When I got involved with my partner, I was unaware of his mental-health issues. There were a few red flags, but no one is perfect. It wasn’t until well into our pregnancy that I learned of his history of substance abuse. Shortly after the birth of our daughter, his father passed away, and he fell into a deep, dark depression fueled by alcohol, drugs and incredibly low self-esteem.
Living with a depressed person can be overwhelming and emotionally draining, but even more so when you rely on that person to share the duties of caring for a household and raising small children. It doesn’t get easier, but with time I’ve learned a few things that help me to keep our little girl out of the middle of our arguments and in the center of our love and affection.
1. Be mindful
Often after a long day of solo parenting and trying to run the house on top of feeling overwhelmingly tired, I would find myself bitter and resentful when my partner wouldn’t step in to lighten the load. The knee-jerk reaction is to start a fight, which complicates things further and only upsets the children — especially as they get older and don’t understand why Mom and Dad are yelling.
In these moments, I rely on mindfulness exercises, focusing on the task at hand and pushing those circling thoughts away to keep the impending anxiety at bay. If you aren’t sure how to practice mindfulness, there are exercises perfect for beginners.
2. It’s not personal
I have been on the receiving end of many drunken rants, and each one left me feeling raw: angry, frustrated and desperate for change. What I always fail to realize in the moment is that I am not the cause of the anger being directed at me — I just happen to be standing in the way of it. Realizing this before it happens may help diffuse a sticky situation where hurtful things are said but not meant.
3. You’re not here to fix them
“For better or for worse” doesn’t mean it is your job to make all the problems go away. We love each other and have made a commitment, but it’s a tough lesson to learn — especially for a nurturing “fixer” — that it is not my job or responsibility to fix him.
It’s painful to see your partner in pain, but mental-health concerns are best left to be dealt with by professionals. While you can point your loved one in the right direction, the best thing you can do to help is offer love and support.
4. Ask for help
Too many times I’ve felt like a lonely island, afraid to talk to those closest to me about what’s happening in my personal life, afraid of being judged for the decisions I’ve made or being forced down a road I’m just not ready to take. Although I consider myself to be strong, no person should be expected to shoulder the weight of the world alone — that’s why we find partners and make friends.
When I finally reached out and started talking about it, it was a huge relief to find there were friends experiencing similar situations or those who would offer to lend a hand. Help is there if you ask for it and are willing to accept it.
Loving a depressed person can seem like an insurmountable task. How do you help? Learning that taking care of yourself is the best way to take care of them is the first step toward finding your own peace.