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How to Navigate a Relationship When You Both Have Depression

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My husband and I both live with mental illness diagnoses, his being bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mine being major depression, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and PTSD. Though our overall official diagnoses may be somewhat different, we both know all too well what it is like to live with chronic, persistent depression.

While depression is admittedly not easy for anyone at any point, the last few weeks have been particularly hard on both of us. The sheer number of things on our plate right now feel overwhelming. We are looking at having to move in the next few months because our landlord wants to sell the house we live in, the first stable home either of us has had in a long time. This is further impacted by the fact housing prices have skyrocketed in our area and we cannot find anything else affordable within our price range. We have been struggling financially for some time now due to our inability to work regularly and reliably in large part because of the unpredictability of our mental illnesses. Our bills have admittedly been piling up faster than we can address them. The little work we have managed to do, including my occasional paid writing gigs, has been spotty at best and has been further hindered by our complete lack of motivation due to our depression. What little outside assistance and support we do have has been slim and sporadic, and we have virtually no safety net to catch us if we fall.

We have had both new and ongoing struggles with the required paperwork to maintain outside assistance to remain somewhat on our feet, as well as coverage for our ever-mounting health issues which extend beyond our mental health diagnoses. We both have other serious health issues we need to continually address, including my brain tumors and his back, neck, and shoulder issues that date back to an old work injury. Admittedly, neither of us has been feeling particularly well lately, mentally or physically on multiple fronts, including but not limited to mental health struggles, chronic pain flare ups, and persistent digestive issues for both of us.

Due to lack of finances, we have ongoing problems with reliable transportation, making going anywhere including doctors appointments an issue. We have had multiple friends pass away in the last month or so. Reminders of the anniversaries of multiple losses from previous years keep crossing our social media timelines seemingly back to back as well. Just this past week alone, my husband was reminded one day of his grandmother’s death 16 years ago, and the very next day was the 11th anniversary of my father’s passing. That overwhelming sense of continuous loss and grief, both old and new, is beginning to feel never-ending.

We both have barely seen or spoken to our adult children lately due to their seemingly ever hectic work schedules, college classes, and social lives, often leaving us to feel like we’re bothering them or being a burden whenever we reach out to touch base. For that matter, largely due to transportation, financial, and pandemic-related reasons, we haven’t spent time with the vast majority of our friends or family at all in months, if not well over a year, and the few we have seen have been few and far between.

Add to all of that the day to day stresses of pandemic life and other, often polarizing, divisive, ongoing strife in our nation, and it is no wonder everything is feeling overwhelming for us at the moment. We have been feeling regularly sad, angry, frustrated, anxious, isolated, exhausted, overly emotional, and completely numb in ever-revolving waves. I do not share the multitude of our issues for sympathy or scorekeeping because I don’t personally believe you can quantify any one person’s struggles and fairly or reasonably weigh them against another’s, but rather to illustrate how life sometimes continuously piles upon itself, making a diagnosis like depression that isn’t easy at any time feel increasingly worse. To say we both are struggling right now is an understatement of epic proportions. Depression has kicked into high gear for both of us.

The last few weeks have honestly blended together in a depression-fueled fog for both my husband and myself. Somehow, we have managed to keep going together, one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time. No matter how much the stress of the world seems to pile up around us, we still find some sense of solace in each other. It got me thinking — how are we managing to keep going, despite what feels like ever-increasing, seemingly insurmountable odds? What things are we doing for each other and with each other as a couple, especially when the symptoms of our depression have flared up and reared their ugly heads, that have helped us to continue to fight and carry on? I spoke with my husband, sharing my thoughts on writing such a piece, not only from my own perspective, but with his insight, as well. I posed the question to him: What do we do, as a couple, when we are both in the depths of our depression, to be supportive to each other and to keep going together?

My Husband: We try to be aware of how we’re both doing on a daily basis, doing our best to adjust and adapt when needed, doling out extra hugs, spending extra time, trying to be understanding with each other. It’s particularly hard when we’re not on the same page. There are days I am extra agitated and aggravated, or days when you are extremely emotional and we struggle to see eye to eye.

We also do our best to pump the brakes before bad situations escalate further. There are times we have to catch ourselves and accept what we may be feeling isn’t reality, but is within our head — the depression, anxiety, chemicals, emotions getting the better of us. We have to address both what is going on and what we are feeling, even if they are two separate things.

Me: When we talk about how we’re feeling, we’ve been trying to use more “I feel” statements instead of statements that place blame on each other. We both are aware that, due to our mental illnesses, our emotions are sometimes over the top and our reactions unpredictable or unwarranted, so we try our best to express and own how we are personally feeling in the moment, so that we can better understand where we are both coming from.

My Husband: Really bad days, we deem f*** it days. We’ve had a lot of those lately, days where we have no drive, desire, ambition, or motivation. On those days, we really lean into each other. We’ll put on music or movies and just curl up on the couch together. Turn off the world. It becomes about self-care and making it through the day.

Me: You really are my rock. There are days I’m not sure I could get through without you. Days when you’re my peace, my comfort, my reason to keep going.

My Husband: Ditto. There are days I couldn’t function without you — what little functioning there is. <Laughs> But yeah, there are days you’re why I get out of bed.

Me: I love when you laugh. Laughter is important, even on the bad days, especially on the bad days. We’re playful with each other a lot, but never mean-spirited. Our goal is always to lighten the mood, make each other smile and feel better, not to hurt feelings or make anything worse. We are always trying to make things better for each other however we can.

We’ve also been trying to stock up on healthier snacks, especially for those bad days, because there are days we have no desire at all to eat, so we just graze because we know we have to eat something. Or days we just make simple bare bones meals. But we make a point of trying to eat at least once a day, usually dinner, and we always sit down together to do so.

My Husband: We try to prioritize each other on a regular basis, even if we’ve shut off everything else, whether it’s taking five minutes to sit down and talk or hold each other, or going for a walk together. It may seem inconsequential to some, but the way we struggle sometimes on a day to day basis, we’ve learned those little moments mean a great deal and help a ton.

Me: I can’t walk past you without wanting to hug you, touch you, just have some sort of physical connection with you, even if just for a moment. We’ve gone as far as moving our computer desks next to each other, so that even if we’re both doing our own thing, we are still within reach of each other, if nothing more than to squeeze each other’s hand, or lean in for a hug or kiss throughout the day. There’s power and comfort in that connection and physical presence. It gives me reassurance that no matter what, you are here, I’m not alone, that we’re in this together.

My Husband: With the way things have been lately, even the most menial of tasks have been a struggle for us. Just getting out of bed, taking a shower, doing the dishes, housework in general. So we try to do it together. It sucks that we struggle as much as we do, but at least we have each other.

Me: Paper plates are also a godsend.

And you humor me a lot with seemingly silly stuff. Both crafting and holidays in general are a part of my coping mechanism and you know this. You don’t bat an eye at me whipping out some clay and paints to make something when inspiration hits. You don’t complain when I want to put up decorations, even if it is over a month early, because you know that it helps put me in a better place. You have your models, your RC cars, your computers, and other things that are your own happy place. I try to encourage and support whatever helps you as well. We don’t judge each other for what helps us get through our hard times. All that matters is it helps.

My Husband: We try to be there for each other as much as we possibly can, even if it sometimes means taking away from ourselves to do so. It becomes a balancing act, trying to make sure both of our needs are met and that neither one of us feels alone. At the end of the day, we’re there for each other no matter what.

One person living with depression sometimes feels rough beyond words. Being part of a couple where both parties have depression might seem impossibly hard, but we have found ways to make it work and to be there for each other. I’m not by any means saying we have all the answers, because I don’t believe anyone truly does. It’s all subjective and every person, every couple, is different. But we have found this works for us. A little patience, kindness, compassion, and empathy, sprinkled with some self-care, can go a long way toward making a difference.

Communication with each other is also key. While it may not resolve any of the ongoing issues that may be making depression symptoms feel worse, mutual support and encouragement can help you both continue on day to day together.

Unsplash image by Andrik Langfield

Originally published: October 2, 2021
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