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Blue Eyes

Living with a wonderful woman who has depression



June 24th, 2007

Is it good to talk?

For those who know people with depression it's hard to know what to do or say. Most of us desperately want to help but don't know where to begin. If a friend has a broken leg you can carry their bag or give them a lift somewhere. Depression is harder, more subtle and more variable. Be has often complained that people aren't able to see or understand her illness. If she had lost a leg then people could sympathize and commend her courage. But being brave when you have depression is the hardest thing.

For example, her mother often seems to make her worse by talking with her. I know she cares deeply about Be and would like to help her; it just doesn't work out that way. She has a habit of talking about the most depressing stories - I joke that she's a subscriber to "Tales of Woe - monthly". It seems she can only foresee the worst possible outcome of any situation, which she always has to voice. It isn't that she doesn't understand, as she suffers from a similar problem herself, with somewhat different triggers. When Be describes her depression, her mother feels very guilty for passing on the genetic problem and from this flows more worry, angst and fears.

Be's sister on the other hand has never suffered from depression and is a confident and capable person only a little younger than Be. Consequently she finds it hard to understand what the problem is. To her Be's mountains seem like molehills and she feels it will all be alright in the end. Perhaps it's also harder for Be to stay calm and patient with her own family.

When she first started coming home from work in an emotional state I'd spend up to an hour just listening to her, hugging her and trying to be sympathetic and reassuring. This just seemed like the best thing to do. After a while however, I realised that this doesn't actually make her feel better. The more time she spends thinking and talking about her problem and the things that are upsetting her, the more distraught she becomes. Listening just seemed to encourage her to wallow in her misery. I think this is incredibly damaging to her and also pretty upsetting for me.

Recently I've tried to recognise and stop her wallowing like this. Sometimes I can steer the conversation in a positive direction, either by diverting her onto a pleasant and interesting topic or by encouraging her to think of positive alternatives to her thoughts and feelings. If she's seriously upset this can be quite exhausting to keep up. In some cases I can stop and insist that we go out cycling, running, cooking, weeding the garden or any other occupying and preferably physical activity. If it requires concentration, then all the better as it means her brain will have to stop thinking depressing thoughts and be able to calm down and recover. I sometimes have to be quite insistent to get her to come out and do things, but I know it's better than wallowing. If she's too tired for any other activity I'll read her a story or put her to bed. That always seems to work - I've never known her still be wailing and miserable after I've read a light-hearted, funny book to her for a while.

My conclusion is that it isn't always good to listen to a depressed person talk about their problems. If it appears to be making them worse it is far better to:
a) Change the subject onto happier or at least neutral, distracting topics. It has to be something they're interested in or it just won't work.
b) Get them involved in some constructive, distracting activity.
c) Distract them with a passive but calming activity such as a funny film or book of their preference.

Even when Be knows what I'm trying to do, these techniques still seem to help her. Sometimes I even have tell her to stop this topic of conversation because it's upsetting her. Usually she's willing to play along, but just seems to need encouragement and reminding. I'm continuing to look for more ideas and small practical ways to help. It's encouraging because these things make a difference and it's a lot more satisfying than listening to her moaning.

June 14th, 2007

A friend in need

Delta, a good friend of ours was admitted to mental hospital today.

Like Be he suffers from depression although possibly to a greater degree. He has been on steadily increasing medication for several years. He's taken a lot of time off work in the last year when he has been struggling and we've had him stay with us. Visiting us seems to help him, which is encouraging, but we're pretty worried about this latest turn for the worse. He sent us a text saying he'd be pretty scared of this place if he wasn't feeling so miserable.

While we're pleased that he will be looked after, there could be serious implications for his future. Be's acutely aware that actually being admitted to a hospital with mental illness (which she thankfully never has been) is the kind of thing that would be picked up by potential employers and makes for a nasty blot on a medical record. I still think in Delta's case it is the lesser of two evils, partly as he doesn't live with anyone who can help to keep him happy or distracted.

We're hoping he gets the treatment he needs, whatever that may be - he's already exhausted the medication possibilities. Be does worry about him, but if we can help Delta at all, that gives us a lift too.

June 11th, 2007

Nonlinear progress

I'm pleased to report that she's still improving.

What is a little frustrating is that her progress isn't steady. It's a sort of two steps forward one step back thing. We'll get out into the countryside or watch some comedy and she'll sound like she's on top of the world. For a moment I think it's over and I don't have to worry anymore, but the next day she'll wake up with early morning dread or feel the pressure of some situation and it comes back.

As far as I can tell these relapses aren't as serious as the worst depths she can sink into. Those seem to take a few days to occur, which is why it's important that we can do something about them the moment she shows bad signs.

I can't explain why, but I rarely get angry with her for being depressed. It isn't that I'm a particularly easy-going person. I do get annoyed when she piles dishes in the sink or leaves paper and files on the floor where I'm going to trip over them. These seem like little things, but bizarrely they cause more distress and trauma to our relationship than her illness. I guess when she's depressed I just go into caring mode and do the things I know will help her. I think the fact that I can make a noticeable difference to her mood even in a short space of time makes it seem very worthwhile and rewarding.

When she's down Be worries about the longer term implications of her illness. For now I'm just concentrating on pulling her in the right direction and making the most of the fun we can have together.

May 31st, 2007


She thanked me today. That's a reassuring sign.

The last week and a half has been worrying and unpleasant. Since we got back from an enjoyable and active holiday - our favourite kind - all her old worries came back; work, wedding planning, longer-term career decisions. Perhaps the regular, if not excessive, drinking on holiday also had a cumulative effect. Mostly I think the return to normality was a shock to Be's system. As usual I'm guessing as to the cause of her latest depression and I don't think she's sure either.

There was definitely a dip in her mood.  She told me she was having some very dark and self-destructive thoughts - something which always puts me on high alert and makes me not want to take my eyes off her or leave her alone. This state is thankfully fairly rare. Plus her sleep was being disrupted which makes everything harder.

When she's feeling down, Be's instinct is to crawl into bed and hide, but she recognises this is usually a bad idea. I've been encouraging her to keep doing things without putting too much pressure on her. We went cycling one day, dancing in the evening, running the next, dinghy sailing the following day, then cycling again and then running. Cycling two days ago in nearby sunny countryside elicited cries of, "Oh this is lovely!".

I've sometimes helped her to cook dinner, which seems to be a good distraction. Most nights I have been reading from a Terry Pratchett book to her before bed. These things are not instant cures, but seem to provide temporary relief and perhaps the breathing space to let her mind fix itself.

Perhaps the tablets do more to help her and perhaps she'd get better eventually anyway. I think however, that the sport and distractions at least make the recovery quicker and less painful - at least it is less painful for me to take her cycling than to listen to her moan about it! I do try to listen to her so that I know what sort of state she's in, but I'm coming to the conclusion that excessive analysis and talking it over just makes her worse.

I can't talk her out of a depression. But it seems I can cycle her out of one!

When she's still in a depression she apologizes or tells me I shouldn't have to put up with her, berates herself for not caring enough about me, without actually changing her behaviour. When she's starting to feel better all her positive emotions come flooding back. She hugs me and tells me I'm very sweet and caring for looking after her, spends time listening to how my day went and is generally wonderful again. I feel like saying, "Welcome back, Be".

So to hear her say "Thank you" is more than a welcome acknowledgment of my help. It's a great relief.
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