There are many commonalities and themes associated with depression, such as thoughts of hopelessness, loss, and feelings of utter sadness. But we all still have our own unique experiences within that. And communicating how we feel and think often can be difficult for another to grasp, especially if they haven’t been there, done that.
Often when I’m running group sessions, the thing that quickly unites a group is when they start sharing about how their wife, husband, boss, or mother just doesn’t understand what they are going through. They talk about the way they perceive comments such as “you’ve got nothing to be depressed about” or “Oh, I was depressed once and then I decided to stop and just be happy” or the worst ever, “Just snap out of it, things could be worse.”
These comments to somebody who’s depressed can be utterly devastating to hear. As well-meaning as people think they are being, one of the most difficult things for a person who’s depressed to do is to ‘snap out of it.’ If that were possible nobody would experience depression.
There are many subjective levels of depression, from very mild (or what I would call blue or melancholy) to the deepest, darkest well of lonely suffering that nobody in their right mind would dream up. But calling everything on that continuum ‘depression’ diminishes the depth and intensity of what a person feels. Trying to communicate using the word “depressed” as a catch-all can make it hard for a spouse or partner who’s never been depressed to fully grasp what is going on internally for the sufferer.
If you do a Google search, the first large explanation on the page defines depression as this: “Depression may be described as feeling sad, blue, unhappy, miserable, or down in the dumps. Most of us feel this way at one time or another for short periods.” Doesn’t that make depression sound fairly innocuous and easy?
Sadly, this is only one facet of feeling depressed. If somebody takes this as the ‘truth’ of depression, it can give a completely false impression of its intensity. Along with this lack of understanding or personal insight into depression, a gap can emerge between couples who view the problem differently. This difference in understanding can then lead to other relationship crises.
Depression is fundamentally a uniquely personal experience which is often lonely and bleak.
In the beginning stages of depression, people often tell me how their partner was supportive and would do anything to help, but as time went by things began to change between them. The concern soon turned to annoyance. The soft voice of kindness began to turn sharp and abrasive. The calm words of support to ‘rest and take it easy,’ turn to demands of ‘get up and do something constructive.’
But isn’t their behavior understandable? For a partner to see the one they love become depressed can be a difficult thing. To see the person you knew turn into a shadow person, darker, vulnerable, indecisive, and tearful can be heartbreaking and scary.
It’s seeing this transition that can become hard for somebody to endure, no matter how much they love you. It often feels safer to shut off one’s feelings to a depressed partner rather than get dragged down by their hopelessness. This is clearly a survival tool and makes perfect sense when you realize that all too often, when one person in a relationship becomes depressed, the other partner can soon follow.
Can anything be done to change a couple’s path? Is it the end of a relationship if one partner becomes depressed? Well, no, it’s not. But this change in status can become rocky without making healthy choices quickly. Yet healthy choices when deeply depressed is somewhat of an oxymoron.
One thing many men in particular don’t do is seek help or talk to people at the onset of depression. They tend to try to ride the waves and carry on as normal, which sometimes works. If this is your first experience of depression, then chances are it may only last a few weeks to a month. But in my experience, the more rounds of depression you experience, the harder and deeper the depression becomes and the harder it is to help yourself get well.
The first thing to do is get help early, even if there is no obvious reason why you might feel depressed. Often the roots of depression have grown slowly over time, unnoticed.
However, depression-inducing cognitions also can spring up quickly. Sometimes we get stuck in a loop of unhealthy thinking as we try to come up with the ‘absolute best choice.’ We then become too hard on ourselves for not doing what we perceive as our best.
Talking still is the best cure for depression, even if it’s a slow process. If you’re wanting a pill to take this feeling away, you might get lucky in the short term, but rarely in the long term.
The second thing to do is to make sure you do the first thing. The second rule emphasizes the first. But you need to talk as well as emotionally and cognitively fight.
The third thing to do is keep communicating with people around you. Don’t hold onto thoughts that people don’t care. If you stay quiet and your mood changes, you will most likely become more distant from the people who care about you. This distance can be difficult for others to bridge as they may have little understanding of your internal process.
This lack of clarity may then lead them to come up with their own scenarios of why your behavior and mood has changed. It’s not uncommon for a spouse to believe their partner is having an affair because they’re not “interested in talking to me anymore.”
Depression is fundamentally a uniquely personal experience which is often lonely and bleak. It rarely makes sense. Every choice you make seems like the worst choice ever and withdrawing from the world seems like the best option. These are exactly the reasons why getting support is important. Don’t wait. Do it now.