Loving someone who struggles with darkness is not an easy job. As the days go by, you notice their smile get weaker and their eyes emptier. And suddenly, there’s not only love you feel in your heart. Now, there’s a chilling fear. You fear for their safety, for their health… you fear for your relationship. Because it’s not just the depressed one who gets dragged down by this dark illness – it is the friendships, families and romance that get shattered too. Even so, maybe you don’t feel like giving up just yet. In those gloomy days when you need hope, remember the words of an unknown, but wise writer:
“Anyone can love a rose, but it takes a lot to love a leaf. It’s ordinary to love the beautiful, but it’s beautiful to love the ordinary.”– unknown
In this article, we invite you to learn more about your loved one. Why do they act the way they do? Keep reading to learn how you can love them, and how you can love yourself in the process.
The Impact of Sadness
Depression is an incredibly complex psychiatric illness. It feels heavy and exhausting to the ones who suffer, but it’s equally damaging to the ones around them. And often, their struggles can be taken personally. For example, does your loved one seem uninterested in… well, anything? They don’t feel like going out, or watching Netflix together? This lack of interest can make you feel isolated and distanced from that person. It can almost feel like they don’t want to spend time with you. But this is actually a common depression symptom which the American Psychological Association calls anhedonia. This means that your loved one doesn’t have the ability to enjoy things they used to love.
They might also spend their time laying in bed, doing nothing. And sometimes, this can feel so irritating! You may think: Why do they never do the dishes? Or take out the trash? But, try to remember it’s not them just being lazy. A 2020 research study published in journal Translational Psychiatry shows that depression often goes hand in hand with fatigue – a physical and emotional tiredness.
This tiredness can overflow into intimacy, too. If the depressed person you love is your romantic partner, it’s possible you two lack some physical love. That’s because, according to licensed psychotherapist Markesha Miller, depression often kills a person’s libido. And as a result, you might be left feeling unwanted and undesirable.
Are you familiar with some of these feelings? If you do, it’s important to take care of yourself as well. We’ll talk more about it towards the end. But for now, let’s talk about how you can show support to your loved one.
A Shoulder To Cry On
No matter how much you want to help them, you cannot be their therapist. You can only be their friend, their partner, or their family. So to start, show them how much you love them, everyday. A great way to do this is by giving them a nice, biiig hug. According to a 2015 study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, hugs can help a person feel supported and increase their psychological well-being. And while you’re holding them in your embrace, let them know that no matter what, they are always loved by you.
Another thing you can do is make them feel understood. Ask them to explain their depression to you. Sometimes they might have a hard time explaining how they feel. If that happens, try to help them find a way to express themselves. For example, they might try writing you a letter. According to a counselor Lauren Garvey, writing a letter is a great way to share your feelings when you’re trying to explain complex feelings.
To show your support, you may also encourage them to get moving. There’s a lot of truth in that Latin phrase mens sana in corpore sano, which means “healthy mind in a healthy body”. Staying active is very important for your loved one’s health. But instead of saying “you should start moving more”, try a more gentle approach. Tell them “I’d really like to take a walk! It’s such nice weather today. Would you like to come with me and keep me company?”
There are so many ways in which you can support them. But, do you know which one is the most important? It’s taking care of YOURSELF.
The Oxygen Mask
Let’s take a moment and imagine you’re in an airplane. Suddenly, the oxygen masks fall down from the ceiling. At that moment, the first thing you do is secure your own mask. Even if the person you love the most is right there next to you – your own safety becomes the priority. And when you make sure you’re safe, that’s when you’re able to help someone else.
This principle is the same even when you’re down on the ground, and the oxygen masks represent so much more. No matter how much you love that person, you can’t be their backbone if you’re not taken care of. As clinical psychologist Paula Wilbourne says that if you forget to check your own emotions, stress and habits, it can impact your mental health and relationships.
And forgetting about yourself can beso easy when you’re worrying about someone you love. You might get overwhelmed with feelings of fear and worry, or maybe not feeling good enough to help your loved one. But researchers show that self-care is extremely important while dealing with a mentally ill loved one. According to a 2014 study published in the journal Atención Primaria, taking care of your health can actually be beneficial to your relationship with a person suffering from depression. What can you do to take care of yourself? Here are some steps suggested by a psychotherapist Marni Feuerman from VerywellMind:
- practice good sleep hygiene.
- nourish your body and make sure you exercise regularly
- spend time with the people you love, doing the things that you love, and
- journal about your thoughts and feelings
And if at any moment it all becomes too much, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. You deserve it as much as the person you love.
It’s not easy watching the person you love struggle with their own mind. But if you remember to take care of yourself, learn about depression and listen to your loved one, it might get just a bit easier. And while you two are taking steps towards recovery, take a look at 6 Things People With Depression Want You to Know.
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Andrews, T. (2021, May 5). How to Support a Romantic Partner Who Has Depression. Cosmopolitan. Retrieved October 21, 2022, from https://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/a36344037/dating-someone-with-depression/
APA Dictionary of Psychology. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2022, from https://dictionary.apa.org/anhedonia
Billones, R.R., Kumar, S. & Saligan, L.N. Disentangling fatigue from anhedonia: a scoping review. Transl Psychiatry 10, 273 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-020-00960-w
Duarte, J., Ferreira, M., & dos Santos, C. (2014, November). Anxiety, stress and depression in family caregivers of the mentally ill. Atención Primaria, 46, 176–179. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0212-6567(14)70087-3
Feuerman, M. (2022, February 18). Living With Someone With Mental Illness. Verywell Mind. Retrieved October 21, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/coping-with-a-mentally-ill-spouse-2302988
Robinson, K. J., Hoplock, L. B., & Cameron, J. J. (2015). When in Doubt, Reach Out: Touch Is a Covert but Effective Mode of Soliciting and Providing Social Support. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6(7), 831–839. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550615584197
Therapeutic benefits of writing letters. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2022, from https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/therapeutic-benefits-of-writing-letters