#TimeToTalk : Mental Health Awareness

*This post was originally published Februrary, 3, 2016.

 

In England one in four people will suffer from a mental illness in any given year, and depression is one of those illnesses. It can leave people feeling debilitated and consumed in despair and those living with a sufferer lost and confused – though we rarely hear their stories. Here I reveal my own experience with depression and chat with my partner Tom  about its effects on him.

I have suffered with depression and other mental illnesses for the past 13 years. Through my experience I have learnt how to self-manage  with tools for wellness and a good routine. There are times where I find myself once again consumed by my depression, at those moments I am unpredictable and often hostile. Switching between hysterical crying and angry outbursts to days of silence and nothingness, it is safe to say I am not always an easy person to live with.

Communication is a big problem for those who suffer with depression and those around them. Mental illness can often feel like the elephant in the room with everyone too scared to discuss it. This needs to change – we need to learn to talk to one another openly and freely in order to combat mental health and the stigma that comes with it. To mark #TimeToTalkDay this February, 3, 2016, I decided to follow this advice and ask my partner Tom on how my illness affects him.

On holiday. © Sarah Woodside

Tom and Sarah on holiday. © Sarah Woodside

We sit down, cup of tea in hand, both with a tentative look in our eyes, both nervous about how the other will react. I’m the talkative one, the one who wears my heart on my sleeve. Tom isn’t. He’s quiet and keeps his emotions and feelings tightly locked up. It takes time to find out the source of his worries or feelings and even then he doesn’t like discussing them.

Because of this my emotions often take centre stage whilst he quietly sinks into the shadows. That sounds incredibly selfish, but it isn’t purposefully done. As a depressive I can find myself suffering huge amounts of self-doubt and feeling like a failure when this happens I know my depression can have a negative effect on my partner.

So what does it feel like for him?

“I know when you’ve had a particularly stressed or emotional day,” he says. “This can often trigger a low mood, so I find myself being extra positive and lenient. I try to be really happy and even let you have your own way more.

“I don’t want to say the wrong thing and make things worse for you. But it sometimes means I can’t be honest with how I feel or what frame of mind I am in.

“We are sarcastic to one another all the time and happily tease one another, but if you have arrived home upset or annoyed I sometimes find myself walking on egg-shells not knowing how you’ll react to what I say. It’s frustrating. It’s hard to discuss my own feelings and worries because my focus is on helping you, so my emotions get put on the back burner. I think we are both too scared to upset the other which can affect our communication.

“I wouldn’t say your depression has a direct effect on my mental health but at times it can be hard. If I’ve had a rubbish day and I just want to come home and tell you all about it, but you’re also suffering a low episode, then I find myself having to pick you up before I can just relax and reflect on my day, which can be stressful and cause tension.

We take Halloween very seriously. © Sarah Woodside

Sarah and Tom take Halloween very seriously. © Sarah Woodside

“It is hardest when you are at your lowest, your self-loathing in those moments is hard to combat. It’s difficult to witness you destruct whilst I do my best to help you. Initially I would feel guilty thinking I was making you unhappy, but I know that isn’t true. Your mental illness isn’t you and as much as we have bad times we also have amazing ones.

“I have never felt obligated to stay, or even wanted to run away. I have stayed because I want to.”

 

*Article first published here.

10 things to remember when you love someone with depression.

This post and the following tips are based on my personal experiences and others who have spoken to me about their depression. If you have any additional tips you feel are beneficial to your depression please add them in the comments. If you feel like you are suffering from depression please speak to someone, it is a lot less scary when you aren’t on your own. 

10 things to remember when you love someone with depression.

 1. Depression is not a choice.

No one chooses to be depressed. There are times where depression can leave someone unable to function, paralyzed by their own mind and body. This is not a choice. It is feeling lost, sad, empty, angry, frustrated, feeling everything at once or sometimes feeling nothing at all.

It is one of the most helpless, frustrating and often isolating experiences a person can go through.It is not something that can be snapped out of, believe me I’ve tried. It isn’t a bad mood, a bad day or a bad week. You are suffocating under darkness.

2. It is not about you.

If you love someone who is dealing with depression it is easy to blame yourself. To pick fault at your relationship and assume their depression is a reflection of you.

People with depression cannot always understand themselves so they recognise it will be difficult for you also. If they begin to push you away or ask for space let them have it. But don’t spend your time scrutinising everything you’ve been doing and picking fault at yourself, try to understand their depression is not about you.

3. Sometimes they don’t want to do this alone.

Even though I just said let them have their space that does not mean to say someone wishes to be left to be consumed by their depression, communicate. Company is greatly received just understand that may not mean a night out on the town and it may mean a cup of tea in bed watching a film.

Feel confident in making suggestions, suggesting to go for a drive or a walk, get some fresh air or grab a coffee. Allowing them to step out of the bubble they have created by simply offering your time, shows you care. Reaching out to them may just mean everything to them and it also reminds them that they don’t have to face this alone.

4. You’re allowed to get frustrated.

People with depression aren’t immune to your feelings and they can tell when you’re pissed off and frustrated. This is ok, they understand they can be difficult to be around. They don’t expect you to know what to say when they’re struggling, just like sometimes they can’t explain how they’re feeling or why they may be crying.

Just because they are dealing with depression does not mean you have to walk around on eggshells all the time. If it is having a negative impact on you then it needs action. Look at how you can help them and show your love and support without sacrificing your happiness and feelings.

5. Talk to them about your frustration.

Depressed people can tell when it is affecting other people and that just starts a vicious circle of guilt over causing you pain and suffering so don’t be afraid to talk to them.

In those moments of frustration people with depression can feel even more isolated, they can see the frustration in your eyes and they blame themselves for causing you pain. So it is important to talk and communicate. Be patient, keep calm and vocalise your concerns. It is natural you want to help them any way you can but you need to take care of yourself too.

6. It is okay to ask about their depression.

It is ok to ask direct questions. How are they feeling? Are they practicing self-care?  How are they practising self-care? Are they eating properly? BUT… don’t demand these answers and cause tension if they simply aren’t ready to talk.

It is a common occurrence for people suffering with their depression to feel suicidal. So have a back-up plan, let them know if they feel that bad they can reach out to you. Have a plan in place just in case it’s needed.  Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed about, you talking about it, reassures them that they aren’t a lost cause or ‘crazy’.

7. Yes they may shut you out before they bring you in.

People suffering with depression constantly feel like they are making other people unhappy. They think they are causing pain to people close to them, by being difficult and a nuisance. Feeling like a burden they react defensively by shutting people out. Often it is the people they need the most

They can habitually feel like their loved ones deserve better. That by allowing these people into their world of sadness they are weighing their loved ones down. If this begins to happen, reassure them. Tell them how much you love and support them and let them know you are there for them when they are ready. But don’t force them, the tough love approach can sometimes push them further away from you.

8. They can become easily overwhelmed and yes this may involve tears!

For someone suffering with depression just getting through the day can be exhausting not to mention overwhelming. Little tasks such as getting out of bed, showering and even eating can seem daunting so be patient and understanding.

Because all these tasks consume so much energy and effort they may feel more tired than usual, even if they appear to be getting lots of sleep. So don’t get discouraged or feel like you’ve upset them if they cancel plans late notice or decline an invitation to meet.

Little things can often take over. Speaking from personal experience, I once cried for ten minutes because my tea bag split whilst making a cup of tea, luckily my boyfriend realised my insistent wailing “I can’t even make a cup of tea right” was because I was overwhelmed, after spending all day in bed, the last two hours had been spent with me gradually feeling able to get out of bed and have a shower, so when the first task of the day (at 6pm) making a cup of tea went wrong, I regressed momentarily, again patience is key. A day or so later I even laughed when I recounted how much I cried over a cup of tea!

You may be used to planning weeks or even months ahead but they may be struggling to plan day to day or even hour to hour. So consider this when discussing future plans, they could feel a little intimidated planning too in advance.

All these things are a common side effect of living with a mental illness.

9. Tough love.

I hate to break it to you but tough love does nothing.

Telling someone that you’re going to break up with them, that they won’t have anyone left or that you’re not going to talk to them anymore won’t miraculously cure them, it won’t be the catalyst you’ve been waiting for to speed up their progress.

It is understandable that this can put pressure on relationships but delivering ultimatums is unrealistic and on some level manipulative.

If the pressure of dealing with some of their issues does become too much that is a personal choice you must make but not one to be presented as blackmail. Remember depression is not a choice.

10. Choose your words wisely.

Often people will try to offer their own words of wisdom, whilst this may come from a good place, it is not always helpful to someone suffering with depression.

Statements such as, “you’ll be fine”, “you’re just having a bad day”, “you’ll get over it” etc. is more often than not discouraging, it can make them feel inadequate, that they are not being taken seriously.

“Maybe get some fresh air, it’s what I do when I’m feeling sad” again whilst coming from a good place phrases like this can come across as both patronising and a little insulting.

They can all also make someone feel like you are not acknowledging the struggle they are going through, reassure them of your support. Instead offering phrases such as; “I’m here for you”, “can I help?” and a hug often goes a long way to reassure someone that they are not alone.

And lastly feel free to express empathy but don’t suppress their feelings. The greatest resource you can offer your friend in their darkest moments and throughout their journey is your ability to listen.