How to help your loved ones when you are fighting depression/anxiety

I hope that anyone who reads this & is currently battling depression &/or anxiety, will not only share this with a loved one, but have an open and real conversation about how it is impacting there relationship and make any changes before it is to late. 

Disclaimer: Before I go any further, I am not a licensed therapist, psychologist, or counselor and I am not educated or trained in helping people deal with depression and anxiety.  This is 100 percent a blog article based on my own personal experiences and opinions.  Everyone is different and I believe getting professional help is a must. 


Part of my journey is self reflection about my own life and some of my blog posts will be related to things that not only I have experienced along my trip, but also things I am uncovering about myself through my own search. The other day while I was sitting at a bar watching UCLA vs. Kentucky in Nashville, Tennessee. I spark up a conversation with the gentleman sitting next to my table, which I often do these days.   The conversation started with basketball as he heard me rooting for UCLA and he was from Kentucky and was cheering for his beloved Wildcats (the real Wildcats in the NCAA, sorry U of A). Like many of my recent conversations it was quickly steered towards life, work, family, and my journey.

Why did you decide to go on this trip ? He asked.  I went on to explain all of the reasons and our conversation went a bit deeper.

This eventually led us into a pretty deep conversation about depression/anxiety and the impact it can have on a persons’ life and the people around him/her that love that person.   After we finished our conversation, I was left reflecting a lot about what I have been going through and the impact it has had on people in my life.

When my depression and anxiety first started to come to the surface, my ex-fiance 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 laying in bed all alone, 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 it was entirely my fault.

Before I get into more details, lets take a look at what depression and anxiety are and how it feels to the person going through them.


First –  Definition of Depression/Anxiety: 

de·pres·sion

  1. feelings of severe despondency and dejection. “self-doubt creeps in and that swiftly turns to depression”

    • PSYCHIATRY: a mental condition characterized by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep.

    anx·i·e·ty
    1. a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
      • desire to do something, typically accompanied by unease.
      • PSYCHIATRY
        a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.

2nd – Articles about Depression/Anxiety: 

I found a couple great articles for people with depression/anxiety to share with loved ones or for people who are dealing with a loved one with depression/anxiety.

  1. How to Explain Anxiety to Someone who doesn’t Get it: 
  2. 10 Things People with depression want you to know

Now, I am going to peel back some layers of the onion and it gets a little stinky and ugly under there, but I feel like it is the best way to share how the situation unfolded, what I could/should have done differently, and what I pray some day I will be able to fix by becoming an even better version of the person I once was (another reason for this trip).  Without being real, 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.

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 and only, 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 just be by your side no matter how sick you are, how you act, or what you do.   My number one go to saying was:
“but I have depression and anxiety, you don’t understand it or you wouldn’t be upset with the way I am acting.” While it is true (read links above) that the depression and anxiety makes you act in ways that might not be the normal you, it doesn’t mean that these actions are not very real to the person you love and they are not impacting, wearing down, and breaking the person that is trying to be there for you.  It can be hard to take a step back and view it from someone else’ perspective when you are battling depression/anxiety, but it is something that you must attempt to do and communicate.

There were days that I would not get out of bed.  I would just lay there and then start crying.  She would come home from work and just find me in bed, not wanting to talk, not wanting to tell her how I am feeling, just wanting to be alone.  She would make dinner, I wouldn’t get out of bed.  She would ask me if I wanted to watch a show with her, I wouldn’t get out of bed. The truth was that I wanted to be alone, but I wanted to know she was there.  Selfish when you think about it really.

There were days when I would have panic attacks and need to leave the house and get away.  Fearing for my safety, she would try and stop me.  I would get enraged that I couldn’t leave and start throwing my keys, the food in my hand, or whatever else was in my near vicinity.

There were days when I would sneak out of the house after she went to bed and just drive around.  One day I found myself 150 miles away from home, just driving, listening to music, crying, thinking about life, and having a break down.  The entire time she would be calling me/texting me worried and begging me to just come home and go to bed with her. Something I now dream about nightly, but at the time I wouldn’t do.

There were days when my depression would tell me that I was ugly, fat, not athletic, not successful and a failure.  My anxiety would rev up and in my head she was for sure looking to be with someone else.  “Why wouldn’t she be with someone else, I am such a loser and she is the most beautiful women in the world.  She could have someone more special than me in a heartbeat.”  I would then question her ever move and action, breaking her down and demoralizing her character.

There were days when I would leave with the intentions of never wanting to come back.  Ready to just give up.  I was close a few times and I am not sure why exactly I stopped, but it was usually left with a long message to her about how much I love her and I will miss her.  I can’t even imagine the feeling in her heart and throat with fear that this would be our last conversation.

There were days when I just couldn’t follow through with anything.  I didn’t want to go do anything and I just wanted to lay around and do nothing.  Despite efforts and pleas to “go workout with me, lets go play tennis, lets go swim, lets go hiking, lets go take the dog for a walk.”  Nothing would be able to push me to want to do anything other than lay there and think.

There were days when she would say one thing, something simple with no ill intentions, and I would take what she had said and dissect every work, analyze every sentence, and start playing scenarios in my head.  “She doesn’t like me anymore, she things I am fat, she thinks i am a failure too.”  These of course had nothing to do with what she had said, but my brain played a different story in my head. I would then get upset, question her about it, and react in some way that was unhealthy.

I could name a million more things I would do and say while attempting to deal with my depression/anxiety and they will all have similar themes.  To most they seemed to be erratic and not logical, but to me they were all very real and to her they were breaking her down every second of every day.  Watching the person she loved become someone she could not recognize anymore.

Looking back, I again, can’t even imagine trying to deal with me through all of this. For 18 months she dealt with this everyday.  She put aside her own happiness and put all of her energy into trying to save me, trying to make me feel loved, and trying to make me feel whole again.  She set aside things she loved and things she wanted to do to try and help me.  Ahhh….The agony of even thinking about putting the person you love so dearly through that.  The person that when I asked her to marry me, I stated that I would spend the rest of my days making sure she felt happy and loved.

After our breakup, I started doing research on how to help the person you love deal with your depression and anxiety.  I started hearing things and reading things that put a pain in my heart that felt like I was stabbed with a extremely sharp samurai sword.  These were all things I did, all things I should have done, all things I could have done, all things that would have helped me and helped her and helped us.  Af first it made my anxiety and depression worse and I again went to:

You are such a failure.

No wonder she left you.

Why didn’t I read and research this sooner?

Why didn’t I do X, Y, Z?

These thoughts rang through my ears as I would lay there, usually not able to fall asleep at night and then not able to wake up in the morning.  A vicious cycle that some days would cause me not to get out of bed at all.  Not to eat, not to drink, not to use the bathroom.  I would just lay there with my mind going a million miles a minute, just wishing it would all end soon.


“This is why I am sharing all of these personal and revealing details, because I wish I would have known a few of these things before it was to late.”


So after some research and some self reflection I found a few tips that I believe are crucial for couples battling the same battle with depression/anxiety. 

  • Communication: 
    • It can be very hard to do this when you are dealing with depression and anxiety, because sometimes you just don’t know why.  When I say communicate, I say be open, real, and honest.  If you can explain how you are feeling let them know.  I would even ask them to be open, real and honest about how they are feeling while dealing with you.  I also think that boundaries need to be set for this communication.  If you both agree that this will be open, real, 100 percent backed with love, and that any anger that can come from this communication, should also be communicated about and explained.  (It is very easy for a person with anxiety and depression to hear one thing and take it completely out of context, analyze every statement, and then replay it over and over and over again.nEven simple statements can cause damage) so communicating the what, the why, and the how is very important. I believe that going through a counselor and asking them for help with this is key (one of the bullets below)

 

  • Don’t let them save you – this is not his/her job.
    • Your loved one is not a superhero and they should not try to be a superhero.  Most likely they are not qualified to treat depression and anxiety and in there attempt to do this they will most likely fail.  This will cause them hurt and you hurt and it won’t be helpful.  I understand that the person loves you so much and they would do anything for you, but I repeat they can’t save you.  This is something that needs to be done by a professional and more damage to yourself and to your loved one can happen if they try and take on this role.  Instead of having them try and save you, just make sure they are there to support you.  Support is much easier on a person than trying to be someone else’s savior.

 

  • Get Help: 
    • This is key.  Don’t wait to try and get help and just think it will go away.  In my case, for years and years I didn’t want the stigma of having depression.  I didn’t want people to think I was not strong or courages and have a different opinion of me, so I hid it and eventually it boiled over into a ugly mess.  Get help right away.  You are not crazy!  You just need some balancing and there are people who are trained and amazing and helping people get through depression and anxiety.  Find that person that you feel comfortable with (even if you have to try a few) and then go on a regular basis and commit to the program they put in place.  This will have a tremendous impact on your relationship.  This will let the person that loves you know that you are committed to getting help and getting past this and it will also take a lot of weight off your loved ones shoulders.  They can realize they don’t have to save you, but just support you and that you are working with someone who can actually make a big difference.

 

  • 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 would hear ” she doesn’t want to be with me. She wants to find someone else.  She wants to find someone better than me.”  I know, it wasn’t what she said at all, but that is what I would hear.  So what did I do?  I begged her not to take space.  I begged her to hold my hand. I begged her to focus on me, because I was the one that was sick.  Man, again this makes me sick to my stomach.  Make sure that the person that loves you and is helping support you through this difficult time has some space to her/himself.  While everything around you feels like it is crumbling, they might feel the same way and need to find some peace and happiness for themselves.  There life is still going forward everyday and they can’t put all of there energy into you without eventually breaking down.  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 there favorite hobby, etc.  Heck it might be breaking up and you moving out for a while so that the person can recharge and find who they are again.    Let them have this space and honor that space without you constantly reaching out and questioning what they are doing (this can happen with anxiety) and something I fell victim too and still struggle with.

 

  • Make sure to take some time and focus on them
    • This can be hard, because your depression and anxiety is beating you up constantly, but make sure to take some time and focus on the person you love, by doing something for them.  Muster up the energy to make him/her dinner, clean the house, rent there favorite movie, take them to there favorite place, etc.  This can be difficult, because your mind will want to do the exact opposite, but really try hard to think of the person you love.  Think about the sacrifices they are making and how much they are giving to you and try and give back this same energy.  There is a great book that I believe everyone should read “Love is letting go of fear,” check it out.

 

  • Allow them to go to a counseling/therapy session with you.
    • Speak with your counselor/therapist and suggest having your loved one join for a session or sessions.  Let them be a part of your healing process and allow the counselor and therapist to let the person you love into your treatment plan.  I would come home and tell her what the counselor would say, but I never officially invited her to come to a session.  Once again, a regret that eats at me.  I wish she could have come in and learned more about what I was dealing with, what I needed to do to come out on the side of light, and how we could work together to get there.  I also think the counselor could have helped me see things from her side and it would have allowed her to speak her truths to him about what she was feeling and having a third party interpret it and make sure my anxiety didn’t take it to a place the words were not intended to go.

 

  • Research Depression and Anxiety together and 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.  A lot of things we say and do seem illogical and off the wall, but to us they have reason.  I wish I would have spent more time researching depression and anxiety together.  Understanding and communicating what it felt like to have it and what it felt like to help someone going through it.  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.”  I love this and with social media and the internet we can now not only read books, but blogs, and research findings, and even social media posts (Warning: Make sure to check your sources and I would honestly take anything I read to a counselor and ask them for there thoughts).  I also think it can be healthy to read books together and communicate about them (not just books on depression/anxiety, but books like “love is letting go of fear.”  I believe a therapist/counselor could recommend some great books or activities to do together.

 

  • Set Boundaries
    • Set boundaries.  What is acceptable and what is not?  What will we do in this type of situation? For example: When I would have my anxiety attacks and just want to leave. I just wanted to leave that is all that was on my mind.  To her: she didn’t want me to go hurt myself.  When she wouldn’t let me leave, my anxiety would go into fight mode and I would act out.  I think about this and just wish we would have communicated and set some boundaries.  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?  Creating a plan and some boundaries can go along way when anxiety attacks and depressive moods come into play, because in our minds we can’t think or even comprehend, but if a plan and boundaries are put in place we can have something to fall back on that we both feel comfortable with.

 

  • Don’t put all the pressure on one person (don’t dump everything on your loved one)
    • I have an amazing family and a great group of friends.  My parents are involved, my brothers and sisters are there if I need them, and my friends would answer my calls and talk if I reached out.  With all of this support system, I put all the pressure on one person.  I dumped anything and everything on to one person.  I believe to help a relationship, make sure you create a support system (team), not just one person.  Again this person is not a super hero and they should not have to carry the weight of all of our pain on there shoulders.  Even if they can carry it for a while (18 months) eventually it will become to heavy and they will break.  Create a team of family and friends that you trust and believe in and use them all.

 

Lastly – Remember this:

To the person with depression:

You are still you and you can come back from this. This does not have to be a life long 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 even a better version of themselves.


 

Here is a video I created off the-line (Vince Vaughn and the Internship movie reference) after watching several of this guys videos.  He has some great advice on his video blogs if you are going through some dark times and fighting depression/anxiety. I believe this video is a must watch if you are battling depression and you are worried about the person you love the most or if you are trying to help someone you love fight depression.

Here is a link to his video blog: 

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