By Elise Wantling
I have struggled with depression on and off, (but mostly on) for the majority of the past decade. My partner has struggled with it for even longer than that, probably close to 15 years now. We have been part of each other’s lives for a little over two years as of writing, and together we have taken turns caring for one another when the depression brain takes over and things seem too hard to bear.
First, let me explain what depression is. Depression is a catch-all term for a couple different mood disorders. The most common type (according to Harvard Health) is major depression, also known as clinical depression, which would be classified as the “worst” type, that carries with it changes to your sleep patterns, lack of energy, feelings of worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts and feelings. This can last for years before it goes away, if it ever does. There is also persistent depressive disorder/dysthymia, which is basically “depression lite”. It comes with most of the same symptoms as major depressive disorder, but they aren’t as intense or long lasting. It is characterized by a “low mood” lasting at least two years. The third kind is seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which occurs during the fall and winter. I’d rank it as the “least bad” on the scale, as it usually isn’t as intense as major depression or PDD and only lasts a few months of the year.
There are other types of mood disorders or personality disorders that depression can fall into, but these three are the most common. Ryan, (my partner) and I both have standalone depression diagnosis (we both have clinical depression/MDD), but we both have other mental health issues as well (one of which is anxiety, which often comes alongside depression). We are both currently seeking treatment for our depression, taking meds and seeing our own therapists, but that isn’t always enough to keep the depression at bay. Depression can manifest in a number of ways, but for Ryan and me it manifests in a similar way. First, it starts with the gradual decline in energy. I’ll notice he sleeps more and seems less present during his waking hours. He wants to go out less and stay in more. When he sleeps, it’s restless and full of nightmares. He becomes disinterested in his hobbies, he stops helping around the house, his life starts to become a cycle of work and sleep with very little in between. It starts out slow, and gradually gets worse, and usually manages to escape detection until we reach a breaking point of either me or him getting frustrated with his lack of ability to function.
Then it usually hits us: the depression fairy visits and casts a nasty spell. This usually leads to a conversation about how he’s been feeling, which will reveal that emotionally he’s doing about as well as he is functionally (which is to say not doing well at all). We then draft a game plan: first, an appointment to get meds adjusted. Second, investigate therapy options if he isn’t already actively in therapy. Third, get back on a healthy eat/sleep/work schedule, making sure no meals are missed and that there is a healthy level of sleep being accomplished, not too little but also not too much. We check in daily on emotional levels, having candid conversations about suicidal thoughts or feelings and feelings of worthlessness or not being good enough. Little by little, together, we pull him out of the dark hole he has fallen into. Sometimes it takes just a few weeks, sometimes it takes a few months, but eventually he is able to wake up one day and tell me that everything is alright again.
It’s not always him that gives into the depression. Sometimes, just as often as it happens to him really, it happens to me. We’ve been lucky so far in that when one of us has needed to be carried for a bit the other has had the strength to do the carrying. In the beginning of our relationship I often worried what would happen if we both fell victim to depression at the same time. What I have learned is that love has given us the ability to rally when needed. Some days, even when I can’t manage to care much for myself, I find the strength and energy in me to care for him, and vice versa, he does that for me. I am by no means saying our love or our relationship has cured our depression. But I am saying it has made things more bearable. Through my relationship with Ryan I have found someone I can confide in and share my struggles with, who truly gets them and can relate. Someone who shares the feeling of triumph when after weeks of dragging yourself out of bed you finally wake up and find yourself excited to face a new day instead of dreading it. He reminds me to take my meds and takes me to my doctor appointments. He rejoices in my joy, and holds me in my sorrow, and I likewise am able to do that for him.
Loving someone with depression when you have depression isn’t easy. Some days it feels like the cycle of depression will never end. Other days, you feel like you’re free of it forever. Just like every relationship, a relationship that is touched by depression still requires love, trust, and communication. It can be incredibly challenging, but also deeply fulfilling. Even with its’ challenges though, I wouldn’t trade my relationship for the world, and for those of you who can relate, I hope you can say the same.