While I was on my Pursuit of Passion, I journeyed across the United States in a search for passionate people, for self-purpose, and for personal clarity.
While in Nashville, Tennessee, I was sitting at a dive bar watching a college basketball tournament game featuring UCLA vs. Kentucky.
I’m not going to say I was cheering too loud for UCLA, but… I was probably cheering too loud for UCLA, and it is entirely possible that I was a tad bit obnoxious as well. Through the rare pauses between my outbursts, I heard a man with a deep southern accent interject:
“Are you cheering against my beloved Wildcats?” (he was referring to the real Wildcats of college basketball, sorry & not sorry University of Arizona).
I look to the right and sitting at the table next to me was an older gentleman wearing a Kentucky Wildcat shirt and hat. We started to talk about the game, the NCAA tournament, and why we loved college basketball.
In a matter of minutes our conversation, like many of my recent conversations, quickly steered away from basketball and toward life, work, family, and my Pursuit of Passion.
My explanation of my Pursuit of Passion eventually led us into a deep conversation about depression/anxiety and the impact it can have on a persons’ life. As we continued to chat, he said:
“You know while you are dealing with depression, the people around you are also struggling to understand what you are going through and how they can help you.”
I immediately went into reflection mode. With one simple yet wise statement, I went from being captivated by the game to silently pondering my life decisions, my depression, and how I impacted those that I love.
I stopped yelling at the game on the TV, which I think was the Kentucky fans’ plan all along, and I pulled out my computer to embark on an emotional research project to understand how someone can continue to love someone with depression.
Before I get into more details, let’s take a look at what depression and anxiety are:
The Definition of Depression/Anxiety:
A nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.
Now, I am going to peel back some layers of the onion.
It gets a little stinky and ugly under there, but I feel that it’s the best way to share how the situation unfolded – What I could/should have done differently and what I pray someday I will be able to fix by becoming an even better version of myself (another reason for my Pursuit of Passion trip).
Without being fully transparent I feel that this post will lack the effectiveness it needs to help someone else who could be in the same situation I was in.
When my depression and anxiety first reared its ugly head, my ex-fiancé was right there holding my hand, telling me how much she loved me, holding me when I would cry, and explaining how we would get through this together.
Fast forward and 18 months later I found myself alone lying in bed, head under the covers, slipping into a deeper and darker place. When I reflect back on the situation, from a less selfish perspective, I realize that while my depression and anxiety was very real and the symptoms were often crippling, the way I treated my loved ones created more isolation and shattered relationships that were not destined to be broken.
I was in a relationship whom I 100 percent believe is my soulmate.
The person went to battle with me for a long time, but everyone, and I mean everyone, has a breaking point. Even if someone is your one true love, I promise you that your actions can cause them to break, something through research I have found is called “Caregiver Burnout”.
This is a very real thing, so do not assume that this person is the love of your life and they will painfully stand by your side no matter how sick you are, how you act, or what you do when you are battling your illness.
During my depression there were days that I would:
If I continued to write the ways I broke down the people that loved me the most, this blog would never get published, because I would be writing for months on end. Looking back at the situation I can’t even imagine how hard it was for my loved ones to deal with me during my depressive and anxious state.
They often set aside their own happiness and they would pour all of their energy into trying to save me, attempting to make me feel loved, and hoping they could make me feel whole again.
They no longer focused on the things they loved, but instead they were consumed by my illness. Ahhh… The agony of even thinking about putting the people I love so dearly through so much pain and stress.
These thoughts rang through my ears as I sat at this bar in Nashville researching the impact I had on those that loved me. I am sharing all of these personal details in hopes that through my trials an tribulations I can help someone else with depression reduce the stress of those surrounding them with love.
So, after some research and some self-reflection, I have identified 10 tips that I believe are crucial for helping your loved ones deal with your depression and anxiety.
Successful communication can feel almost impossible while dealing with depression and anxiety. The communication should focus on being open, real, and honest. Explain how you are feeling and ask them to communicate their feelings as well.
Communicating the what, the why, and the how is very important. Ask your counsellor for help on effective communication (one of the bullets below).
2. Don’t Let Them Save You – This is Not their Job
Your loved one is not a superhero and they should not try to be your savior. In most situations, they are not qualified to treat depression and anxiety and attempting to do this will often lead to a painful feeling of frustration and a sense of failure.
I understand that when someone is trying to save you, it is coming from a place of love and compassion, but I repeat, they can’t save you. Instead of having your loved one try and save you, make sure they are instead there to support you.
Supporting, rather than attempting to save, will put less stress and pressure on the person you love. Now for some strange reason if you are married to Superman or Wonder Woman, you can skip lesson 2.
3. Get Help
This is a major key to successfully helping your loved ones when you are fighting depression/anxiety. Please do not wait to get professional help and just assume your problems, pain, anxiety, and depression will magically resolve itself. In my case, for years and years, I didn’t want the stigma of having depression.
I had an overwhelming sense of fear that people would no longer see me as this strong or courageous person, and their opinion of me would change in a negative way.
Because of this fear, I hid my depression and anxiety and it boiled over into an ugly mess, eventually causing more damage to the people in my life that loved me.
Remember these few things: Get help right away, you are not crazy, and getting help will not only impact your happiness, but also the happiness of those around you.
When your loved ones witness you getting help, it gives them confidence that you can and will get better, that you will not give up, and that you are willing to do whatever it takes to get healthy and love them the way they deserve to be loved.
4. Let them Have Space Away from You if They Need It
After a few months, my Ex would often say;
“I need some space and I need to do things for me and focus on my own happiness.”
In my head, I interpreted it in a way that made me feel that she didn’t want to be with me and that she probably loved someone else instead. I know, it wasn’t what she said, but my depression forced my brain to hear something completely different.
So, what did I do? I begged her not to take space from me, to hold my hand, to focus on me (because I was the sick one). I get a knot in my stomach when I think back to how selfish I was during these moments.
As hard as it seems, make sure you set aside your ego and allow the person you love some space to herself/himself. If you love them and you want to make sure you don’t lose them: Give them the space they need.
It might be going out with friends, going to do a sport they love, going to a movie, doing their favorite hobby, etc. Heck, it might be breaking up and you moving out for a while so that the person can recharge and find themselves again during such a traumatic experience.
5. Make Sure to Take Some Time & Focus on Them
I know you are the one with depression/anxiety, but make sure to take some time and focus on the person you love.
Even if it can feel impossible, muster up the energy to make them dinner, clean the house, rent their favorite movie, take them to their favorite place, etc. When you are in a state of depression, this can be a very difficult task, but really focus hard on the person you love.
Think about all of the sacrifices they are making, how much they are giving to you, and what they are potentially giving up to stand by your side during this difficult time. Now, take all of the energy they are giving you and give back that same energy.
There is a great book that I believe everyone should read: “Love is Letting Go of Fear,” that explains how we need to let go of fear and live in a sense of love. It is a life changing book.
6. Allow them to Go to a Counselling/Therapy Session With You
Speak with your counsellor/therapist and suggest having your loved one join for a session or multiple sessions.
Let your loved one be a part of your healing process and potentially involved in your treatment plan.
The professional will not only be able to share with your loved one what you are going through and how they can continue to help, but they can also allow you to see where your loved one is struggling and how you can be there for them as well.
7. Research Depression & Anxiety Together & Walk Through the Symptoms
It can be hard for a person who does not feel what you feel to fully understand what you are going through.
I wish I would have spent more time researching depression and anxiety together with my loved ones so that I could help them understand and communicate what it feels like to fight depression/anxiety.
Will Smith once said;
“Reading is one of the keys to life, because there isn’t anything that we are going through that someone else has not gone through and written about in a book.”
With the power of the internet we can not only read books, but we can read blogs, research findings, and even social media posts detailing depression/anxiety. (Warning: Make sure to check your sources and seek out the advice of your counsellor for their professional expertise).
8. Set Boundaries
What is acceptable and what is not?
For example: When I would have my panic attacks, the only thing on my mind was get out of the house to get away. When my panic attacks would strike, my ex would quickly have this overwhelming fear that I was going to hurt myself.
When she wouldn’t allow me to leave the house, my anxiety would go into fight mode and I would act out. This caused pain, fear, loss of trust, and many other negative emotions that drove a wedge in our relationship.
I believe that if we would have been able to communicate and set some boundaries, we could have combated these issues in a much healthier manner.
By asking a few simple questions: What are we going to do in this type of situation? What are we going to say? How are we going to act? What do we both feel comfortable with?
We would have been able to create some boundaries that we both understood and felt comfortable with. With a plan in place, we would have had boundaries to lean on that would have given us a sense of comfort when difficult situations arose.
9. Don’t Put All the Pressure On One Person
I have an amazing family and a great group of friends.
Even with an amazing support system, I still put all the pressure on one person.
Instead of dumping all the pressure on one person, make sure you create a support system (team) that can be there to help when times get rough. As stated earlier, this one person is not a superhero and they should not have to carry the weight of all of your pain on their shoulders.
Even if they are incredibly strong and loving, eventually it will become too heavy and they will break.
Create a team of family and friends that you trust and believe in and make sure to use your entire team when you are in pain. By relying on a team of people, you will never put too much pressure on just one person.
10. Always Remember These Two Important Factors
To the person with depression:
You are still you and you can come back from this. This does not have to be a lifelong sentence.
To the person loving the person with depression:
The person you love is still there, they are not gone. They can come back and be who they were and an even better version of themselves.
Here’s a quick recap on the 10 ways to help your loved ones when your fighting depression and anxiety: