Should I continue to date while struggling with depression?
February 1, 2011 8:51 AM   Subscribe

Should I date/continue to date someone while trying to deal with my depression?

I have been dating a smart, funny and gorgeous woman who I met online for 2 months now, and with regards to the relationship, it is impossible to see how things could be going any better for the stage at which we're at. I'll just leave it at that. Also, let's call her A.

I've been depressed I think for a few years, since I moved from my home, and then I moved again 1 year ago. In addition to the uprooting away from family and friends, a few bad relationships and choices I've made exacerbated the situation. Sometimes it's not so bad, sometimes I struggle to get up in the morning and I find myself on the verge of tears when sitting at my desk at work. It affects my work, but doesn't affect my friends here simply because I don't see them very often. My family doesn't know how bad it is; I don't tell my parents because they are getting old, and worry too much for little things, much less this. My siblings attribute it to me being sad from time to time.

Recently, A and I spent a night and most of the next day together, and towards the end of this time, I had a couple hours of feeling very depressed and I couldn't hide it from her. And to be honest, I've started to really care for her and think she feels the same, so I wanted to be honest with her and let her know that this is an ongoing issue I've had. This was difficult, because I felt embarrassed, guilty, and very insecure when my depression hit. I also felt she might think that the confident, happy me that she interacted with for the previous couple months was a lie, and while I was always being myself, in my really bad moments sometimes even I think that of myself.

I tried to be as clear as possible that I do not see her as a solution to my depression,I know it is my problem that I need to take care of myself, and that our relationship so far has been pretty healthy, and I want to keep it that way. She acknowledged that this was a good thing.

Her reaction to my admitting of how depressed I get sometimes was very caring and encouraging. She shared that she had a friend who committed suicide because of depression, and encouraged me to seek out help, and even offered to go with me to see a doctor. She also said that she knows other people who suffer from depression and who got help and are able to have more functional lives. She was very supportive, and I don't think I could've asked for more.

But. This isn't what she signed up for, dealing with me. The last couple of days have been tremendously difficult and I don't know why. Since we spoke about it, we've just exchanged a couple of lighthearted texts, we haven't talked on the phone, although we probably will tonight, to tie up arrangements for tomorrow night. I have also been very careful from the very beginning not to attempt to use her as a crutch in dealing with my issues, because like I said, it's not her problem, and that's not healthy.

I haven't gone to see a doctor as yet; I don't know why. I guess I just feel there are genuinely sick people that need their attention. I also don't think anyone else can help me but myself; it's something I need to sort out in my head.

I've read most of Feeling Good, by David Burns, the CBT book, and it genuinely did make me feel a whole lot better. But after a while it started to wear off, then I was afraid to go back to it because I was afraid it wouldn't make me feel better again. I guess I haven't been doing the the exercises. Usually I am a very rational person, and CBT seems like it should be easy for me, but... it's not.

My question is, should I end things, at least until I have a handle on my depression? I realize this is probably a bad idea, as it takes the decision away from her, and she should really be the one to decide if she can handle it. But I don't want her to grow to resent me. Ending things would be very painful to me, because I really like her a lot.

Or should I give her the opportunity to end things? Or have I done this already and she chose to stay?

What else should I do? I want to feel better. I don't want to lose her.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to stay in the relationship, stay in the relationship. Don't end it in order to make what you think would be the best decision for her. Make the best decision for yourself. If ending the relationship would be what's best for her, she's the one in the best position to draw that conclusion. You're doing the best you can by being open and honest with her about these issues.
posted by John Cohen at 8:55 AM on February 1, 2011 [9 favorites]

One thing first: you are genuinely not well, and you need a doctor's help just as much as anyone. Here you are, willing to sacrifice what sounds like a really lovely budding relationship because of your depression. Does that sound okay to you? Because it doesn't, to me.

She sounds like she's stepping up to the plate, and it seems like you two are capable of talking honestly about this. Do so. It might help to write out your concerns beforehand, because I know how overwhelming this conversation can be, from both sides of the equation.

Don't make the decision for her. You're not doing her a favor by cutting her loose. Trust her to act in a loving, respectful manner. I think you'll be pleased with the result.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:57 AM on February 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

You're both dealing with this in pretty healthy ways (she by not trying to save you, you by not expecting her to), but you should keep the relationship pretty casual until you get a handle on your mental health--which doesn't mean until you never get depressed anymore, it means until you're taking steps to handle your depression and the effectiveness of those steps is becoming manifest. If you're serious about being with her, get serious about finding yourself a doctor, do your CBT exercises, work out and take fish oil and do what you need to do to keep her.
posted by milk white peacock at 8:58 AM on February 1, 2011

Don't let depression make decisions for you, or for her. If your condition overwhelms her, she can bring things to an end. If not, it would be a shame to let your depression keep you from having something good.
posted by pickypicky at 9:00 AM on February 1, 2011

This isn't what she signed up for, dealing with me.

Um actually, it is. Everyone has weaknesses and places where they need to go take care of their own problems. But you are not your depression. Nor does your depression make you a bad person. It's okay to feel bad; it just means you need to get help. Hang in there.
posted by salvia at 9:11 AM on February 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

I want to feel better.

if you think you have been depressed for a few years and it's not getting better, then your belief that I also don't think anyone else can help me but myself; it's something I need to sort out in my head is the wrong one to have.

get some professional help because this woman sounds very understanding and supportive about you and your depression and your need to get help—and that isn't as common as you would think.
posted by violetk at 9:14 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

You are overthinking this, in classic depressive style. Let her be the one to decide what she is willing to sign up for. You have enough to deal with inside your own head; you don't need to take on the burden of deciding, for her, what she is willing or able to deal with.

But I don't want her to grow to resent me.

The solution to that problem is not to break up with her, but to say something like: "I don't want you to grow to resent me, and I don't feel confident that I can tell when I am overtaxing you, so I am going to trust you to let me know when you need space." Then trust her to let you know. You cannot solve this whole problem by yourself, and don't need to try.

I haven't gone to see a doctor as yet; I don't know why. I guess I just feel there are genuinely sick people that need their attention. I also don't think anyone else can help me but myself; it's something I need to sort out in my head.

I feel for you: most of the thoughts you've described have gone through my head at one point or another. One of the rough things about depression is that it jams up exactly those mental facilities necessary to get help for the condition itself. I spent years just bulling through, thinking that depression was just one of those things that made life hard, not realizing how much of what made life seem hard came from depression. I spent years feeling terrible, occasionally putting out a very tentative feeler in the direction of medical help, bouncing off the unbearable complication of the whole system, I mean, who can deal with this?, and after all, I'm still holding down a job, still paying my bills, I can't be that badly off can I?, there must be people out there who REALLY need help, things aren't so bad....

So, with compassion I say this: you need help, and help - unbelievable as it may seem right now - is actually available if you go to get it. One of the things depression does is to contract your vision of the future: it becomes very hard to imagine that things could ever be any different than they are. The reality, which I have experienced for myself and urge you to pursue, is that life CAN be much better, and that the blanket of stress which comes through so clearly in your question is not normal, healthy, or necessary.

Ask someone to help you make the appointment, if that's what ) it takes. (It was my girlfriend, at the time, who looked up a good doctor and made me an appointment; I kept getting overwhelmed by the whole thing. What do you have to lose?

Nobody feels badly enough to think about going to see a doctor about it without having something honestly wrong with them.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:15 AM on February 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

You are dealing with this very well and have a very good perspective on what your depression is doing and how it could affect her. That's a fantastic sign and bodes well for both your recovery and the relationship.

You're right not to rely on her as your sole means of support. But be careful not to swing too far the other way and hide your mental state from her. You don't have to give her every detail of what you're feeling, but if you avoid her because you're depressed, or lie that everything's hunky-dory when it's not, that will put a strain on the relationship. She cares about you and she wants to know what's going on.

I haven't gone to see a doctor as yet; I don't know why. I guess I just feel there are genuinely sick people that need their attention. I also don't think anyone else can help me but myself; it's something I need to sort out in my head.

That's noble of you and I understand where you're coming from, but it's not a triage thing. You won't be stealing time and help from someone who needs it more. If you want to feel better and are having difficulty getting there yourself, it's entirely appropriate to ask for professional help. It's not cheating or passing the buck; you're still doing the work yourself and you're still in your own head. Getting good mental care can feel awesome and I absolutely recommend it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:19 AM on February 1, 2011

Sounds like she gave you some pretty clear parameters when you told her what was up with your depression: she likes you and wants to stay with you but wants you to go to the doctor.
Possibly like her, I would date someone with bad depression or another mental health disorder but only if they were working on controlling it with a professional.
Even if you don't want to go or think other people deserve it more, now you have a real reason.
So go to the doctor already and keep dating the girl you like!
Also: GO.
posted by rmless at 9:23 AM on February 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

Respect your pace. Sounds like you're in the all/nothing thinking phase. Set a boundary that both services the relationship and also yourself. If that proves untenable, make a decision at that point.

Also, CBT ala Burns works phenomenally well but have no illusion, it takes time. Like a year or years. It's about changing the way you think from the bottom-up. Many people seem to think they can knock out a few journals and then everything is fine. Think of it as playing an instrument. Until the new thinking IS the automatic thinking, you're still developing the practice. It's a phenomenal tool not just for depression but also positive development and it will pay off if you stick with it.

I would say have the relationship but be a damn man and keep the depression out of it. Don't hide it but at the same time don't make your relationship about it. Self-monitor, take care of yourself, do your practices, and maintain the boundary between what is you learning healthier habits and what is time with your partner.

In fact, think of it as a job. A second job. Your first job pays you money. Your second job is CBT. Just as you (hopefully) don't tell her all the nuances about what happened each day at work, treat your 'second job' the same way. Attend it faithfully and at the end of the day, stop working and have a life.
posted by nickrussell at 9:33 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I’m sorry to hear that you’re dealing with this. I’ve struggled with depression (in varying degrees) for most of my adult life and know first-hand that it can really complicate relationships. That said, my immediate impulse is to tell you that ending things with this woman would be a huge mistake at this stage, especially since you have disclosed the problem to her and she is being so supportive of you. I think that part of what makes depression so damaging is the way it gets inside us and makes us think that we’re not good enough, that we don’t deserve certain things, that we’re burdening other people unfairly and unnecessarily. This way of thinking just perpetuates the depression because it forces us into isolation and prevents us from cultivating the relationships that probably really would help us. I think it’s misguided to think of your relationships with others as “crutches,” though I understand the underlying fear. The thing is, people need people. Relationships won’t “cure” your depression but a lack of relationships is almost certainly going to exacerbate it. I think what you need to do for yourself and for her is seek professional help. I am a big proponent of talk therapy (not of the cognitive behavioral variety, but I know some people have great success with that) and even of medication in certain situations. If you’re going to commit to a relationship, you also need to commit to doing everything you can to getting well. You should do this whether you’re in a relationship or not, really, but I know that romance can provide the incentive in a way that being alone doesn’t always. All the best. It looks like you’ve found a good thing.
posted by ashotinthearm at 9:41 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think it’s misguided to think of your relationships with others as “crutches,” though I understand the underlying fear. The thing is, people need people.

Yes, strongly seconded. I would delete the derogatory "crutch" language from your relationship vocabulary.
posted by John Cohen at 10:19 AM on February 1, 2011

Hi, person who is me.

The only reason to end this relationship is if you feel like you can't contribute effectively to it. Ending it on her behalf is a dumb thing to do, for all the reasons you elucidate. So, don't do that.

You are one of those genuinely sick people. It is entirely possible for you to survive with this illness without professional help for years or decades, if survival is all that you're after. If trying to feel better is more what you're after, then enlisting the help of people who are trained to help with these situations is a pretty good idea. Think of it like going to physical therapy: you have to do the exercises every day and retrain yourself, but you also need to check in with your professional assistant every so often to keep yourself on track and have your course adjusted for unforeseen obstacles, setbacks, or changes resulting from the normal course of therapy. And, of course, professional help means you have a better chance of living the rest of your life without that annoying limp.

Relationships are not all or nothing, either "everything's great and she's perfect and the world is excellent" or "we're about to crash and burn and she's about to reject me forever." You gave her some new information about you, information that is deep and private and makes you vulnerable. Now you're feeling vulnerable. That's normal, but so is allowing yourself to be unprotected in the presence of someone else. Your urge to end things is in part so that you can re-guard the soft spot, because you know if she breaks up with you it's going to hurt, so you want to be the one to inflict that pain on yourself rather than have it come from someone else. The thing is, if this relationship ends it's going to hurt anyway, because you like her and you don't want it to end. That doesn't mean it's anywhere close to ending right now.

Maybe she was taking a couple days to process the new info. Maybe she just got a little busy and hasn't had time to talk. But you don't realize that you are actually leaning on her; you need her to be more present than usual, because you're terrified of "coming out", and so you're getting anxious because she's not propping you up the way that you subconsciously want her to. You're a rational guy; this is the time to try to step back and say, look, we're talking regularly, we have plans to meet up, everything's fine, nothing is out of the ordinary, we're going to talk more soon. Don't let your anxiety rush you into the usual loop of concern and regret.

The happy you is not a lie, and the sad you is not a lie. They're both just you, and despite your lying brain they're not distinct entities. She didn't "sign on" for some persona you sold her, and you didn't lie to her. Getting closer means learning more about each other, including the weird and secret twists of our heads. She'll have one too, and it might even give you pause for a second. That's ok, it's ok to pause. You wouldn't want her to take that pause as a secret message that you're about to ditch, just because you had to take a minute to think about something, right? So don't do that to her, because that really is the essence of hyperanxious drama.

Go to a doctor. Respect the fact that she has her own experiences with this illness that might scare her, maybe even should scare her, but she doesn't seem scared and that's pretty awesome. Go to a doctor. Have a nice dinner. If we were required to feel great all the time in order to earn love, not a single one of us would have ever experienced it. Go to a doctor. Be well.
posted by Errant at 10:31 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

To the point about crutches, I agree with both of you very much so. I don't know where we picked up the idea that relationships with other people are optional, yet some of us have had that opinion.

We're social beings and we need other people. Further, it sounds a bit odd to say at first, but we are entitled to companionship of others. Look at any social animal -- dogs, chimps, parrots, horses -- and in isolation, they become depressed. Yet, when we are down on ourselves, often we value the needs of others more highly than the needs of ourselves. This is when it really becomes self-perpetuating.

I think it's a very healthy step to believe in our cores that we have both the right and responsibility to social connections. We need other people in our lives (the right) and we must take care of them to the best of our abilities (the responsibility).

Life gets much easier when you stop thinking of your relationships as choices and start thinking of them as basic survival needs. I think we tend to treat them better in the latter case.

I remember this from somewhere:

positive regard for self, positive regard for others = healthy self concept.
positive regard for self, negative regard for others = narcissistic anxiety.
negative regard for self, positive regard for others = ambivalent anxiety.
negative regard for self, negative regard for others = despondency.

If we see other people as crutches, I think that puts us into the ambivalent anxiety area on the map. And if we thin about what that really means, it's that we regard others more highly than we regard ourselves -- that we believe others are more valuable than we are. Thus, we will be concerned about our ability to keep them in our lives, since they deserve better than we are. Thus, the crutch idea, that we love and need those relationships with other people and are terrified that they will end when the other person realises that they are more valuable than we are ourselves.

It's all self-talk. But I think it is infinitely easier to tackle ambivalent anxiety than narcissistic anxiety. Ambivalence tends to be less social destructive than narcissism.

It's crazy how many people are dealing with this stuff. Seriously, think of the people you know and put them in those for boxes. Just for a minute, not forever. Of all the self-talk issues to fix, ambivalence has go to the least outwardly destructive because regardless of how you feel about yourself, at least you still care for others. Thus, when once decides to change their lives, they probably have more social connections than in the other cases.
posted by nickrussell at 10:41 AM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

I don't see the problem here and I strongly agree you are over-thinking things!

First of all, our entire modern culture is designed around the premise that there is something "wrong" with us as individuals and we need "fixing" - usually in the form of pills that make $$ for others. Everyone should find that as infuriating as I do. *sigh*

Invest in your own well-being - YES! Don't invest in a culture of sickness and thinking "sick."

What you describe sounds very common and more like growing into a more capable person than debilitating Depression. Doing life well is a skill. Maybe some people are born with it, but most folks have to work at it. I say this because (a) it hasn't interfered with your relationship significantly up to this incident, and (b) because you reported success with CBT, A/K/A shaping how you think about things.

I agree with comments that no one is perfect and everyone has stuff they are working on. You sound very grounded and stable, actually. If you were, say, two minutes away from drug rehab or something THAT would be a good reason to end this relationship for the time being. You didn't indicate that, so I am wholeheartedly saying you should continue on with your romance. No one is upbeat and fabulous all the time. No one who loves you realistically expects that you are always in a positive mood. And vice versa, I'm sure!

It's natural to have days when you feel down - that's a clue to spend some time going within and make an adjustment.

Get therapy. Read more books. Try meditation. Yoga is amazing for improving your physical and psychological functioning. Just keep working towards improving yourself - that's what everyone who you view as healthy, successful, or happy is doing. You should do that, too.

First Step: stop thinking of yourself as "broken." Think of yourself as "in process" towards becoming whatever your ideal is.

Second Step: keep taking Positive Action to get yourself where you want to be. If somethig stops working for you, move on to the next strategy. Keep building on the success you had with CBT. Understand that not everything you try will "work" the same for you forever. You are constantly changing and whatever positive actions you take may have to evolve as you do. Just keep going and enjoy improving your life. That's what we are here for!
posted by jbenben at 10:48 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

PS. I'm not telling you all this because I'm a pollyannafullofshit. I had the crappiest childhood and subsequently what I consider two massive break-downs. Depression. I know it very very well.

After my second super big CRASH, I started working via all the methods I referenced in my post, including changing things up as I evolved or noticed a particular modality was feeling less effective. It was a slog.. and then one day I noticed significant and highly quantifiable change. For years and years I was a mess. Then, in a relatively short time once I earnestly invested effort and time in self-work... I (finally) achieved true and grounded success I've been building upon ever since.

Life experience helps. Being mindful of choices and the influences you keep around you is key. But the real secret is working on yourself and accepting self-work as a part of your life's goal.

You seem prime from the phrasing of your question to "get" what I am talking about here. You have a great chance to improve your life for the better. What you have described doesn't sound like a problem, it sounds like a golden opportunity to have a fantastic life. Make it happen.
posted by jbenben at 11:09 AM on February 1, 2011

There are so many familiar things in your post, but specifically there is an underlying current of "I don't deserve help." You do. You deserve to be happy and to have a fantastic life. And it is possible to get it.

Lots of depressed people, myself included, talk themselves out of revealing their depression to others, seeing doctors, and taking medication. I mean, I was trying to justify reasons why I shouldn't be on medication when I was sitting on the doctor's exam table asking for meds.

Now, years later, I know that it was the best thing I could have done for myself, and I wish I had done it sooner. When I was swept up in the brain fog, I couldn't see it, even though I knew deep down inside that it would be for the best.

Depression is a chemical imbalance that needs medicine to correct. All of the books, the meditations, the journaling, the self-medication, whatever it is that you (we) are using to cope, are great resources. But for people like us, for whom the issue is brain chemistry, they exist to help re-orient you once that problem righted.

Seeing the doctor is the first step, and it's a big one. Please take your girlfriend up on her offer to go with you. It's really hard to overcome that voice inside telling you to not go. It's really, really hard to confess to anyone how bad the feelings actually are, because the scope of them is terrifying. But once you have done it, once you have made that first step, the sense of relief is palpable. And you deserve relief.
posted by lhall at 11:20 AM on February 1, 2011

Also please memail me or email if you need support or someone to talk to. Like I said, so much of what you're saying is very familiar to me, I could have written it myself a few years ago.
posted by lhall at 11:25 AM on February 1, 2011

It's impossible to know what she's thinking, and it's pointless to try to second-guess her intentions, especially when she hasn't shown any behavior suggesting resentment. In fact, it sounds like from what you've told me that she's been fairly supportive. So I think it's in everyone's interest to do what you think is best, and she will do what she thinks is best.
posted by Busoni at 3:16 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm really grateful that my sister-in-law stuck with my brother through depression and other turmoil. It's hard to get motivated to date while depressed, but if you're dating somebody terrific, no reason at all to stop.

Be aware that depression and anxiety cause irritability and can make you not so much fun. Work hard at avoiding that problem, and at appreciating a person who can overlook this.
posted by theora55 at 3:20 PM on February 1, 2011

althanis - get on the waiting list. There are shortages in the mental health system in Ontario but Toronto is one of the better served areas. Psychiatry is free so call around and get on their waiting lists too. Call camh at (416) 595-6111 and they can refer you to the various services out there (there are a lot but I find them very fragmented, possibly the worst thing for someone struggling with their mental health). Your free GP can prescribe drugs to help and possibly point you in the direction of local services. If you are employed look to see if your employer offers an EAP, again a source of information (one the most frustrating aspects of the mental health system in Ontario is that there are plenty of people that will helpfully point you to services but there simply aren't enough services out there). An empathetic social worker would be a great ally to help you navigate the system and decide on what actions to take. If you have a close friend/family member who can be your advocate lean on them (while expressing your gratitude!) initially. Good luck!
posted by saucysault at 3:24 PM on February 1, 2011

Also, from what I'm reading, I'm getting the sense that you're thinking of this situation as having mainly two possibilities: the first involving you continuing the relationship and, rather unfairly, being an absolute burden and a drain on someone you care about, and the second involving you postponing this relationship indefinitely until you have a handle on your depression (whenever that might be). The first is obviously not appealing, and so the second alternative seems like a solution, although this isn't very appealing either.

If this isn't what you're thinking, you can disregard what I have to say, but if this sounds familiar, you need to see that you're presenting yourself with not only an impossible choice but a false one. It's not the case that you have to either take up the bleak and daunting task of facing your depression by yourself (in addition to losing someone you care for deeply) or become an uncaring and self-seeking burden by involving someone else in your situation. This either-or setup misses the complexities of what else could be.

The fact is that you can't know what will happen if you continue the relationship, whether you'll be a unbearable burden or not. Maybe you will be unbearable, it's true. And maybe you won't be at all. And maybe it'll be somewhere in between, because continuing this relationship will very likely present challenges for both of you. But very few relationships, if any, are free of challenges, depression or no. So it'd be unreasonable to avoid this relationship or any other simply because of the possibility of some difficulties in the future. In any case, it's certainly unreasonable to expect the very worst (that she will come to resent you, that you will saddle her with responsibilities, etc.) and then act based on that assumption.

I apologize if I've misread the situation (sometimes kind of hard to know without a face-to-face conversation). I'm hoping this is at least somewhat helpful. I'd just also like to point out that it's very unlikely that you'll make significant headway with your depression if you're determined to not seek professional counsel. So if you do decide to postpone this relationship until the depression problem is settled, that day may be far off, if it ever comes.
posted by Busoni at 4:52 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Althanis, Mental Health Service Information Ontario (MHSIO) has a (free, 24-hour, confidential) number for information: 1-866-531-2600.

From their About page: "Mental Health Service Information Ontario (MHSIO) is a province-wide information and referral service providing Ontarians with round-the-clock access to information about mental health services and supports across the province. ... MHSIO specializes in the provision of information and referral to services/supports related to mental health in Ontario and is designed to link callers with suitable options tailored to their individual needs."

I have no personal experience with them, but I would definitely give them a shot.
posted by taz at 12:30 AM on February 2, 2011

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