How significant others can help their mentally ill partners with anxiety and depression Part 2

You can read the first installment here; I will continue adding more posts as I get more feedback from people.

  1. Don't compare us to someone else. We run into the same problem, ourselves, and it's wholly self-defeating. "She had postpartum depression but got better in 2 months" doesn't mean we will, too. Or, "He started taking Vitamin B and D and got better!" doesn't mean that it will necessarily help us, too--especially not as a substitute for professional psychiatric advice and prescriptions. Recovery ain't easy. Just because someone else got better faster doesn't mean we will get better the same way.
  2. Recovery can be cyclical. Sometimes people get better, then they get worse for whatever reason. This is my problem. I get my meds adjusted, adjustments work, then they don't. Rinse. Repeat. I don't know why, but it is annoying. For some, relapses happen. For some, it means that it's a portion of a mental illness that hasn't been properly diagnosed yet, like bipolar. It's a journey. A very annoying and long journey that may never end as you think, "wait--I think I saw that tree before. Dammit, we're back where we started."
  3. We can get worse before we get better. I knew I was having trouble again with anxiety some months ago. I started getting treatment when I knew it wasn't just situational with layoffs at work--you know, once you work through it you start feeling okay. Med changes made me more anxious and on edge. Then more irritable. Then depressed. Then both really anxious and really depressed. That's how I ended up in the psych ward by mistake--I wasn't thinking clearly. But it was clear that I was getting so bad before I could get better with the help of a new med (Seroquel.)
  4. Side effects of medicine can be terrible. Some meds cause terrible weight gain. Some meds cause you to lose any and all interest in woohoo. Or make you hypersexual, particularly if it pushes you into a manic mood (for undiagnosed bipolar people, typically). Some make you irritable. Some make you sleepy. For me, the best case scenario is a few days of sleepiness, headaches, and akathisia until it settles in--then I get to repeat it all over again when we step up the dose on our way to the final dose level. I personally love CrazyMed's personal spin on the kinds of side effects of these meds--just pick one, and start reading, and brace yourself to help us through these changes. Even if the help is only patience. Or encouragement--encourage us to talk to our psychiatrist when something isn't quite right or the side effect is fierce.
  5. Intrusive thoughts. It's hard for others to understand the kind of power intrusive thoughts have on us. Especially certain kinds of thoughts--we're very very hesitant to tell you what they are because of the shame associated, or perhaps we're afraid you'll freak out, and freaking out definitely doesn't help. I mean, it's easy to freak out if your loved one tells you she keeps getting random intrusive thoughts of suicide. Or of self-injury. Or injury to others. Even if they don't actually WANT to do it, the way the thoughts loom over our day, like a terrible dark cloud that gets insistent the more you try to shoo it away, is frightening. But like all dark and evil things, talking about it takes away its power. So if we tell you, we're attempting to decrease its intensity and make it go away. Freaking out only makes it worse.
  6. The same illnesses appear differently in people. It's said that depression is anger turned inward. For some, that anger is visible to others. Especially in men, it seems, they get angry instead of cry. It's not always those stock photos of weepy and disheartened people. For me, I'm usually listless, and find despair in everything, and have no energy to enjoy life. But this last bout--because it was mixed with anxiety, I was especially irritable. At everything. I really wanted to scream. Yell. Get it out. I was just vibrating with anxiety while despair tinged my thoughts before the psych ward. Then after a med change, I'm back to the normal "high functioning depression," which for me is being mildly irritable but mostly sad inside and low on energy but I can fake it long enough.
  7. We can have good days even when depressed. It's not necessarily part of the "cycle."  They're tantalizing. They remind us life is worth living. By now I have had enough good days to fight like hell to make sure I am properly medicated and get the proper therapy and get the help I need to get back to that good place. Where I can handle the sadness and anxiety and stress, because I know the good days will come again. It's incredibly frustrating when the good days are followed by the bad. But enjoy the good days when your loved one has them. Cherish them. It doesn't necessarily mean they're cured--but take it for what it is, when it happens.
  8. Be persistent. Not a nag, but be persistent in a good way. If you normally like walks but he doesn't feel like walking anymore, and it's been a few days, nudge them out. Promise them you'll stop over for ice cream. Tell them it'll be worth it. Start small. "Let's at least go around the block, and if you don't feel like it, we can go home." That is small enough for us to handle. We're more likely to say yes if keep it bite-sized. If we keep saying no, because it REALLY is a bad day, accept it, and try again tomorrow. And the next day. For those of us who are really bad off, nudge us to take a hot bath when we aren't bathing. Give us medicine at the same time every night if we try to skip it, just because the idea of gathering the pills and the water seems like too much. The persistence and love helps make our journey a little bit easier, help us get well a little bit faster.
  9.  Take care of yourself. Maybe I should have made this the first point in the first post. You can't take care of ill loved ones if you neglect yourself. It's frustrating dealing with mental illness. Go for solitary walks with the dog. Walk with a friend. Go out to dinner with a friend. Get your own therapist as needed. Built a support network for yourself.  Eat healthy meals on time. Take your own medicines on time. Make time for hobbies. Practice self care.

Please do share if you have more. Is there a website that helped? Someone's blog of helping their mentally ill significant other get well? (Or ride out the storms with them?) I will continue to make more of these posts as I get more material and ideas.

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