How to tell boyfriend of my depression?
June 18, 2010 11:53 AM   Subscribe

How to tell boyfriend about depression?

So this question and this question were extremely big helps. But they weren't especially specific, as to the actual conversation. (That second link is eerie similar, but not specific enough.)

hubble's snowflake background, for context:

I'm female. Approximately 30 years old. Fairly successful professional. Been dealing with depression for a long time, and took the leap to Wellbutrin use about a year and a half ago. It was great. And then it crapped out 3 months ago. Am now in a soul-crushing depression for no apparent external reason, other than the med crap-out.

About 7 months ago, way before the crap-out, I started dating a wonderful guy.

Details about him: Very late twenties, successful entrepreneur, history of anxiety that has gotten somewhat better, in the middle of dealing with mind-bogglingly intense investors, keeping the company sailing along, and buying a house. He's stressed out.

He met me when I was fine, and more like myself: generally happy, funny, outgoing, talkative, fairly smart and opinionated. He liked that. Hell, we both liked that. (And I will be that again soon!)

I have told him I'm depressed. It went well, but it was an overview. I haven't really updated him lately, and I should. Things have happened at FTL speed, and he deserves to know what I'm up to, and hopefully what to expect. Such as:

I am very actively taking steps to relieve myself of the issue, by manner of talk therapy, hopefully a new medication, building a "support team" of doctors and family, exercise, and abstinence from caffeine and alcohol.

This has all happened in a week, and he has no idea. Why? Because he's been somewhat distant, probably because of all of the aforementioned stressors. It also could have something to do with the "mythical six month mark," in which he needs space. I haven't seen him in almost a week, which is unusual, but not terribly so.

This long question is about having what I've built up in my head as, "The Big Scary Conversation About How I'm Actually Crazy." I mean, I can't just sit across the table from him, bursting into tears and saying things like, "When I'm alone I cryyyyyyyyyyyyyy!" I am a grown-ass woman in a grown-ass relationship, and I want to treat it as such.

(A relevant aside: I have been burned by sharing this before, but doing it totally "wrong," by weeping, not having an agenda for the conversation, and a tendency toward the dramatic. In my mind, I got dumped for being "crazy.")

Way tl;dr:

1.) I haven't seen him in a week. Should I just call him up and tell him I'd like to talk? (That makes my heart jump just thinking about it, as it would sound so scary-serious, and kind of naggy— if he needs space.) Or should I give him some space and let him come to me? (This is fine, as long as it doesn't come across as me being passive-aggressive and just not talking to him. Which I hate.)

2.) Dudes, if you're in his shoes —a busy, anxious, and stressed out guy— how would you want to be approached? With as much facts and objectivism as your SO can muster? Or should she be super candid and admit that she's/he's a little scared? (Please don't tell me to just be myself— my self isn't too capable of knowing what it wants. I need to go in with a rational mind.)

3.) How do I get it out of my head that it is not "The Big Scary Conversation About How I'm Actually Crazy?" Some stuff to remind myself would be helpful.

Thank you, my friends.
posted by hubble to Human Relations (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I probably can't offer a lot of practical advice, not being depressed or having been in a LTR with someone who was depressed, but I just wanted to comment on this:

I have been burned by sharing this before, but doing it totally "wrong," by weeping, not having an agenda for the conversation, and a tendency toward the dramatic.

Maybe I'm naive, but I think that in those cases, it was probably less that you did it wrong and more that the person you were with just wasn't able to handle it and probably wasn't the right person for you. Now, I don't know if you're looking at this guy as a potential long-term partner, but if you are, he's probably going to have to accept that you have a tendency towards weepiness and a flair for the dramatic. Not like that totally gets you off the hook, of course, but you also shouldn't have to be all strategic about your emotions with a partner either.

For instance, I'm a total crier too. It sucks! I've been working on it, and I know it's my responsibility to not totally fall apart at the first sign of confrontation, but also I know that I'll probably always have this tendency to a degree, and if a dude I'm with just can't handle it, the relationship will probably not work.

So that said, I would just try to be as calm and honest as you can be. But you're talking about emotions, and it's ok to get emotional.
posted by lunasol at 12:05 PM on June 18, 2010

If you do say "We need to talk," and it's not a break-up conversation, tell him that.

"We need to talk. But it's not a break-up conversation." This should be a law.

If it might become a break-up conversation, though, don't say that.
posted by reductiondesign at 12:07 PM on June 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

In order:

1) How about the next time you're talking to him, you mention "You might have noticed I've not been myself lately. This is why..." Having a "talk" makes people want to run away. If you haven't been talking to him much lately, perhaps give him a call to say you wanted to tell him why you haven't been yourself lately and haven't been talking to him very often. But don't talk about having a talk before talking. Just talk.

2) Tell him a bit about how you've been feeling, talk about the manifestations of your depression that you think he might notice. That will help him know if it's just the depression acting when you aren't acting like yourself. Tell him what to expect in the future. Suggest he look into it a little himself, even if it's only to read the wikipedia article. And let him know if there's anything he can do for you or if there's nothing he can do for you.

3) To someone who doesn't suffer from depression, hearing someone say they are suffering from it can sound like "I'm sad," which does not mean crazy. Rather than explaining how it's different from being sad like when your cat dies, don't get into it. Tell him it's different and let him do more research. It's when you try to start proving that you're not just sad and he can make you happy that you'll start crying and telling him you cry when you're alone.
posted by oreofuchi at 12:08 PM on June 18, 2010

I've done this a couple of times. Don't present yourself as crazy, this is simply another aspect of you. It sounds like you're doing all the right things with the support team, so you can also point out that this is temporary. Don't ask to talk, just go out to dinner or maybe over dinner at home. Give him room to ask questions. He already knows the outline, that you have depression, so this shouldn't be a huge shocker. Explain how it works for you, how long these have lasted in the past (if you have a yardstick for that) and what he can expect as you climb out of the episode.

While I kind of like thinking of depression as a form of madness (mainly because I love Styron's Darkness Visible) calling it such at this point in time may not be the best idea. Also, if you haven't read it I find Darkness Visible a great book. I've tried to get some of my more serious exes to read it, but for some reason they never get around to it, so I'm not so sure about having him read it. (It's only 86 pages, well written, an easy read except for the subject matter.)

Good luck. You're not crazy, you're going through a period of craziness. Be as rational as you can, as objective and detached when explaining how this affects you.
posted by Hactar at 12:08 PM on June 18, 2010

Part One: "Dude, when you're not totally busy, we need to get together because I have some stuff going on with medical issues I want you to know about."

Part Two: "The medication I take for depression has stopped working, which can happen, and I'm putting a lot of changes into motion to to deal with that. I don't want you to feel like you don't know what's going on, so I thought I should tell you ASAP."

Of course, if the fact you're taking medication in the first place is news to him, you need to preface that with "I take medication for the depression issues I've mentioned before."

But basically, I would be factual and report the situation as briefly as possible. See how he reacts. If he's sympathetic in the initial conversation, you can offer more detail and tell him you're scared and need some support, but if it doesn't feel like that will be forthcoming, you can wait. Sometimes people need a chance to process things before they can know what their response is, and while it's sub-optimal for you, that's an OK thing.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:09 PM on June 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

You're approaching this the wrong way. The Big Scary Conversation About How You're Actually Crazy is not necessary. You've already told him you're depressed. All you need to tell him is that you are having some difficulty with your depression and that your doctors are changing your medication. I know it's this big huge thing in your head, but it's not really a big huge thing to people outside your head.

Is he the type of person that would be interested in the excruciating minutiae in your plan to help yourself or will he just want to know if he can do anything to help?

I would just call him and say hi, I miss you, how are you and let the conversation flow from there.
posted by crankylex at 12:10 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Next time you do talk to him, and he says the natural kind of "So how have you been, what's been going on with you?" kind of thing, you can say something like "Oh, I've been good. Was in to see my therapist on Wednesday, so that was good. Hmmm? Well, I just want to stay on top of that depression thing I was telling you about." See how he reacts to that. Go from there. You don't want to minimize so much that it's not honest and real, but you don't want to make it sound aggressively "Guess What? I'm Crazy!" As mentioned above, he needs to understand that this is part of who you are, and you're looking after it responsibly
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:12 PM on June 18, 2010

You aren't damaged goods, so don't present yourself to him that way. I also deal with depression and this is what I would say:

"Babe, remember how I told you I've been feeling depressed? Well, I just wanted to let you know it's still happening and I'm doing lots of things to get beyond it (list the things you listed here). I didn't want you to think I was shutting you out or hiding because I'm ashamed. It just makes me feel sad and anti-social. My hope is that with all I'm doing, I'll be feeling like myself again soon." Then let him know if there is anything you need form him to get through this.

I also did really well on Wellbutrin. I had to stop because it made my hair fall out. I am having a lot of success with Pristiq and Abilify. The Abilify made all the difference as Pristiq alone didn't do much.
posted by cecic at 12:14 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

You seem to be doing a pretty damn good job handling this setback- congratulations!

As to the conversation itself, I don't think it necessarily has to be a big deal serious *thing.* Especially since you've already talked about your depression. Something along the lines of "Remember how I told you about my depression? Well, recently I've had some setbacks, but I am taking steps to get better, back to what I consider to be my normal self [elaborate on steps as desired]. You have been nothing but a positive presence in my life during this rough spot, and I hope that you haven't misinterpreted
my depression as dissatisfaction with our relationship. Questions?"

Obviously this spiel can and should be changed to fit your style and situation.

As to contacting him, maybe give him a call and set up a low-key activity of some sort (maybe a hike?) You can talk about it in the car (no awkward face-to-face necessary) or on the hike / walk. Which might be good for both of you anyway!

Best wishes as you pull yourself out of this. I've been there, and it's tough (and of course the hard work is so, so worth it).
posted by charmcityblues at 12:16 PM on June 18, 2010

1. Why don't you call him up to talk, rather than to tell him that you want to talk? Force yourself to be upbeat during this conversation, but if you'd like, half-way through hint at wanting to meet, and hint at having some troubles...i.e. ' yea, been feeling kind of low lately, so i bought some chocolate and ate it instead of dinner....' and then talk more about it when you guys meet. but the key is to start this conversation on a cheery note, regardless of where you take it later

2. not a dude, but in this situation i've only been successful when initiating the conversation on a cheery note, and also take a few minutes to talk about his week and let him get his stress out a bit, if you're in person take care to dress nicely, and smile a bit when you're with him, so he gets to feel good about how lucky he is to be with you....and then a bit later start to tell him about your depression and he should be easier to talk to

3. Everyone is crazy and no one is crazy. Do you know how people are on anti-depressants or other types of psychiatric meds and seeing a psychiatrist/psychologist?? do you know how many people have talked about being depressed with someone they care about?? um a LOT. you are really normal- that doesn't take away from the fact that depression hurts a lot and sucks, but it's still really common. He's had that conversation before i'm sure. and you're human. it's ok if you do things 'the wrong way' can also consider any previous tears 'being human' and not being 'princess frigid'

ok chin up. he has some anxiety so he'll should understand easily- let us know how it goes
posted by saraindc at 12:18 PM on June 18, 2010

"Boyfriend, my depression is acting up and I'm having a hard time right now. I'm taking steps to deal with it, and I don't need you to 'do' anything. I just wanted to let you know what's going on with me since you are my significant other and you should be aware that I might not be my usual self until I get this back under control."
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:28 PM on June 18, 2010

Talk to him, but keep this in mind when you start out:

Your goal will be to communicate how you feel and what you're going through.

Recognize that your boyfriend may try to jump into "must fix it for you" mode (why? because he cares). This is probably not what you want. You can help by being up front about what you actually want, which is to be heard, validated, and understood.
posted by plinth at 12:41 PM on June 18, 2010

Thanks guys. On top of the awesome answers, it's truly nice to hear some supportive words.

DarlingBri: The meds are something he knows about. He didn't like it at first, and I presented very logically (and thankfully when I was not depressed) the classic MeFi reasoning of "Yes, there is a lot I can do to regulate this. But there is a portion I cannot— just like diabetes. You just gotta take your meds, even if you do eat well." It swayed him greatly. But I am still uncomfortable talking about them for some reason.

And I like the idea of giving him time to process. Thank you!

Crankylex: Is he the type of person that would be interested in the excruciating minutiae in your plan to help yourself or will he just want to know if he can do anything to help?

This is kind of what I'm scared of. I just don't know. I don't know how he'll react to any of this. And most people fear the unknown— I'm one of them. Especially now.

I suppose I could just ask him that?

TooFewShoes: But I think I do, in fact, want him to do stuff. I would like for him to be around. I would like lots of hugs. I would like lots of questions tossed at me. I want a few nights in of movie watching by ourselves. But if he's needing space, I really feel weird asking for these things. I mean, wouldn't you be somewhat freaked out if your (somewhat new) SO said the exact opposite thing you need to hear when you need space?

(Sweet baby schwarma jesus. YANMT.)
posted by hubble at 12:42 PM on June 18, 2010

I suggest phrasing it as breifly and objectively as possible first, and going into more detail as he asks for it.

I wouldn't make a "special meeting" for this topic, just wait until you get together in accordance with your normal schedule. Ask questions of him, chit-chat... then, he would presumably ask you what you've done this week...

You: "Actually I've had a big week. Remember when I talked about my depression? Well the medication I used to take hasn't been working as effectively as it used to, so I'm working with my doctor to find some new options."

(Him: "Oh yeah? *supportive stuff* What are the other options?")

"Mostly talk therapy and a new medication. You'll notice I'm going to be abstaining from caffeine and alcohol and trying to exercise more. I am also trying to build a support team, and I was hoping you'd help me out by doing ABCDE."

Since he's already over-stressed, try to be specific about what you want from him.
posted by cranberrymonger at 12:43 PM on June 18, 2010

I think you're maybe overthinking the "what he needs" (space, etc) part of the equation vs. what you need. It doesn't have to be any more complicated than "Hey, haven't seen you in a while & I miss you. You know that chronic illness we talked about? It's flaring up again, and I'd love your support while I work on it." The anxiety you're feeling about it is much more likely part of your illness, not your reality.
posted by judith at 12:48 PM on June 18, 2010

But I am still uncomfortable talking about them for some reason.

This is reasonable. From what you say, it sounds like your boyfriend's default position is drug-averse. This can be a very difficult stumbling block in a relationship, particularly when the other party has essentially been put in the default position of "continued living through better chemistry."

You need to be aware that some people are not good at coping with this sort of thing, and not able to step up the plate when mental health changes are cropping up, as they are wont to do. If his preference is to pretend you are not taking medication, then you may have one of these people.

But you won't know until you try. He may surprise you! In general, I believe in asking for what you need, and giving people a fair chance to give it to you. You really can't do better than that.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:14 PM on June 18, 2010

You're being really rational, together and proactive about this. I've dealt with pretty serious depression in past and some relapses. I'm impressed. I'm glad your getting talk therapy as well as looking at changing your medication. This might help in the long run with recurrences.

You already had a conversation about depression. He knows that. This isn't completely unexpected.

Since he's already under a lot of stress, I'd go with this option:

With as much facts and objectivism as your SO can muster.

And when you're able to sit down and talk with him, and he can give you his undivided attention, the next one:

be super candid and admit that she's/he's a little scared.

Wait a day or two for him to call, if he does, give him the objective version. If he doesn't call, email him - I know email isn't usually recommended for this kind of thing, but you can't cry over email, and so you won't panic him as much.

In either case you're letting him know what's happening and letting him set aside some time when he can focus on you, rather than, say, calling him in between two calls from angry clients.
posted by nangar at 1:18 PM on June 18, 2010

I think the best thing to be is specific. The initial reaction will probably be relief because it's better to know than wonder what's wrong. Next, "what can I do" or "let me do x y and z". So be ready to say that x would be really great right now, y is counterproductive and z is something you'd rather take care of yourself. And also that you're primarily telling him because he's part of your life and needs to know, not to get him to do stuff.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:19 PM on June 18, 2010

I haven't been in your position, but I know this type well. In my experience, they do not want to date someone who is a "problem". So I would just do what I need to do for myself, and ask for the hugs and movie watching as just part of being in a relationship, not necessarily because of depression. It's less emotionally intimate, but an entrepreneur who tends toward anxiety and is buying a house may not want more emotional intimacy at the moment.
posted by metametababe at 4:42 AM on June 19, 2010

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