Living with a Depressed Person: Part 2
A few weeks ago I talked about what it's like to live with a depressed person. I want to add to those thoughts.
The occasion for adding to them is a question posed by someone on this web site who wanted to know how to tell others that she wasn't being difficult on purpose; that her behavior is the result of an illness, not unlike many illnesses a person can get, only this one happens to be mental - causing behavioral anomalies, not physiological ones.
Other people were looking at this woman and saying things like, "Stop whining" "Cheer Up." "It's a beautiful day; what's wrong with you!"
Well, we know that isn't helpful to us. So, how do you get around that?
Here's what I wrote that woman:
I think it's one of the most difficult things to "explain" depression to those with whom you live. I have had depression off and on for 60 years. I was married for 46 of those years. My wife would get up in the morning and say, "Oh, what a beautiful day. Aren't we lucky!" And I would think "what are we so lucky about? Something terrible might happen today." She knew I felt this way and she knew that my feelings had a NAME: depression.
Knowing that it had a name, and that I was ill (I took medicine) made it a lot easier for me; and it made it somewhat easier for her. She could then realize that when I was "whining" or irritable, I wasn't doing it to hurt her. I was doing it because my brain was doing funny things.
Sometimes, however, even knowing the name for my problem, she would shout at me, "Stop it. I can't take it any more." The funny thing was that that often made my behavior change. For a day or so, my depression went away. The shouting and her dismay actually helped me be on a more even keel. I'm not suggesting that that's the way your friends and relatives should treat you, but I am suggesting that knowing that you're depressed will give them a) some understanding; b) some tools to help them cope, too.
But that doesn't answer the questions: How do I tell others in a way that they'll understand what I go through on a daily basis? How do I get them to understand the nature of this illness?
The first thing is to be direct. To say that you understand their baffled feelings about your behavior. You understand that they think you're being "difficult" or that you're blaming them for the way the world is, or the way you feel.
It's important to let them know that you don't like this behavior either; that you're trying support groups, medication, and psychotherapy because you don't like your behavior. But, equally important, you don't like the feelings you have. And those aren't necessarily under your control. Sure, you can get meds, seek other help, but that can alleviate only so much of your feelings.
Let them know that epilepsy is an illness that can cause people to have fits; that multiple sclerosis can cause shaking; that Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) can cause people to lose their breath and their muscle control; that polio.... Well you get the idea. But none of these illnesses atr under your control. You need medication to get them under control. And the same is true of depression. It's an illness, just like many others, and it requires treatment.
Your friends and loved ones will take time to understand this. It's too easy to think that you're angry at them; that your "refusal" to enjoy life is your fault, or your decision. You and I know it's not. But it looks that way to others.
Give them as much information as you can.
Point them to web sites.
Be open, acknowledge your unhappiness that you're making them unhappy.
It'll get through, eventually.