woman, sad, depression

How to Support a Loved one with Depression: Do’s and Don’ts

It was a very surreal moment. After having no contact for 18 months there I was, sat in my former home, holding my ex-partners hand while he cried.

Life sure can throw us some curveballs.
While it was weird to find myself there with him, I hadn’t hesitated. When he called to say he was struggling and needed someone to be with him, I went.

He was having thoughts of taking his own life. He had a plan and the night before he’d almost gone through with it. I don’t mess around with that sort of thing. Nobody deserves to sit alone in their suffering.
A few days later I sat beside him as he told his mum and his doctor what was going on. We’ve been muddling through it all together ever since.

It’s not easy but then genuine love isn’t about doing what’s easy. It’s about being there for one another when we’re at our most vulnerable. When we feel broken and alone.
I’ve had some dark times in my life. My sister died. Important dreams have died. I left my ex, not because I didn’t love him but because he wasn’t ready to seek help.

But through all of that, through all the dark seasons and the despair, never once have I thought about taking my own life.
So for those of you reading this who have been in that place, know that not once will I say that I know what it feels like.
And while I’ve been through periods of feeling depressed, I do not know what it feels like to have depression. Those are two different things and I want you to know that I know that.

I am not an expert on depression or suicidal feelings. What follows comes solely from my own observations, thoughts and feelings as I learn to navigate my way through this.
There will be mistakes in the words that follow, of that I am sure, so I encourage you to correct me where I get it wrong.
I hope that in sharing my own experience it might help provide those of you supporting a loved one with depression that little bit easier.
Sometimes we don’t realise how our own discomfort causes us to shut down important conversations.
Did you know that just the simple act of handing someone a tissue when they’re crying can interrupt the flow of what they’re sharing with us?

It’s something I picked up on after a decade working in end of life care. Patients interpreted being given a tissue as a sign that it wasn’t okay to cry.
The best thing we can do is simply to encourage our loved one to share how they’re feeling and then to sit back and listen to what they have to say.

“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.” — Margaret J. Wheatley
Listening is indeed simple but for many of us, not easy. We can find ourselves listening to respond instead of just listening. And when we listen to respond, we can get so caught up in what we want to say that we forget that what is most important is our presence.
Create a safe space for your loved one. Let them know that when they’re with you they can talk about anything and that it’s okay to cry.
And then just sit with them in whatever it is they bring.

The ability to give someone permission to feel what they’re feeling and then to bear witness to their suffering is one of the greatest gifts we can give.

Don’t underestimate the power of presence.
I’ve made mistakes over the past few months. I’ve not always said the best thing.
It’s not easy supporting an ex-partner through depression and given my ex has historically been quite a pessimistic person, trying to separate out what’s him and what’s the depression has been tricky.
Plus, there’s just a ton of confusing feelings that come with being the go-to person for someone you were once in an intimate relationship with.

I’m naturally optimistic and look for the gifts and the light even when life feels dark. I know there have been occasions when that part of my nature has spilled forth and I’ve tried to brighten up the situation by attempting to pull his attention in a more positive direction.
Maybe there are moments when that’s okay. I don’t know. I’m often so desperate to say and do the right thing, to not make a mistake, that I end up drowning in the confusion of it all.
But what I do know is that feelings must not be minimised, shamed or blamed. We’re all responsible for our own feelings, they are not necessarily away or secret.

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