I don't want to be a taker.
June 8, 2015 7:15 AM   Subscribe

What can I do to be a good partner/friend/person while dealing with my own moderate depression?

I know the obvious first step is to adequately deal with my depression. I'm seeing a therapist. I have an appointment with the GP because I'd like to discuss the possibility of medication in addition to counseling. I have so many hobbies that my therapist once asked me if I was trying to fill a void by being busy all the time.

With that said, I really don't want depression to make me difficult to be around. Friends and colleagues know me as funny and sweet, but lately, I've been finding it more difficult to keep up the facade of lightheartedness. Yet I know that everyone has their own trouble to deal with and I don't want to morph into That Friend Who Makes Everything About Her Angst. There are times when depression makes me fearful and anxious and wary of other people. I try so hard to remain open and kind, but I find myself giving in to the selfishness of thinking about myself and how to make me feel better and I don't want to be like that.

When I'm with friends, I try really hard to joke around and be interested in their lives. With my partner, it's harder to go through the motions of happiness but I've been trying so hard to give as much as I take. Unfortunately, yesterday, after a few good weeks, I cracked and I started crying before bed because I just felt so incredibly awful for no reason. He said he wants to support me, but I don't want to be a burden. I want him to know that he doesn't have to tread water for me in addition to his own. The only way I know how to give in this relationship is to soldier on through my shit and to make small gestures like washing dishes or bringing food home if he's working late.

I don't feel like I'm doing enough. For those of you who are close with people with depression, what behaviors on their end fostered positive and healthy interactions with you?
posted by quadrant seasons to Human Relations (15 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It sounds to me like you're doing what you can and should be doing.

It's unfair to expect a partner to put up with depression (or other treatable mental health issues) if you're not doing what you can to get better, but it sounds like you are. Therapy and medication are the best things you can do to try to get better. They'll take a while to be effective, though, and while it's a good idea to try not to overwhelm everyone else with your problems, you shouldn't feel obligated to make sure your partner never has to be confronted with any problem you have.

Taking your partner's words at face value, it sounds like they're offering you support, as they should, and you should take it. You deserve to have that support. Hopefully your treatment is effective and you feel better soon; in the meantime, you need your partner's support just like you would if you were physically sick, and your partner should be willing to take on a certain amount of your burden. That's the point of a relationship.
posted by mister pointy at 8:02 AM on June 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It isn't selfish to think about ways of making yourself feel better. Nor is it selfish to let your close friends and partner know when you are struggling and need a bit of leeway / need to be listened to / need a break / need them to do the dishes today. Of course you have to be mindful of what is going on with them, and how much they can reasonably offer by way of a listening ear or hugs or distraction or whatever you need. But that doesn't mean that the only way of being considerate is to pretend all is well when it isn't.

We owe the people who love us as much consideration and attention as we can offer, and to avoid overwhelming them with demands they can't meet. But we don't owe them a false facade of seeming fine when we're not. When I love someone, I want to be interacting with the real them, not a version of themselves they're creating to protect me -- if they're unhappy or need something, I would like to know that and to help if I can. It's not about them being a taker. If you love someone, you kind of want them to take what you want to give (affection, concern, practical help).

In direct answer to your question, I only have have that sense of being burdened by a loved one when they ignore the limits I have expressly articulated. If your friend or partner says, "I'm so sorry but I can't talk about this right now", or starts telling you about their day after some minutes of listening to you talk, and you then ignore that expressly stated boundary and go on telling them about your mood: that would be a problem. But nothing you've written comes close to suggesting that you are tone-deaf in this way. In fact, it seems like your depression is pulling you towards the opposite extreme of thinking that any expression of your authentic feelings is a bad selfish thing to inflict on your loved ones. I would take your partner at his word when he says he wants to help and allow him to help by telling him how you feel and what's going on with you. Be as nice to yourself as you can, focus on getting better and try to avoid guilt-tripping yourself. No one else in your life, who loves you, will be thinking of you in this harsh voice ("selfish", "a taker"); that's the voice of depression, don't take it at face value.
posted by Aravis76 at 8:06 AM on June 8, 2015 [11 favorites]

Ignoring your own needs and feelings completely and focusing entirely on other people's needs and feelings is a really good recipe for depression.

On a spectrum between Narcissict (only about your own needs) and Doormat (only about other people's needs), people should work to be balanced in the middle. Both extremes are detrimental to happiness. (As well as illogical -- if you're a good friend because you are interested in your friends' problems, then shouldn't you be letting them be good friends by being interested in your problems?) Therapy is a really good place to practice that, and it may be worth asking your therapist about how to take that knowledge into your "real life" as well.
posted by jaguar at 8:16 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

If possible, let them know how they can help you. I've been on both sides of this and know how hard it is to ask for something, or even to know what to ask for. But when someone in my life is depressed I worry about making a gesture that would come across as a demand. If I give them a book, will reading it turn into an obligation, just another burden at a time when they don't have any energy to begin with? Same with suggesting an outing or other distraction. So if you can think of anything that will help you, don't be afraid to tell people.

Another thing I will say while knowing full well now unreasonable it is: often when someone is depressed, it can give others the impression they are being rejected. Saying, "I really appreciate that you care," or whatever is appropriate at the time, will reassure them that they are doing nothing wrong. I realize that sounds unfair; the burden shouldn't be on you but it could be a very small statement that would reassure them you value the relationship and make them less likely to take any withdrawal personally. By the way, as far as tears or expressing how unhappy you are-- it varies, of course, but most friends would rather hear it than not. People like to support you. It can get old listening to repetitive complaints from someone who is not taking any steps to help themselves, but this is clearly not you.
posted by BibiRose at 8:22 AM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Your partner wants to be there for you. Just keep doing what you are doing. Work hard at making getting better your top priority. Lean on the people who love you for stuff especially when they offer. Like your partner might do more household chores to help out tangibly at home right now to give you the time to focus on feeling better. That's all you need to do.

You aren't a burden. That's the depression talking. Just be yourself. There's a very wide gulf between "always funny and sweet" and "That Friend Who Makes Everything About Her Angst". Just be yourself. Your definition of "selfish" is almost certainly totally fine and normal and likely is still more giving than necessary and is probably not actually that selfish at all. I speak from experience.

I have sort of a complex about burdening my loved ones. I'm really weird about it. Like, I won't ask for help even when I absolutely need it. I can't tell you how much this frustrates the people who love me. It's actually more of a burden on them when I am close-lipped and don't ask for help (or even worse when I refuse help that they offer when I clearly need it). Actually, due to recent circumstances, I have noticed that trying to not be a burden causes MORE burden on people in my life because I usually do end up asking for help but only after it is wayyyyy too late and the help required is a lot more difficult to provide.

So lean a bit. Put yourself first. Figure out what YOU need. Be a little "selfish". I assure you, from one "giver" to another, that it's actually not at all selfish to put yourself first when it's needed. Take care.
posted by sockermom at 8:23 AM on June 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

One of the symptoms of depression is irritability. Instead of making an annoyed face when partner does an annoying thing, it's easy to slip into an excessive response. Talk to your partner about it, be careful to be civil, and if you screw up, apologize and move on. It's fair to ask partner to be forgiving, as long as you are really working at managing the irritability.

Exercise, especially exercise outdoors with fresh air and sunshine, is very good treatment for depression, with or without medication. Ask partner to help you get moving, go for walks, go for a bike ride, visit the Botanical Gardens, beach, anyplace in nature. It may also help partner to have some way to help you; it's no fun seeing someone you love hurting.

Your treatment plan for yourself should also involve having a healthy schedule, getting enough sleep, and getting good nutrition. Partner can be involved here, too.
posted by theora55 at 8:24 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think the source of your question is actually the depression talking. You have to be a taker sometimes, you DESERVE to take sometimes, from a partner who gives when it's time to give and also takes when s/he needs it. You do not have to be perfect 24/7, and you have not failed just because you bottled and bottled and bottled and finally couldn't contain it and cried. You get to cry.

You do not have to be Perfect For Everybody All The Time Girl.

I find myself giving in to the selfishness of thinking about myself and how to make me feel better

You must think about yourself. You must do the work to make yourself feel better. You do not treat depression by ignoring your needs, you can't make it go away by pretending you don't exist. That's the depression, and that's how it replicates.

Are there things you are hiding from your therapist in order to be a "better" patient? If so, you are shooting yourself in the foot. You need to talk to them at the next available opportunity about this question and the pressure you feel to make everyone else comfortable, because that pressure is dangerous. It eventually becomes life-threatening. If your therapist isn't actively bringing you coping skills to learn so you can manage the inside-your-head talk, ask for it.

Do talk to someone about medication, because it can be such a help at getting you out of your own way so you can advocate for yourself.

Work with your therapist on a daily care plan - the self-care you're going to do, the tools you're going to use with those coping skills you're going to learn. Make a spreadsheet. Show it to your partner, and talk with them, say out loud that you need their help for a while. It's scary to say out loud, but it's better than hiding which is kind of like lying, and puts the burden of these increasingly complicated facades on you to keep up. It's too exhausting.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:41 AM on June 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The only way I know how to give in this relationship is to soldier on through my shit and to make small gestures like washing dishes or bringing food home if he's working late.

I do stuff like this when I get that lousy "I am pulling everyone down with me" sort of feeling, and it's generally a really good thing; keep doing it. Not only are you making life a little better for your partner and yourself, having a smallish hands-on task to work on can give your mind something else to do besides feeling anxious and depressed. It's for your benefit as much as your partner's, if not more so. It's not a bad idea to have a small mental list of chores around the house that you do infrequently (dust the blinds! clean the fridge!) so you're ready to tackle them when you're feeling crummy.

Something else you can do, especially with your partner, is work on communicating how you're feeling and what you need when you feel that way. Sometimes I'll be like "hey, I'm feeling sad for no discernible reason right now and I need to go stare at the wall. I'm gonna be fine so just keep doing whatever you're doing." Or "I really need reassurance right now." This requires enough self-knowledge to understand what you're going through in the moment and what you need, and thinking of your depression in that sense can help you get a better idea of how to handle it, plus you're demystifying things for your partner so they know how to respond.

Remember that doing things for yourself is the one of the best ways for you to help others! Put on your oxygen mask first and all that. Your friends and loved ones want you to actually feel happy and healthy, not to fake it for their benefit. Anyone can erase themselves to accommodate others. The people in your life don't want a self-effacing cipher trying to be as unburdensome as possible; they like you and they want you around.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:49 AM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Lots of great advice here, but I will also just add that sometimes allowing yourself to be vulnerable and allowing others to see your weaknesses can be an incredible gift and can allow the relationship to grow. It may allow others to realize that since you're not perfect, THEY don't have to be perfect either and they can reveal some of their struggles to you. It can allow them to give you support and bring you both closer together. I agree with the general idea that it's important to make sure relationships are mutual and that you aren't always taking/being negative about life. However, that doesn't mean never being sad or needing anything. It's all a balance.

As just one anecdote, when I was in a difficult graduate program, I tried to hide this from my classmates for a very long time and struggle silently. When I finally decided to be more open about my difficulties in the program, I was amazed at how many other people had very similar struggles but were also too embarassed/worried about seeming like a "problem person" to admit it. We were really able to bond over it and support each other much better.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:15 AM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think it's important to have good communication with your friends and partners, especially if they're Guess (vs. Ask) people. If you're in a down mood, reassure them that it isn't because they're doing anything wrong, and they don't have to try to cheer you up. Tell them explicitly that you appreciate them, their presence, and their good cheer, or what have you—whatever you truly value about them.

But also do what you need to do to take care of yourself. If you need time away from the crowd and pressures, take that time. If you're finding it very difficult to socialize because of a low mood, and you're at an event that is going to last three more hours, taking an hour of alone time to take a nap, or walk around, or just sit by yourself in a quiet room might mean that you can come back to the event and interact for two more hours, and on balance you'll be a better participant in the even than if you force yourself to soldier on for three hours feeling miserable.
posted by BrashTech at 10:00 AM on June 8, 2015

allowing yourself to be vulnerable and allowing others to see your weaknesses can be an incredible gift and can allow the relationship to grow

Yes. There's a lot more "mental health issues aren't a stigma" talk nowadays, but still not so much doing, and it can be a huge relief and a big help to all concerned to just fling it out there.

If you sprain an ankle you go and tell everybody who has to walk with you "Hey, sorry, I'm going slow, I messed up my ankle this weekend." People say "Aw, sorry!" and adjust their pace, and you don't have to walk so quickly.

Yet few people do this for mental health, and there are ways to do this without being whiny about it.

You might find it useful to have a "safeword" with your partner where you can each throw the word out to query or warn. Like if you're starting to go off the rails with the more difficult to live with symptoms -- irritability, being withdrawn, sulky -- your partner can, without fear of pushback, sing out "Safeword...?" and you can acknowledge, and retreat, without fear of your partner feeling hurt. And if you see stuff getting worse, and know you're going to need support, you can tell him, "Safeword!"

Also, holy balls has it ever been helpful for me to just out with "I have an anxiety problem these days. Right now it is through the roof and I am feeling just nutty about this stuff that I know that is trivial. It's really weird. So, sorry if I seem a bit jumpy or irritable." For better or for worse, there are huge parts of the world who are happy to hear that, and who can readily identify with it. And just that openness can be quite a tonic for oneself -- highly recommended.
posted by kmennie at 10:16 AM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One of the sneakiest hardships of depression is the distorted idea it can give you about how others see you and how much you can feel comfortable opening up to people about a hard time. Yes, That Friend Who Makes Everything About Her Angst is a real thing. But so is Wow, I Wish She Would Have Said Something, I Had No Idea.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:08 AM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Like a lot of other people in this thread I think communication is the key to finding a balance of your needs' and others', and I think maybe what you're missing is that communication is a two-way street. If you state your needs, the person you're talking to has the opportunity to create their own boundaries.

So when you come to your partner or good friend and say "I'm feeling really stressed out, can I vent for a little while?" then they can say "sure" or "sure and then maybe we can watch a happy movie" or they can say "yes but I have to do an important work thing tonight so let's just chat for a little while" or "I'm really stressed out today too, maybe we can both do something together to distract ourselves." Your partner should be willing to provide support more often than your friends because that's what partners do.

In general: your partner loves you and wants to know what is going on with you, what you are doing about it, how it might affect your behavior within the relationship, and how he can help. He'll also want to hear that you want him to communicate his needs to you, so if he feels that you're acting distant or something he can tell you that.

Your friends are similar--they care for you and want to support you--I think the key is talking about the tougher stuff more in one-on-one interactions rather than at group activities, and also being really clear that you are about to enter Serious Conversation Mode and is that okay with them?
posted by capricorn at 11:35 AM on June 8, 2015

Best answer: Doing too much can indeed be hurtful. Giving too much can be incredibly hurtful. Why do you need to give so much? Why is everybody else more important than you? What is wrong with taking time for yourself? With nudging a little closer to a person with real needs, and issues, and telling your loved ones about said issues?

The hard thing is, depression lies. But it sounds like your own voice, usually, and that makes it harder. But you are good and worthwhile, even if you are depressed or sad or just plain worn out. You are good and worthwhile if you turn down an event, a meeting, a party, an extra task.

People (well, healthy safe people) don't love you for what you do or what you give them.
posted by Jacen at 2:49 PM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For those of you who are close with people with depression, what behaviors on their end fostered positive and healthy interactions with you?

I have a few friends who are depressed and have better and worse times and better and worse ways of managing it. I am sorry you are having a hard time, it's just rough sometimes. From my perspective as Friend to Depressed People sometimes what is helpful for me is knowing

- I'm having a rough time
- I'm managing it but things progress slowly
- I'm communicating well with my partner (or other friends, or family)
- I care about you but I'm a little low energy/blue/moody/sad now

So the thing for me is knowing how or if I can help even if the answer is "I'd just like someone to sit with" or "I don't think I want to come out with everyone tonight." or "Could you call me next week to check in on me? I think things are okay for now" So it's not about being happy or jokey or up all the time but trying to be realistic about expectations for me and for you. If you're my friend, I care about you and want you to be as comfortable and happy as you can be, but there are times when "as happy as you can be" is just not really that happy and that's okay.

What's hard for me and this may vary a lot with other people is when I feel a friend is depressed and they just need to vent/unload (again, which is a fine thing to want to do) but it seems like that state is never-ending. Like a phone call becomes a marathon gripe session or every phone call is all about my friend's gripes and not a "how are you?" or a "How is your life?" sort of thing. I think there is give and take, if you are feeling up to interacting, that you can use to check in when you're feeling more up and then it's fine to just let the pendulum swing when you're feeling more down. I think almost everyone is fine with being the occasional support and sounding board for someone, especially someone who seems, as you are, to be working on things themselves as well. Sometimes these things just take time and the right approach. Be a good friend to yourself as well as you grapple with this.
posted by jessamyn at 9:21 PM on June 8, 2015

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