Monday, June 10, 2013

Surviving Life with the Chronically Depressed

I am writing this blog to discuss what it's like to live with someone that suffers from chronic depression and how to take care of yourself while doing so. This idea was spurned by reading part of The Stress Pandemic which neglected to distinguish between being depressed, clinical depression, and chronic depression when distributing advice about curing oneself. Another thing that inspired this article is that I'm participating in NamiWalks to help and in honor of those suffering from mental illness. Feel free to promote the fundraiser or donate using the link above.
I figure the best place to start is by explained what depression is, as many people have a misconception about what it actually entails.

Depression isn't simply being sad or unhappy or feeling blue, it's not laziness or an excuse. This is not to say that sadness can't become depression, it can. Depression is despair, it is the loss of all hope. It brings self-loathing and physical pain. Yes, I said physical pain. Severe depression doesn't just cause emotional pain but actual physical pain as well. And we aren't just talking migraine headaches, but pain everywhere. There are days when it hurts to simply get out of bed. You're tired and ache all over like you have the flu but you aren't infected with a virus. Though you may not be aware of it, there is a representation of the horror of depression in popular culture, the Dementors from Harry Potter. They are Rowling's anthropomorphic symbol of her depression over her mother's death. Depression affects many things adversely: memory, concentration, energy level, appetite, sex drive, immune system, etc.

When there is someone in a family that suffers from a chronic mental illness such as depression, bipolar, or post-traumatic stress disorder they aren't only ones that live with it. They person who is diagnosed with the disease definitely bears the brunt of the affliction, but its consequences and side effects are felt by the entire household. 

I am no expert, I haven't had any formal training, I can only speak from my own experiences living with a person suffering from mental illness. As the person without the illness, you are often the bread winner, organizer, housekeeper, and support system for the family. This isn't easy, it can be very stressful and tiring. There are times when it is very lonely. Yet those times when you see the person you fell in love with shine through are wonderful. These moments may come frequently or many months apart. When they are frequent, it's easy to forget there is anything wrong. You can lose track of the fact that your spouse, parent, or child has a dangerous disease. When those moments are months apart, you question why you stay, how you can keep going, and whether you'll ever be the one to be taken care of. 

Things I've Experienced and How I've Dealt with Them

One of the toughest things to deal with when living with a depressed person is their withdrawal into themselves. They don't reach out to show affection very often, you usually have to reach out to them. And sometimes when you do, they pull away or get aggravated. This can lead to feelings of rejection, loneliness, and unimportance. Even though your mind knows that it is a result of their disease and that they love you, it is sometimes hard to deal with emotionally. It is hard to express love for others when you are immersed in feelings of self-loathing and unworthiness.

There are many ways to deal with the emotional, and sometimes physical withdrawal. Often, you just have to keep reminding yourself that they love you, even if they can't express it. This isn't always effective, however. Talking about it can also help, because sometimes they aren't even aware they are doing it. For me this has always worked best, when talking about it later when I can be calm about it. The ill person needs to know how their actions are affecting others, but anger and hurt from their loved ones can cause guilt and more self-loathing which can precipitate a worsening of the depression. You need to assert yourself and express your feelings for your own health. Sometimes your partner will just not realize how long it's been since you have paid any attention to each other and simply asking them to have dinner with your or watch a favorite tv show together will do the trick.

Another challenge is bearing the majority of the household responsibilities, financial, physical, and emotional. Stress tends to aggravate depression and can set them into a downward spiral. This response has caused me to shield my spouse from as much stress related to money and my emotional state as possible, not only for his well-being but for mine as well. At the same time, shielding them from it can make them feel as if they are being treated like a child. Feelings of being useless often accompany depression as well, part of this is their mental state and part is a result of the exhaustion, pain, and lack of motivation making it hard for them to help clean, make meals, etc. The ill person often feels better if they can help out in some way though the challenge is often getting them to start on something. Small tasks that help out someone in the family and is part of something they are passionate about or that uses a skill that only they posses can help.

There will be days when the depressed person will say horrible things, talk of ending it, or how there just isn't enough happiness to make life worth living anymore. Usually the fact that they are being verbal means that they aren't actually in danger of committing suicide. Those who are serious about it usually pretend everything is fine and do it in secret. (There are stats somewhere that back me up on this but at the moment I'm too tired and lazy to look them up and provide you a link. You know how to Google as well as I do.) I always try to stay calm and remind my husband of the good things in life: me, the Kid, the dog, etc. Of course, a person in the midst of a depressive mood will blow all of this off as nothing. They still need to hear it, and does sink in even if they deny it. It can be hurtful to hear that the person you love doesn't feel that you are reason enough to live for, especially when they are saying other things that scare you. You have to do your best to stay calm and rational and to focus on the good. There will be times that you aren't successful at this. You will lose your temper. Panic and resort to guilt, etc. The key here is to forgive yourself. No one is perfect and you can't be in control 100% of the time.


When you are in a relationship with a sick person, the focus is usually on them and their needs. This is true whether the person is suffering a chronic physical or mental illness. Your needs will often be pushed to the back burner out of necessity or circumstance.You are frequently so worried about your loved one that you forget to worry about yourself. I've been guilty of this quite often. Making sure you care for your own emotional, mental, and physical needs will reduce your stress level and exhaustion.

1. Make sure you find time for yourself. - It doesn't matter if this is going for a run, hanging out with friends, or just getting out of the house for a couple of hours.

2. Make sure you are eating well. - We all know a balanced diet improves health and energy levels but everyone needs a gentle reminder once in a while. Make sure to treat yourself to a favorite meal or food.

3. Do things that make you happy. - I'm guilty of getting small things to make my husband and kid happy but forget to do it for myself. Make sure that you spoil yourself sometimes.

If you have any similar experiences and would like to share how you coped, please comment. Any tips for self-care would be welcomed as well.