This will be one of my most important posts and it’s something I’ve wanted to get out of my system for a while now. I’ve dated three people with depression; one relationship became quite serious. I ruefully admit that it took too long for me to channel my compounded confusion into some sense for the organized chaos I experienced. Here’s 10 things I wish someone had told me back then:
- Do your research. This point is difficult to overemphasis and, unfortunately, is often undermined. If your girlfriend or boyfriend discloses that they have depression, the first thing you should realize is how generalized that word is. There’s many types, a myriad of symptoms that can overlap into other medical illnesses, different causes (physiological, environmental, etc.) and treatment is different for everyone. Don’t be pedantic – not all knowledge comes from learning books. If possible, try to understand your partner’s personal history and pick up on anything that might be a trigger for them.
- Their illness is not to blame for everything. Everyone on this planet has good and bad days regardless of non-functional neurotransmitters, hormones, and other biological processes. Be mindful but don’t rush to conclusions.
- Therapy and medication is their choice. It’s true that these can help to abate symptoms but they are certainly not the only modes of treatment. In particular, therapy works best when the patient sees the need for it. Not everyone wants to open up to some stranger or down a handful of pills packed with side effects every morning. That being said, encourage other means of treatment that are good for everyone, e.g., exercising, challenging bad thoughts, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep.
- They cannot simply just “snap out of it.” Sure, not all forms of depression are chronic but if your partner is having an episode, it restricts their perspective of the world. Becoming confined to narrow walls where one’s life doesn’t seem to matter, or where one loses interest in everything around them, is petrifying and having the mindset that they will simply snap out of it is wrong. If your partner battles this one day at a time, you might have to as well.
- It can be misdiagnosed. Like many conditions, one can be misdiagnosed. Not to say that this is your particular circumstances, but doctors make mistakes and, as one can see, symptoms of one illness may be similar to symptoms of another.
- Know how to improv. This is an invaluable skill to have. Plans will change. You will get angry. There will be unpredictable, tumultuous fights. And there will be forlorn sadness. It doesn’t matter if it’s your wedding day or someone’s funeral. In either case, it’s best to know how to improvise for your loved one. Don’t expect a “thank you” for each selfless act you do. Sometimes, you just need faith that it’s helping them.
- Be empathetic but know when to put your foot down. It’s unhealthy for you to let someone else rule your life. Understand where they are coming from but remember to make your own decisions. Many people, including myself, may go through depressive episodes from caring for someone with depression. This is not fair for either of you.
- From my experience, expect one hell of an entertaining relationship but brace for a horrendous breakup. Sometimes, in hindsight, your relationship will feel like you strapped yourself into a brand new sports car loaded with mind-blowing sex and unparalleled adventure. As you gain speed, you naturally recline back into the comfy seats but as reality sits in, you realize that there are caveats all around you and, in some cases, no brakes. The law of inertia (Newton’s 1st law of motion) becomes a scary thought when there’s no metaphorical way to slow down. If this is the case, your sports car will crash and it’s going to hurt like hell for everyone on board.
- Don’t expect apologies for everything. Don’t expect an apology each time your partner is overly sensitive to your words or actions, or has mood swings, or each time there’s an unresolved fight, or when something malicious is uttered. There should be reproach and apologies from time to time but bottom line, not always. Besides, it’s not like you apologize for every wrong you make.
- Talk to someone else about your relationship and give serious thought about what you want/need. If after research and extensive consideration, you feel as though this is something you can’t handle, you may not be right for one another. That’s the harsh truth. Everyone has a slightly different representation of what love entails and for this reason alone, I discredit Lennon when he sings, “all you need is love.” Relationships like these are a special breed. Your partner may say something that will rip your heart out and the next day say something that will bring you to a state of glorious euphoria you never imagined. Remember, you’re not here to save someone else. You help those who help themselves, period. You need to assess whether or not they are worth it, and if you are strong enough to sacrifice and support them when they need it.
I’ll close with another sobering thought. You know how in the movies, when the romantically involved protagonists have an insufferable altercation followed by some time apart, and then one person says something to the other person that acts as a relationship-elixir and they live happily ever after? Well, that’s nothing but a big crock of bull schnitzel. Be open-minded, yet realistic, and be well my friends.
-Single Guy in NYC