funk they experience day in and day out.
Autopilot isn’t always a bad thing. A routine sets a person up to do something even when they don’t feel like it.
If they can expect to work similar hours every day and have certain times where they expect activity and engagement with others as well as downtime, it seems to lower their stress levels naturally. In addition, they don't spend as much time thinking about doing something because the routine illuminates the need to think too much.
They can still participate in life and everyday activities because their internal clock can anticipate certain events and energy levels at certain times. They don't have to wait for something to be appealing or motivating because that may not happen easily with someone who is depressed.
Do Things Together
Someone living with a depressed individual can feel alienated, lonely, or underappreciated and even feel bitter about the disproportionate relationship. A lot of their energy can go into being a cheerleader and motivator for just ordinary activities.
This dynamic can change if you do things together. This does not require cheerleading, just asking and including. Don’t force them.
If you are cleaning the house, ask for specific help while you are cleaning. perhaps tell them they are good at something that you need help with.
When I got involved in meditation, I included the other person too. Meditation can be very beneficial for depressed individuals.
”Let’s do this together.”
“I want you to try it with me!”
You may have to ask consistently before they actually join you.
Getting involved in activities together can significantly alleviate the lonely feeling that both people may feel for different reasons.
Sit outside together to get sunlight or take a stroll for some exercise. You'd be surprised how willing someone who is depressed to do things WITH someone they love. Take a leisurely drive together.
Make a commitment to eat healthily together. Cook together, and even ask for their help or expertise in nutrition.
The object is to take everyday activities and do them together without pressure, without coaxing the other person. These are not big events. No pressure. And they get easier to do over time.
Do Things Apart
It is important to maintain your own sense of self when living with someone who has depression.
- Stay involved in your interests.
- Take time to care for yourself and practice self-care rituals.
- Have your own support system. If you can’t control whether you live with a depressed person, do not flood your life with more individuals and friends who are moody or depressed.
- Take care of your own mental health. Notice if you are feeling depressed or anxious. Depression can be passed along to someone they live with.
- Get involved in things or events even if your loved one will not join you, and even if they give you a guilt trip for enjoying things without them.
It's far too easy to get sucked into their world, so it is crucial to get time away to be yourself and do the things you want.
There may be certain activities that your loved one seems to ruin for you (sounds harsh, but it's very true!). It's best to do these without them. Simply say, 'This is something I enjoy, and it seems like you do not. I will fully support what you enjoy without me too.'
They can pout about this, but do not let it get to you. It becomes a firm boundary when you repeat it often enough and objectively.
Milton H. Erickson was a psychotherapist well-known for his uncommon therapy, which was anything but typical and usually brief because he helped his patients quickly. He also used hypnosis and techniques related to it in his practice.
In one case, Erickson was treating a depressed woman who lived by herself. He came into her home and simply observed her domestic life. He noticed she had African violets, which are very hard to care for, but she had three and seemed to be growing a new one from a leaf as well.
Erickson said his prescription for her was to grow and give people her African Violets. She went to church every Sunday, and for every event, a funeral, a birth, a christening, a wedding in the church, she gave them African Violets. She became known as the African Violet.
The African violets did two things: they gave her purpose and put her energy and focus into something (depressed people spend a lot of mental energy ruminating over thoughts). They also opened her up to other people; others talked with her and appreciated her African violets.
A depressed person often does not know how to contribute to others' lives. They can feel excluded from society and their loved ones.
Depression distorts your thinking, and the one you love may not be able to see the discomfort he or she may be causing you.
— Barton Goldsmith, "Psychology Today"
You Do You
There's an ebb and flow to life when sharing it with a depressed loved one.
Some days you can stay positive in a normal frame of mind; daily activities override any overt signs of depression. Other days you get discouraged that things will never change, and worst of all, you have no power to change them.
This is your "normal." Focus on a “happy medium.”
You need to look at it objectively as if you were giving advice to someone else in your predicament. There is only so much you can do. Period. You are an individual, not just someone who plays a part in this other person's life.
A depressed person will always have more needs that need to be met than someone without depression. There is an inherent selfishness in depression—the ability to see only what is done to them and how they feel.
That’s why it’s impossible for you to fulfill all of their needs so you might as well fulfill some of your own.
You must fill yourself up, and don’t be afraid to tell the other person that you need to recharge.
When you don't take care of yourself and you prioritize the other person too much, it can get overwhelming and unhealthy. They simply need more than you have to give.
If you are not able to do this, you must reconsider your boundaries. Set them immediately. Set them often and repeatedly. You also tall them what you need. Depressed people have a narrow focus with the spotlight on themselves.
You may even seek your own support or counselor for better handling your specific situation.
- Living With a Depressed Loved One | Psychology Today
Depression is one the most common diagnoses. Many who love a person with depression suffer with them. Here are things that can be done to help yourself and perhaps your loved one.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on April 03, 2018:
I think it’s great that you realize and appreciate your husband during those times you suffered depression. Sometimes that awareness in the depressed individual isn’t there. It seems he has learned to give you the right type of support you need as well. That’s so important too! In my situation...when I got my own health issue it was hard being a big support system for someone else who required it as much as I did.
Debbie Jinks on April 03, 2018:
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve suffered depression especially after losing my sense of smell and taste. I’ve seen first hand what my husband goes through and when I am having a bad day I know how much it affects him. Even so, he has always been my strength and support. He’s a wonderful man.
L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on January 20, 2018:
That's great that you were able to deconstruct an unhealthy relationship and make it work by discovering the triggers that led to the issues between you two. It is so difficult to share what we're really feeling, but it is exactly what is needed. Thank you for sharing. No doubt that is helpful to others.
Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on January 18, 2018:
My husband and I had a co-dependent depressive relationship for many years. When he was up, I was down, and visa versa. It took me entering mental health treatment for myself to finally learn what I could do to stay healthy, no matter what happened with him. Everything you have mentioned here, I had to learn through my own experiences. When I started talking openly about my own feelings, he began to understand what triggered his. Now, we work together to keep each other on track.
L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on January 16, 2018:
You are too kind. Wow, what a nice comment. It’s a topic close to my heart.
Suzie from Carson City on January 15, 2018:
Perfectly presented. I cannot add a single thing to your excellent work. My hope would be that all those affected directly or indirectly by the "D-Monster" read this article. It is most informational & helpful. Peace, Paula
L Izett (author) from The Great Northwest on January 15, 2018:
Yes, it definitely affects people one way or another or they at least know someone whom it affects. It’s not uncommon for people to be on anti-depressants nowadays, but that still is not as effective as people think.
Hopefully your sister has some outlets or support. Although, it is hard for it not to affect someone when they live with a depressed person.
Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on January 15, 2018:
Thanks for your fantastic article. Loved the African violets story. I learned a lot. I have a good friend who is going through a depression. I'm very fortunate. I do not suffer from depression as such, and my partner does not either, but my sister does. Her husband is in a almost permanent depressing mood, which is hard on her.