Suffering with depression is incredibly difficult and painful. However, the second most painful and difficult position is experienced by the person trying to love their partner, child, parent or best friend experiencing depression.
The rejection is heart-breaking. Feeling like your presence (doing anything in your ability to help) makes your partner worse or doesn’t matter at all really hurts.
In this blog we will explore strategies that will support you during the difficult times caused by depression.
Strategy #1: Do not take it personally
Nothing that is expressed or takes place during your loved one’s depression is personal.
When they reject you, and they will, IT IS NOT PERSONAL.
Rejection has nothing to do with you. Isolation is an instinctive response to suffering and depression.
Rejection can also be seen as an act of protection. Your loved one does not want to hurt you. The only thing depression can do is hurt you. Everything that is said is a reflection of the depression – the fear, the anxiety, the panic and the pain. It’s a very heavy load, if you take it personally, the load will become yours.
When someone is experiencing depression they experience the inability to be themselves and it feels permanent. When they can’t be themselves with you (ie. be loving with you) it hurts them more and makes the depression feel worse.
People often share with me that their loved one experiencing depression is able to talk with casual friends and acquaintances and that those people are helpful and it hurts.
My response to that is that partners, parents, children and best friends are different from casual friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Partners etc get to actually see the depression.
Casual friends, colleagues and acquaintances get to see your loved one’s “representative”. They get to see your loved one pretend to not be depressed. They get to distract your loved one. If your loved one does talk with them about their feelings, they’re not dragging them through the mud the way they do with you. Instead, they give their friends the “I’m struggling, but look how well I’m handling it” story.
Casual friends don’t know that when you’re loved one gets home that they can’t get off the couch and wish they were dead. Of course your loved one feels better when they get to pretend that they are okay.
Strategy #2: Accept that you cannot make your loved one be “not depressed” or feel good
This is a really hard thing for anyone to accept. Depression hurts not only the one experiencing it, but it also hurts the people who love them the most. Here is a metaphor that I share that has helped people develop acceptance of this statement:
When we come into life we are all given two things: a shovel and a bucket of shit.
It doesn’t matter in life that we have a bucket of shit. We all have it. We always will. It never goes away and no matter what you do the shit will always be there.
What matters is what we do with our shovel.
Some will use their shovel to take their own shit and put it in other people’s buckets. They never actually can get rid of their shit, they simply make other people feel like crap.
Some will use their shovel to stick in other people’s shit and then put other people’s shit in their own bucket.
Others will first use their shovel to cover their bucket from giving others shit and receiving other people’s shit and then figure out what they can grow with the shit that they have.
If you stick your shovel in your loved one’s shit who is experiencing depression, it doesn’t make the depression go away. It just puts the depression in your own bucket and adds to your shit.
You cannot make flowers grow in a bucket of shit that is not your own.
Instead of “making it better” take the pressure off yourself to fix it by:
Simply being with the person you love.
Sitting beside them.
Holding their hand.
Rubbing their head and their feet.
Validating their feelings. What they are experiencing is horrible.
Reminding them that what they are experiencing is temporary.
This won’t make the depression go away, but it will help them get through the suffering.
Strategy #3: Perspective: Depression is in a relationship with the person you love, not the person you love
Your loved one is not depressed. Depression is NOT who they are. Your loved one is experiencing depression.
They are in a relationship with depression that has them captured or held hostage. Its a bad relationship. A relationship that isn’t easy to get out of. However, depression affects them and when they have the strength they can affect depression.
It can help your loved one to hear that you know that this is not who they are and that you love them. It is also important for your loved one to know that you love them even though they are not themselves.
Of course they won’t respond the way you want them to…with love, affection and appreciation. However, deep down beneath all of the numbness, pain, anxiety, fear etc…your loved one is still there and need to be loved.
Strategy #4: Interpreting Rejection
When your loved one is in a depression rejecting you and pushing you away as best they can. They’re not saying, “I need you and want more of you.” It would be easy to allow their rejection to cause you to dive into a depression yourself and feel heart-broken.
Here’s an alternative interpretation to their rejection:
“I need to be alone.”
Interpretation: “I need to escape this by sleeping as much as possible. I can’t escape it as easily if you’re here talking with me about it. Why don’t you go do something you need to do for yourself.”
“I’d rather be with my friends [than you].”
Interpretation: “When I’m with my friends, it distracts me from how horrible I feel. My friends don’t ask me how I’m feeling. They don’t ask me if anything is wrong. If they see something is wrong, they wait until I share. If I don’t share, they don’t ask…they just keep talking about themselves.”
“I don’t know if I want our relationship.”
Interpretation: If your relationship was in good standing when your loved when went into the depression…”I’m not myself. I don’t like who I am being. This is not who I want to be. I don’t want to treat you this way. This feels permanent. If this is how I will always treat you. I don’t want to be with you.”
“You don’t make me feel better.”
Interpretation: “You can’t make me feel better even though you really try to. When I am with you, I still feel so depressed because I don’t get to pretend to be okay when I’m with you. When I’m with you I’m stuck feeling whatever I feel and there is nothing you can do to make me feel better.”
Strategy #5: Your Own Self-Care
When your loved one is experiencing depression, it is not your responsibility to make them feel better. You can’t. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself.
It is incredibly difficult to not be sucked in by the depression of your loved one because of how much you care. It is your responsibility to not be sucked in. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself.
Think about what soothes you, brings you joy, and nurtures you.
Here are some areas of self-care to explore:
Exercise / Movement
Being in nature / Being outside
Attitude of gratitude and appreciation
Connection with others
Being Creative / Artistic
Self-Expression / Journaling
Games / Playing
Cooking / Eating healthy
Meditation / Guided meditation / Yoga
Depression is incredibly hard on everyone involved. When you are loving someone with depression it is so important that you make the time to love yourself, to nurture yourself, and receive support in a way that is fulfilling to you.