It’s not easy.
Watching someone you love experiencing pain is one of the hardest things in the world, particularly when you can’t do anything about it.
I’ve witnessed couples go through this with terminal diseases before and it’s absolutely heartbreaking. In my own relationship, I’ve lived through a much less severe version of that experience, but that doesn’t mean that the pain hurts any less.
Many of us do. Depression is an achingly common disorder, an insidious little brain-worm that alters how we think, feel, and react to the world around us.
Like most people, I’ve dealt with my own small bouts of depression in the past, but my opinion of it completely changed once I started my relationship with my girlfriend. She’s beautiful, vibrant. She’s the funniest person I’ve ever met, but she has also been diagnosed with clinical depression.
At first, I thought I could relate. My attitude was “I’ve had the blues myself before,” but very quickly, I realized that my tiny sad moments were NOTHING compared to the level of depression that my girlfriend fights to deal with every single day.
Because depression is like a persistent terminal disease in a way. It’s always there, always looming, even if you’re smart about it. And my girlfriend works her ass off to stay healthy.
She’s seen a psychiatrist since she was 17. She’s on medication to help with her moods. She’s hyper-sensitive about her mental state — if she feels herself lapsing into a funk, she becomes pro-active, surrounding herself with friends and family or making sure to schedule a doctor’s appointment ASAP.
She fights like a warrior against her personal demons, which is downright inspiring to watch, but the sad reality is — she doesn’t always win.
And, as someone who loves her, it’s hard to see that.
Because I think she’s the most amazing person in the world, so my honest response to her depression sometimes is to get angry.
I don’t like it when people are mean to her — even when SHE’s the person in question.
You just want to rip out the depression from inside of her, shake it, and scream “LEAVE HER ALONE!”
It’s like watching a kid on a playground being bullied and you physically can’t do anything to stop it. It can be maddening.
But, when you love someone who’s depressed, there’s not much that you can do.
Granted, there are SO many things that you SHOULDN’T do. Many of them I learned through experience — rookie mistakes that I’m still embarrassed about to this day.
- You shouldn’t talk about silver linings. (They can’t see them.)
- You shouldn’t try to remind them of everything wonderful in the world. (They can’t feel it.)
- You shouldn’t tell them about some wonderful new medication you read about online. (Pills can’t magically make everything better.)
- You shouldn’t turn into a drill sergeant — “Get up, we’re not staying in bed all day!” (They’ve been bossed around by their emotions enough.)
- You shouldn’t tell them to snap out of it, cheer up, smile more, or always look on the bright side of life.
Here’s what you CAN do when you love someone with depression — you can hold their hand.
It might seem like an impossibly small and insignificant thing to do, but, trust me, it’s not.
You can’t get angry. You can’t rage against her depression (because it’s a part of her). All you can do is show her, in some small way, that you’re not going anywhere.
You hold her hand. You rub her back. You bring her another blanket.
You don’t react to her depression. She’s already hyper-aware of how destructive her depression is to herself, and she’s secretly worried that it’s destroying your life too. So you don’t let her see you flinch.
You remain present and solid and unwavering. You show her that you can see her — depression and all — and that you still want to stick around.
It’s not always easy. It can be so hard to separate your emotions, making sure that your anger at her depression doesn’t seep into your emotions for her. Because yelling at a victim never accomplishes anything. The even harder part is accepting that you’re powerless, that there isn’t any magic thing you can do to make everything all right.
When you love someone with depression, all you can do is show them that you still love them no matter what. You can’t fix them. You can’t soothe them. You can only let them know that you’ve seen both their light and dark sides and it hasn’t changed how you feel about them one bit.
Again, it’s a small gesture, but, in time, you’ll realize that it means everything.