My Story, Uncategorized

How can I put this into Words? | Sharing your Depression with someone you Love.

I finished my last post with a plea to family and friends of any one who is suffering with depression, here it is again:

I think the worst though, the absolute worst is when your family will not support you. This I just don’t get. I would ask any Partner, Brother, Father and Mother – if you found out that a member of your family was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer would you simply stop talking to them? Would you tell them they were being over-dramatic?  As a friend, if you were approached to just be understanding of how someone felt following a major surgery, would you tell them you just don’t feel able to help because you’ve never had major surgery and really don’t understand how they feel? I would hope not

I almost want to finish this post here because I hope that that would be enough to put the feelings of a sufferer into perspective, they are sick, they know they are sick, but many will not tell their friends or family, will not ask for help because they feel they just won’t get it.

I wish I could say that being there for a loved one when they are going through Depression is easy, you are carried by your Love for them and never ever have fear, doubt or frustration during the process. That is obviously flowery love bull crap. It’s hard, you doubt, you have fear, you are frustrated, but the best of us stick by and fight alongside this loved one because you do love them.

All of my posts so far have had “I’ve been lucky”, or “I was lucky because,” or “I’m so lucky to have …”, well I am. Not lucky to be one of so many inclined to depression, but lucky in that I am surrounded by the most loving, understanding and caring group of people that I could ever ask for. For the good, I have my own experience to draw from.

I am so lucky to have my partner. Alex has been (prepare to gag), my cornerstone, my resting place, my rock, my sanity and so many times my sounding board when the roiling thoughts in my head just needed to get out.  I know he won’t mind me saying though, that he didn’t necessarily start out this way, because neither of us had any idea how to start dealing with my depression.

First step is to talk, even this can be an incredibly difficult, no matter how good you are at opening up to your partner, no matter how close you are, this is that next step to admission, admit it to yourself, admit it to those closest to you. The problem is, how do you say it?Somehow “I’m sad” doesn’t do it justice, if you start ranting and raving about how shitty you feel, either your partner could end up feeling attacked, like something is wrong with them, that must be the reason you are ranting and raving like this! Or, if you start talking after you have already gone to the Dr, gone to a Therapist/Psychiatrist/Counsellor, your partner could wonder why you couldn’t trust them with the admission sooner. This can be a mine field of hurt feelings, misunderstandings, miscommunication and fear.  You do need to tread lightly, which is much easier said then done. There are quite a few potential issues here, a) really, you’re not quite in your right mind, sensitivity and compassion may not be your strongest points at the moment, b) your partner could react badly no matter how you put it, your emotional state then could be further fuel on that fire and c) typically your fuse is a lot shorter when you are depressed, if your partner doesn’t react how you imagined they would, KABOOM! An explosion could ensue and that is not good news for anyone!

My advice, only some of which I followed with Alex, but in hindsight have learned; prepare for the conversation, have a strong idea of how you want to word what you have to say. I would start by asking that your partner allow you to finish what you have to say before asking any questions. I would have some print outs or websites open that detail the symptoms of Depression to help put your symptoms into perspective, and most importantly, be 100% honest. If you feel like aspects of your relationship could be a trigger point, then you need to tell your partner. If your trigger is something else and you haven’t told them up until this point, perhaps you should try to tell them now. This will not be easy, no matter what the cause, the background or how understanding your partner is, someone you love telling you that they are incredibly unhappy is fucking scary! You should also be prepared to answer any question they have, don’t be surprised if some of them are irrational, such as: is there someone else? Have I made you unhappy, etc.  You should keep reminding them that it is in no way related to them, or if it is, how you would like to fix it and that you love them very much.

As I said, I didn’t prepare to tell Alex, and I wasn’t prepared for his reaction because I was unable to be sympathetic to his emotions when it came to my illness. I had just returned from my final EAP counselling session, (the one in which my counsellor told me I needed further help). Alex asked me how it went when I got home and I blurted out, ” I’m depressed, I need to take time off work and see a counsellor and fix this.”  I can hardly blame him for how he reacted.  Alex and I are your typical 20-somethings living in an over-priced city, working our butts off to try to make ends meet, so of course his first reaction was, “Take time off work? We couldn’t afford it if you lost your job.” My reaction to that was to burst into a flood of tears because how could THAT be a priority right now.

You can see how being prepared to have this conversation, thinking ahead of how to say it, and being aware of what may concern your partner will absolutely be beneficial to all involved.

I don’t think Alex was prepared for the floodgate that ensued, the shock and guilt I read on his face reminded me that he wouldn’t, ever, intend to hurt me like that. This reminded me that I needed to give him more information, he needed to be taught what being depressed was about, and that was in no way his fault. It was at this point that I started searching the web for further information on Depression, I gave him a few links and asked him to spend some time looking at them, and that we would talk further. As Alex could now come from a view-point of understanding rather than confusion and fear, he was much better able to listen to what was hurting me, what the symptoms were (Psychological and Physical) and support any thoughts I had on the next steps, and offer a few of his own.

While going through Depression with your partner is difficult, I have struggled even more with friends, I will admit that I wasn’t there for a friend who herself had Depression, I had no idea how.

When you or your partner is going through Depression, you are there with them, day-to-day, dealing with the emotions, the confusions. You typically have opportunities to talk, or just to be there and to hold the other and make them feel like everything is okay, just so long as you are cuddling. However, with friends it is easy to continue on in your life without thinking about what a friend is going through constantly. Furthermore, every one is different with what they need, each stage of depression requires a different approach, if you don’t see each other every day it’s tricky to understand what they need at that time. This is a difficult one, and I don’t think I’m best placed to give advice on how to deal with friendship, but I can share my experiences.

At the beginning of my depression I was in my avoidance phase, if I wasn’t in the right frame of mind I didn’t want to talk about it.  If anybody asked how I was doing at this time I was doing fine, that was it, don’t want to talk about it, how are you? Move on. I didn’t want to talk about it, I didn’t want help, I didn’t want comfort, I just wanted to know they were there, like before to have wine and a laugh with. I had to learn that these are the people who know you best, talk to them, tell them what is going on. Going to a counsellor is great for the third-party unassociated point of view, however your friends can have insights into you, your history, your personality and the best of friends can be your own Portrait of Dorian Grey that you need to see.

From that point onwards I just needed to know that they were there, whether I needed a laugh, a cry, a hug or a beer … or seven. For me, that was plenty. I’m often telling friends who have other friends with Depression that you cannot constantly ask how they are, how they’re feeling or give suggestions on how to feel better, constantly try to be chirpy because you think it will help – it doesn’t, it just pisses us off.

All of the above is from my personal point of view and I think it is important that if your friend tells you they are suffering from Depression you should ask them just to tell you what they need from you and you will be there.  These communication lines are incredibly important. As I said above a friend of mine suffered from Depression, we didn’t have these communication lines open, I got so caught up in my life I forgot how it felt to feel so alone in Depression,  I didn’t ask what she needed from me, I didn’t forgive her turbulent moods nor did I make myself available, just when she really needed me.

My lessons from this comes down to open communication. You cannot get through any relationship without communication, but it is even more important when the people around you need to understand what you need at any given time. Be honest and don’t be afraid to talk, remember that not every body understands, not through any fault of their own, but because Depression is difficult to understand.

Communication. Understanding. Patience.

My Story

Contemplation/Avoidance: Enter Guilt, Stage Left

You may recall in my first blog post I listed the typical symptoms of a depressive, one of the symptoms listed there was Guilt. If someone stopped a non-sufferer in the street and asked you what are the typical symptoms of depression, I doubt very much they would list guilt anywhere near the top ten.

Guilt, however, has probably been one of the most difficult, most debilitating and most upsetting symptom of depression I have ever experienced.

*guilt [gilt]

1. the fact or state of having committed an offence, crime, violation or wrong, especially against moral or penal law. 

2. a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.

*guilty [gil-tee]

1. having or showing a sense of guilt, whether real or imagined.

At this point in my recovery I went into contemplation phase, or to put it slightly more realistically, bury my head in the sand and forget everything phase, avoidance. I had taken  time off work to give myself space for my recovery, I was lucky to have an understanding work place who gave me what I needed which removed the stress of worrying about money and security.

Ironically, following my gun-ho get fixed stage, I completely stalled, the recognition and admission on my behalf that I was sick seemed like the permission I needed to give myself up to lethargy, escapism, day time napping and junk food. Sounds great right! Wrong, I hated every single minute of it, but I had no idea what else to do, nor any motivation to do anything else. I would wake up in the morning, probably after having only slept a couple of hours since I had been awake throughout the night, my partner would be heading off to work, he’d give me a kiss good-bye and I would stare up at the ceiling for about an hour after he left. I don’t recall that I was thinking about anything in particular, if anybody had been watching I’m sure I would have been considered to be contemplative, I wouldn’t move, I wouldn’t close my eyes – the truth was I was wide awake yet exhausted, irritable and restless yet with no desire to move. When I would move I would get to the couch, curtains still shut and turn on the TV. Netflix™ is the escapists best friend! There are thousands of hours of different lives to live, different times to live in, different spells to learn and magical or super powers that I could have instead of laying on my couch and thinking about my shitty life.

Which is a good segue into why I opened this post discussing GUILT. Why do I have a shitty life? What exactly is so shit about my life? Aren’t there so very many other people out there suffering far more than I am? There must so many other people more justified in feeling bad about their lives than I do.

Guilt will manifest differently in every case because the triggers for depression are different for every individual. However, I think that in general there are quite a few sufferers who will look at their lives quite superficially and dismiss the fact that they have depression because they cannot find justification for their illness. It’s easy to look at your life and think, I wasn’t beaten or abused as a child, I wasn’t put down by members of my family or incessantly bullied at school, I don’t suffer from a drug addiction or alcoholism, I don’t have an abusive partner or an intimidating boss or work situation.  What we have to realise is that while all of these can certainly cause depression, for most it is absolutely not an exhaustive list of potential triggers or situational roots of the illness. Whatever the reasons, whatever the causes, triggers or situational roots of your depression, they are just as important, relative to you.

I didn’t have the smallest shred of motivation to start looking at the cause of my depression during my avoidance phase. However guilt decided to bedevil me constantly, not just about the utter lack of reason for my depression, but increasingly about my inability to begin addressing it. Where did that motivation go from a few weeks previous? I’d spoken to somebody, why wasn’t I already better! DAMNIT AMANDA, stop being so fucking lazy and get on with it! Don’t you want to get better? Well, yes, is the answer, but at the moment I cannot be bothered with it – I just want to watch some more Harry Potter and pretend I’m a Witch so I can blast through the baddies with my magic wand! Not have to emotionally confront my baddies with inward thought and reflection.

Why did I feel guilty? How come I didn’t feel like I was allowed to be sad? Was it entirely driven by my personality and values? Did the societal or media representation of depression have anything to do with it?  I think a bit of both.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on different depression forums on the internet, which is, by the way, a great way to find help and give help if you’re not sure where to turn, how to deal, why you’re feeling one  way or another and get some advice about how to cope and manage. What is rather stark though is that it seems that whether you are dealt understanding or shame, compassion or contempt, love or hate can really depend on where you are based, meaning just what the local council or government is able to offer and what the GP’s are like in your catchment area.

The media though. The Media! Has got to be one of the worst. Head over to any search engine and search for news on antidepressants, pretty much every single country has a newspaper running a feature about how the country has such a high usage of antidepressants, how it’s getting higher percentage by percentage each year (For Shame!).  There are constant question marks over whether they should be given to these people or those people and its big news when some A, B or even Z list celeb admits to being on antidepressants (For Shame!). Then there are the wonderful chat show hosts of a particular show in the US, no names but it starts with The and rhymes with Pew, following the news that Justin Bieber apparently had antidepressants on him at the time of his arrest in Miami, questioning how he was justified in being depressed because of his fame, fortune and general all round good luck! (FOR SHAME!!). We are constantly being fed the message that it’s not okay to be depressed, that you absolutely must have some concrete excuse for being depressed, and if you don’t well then kid hitch up those socks, suck it up, get a hair cut and get a good job!  Add to that if you are not in an area lucky enough to have a Dr like I had, you could just be chucked a prescription and told to be on your not-so-merry way. I told my Dr I wasn’t sure about antidepressants, and the first thing she said was; “they’re probably not like what you think they’re like.” Exactly because of the media, the shaming, the horror stories etc around antidepressants. I’m going to do a completely different blog post about antidepressants so I’m going to stop my rant there.

I think the worst though, the absolute worst is when your family will not support you. This I just don’t get. I would ask any Partner, Brother, Father and Mother – if you found out that a member of your family was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer would you simply stop talking to them? Would you tell them they were being over-dramatic?  As a friend, if you were approached to just be understanding of how someone felt following a major surgery, would you tell them you just don’t feel able to help because you’ve never had major surgery and really don’t understand how they feel? I would hope not.

I mentioned a lot of this in my previous post, it comes back to again the double standard of illness, but this is also another major contribution to the guilt – Sufferers are constantly told it’s not okay to feel sad.  This makes me sad.

I hope one day the world get’s to a point where fear, misunderstanding, lack of information and selfishness will no longer get in the way of helping others dealing with depression. The optimist in me says that it is absolutely getting better, bit by bit, slowly-slowly. Unfortunately, the realist in me says that it’s not fast enough and more and more people are suffering alone, which must stop.