I told my partner about my battle with depression and anxiety on our third date. I showed him my battle scars and shared my experience with counselling and antidepressant medication. We had only known each other for two weeks, and yet this was the most intimate conversation either of us had ever had. I didn’t go into the specifics of my scariest thoughts and lowest moments – but I shared enough for him to get an outline of the picture.
Over the next two years of our relationship, we slowly coloured in that picture. He held my hand when I couldn’t bear to leave the house, cooked my favourite food when I lost my appetite and coached me through more panic attacks than I can count. Now, that picture looks more like a collage with one thread running through it all: my relationship.
When I first started dating with depression, I thought it would ruin my chances of a happily ever after. A long-term relationship with someone else seemed impossible when I could barely maintain a healthy relationship with myself. But, as it turns out, my mental health journey allowed us to connect on a much deeper level than just physical attraction.
Navigating a relationship with depression is challenging – but supporting your partner through a tough mental health period is also tricky. Here are a few tips on how to support your partner through depression and anxiety.
Make a wellness box together
A year ago, I would have mocked the prospect of making a ‘wellness box’ with my partner. There was no way a few items in a box could combat the severity of my anxiety. But I was wrong.
A wellness box should contain something that soothes you for all five of your senses. For example, you might include lavender oil for smell or a happy picture of you both for sight. The idea is that when you are feeling low or panicked, you can get the box and spend a few minutes calming your mind with these items. You could compile the items together or make separate boxes if you both suffer from mental illness. You could even include a set of headphones and curate a playlist with some feel-good songs or your favourite podcast. It distracts your mind, gives you a little positivity and can sometimes take the edge off that depressive moment.
Remember, it's not about you
Depression and anxiety are often much bigger than the both of you. If your partner is struggling through mental illness, try to remind yourself that it’s not you. Depression can make every word and glance feel negative and hostile. So, when your partner snaps at you during these periods, the chances are it’s not about you.
Instead of engaging in an argument, remind yourself they are feeling low and irritable at the moment. Give them some space and revisit the situation when they have centred themselves again. If something they have said upsets you, talk it through with them when they are in a healthier headspace.
I once snapped at my partner for biting his nails and had to give myself a time out. We laughed about it later. Depression can do a number on your patience and rational thinking.
Look after yourself too
You can’t pour from an empty cup. You need to look after your mental well-being by eating well, exercising, taking some time for yourself, and maintaining a sustainable work-life balance.
Encourage them to seek professional help
Antidepressants receive an enormous amount of bad press. Personally, I respond well to antidepressant medication and have tried out various types. Switching medication, on the other hand, is a whole other ball game. If your partner is starting out on antidepressants or switching medication, do some research on the common side effects.
I found it very difficult to identify whether I was experiencing medication side effects or my usual depressive symptoms. My partner researched the side effects and helped me identify when my irritability, shakiness and flu-like symptoms were probably the new meds. It’s common for people to lose their appetite on a new medication as well – keep a stash of your partner’s favourite snacks and encourage them to go on a daily walk. It sounds simple, but small acts of kindness and support can make a world of difference.
Counselling and medication combined are considered to be effective for severe cases. However, counselling can be difficult for some people and very expensive. Look into the NHS counselling service or do some research on the charity support available. Always talk through the options together – and decide on the best treatment for you. If your partner is in a dangerous state of mental illness – call for help immediately.
Go on a walk
When I’m feeling low – the last thing I want to do is leave the house and go on a walk. However, going on a short walk with your partner can help you gain a little perspective and get out of your mind. Whenever my partner and I have an issue or a challenging day, we talk it through on a walk. You can get in some exercise, fresh air and find a way to deal with the situation.
Mental health impacts everyone differently, and every couple has their own approach. However, I find open communication, support, and respect to be the pillars of my relationship.
Words by George Arkley for Female First, who you can follow @George_Arkley on Twitter.
tagged in Mental Health