Feels bad, man
May 20, 2012 7:35 PM   Subscribe

My spouse is under some pretty severe work stress, and has recently come to realize that he might be depressed. Appointments with a therapist and a GP will be booked this week, but in the meantime I'm looking for other resources and support ideas. Depressed mefites, what are some amazing things that people have done to help you? What are some things you've wished you had someone around to do for you?

Spouse is a Ph.D. student, so the work stress is project-based but the project is enormous and daunting.

Here's some stuff we're already trying to do:
  • Healthy meals at regular times
  • Regular sleep schedule
  • Regular fun activities with friends outside the house
  • Attempting to distinguish work time from non-work time (we both work at home, and it's pretty easy for work to accidentally continue until bedtime!)
  • Physical activity (all the brisk walks!)
  • I take care of as many of the errands that stress him out as I can—groceries, apartment-tidying, correspondence-handling, recycling-sorting, etc.
I also have mental health challenges and am sympathetic, but mine are anxiety-related and my coping strategies involve disrupting anxiety spirals with distractions to restore equilibrium. Spouse is in a position where his default state is miserable, so my strategies don't really work, and I am running short of ideas.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Is he getting enough sleep? Does he snore? Badly? Sometimes that is actually sleep apnea, which can lead to depression symptoms (amongst others).

Just watch his stress though - I recently got hit with Bell's Palsy due to shingles/stress complications - not pleasant, but it is thankfully going away.
posted by jkaczor at 7:38 PM on May 20, 2012

Sounds like you're headed in the right direction with the list provided. I've gone through some minor depression (event/stress-based) myself, and I found that just kind of trying to act out a normal life and continuing to do things I know I enjoy even if I didn't really feel like doing them (drawing and painting being the biggest example in my case).
I didn't feel great (obviously) but I felt more normal and like I was making more progress toward recovery than I think I would have if I did what I felt like doing, which was sleeping all the time and not leaving my apartment and ignoring social outings and obligations. His results may vary, however... Unfortunately everyone has a different way of dealing. My PTSD- and depression-afflicted boyfriend would likely suggest downing as much whiskey as possible and sleeping for three days, because that's what works for him... though I would never suggest this. :P

This is not really advice, per se, but take a look anyway.
posted by jorlyfish at 7:46 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

As another PhD student, firewalling work from non-work time is paramount, I think. Can you guys work outside of the house at all? Physical separation can go a long way here, and the novelty of working at a cafe or in a park or at a public library can be stimulating as well. (Many kudos to you for being so supportive, by the way.)
posted by en forme de poire at 7:56 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Developing a hobby has helped me. When the dark clouds of depression appear on the horizon, I will turn to making something with my hands. I taught myself to paint (acrylic), woodworking (I'm currently building a pergola with a tidy bench seat), mosaic glass tiles on various media, and gardening. The one aspect of all the hobby work that tends to send the clouds in another direction fairly quickly are the times working on a hobby project with my wife. Time becomes something that does not exist as we toil away in our shared experience making something real for ourselves; however, the simple art we create to give away is the most fulfilling.

If one is busy creating, it is very difficult to focus on imagining failure.
posted by vozworth at 8:06 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone who has been there (severe work stress), and whose energy also comes and goes in fits and spurts, I'll throw this out there: sometimes the only way out of severe project work stress is getting the project done. In that case it might be a good idea to live an "unbalanced" life for a few weeks, knowing that it will all be over soon. I know that when I'm under the gun, the thought that "oh, I have to stop work now because it's mealtime", or "oh, it's time for a walk now, have to stop writing" could actually contribute to stress during the really busy times, because now in addition to the project, I'd have a whole other set of expectations to live up to.

The fact that you are doing a lot of the random tasks is great. I'm sure that helps. It might also be good to book a short vacation for a time when you know the project will be done - that will give him something to look forward to after the project is over.
posted by sherlockt at 8:06 PM on May 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well - take care of yourself. It's great that you're doing all these things for him but remember if you burn out too then no one wins.

Also, when I was depressed I really appreciated the people who knew about it and spent time with me not talking about it. Just talking about other things, keeping the conversation light. it meant so much to me.
posted by sweetkid at 8:08 PM on May 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Exercise is known do be as effective as any medication for depression. Daily walking, preferably in nature, might be helpful. Something aerobic would be great too.
posted by jcworth at 8:08 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

All the 'I wish I had...' suggestions are what you're already doing. So I'll just say my god, you are awesome, and I wish I had you around!
posted by Heretical at 8:14 PM on May 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

It may help him to talk / write out lists of the things to do and strategize about how to make them more manageable. My sweetie can sometimes help me turn my overwhelming list into bite-size chunks. Other times, I want to turn him into bite-sized chunks. YMMV
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 8:21 PM on May 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

This may sound cheesy / obvious, but get your hands on a few full seasons of a REALLY FUNNY television show, and watch them together. Sometimes, when I was really depressed, I felt I simply could not get off the couch. Laughing at, or at the very least connecting with, something funny made me feel slightly less alone every day. During a particularly dark spell, I think I may have memorized the entire first season of Arrested Development, and I still look back at that show as something that truly helped me during a bad time.
posted by PuddleWonderful at 8:59 PM on May 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

It might help him to do a few things for you as well, even something small like giving a a small gift and a card once or twice a week. Some way he can see in his own actions how much he matters to you and that the happiness and security in your relationship is independent of work outcomes that may be causing him stress.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:49 PM on May 20, 2012

2nding what golden eternity said. Little gifts to let someone know you're thinking about them, really mean a lot. It helps to not feel your all alone & carrying the weight by yourself, which depression can often make you feel.

A lot of the time others don't want to talk about depression or acknowledge it, which can make the person suffering from it feel more isolated in their struggles. Just being able to be with your spouse when they're depressed & not judge them for it & just accept them as they are, I think really helps. Depression can sometimes be triggered by feelings of "not being good enough" or "just not good enough as I am". Maybe with the stress from work this might be something your spouse is feeling, overwhelmed by the pressure.

Spending time with him/her, where you can show/ naturally communicate that you love them as they are with all the imperfections, is pretty big. That can be just in a hug, or your presence & energy, & of course in words. Being there, & there for them & with them (in a manner of speaking that " I'm on your team, it's our team, we'll get through it together & nothing will stop us", is a great feeling to someone who is suffering from depression). & lots of love i.e. physical touch. Hugs, kisses, rubs, all that you feel comfortable giving. That helps so much. That is to say, if you spouse is the affectionate type in the first place :)

You're very kind to be thinking so much of how to help your spouse, they are lucky to have you. Good for you for trying to improve the life of someone you care about. A lot of people wouldn't think to put in the effort, & just back away when things get hard. Again, they are quite lucky to have such a caring person :)
posted by readygo at 12:13 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you tried vitamins/supplements in addition to the healthier diet you've adopted? Deficiencies of vitamins and minerals can cause a lot of the same symptoms of depression, and has even been linked to depression---such as being deficient in vitamin d in the winter is often linked to seasonal depression. There are also a lot of studies starting to link digestive issues with lots of other health issues--such as ADD, ADHD, depression, bipolar, anxiety, and more! A food-based multivitamin is a good insurance policy to ensure the body is receiving the nutrients being depleted by the constant stress and anxiety. Address digestive issues too. Irregularity or discomfort there can greatly affect the mood and overall health. Supplements do have some benefit and are becoming more studied to validate their use too.

Some that come to mind are:

Theanine (L-theanine), derived from tea, is an amino acid that promotes alpha brain waves (ie: flatlined or 'relaxed'). Helpful for anxiety.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), is a neurotransmitter inhibitor. This is helpful for the racing thoughts most people get while under stress. Helpful for anxiety, stress, and for some--insomnia.

Fish Oil, particularly the EPA and DHA it provides. EPA and DHA are found in high concentrations in the body oil of the fish (rather than the liver). Clinical studies have shown 1,000 mg or more of EPA a day has helped alleviate a lot of the symptoms of depression. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. Available in capsule and liquid forms. If you want capsules, make sure they're enteric coated. If you want liquid, the best IMHO, are the xylitol-sweetened smoothies called Barleans Omega Swirls, but there are also lemon fish oils that can be used in salad dressings if you want savory. If you do anything---I'd highly suggest doing fish oil supplements. And if you are already, bumping up how much you take on a daily basis.

Vitamin D, is an essential vitamin that most of us do not get enough of. A good rule of thumb is to take (1) 2,000 IU softgel (or liquid) a day, keeping in mind that your body is not likely to absorb the full amount--so it's OK if you're already getting some in the foods you're eating or a multivitamin.

Magnesium is helpful for replenishing the magnesium you lose to stress/anxiety as it nourishes your taxed adrenals. Also has a calming/relaxing effect, particularly for muscles. Best taken in powder form mixed with water, but capsules/tablets are available too. Taking too much magnesium will have a laxative effect, so start with small doses. A multivitamin will probably not contain enough magnesium (or calcium).

Valerian, is a flower that is dried and usually made into a tea, or taken in capsuled form. Warning...the smell is off-putting, however, valerian (tea) works quickly. It has a sedative effect. Helpful for insomnia and other sleep issues caused by stress or anxiety. Passionflower has the same, though milder, effect as valerian.

Chamomile is also another great tea to use for its calming properties.

There are also several homeopathic remedies you could try--I'm not particularly well versed with them, as it's not something for me--but others swear by it. Some other options you may want to look into: 5-HTP, Tryptophan, Rhodiola, Holy Basil, and Ashwaghanda. Most of these can be taken together or with other medications.

In regards to depression... there are also some supplements that may aid in that area too. They may have contraindications if you are taking any medications. Consult a doctor before taking these. Some that come to mind are:

SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) is used extensively in Europe for the treatment of depression. A quick google search should provide you with plenty of studies and information about it.

St. Johns Wort is an herb that is used extensively in the treatment of depression, particularly in Germany. Available in capsule/tablet form. It does have side effects and toxicity risk if you take excessively high doses.

Note: These, along with rhodiola and 5-HTP, are not suitable for a person diagnosed with bipolar.

Hope that helps if you haven't looked into it already!
posted by stubbehtail at 1:40 AM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

It takes time, patience, diligence, and most importantly belief in yourself to recover from depression.

I have battled two periods of depression in my adult life, both after age 40. The first came in 1994 when I was about a year sober in my recovery from alcoholism. The story of my life as an alcoholic isn't really germane to this discussion, suffice to say my life had become completely unmanageable. In that first year of recovery, things seemed truly great. I finally had the monkey of alcohol off my back after nearly 25 years, I had become very involved in AA as a tool for recovery, and the crumbling relationship with my wife had improved considerably.

Then something totally unexpected happened to me. I became sad all the time. I didn't feel well ... always tired, totally without energy and motivation. I lost my libido, my desire for socializing, and my work ethic. After a few months of this, I decided it was probably time for a visit to my family doctor to see what was going on. His diagnosis was simple. I'm sure you recognized the symptoms as well ... classic depression.

To get to the gist, I embarked on a multi-method treatment program. I visited a psychiatrist to talk about medication. We settled on Wellbutrin which really seemed to help me remain on an even keel rather than suffering highs and lows. I began seeing a counselor to determine what brought on this depression. Turns out I was missing my best friend, alcohol. That was my coping mechanism. When I was happy I drank, when I was sad I drank, when I was mad I drank. You get the picture. She helped me to understand why I was feeling depressed. Now, how to deal with that.

I poured myself even deeper into AA. I attended meetings every day for the amateur psychology. I became a leader involved in district and regional matters in the national AA organization. But most importantly, I began practicing the 12th step of the 12 steps of AA. That step is simply helping others. I became more involved in working with other recovering alcoholics, those who were just starting out. It helped me get out of myself, become less selfish, and share my experiences, strength, and hope with the others. It helped to recognize my own fears and my own resentments. When listening to other people's problems I was able to realize that I wasn't terminally unique. We all share many of the same dependencies, irritations, disappointments, even tragedies. That knowledge really set me at ease and began the process of obtaining serenity. Eventually, with hard work and focus, over about a two year period I was able to become well, or at least better.

Fast forward about five years. I was still doing well with staying sober. I had even quit attending AA meetings a couple years earlier because I needed to devote more time to my step-kid's college years. Then I got hit with a triple whammy all within about a four month period. First, I lost the job I had for 28 years because of a corporate merger and layoffs. It was the first time in my adult life I had ever been unemployed. Second, my wife and I finally came to the conclusion after 18 years of marriage that it was time to call it quits. It had been kinda rocky all along, but we had mostly worked it out. What really came as a surprise was that the breakup became very ugly.

Which leads to the third thing, after living in the same place for over 20 years, I found myself displaced and basically starting over. Oh, and in the meantime I found out during the discovery phase of the divorce that I was financially ruined. I was aware we were about $10,000 in debt with a home equity loan, car loan, etc. Unbeknownst to me though, my wife had run up an additional $30,000 of credit card bills that I never saw. In the state I lived, divorces are settled 50/50. You split all the assets and you split all the liabilities. So here I was responsible for $20,000 in debt that I didn't know anything about. No job, no marriage, no home, and no money.

Despite all the good things I had done to improve my life, that was my dilemma. And as you can imagine, I fell into depression again. The good news was this time I could recognize it, so I knew how to react quicker. I immediately got back into counseling and back on Wellbutrin. I made arrangements with creditors to pay off the debt over time. I moved about 500 miles away to start a brand new life for myself. I started a new career totally unrelated to my first. Most importantly, I became aware of a book that espoused a philosophy that made a whole lot of sense to me. I have been trying my best to practice it ever since.

The book is called The Four Agreements and was written by don Miguel Ruiz, a Toltec master. Here are the four agreements:

agreement 1

Be impeccable with your word - Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

agreement 2

Don’t take anything personally - Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

agreement 3

Don’t make assumptions - Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

agreement 4

Always do your best - Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Again, it took about two full years to get back on my feet and out from under the black cloud of depression. Eventually I got all those bills paid off which was a major stress relief. My new job transferred me to three different places in the U.S. southeast over a four year period, so I was able to focus on that rather than my past. I now try to always look out the windshield rather than in the rear-view mirror. I can't do anything to change the past, so I try to live without regrets.

Working on those four agreements a little bit every day has helped me to be more confident, content, and serene. It didn't happen all at once. I have to constantly remind myself when I'm in challenging situations to think of how I should react, rather than just reacting. Repeating, it doesn't happen overnight, it takes practice. Most importantly, it absolutely does work as a philosophy for achieving serenity.

I am not perfect, far from it. However, I am probably happier at this point in my life (age 59) than I have been since I was a child. I have my own home in the mountains of North Carolina. I am debt free. I have a job that won't make me wealthy but is very easy, and I don't have to bring work home with me, I leave it all there. I've met someone that I've had a long distance telephone and internet relationship with for several years, and I really don't have a care in the world. I'm more involved in charity. It really all boils down to getting out of ourselves and into helping others.

I hope this will help your spouse, and you. Y'all are worth it.
posted by netbros at 3:37 AM on May 21, 2012 [14 favorites]

I love what netbros said above. Also I think you are being wonderfully supportive.

Just want to say, seconding (thirding) the idea that if your spouse can incorporate something he does specifically for you into his schedule, it may be helpful for him.

Also, I don't know where you are in the states and whether daylight is an issue for you; but my son found it helped his mood very much to set a strong daylight bulb to come on in the bedroom with his morning alarm clock. He made sure he spent some hours under the daylight bulb if he was indoors. It's possible to get dedicated daylight-balanced lights for this purpose but he rigged up an aquarium light which is cheaper.

good luck.
posted by glasseyes at 6:15 AM on May 21, 2012

Everyone here has good ideas - but I want to emphasize that you need to take care of yourself as well! Supporting someone who is depressed can be very draining, especially if you do not feel tip-top shape yourself.

Depression can be very reactive - if you are tired or stressed or in a bad mood it can nullify everything you're trying to do, because your own sadness/anxiety will send signals to your partner that can be interpreted as who knows what. Conversely, if you are relaxed and calm and upbeat, this could have a good impact on your partner in its own right.

Think about what you need to do to stay healthy yourself - and don't be afraid to outsource to friends and family when you need some time to yourself. Actually, DO outsource - having a variety of personal connections works a wonder for depression, mostly because you don't feel as much of a "burden" and the variety of viewpoints and personalities can get your brain going a bit.
posted by newg at 7:01 AM on May 21, 2012

What are some things you've wished you had someone around to do for you?

Back up every now and again--in other words, try not to "actively worry" too much. I don't mean to sound harsh, but for me (who has MH bona fides cum laude) it is EXTREMELY stressful to have the added stress of disappointing or worrying the people who love me. Worrying, hovering, concerned looks. I mention this because you said you tend toward anxiety, so I can see (empathizing with your partner) how this could be a factor.

Best of luck to you both.
posted by scratch at 7:27 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Remind him you love him in all his mood states. And let him know gently yet clearly exactly what you need from him to take care of yourself as you help take care of him.
posted by whalebreath at 7:37 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

2nding scratch. Additionally, don't underestimate the power of a little laying around and doing nothing. It's great you have a "LET'S BEAT THIS THING" approach (and as an anxiety sufferer who needs to keep busy I completely understand). But sometimes you just need to be left alone to sit on the couch all day and do nothing.
posted by Katine at 9:07 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few medical issues that can manifest as symptoms of depression include a vitamin D or B deficiency, hypothyroidism, and chronic allergies. Taking care of my allergies (i.e. taking some over-the-counter Claritin D) has improved my sleep and mood significantly. So encourage your spouse to ask questions at the doctor and consider any possible physical issues that might be exacerbating his depression.
posted by brackish.line at 9:46 AM on May 21, 2012

Regular sweating.

Exercise vigorous enough to make you sweat, 30mins, 3x per week. I absolutely abhor it, but I cannot begin to tell you how much of an impact it has had on my depression. It's more than worth every hateful minute.
posted by Ausamor at 10:46 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

In that case it might be a good idea to live an "unbalanced" life for a few weeks

No - unless you can say that this will be the only time ever.

Otherwise it becomes something you do every 6 months... Every 3 months... Every month... Ever week or two...

At that point it becomes a "way-of-life" and your brain chemsitry can even change so that it prefers chaos. That's when you start to lose things like relationships, when you start to eat incorrectly, when you don't bother to excersise because the project is more important.

Very easy to fall into this trap for technical people who are also consultants/freelancers...
posted by jkaczor at 3:52 PM on May 21, 2012

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