I’m back again with another post on our Depression and Dating series. Today I’ll draw from my experiences and also give some tips that I believe can help when your partner is having a depressive episode. As I mentioned in previous posts, dating while coping depression is a very tough mix but with the right approach and “system” you can make it work for both parties.
Please note: You should always ensure you’re in a healthy and safe space(relationship), the tips shared here are for people who genuinely want to understand their partner and in turn make their relationships better.
One of the hardest things about coping with depression is the episodes that come with the territory. They sometimes come out of nowhere and you begin to doubt any/every progress you have made up until that point. The medical dictionary defines an episode as “a manifestation of a major mood disorder involving an enduring period of some or all of the depression symptoms.” Simply put, a depressive episode is a particularly pronounced event in the course of the person coping with depression.
During this episode, the symptoms of clinical depression (e.g sleep or energy disturbance, significant sadness, feelings of worthlessness, suicide ideation, decreased concentration, tearfulness, etc.) become significantly increased.
There are various types of episodes e.g hypomanic episode, major depressive episode, manic episode, mixed episode. All of which present in different ways and can be triggered by something or nothing, you can search on Google to read more about these episodes. Depressive episodes can be caused by triggers and these can range from your partner focusing on their current situation(life, work, finances etc.), stopping prescribed medication, severe stress, certain words or actions that take them back to a particular time in their life or as previously discussed, it just comes out of nowhere.
I’ve come to realise that even though some of my episodes sometimes present as a manic episode i.e. loss of touch with reality, sleeplessness, paranoid rage etc. (all symptoms of a manic-depressive episode and occur more in people with Bipolar disorders) I like to think that I don’t get to the extreme manic point of the spectrum. My experience has mostly been from major depressive episode to mixed episode.
Here’s a mini breakdown of what happens when I have an episode both triggered and untriggered versions.
Triggered Depressive Episode: After the trigger (this can range from a word/phrase to a particular act or anniversary of something major etc.) I genuinely fight the urge to relapse or see myself in a particular light, I practise my breathing exercises if I find myself getting anxious or borderline panicky, sometimes that works and I’m able to get everything under control and “disaster” is aborted, other times it doesn’t work and I get this urgent need to leave wherever I am irrespective of time, environment or logical reasoning, this is how I got mugged and lost my precious iPhone *one minute silence for my beloved phone please*
Untriggered Depressive Episode: Now this one is the hardest as you don’t know what’s happening, it always feels like I’m falling and everything I seem to grasp/hold onto disintegrates. This is the type of episode that hits hard and you’re angry and frustrated because you don’t know why and can’t even explain to your partner. These are the days where I do not want to speak to anyone, do anything, I just want to lay in bed and sleep for a VERY LONG time. I have this outer body experience where I see and hear myself telling me to stop doing whatever manic-like symptom I’m displaying but no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to stop.
Personally, every depressive episode leaves me with an intense disgust and annoyance at myself for not being strong enough to overcome the trigger(s) or suppress the symptoms when they occur. My head can be likened to a thick fog of failure, so thick that even Samurai Jack’s sword cannot cut through.
I’ve come up with a few tips to help you and your partner when they have an episode.
- It has NOTHING to do with you. I know this may seem hard to believe but trust me when I say someone’s clinical depression has NOTHING to do with you. Your partner is not having a depressive episode to spite you, make you feel guilty, lonely or whatever you may think is their reason for having one. It will be unfair to you and to them for you to feel incapable of helping them “snap” out of it, so please don’t take it too personal. Unless you specifically triggered the episode, it is not your fault.
- It is a MEDICAL condition. Depression is an illness, you do not treat an infection or back pain by snapping out of it, you see a health professional, get appropriate help and follow any post-hospital advice given. Every time your partner has an episode, you have to realize that it is a medical condition and like all medical conditions, there are relapses, I know it can be hard looking at it from this perspective but it is essential. For example, the fact that you treated a headache with Paracetamol doesn’t prevent you from having future headaches, it just handles the headache at that point. You might have to drink more water, take a stronger analgesic or have a head CT scan done when/if the headache resurfaces. So this is exactly how you should view depression; a medical condition with symptoms and in most cases triggers as earlier discussed.
- Be ready to pick up the slack. One of the things that can get neglected during a depressive episode is housework. If your partner can’t stop crying or even get out of bed, they definitely might not think about doing the dishes or mowing the lawn. This means you should step up to the task, you can gently encourage them to do the chores with you as a way of getting them out of bed but please do not resent them if they are not up to it. Ask your partner to go grocery shopping with you, this is another way to get them out of bed and out of the house.
- Do not Guilt trip them. This is a big fat NO NO. Making your depressive partner feel guilty about having an episode or what the episode is doing to you is an actual trigger that can make things worse off. Trust me, they already feel guilty as hell about having depression, don’t make things worse, it’s cruel and unsupportive.
- Study the signs. This is a vital habit to cultivate when dating someone coping with depression. Every depressive episode is different but has a pattern to it and there are usually warning signs before it occurs. Once you’ve been with your partner for a while, take time to study them or they’ve told you what an episode looks like – you’ll be able to pick up on them and act accordingly. Some of the patterns include but not limited to decreased/increased/disturbed sleep, increased self-doubt, increased anxiety or stress levels and/or negative talk about themselves.
I think that’s all for this week, I still have a lot of tips but don’t want to overload you with information. I was pleasantly surprised at the positive feedback from last week, so please do not hesitate to comment and/or share your experiences and in turn, help others.