I should know as I’ve suffered depression on and off for over 17 years. On the whole my illness is well controlled but in the good times I’ve realised how hard it has been for my family and friends to stick in loving me when I’m down. During that time I have also experienced the pain of watching friends and family suffer serious illness, accidents and depression, and somehow watching their fight for peace has been harder than my own fight. Being the ‘loved one’ of someone with depression or who is struggling with serious illness is a hard road, especially if you know only too well how dark that dark place is.
I’ve learnt over the years that when I’m struggling (or someone close to me is struggling) we need to remember these five things. Cling on to them like life rings and wait for the storm to pass over.
1. Take Charge
“You don’t know how I feel!” Unfortunately, I do. I know exactly how you feel and it’s driving me nuts thinking about all that pain. I’ve learnt that it’s important to stop being empathetic. You don’t need to feel their pain in excrutiating detail, you need to be sympathetic, always allowing enough distance within which you can take charge. They probably won’t know, or will deny that they are in trouble and there will come a time when you may have to intervene. You need to ring the doctor, and get the help they need, and if you are sucked into their vortex of hell you can’t possibly do that for them
2. Be Teflon
Remember that coating on frypans that nothing sticks to? You need to be that Teflon. Your loved one will scream all sorts of stuff at you, but your job is to not let it stick. Let it fall off and try not to argue the point. You may know full well that you’re not that bad, but this is not the moment to prove it. If they can’t stop showering you with abuse, take their audience away, until they’ve cooled down. It will save you both considerable pain and shame.
3. Be Kind
To yourself. It can be one of the most lonely positions to be in – watching someone close to you self-destruct in front of you. Often you can’t seek out support from other friends or family, for fear of being ‘disloyal’ to your loved one, which makes you feel even more alone. It’s really important that you acknowledge the strain you’re under and try to do the things that make you feel good. Being kind to yourself should be as much a given as it is being kind to them.
4. Don’t Stare at the Sun
We all know what happens if you stare at the sun, you can burn your eyes. Sometimes a situation can get so dire it can threaten to overwhelm you. It can tinge everything in your life with pain and fear. This is when you need to remember to not stare at the sun. Save those eyeballs and divert your attention to other things – good things – that are happening in your life. If nothing else, completing a run or a book can help to remind you that everything in your life isn’t tarnished with despair.
5. Remember the good times
This can be the hardest challenge to overcome, but if your relationship is to survive the tough times, you must overcome it. It is enormously difficult feeling positive about your relationship when it feels all wrong, but if you can dig deep and recall the things that once made you laugh and feel in love, you will have a significantly better chance of pulling together. Remind yourself that you once were happy and as the past predicts the future, you will be happy again. What’s more once you are through the darkest days, your relationship will always have this benchmark of how awful it was and how you survived it, together.
The one thing you can be sure of the sun will rise again. Promise.
Image: Flickr CC