A couple of years ago I was officially diagnosed with Clinical Depression, Anxiety and Panic Disorder (me sef I know it is a mouthful). This diagnosis was made when I was still living in England, I was given medication and used to have psychotherapy sessions once a week for a while but a part of me never accepted the diagnosis – a whole Baby-Geh, child of the most high and most importantly a Nigerian! I’m sure you must have heard of the age old myth that says depression is an oyibo sickness. So how can a full-fledged Naija babe be depressed? Tufiakwa!!
I even went as far as refusing to let my GP write that I had depression on one of my sick notes, until I had my first “official” panic attack in 2016, I say official because I never knew what I was experiencing before then was a panic attack, just felt like I was restless and would go for a walk or dance. With this one, I thought I was going to die in ASDA Supermarket, Chei that was not how I envisaged leaving, no way was I going to go this way.
Four hours later (excruciating hours filled with grim Google diagnosis) the doctor in the A&E flippantly informed me that what I had was a panic attack and no, I wasn’t going to die, neither was my heart going to stop beating.
Then I moved back to Nigeria, decided to see someone to determine if I still needed medication and to just find out how far I had progressed, well an excruciating two hours later, the diagnosis was still the same, I had depression and it didn’t seem like it was going anytime soon so I might as well just learn to work around it.
I would be lying if I said this didn’t affect my relationship life and today I am stepping out of my comfort zone a bit to talk about it. Dating while coping with mental health issues can be hard especially when you don’t know that you have the condition.
Looking back now, I can genuinely say the depression started towards the end of 2013; I was a walking ball of confused emotions. I had recently gotten back with my ex, I was learning how to love again as well as build the trust broken and at many points I felt alone, frustrated and didn’t understand what was going on. So obviously, this affected how I related to him and the relationship in general.
Please note: Depression is not sadness!!!! According to (National Institute of Mental Health US) It is a common but serious mood disorder that presents in many ways. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.
Now that you know what depression is, here are the tips:
- BE PATIENT. Dating someone with depression can be very hard. It’s agonizing watching someone you care about suffer and not be able to help them. It can also be weird or somewhat confusing hearing someone you love and admire be condescending about themselves or be extremely negative especially when it contradicts how you see and value them. I was plagued with this intense belief that I had accomplished nothing and didn’t really see a reason to live (this is very common with depression, there is always this sense of hopelessness) I know that my partner felt helpless many times trying to make me realise that I wasn’t being fair on myself. In his quest to drum it into my head, he triggered another episode as he told me he was disappointed in me. So please listen when I say be VERY patient with your partner.
- LISTEN!! I don’t mean the automatic one we tend to do when people talk to us, I mean genuinely listen to them when they decide to talk to you. Trust me, it is hard enough opening up to someone and then you get the perfunctory nods and responses. Listen when he/she talks to you, if you don’t understand, ask questions. When you truly listen, you end up finding ways to be of help. Personally, I struggled with talking as I didn’t think my partner was listening, you know this Nigerian thing of “oya talk let me give you my opinion” without really taking the time to understand what is being said. A doctor I saw sometime in 2016 was the one who finally made me feel like I wasn’t losing my mind (I’ll talk about this next time).
- GIVE THEM TIME ALONE. Depression has a loud and persuasive voice that overshadows or tries to take over the minds of those who suffer from it. There is sometimes little or no room for logical reasoning and this can be frustrating and you may feel helpless, so give them space. Get him/her their favourite drink or snack, pop in a movie or a song and just let them breathe. For example, there were times I felt terrible about everything and there was no external cause or trigger and all I wanted to do when that happened was sleep.
- BELIEVE THEM. Your partner cannot always be able to explain why they feel the way they feel, so talking through it or having a conversation around this might be frustrating for them. These down moments can be prompted by something or nothing as I mentioned earlier. Please don’t endlessly question why they are feeling so down, if he/she says there is no reason or my personal favourite; “I don’t know” they actually mean it. It’s just the brain being a pain in the derriere (You know chemical imbalance and all that)
- THEY ARE NOT ALWAYS IN THE MOOD. Depression, and some antidepressants can cause your partner to lose interest in sex, as it can affect their libido. So when he/she says “babes I’m not in the mood” it’s not a ploy to refuse you or because you don’t light their fire, it might just be that the fire has been doused by depression or the medication they take. Be prepared to substitute sex for cuddles or in some extreme cases NOTHING. Also, it is important for the person coping with depression to let their partner know that they still care for them and find them attractive.
These are my few tips that I believe will be helpful with dating someone coping with depression. Hopefully, this will be a series on this extensive topic. Later, we will talk about my personal stories and experience in general.
Have you ever dated someone who suffers from depression? How has dating in Nigeria worked for you if you have been diagnosed with clinical depression? Please share. We can be each others’ support system.