Depression rarely comes by itself. It’s not a single, sad kitty sitting on your doorstep – the kitty is a mom, and she brought her litter. Along with the depression and its recognizable and not-so-recognizable symptoms can come things like anxiety, panic, insomnia, mania (yes, mania), obsessive-compulsive behavior, and addictive behavior. Depression also has a tendency to bring with it the one thing that is most difficult to let go – the past. That past not only creeps in and steals our joy, but it also encourages us to hurt those we love.
I am currently on the upswing from a recent depressive episode, but it was a pretty rough round. I am used to most of it by now – I have been dealing with the rollercoaster for almost my whole life. The one thing for which I was not ready was how it made me treat my boyfriend by way of transference and fear of abandonment. Depression did not cause those feelings, it caused me to focus on all the negatives in the past, and that made me frightened and angry. Thank God my boyfriend is as strong, patient, and understanding as he is.
Too good to be depressed about.
Here’s the deal: I have had quite a few shitty relationships. I was manipulated, gaslighted, stalked, used, cheated on, and experienced abuse – mentally, physically, sexually – and I managed, with the help of my faith and my strength, to get through all of it and put it all behind me. In my marriage, I was able to keep those things in the past because my marriage, while not contentious, was not the kind of relationship where I felt cherished and loved and scared to lose it.
I never bothered to even think that he might be any of those things because, quite frankly, it never occurred to me to worry about it. I don’t know if that says more about him, me, or us, but it says to me that the relationship was not something I was scared to lose. It also says that he could not easily be considered “too good to be true.”
Too good… and too true.
I saw a meme once – and of course, I can’t find it right now – that said something to the effect of it’s pretty sad when you’re so used to shitty guys that when a good one comes along you don’t know how to handle it. Well, I’ve got a good one. He is so kind and patient and understanding that sometimes it is hard to believe. However, he has done nothing to warrant suspicion. At all. He has proved himself to be genuine and sincere over and over again. I know this. I know this down to my core… until depression comes along and says “HEY! Wait a second. I bet he didn’t just change his mind about dinner… I bet he was manipulating you.”
Hey, depression: It was a friggin’ cheeseburger. Take a seat.
It has happened a few times, and each time when I was in the throes of depression or anxiety. Those have also been the only times we fight… largely because it hurts him so much. I cannot stand that. He truly has done nothing to deserve it, but during these times my depressed brain is spiraling into the oblivion of negativity and it is difficult to convince myself otherwise – until I see the hurt in his eyes. That hurt, as painful as it is for both of us, is what usually helps pull me out of the doldrums.
Depression or discernment?
The difficult part about this is that we, women especially, often have an intuition that helps us recognize early signs of toxic behaviors. Discernment is key. We have to learn to differentiate between actual toxic behavior and perceived toxic behavior. This is not easy, and I do not have any really great advice about how to do this. You must be self-aware enough to know when you are experiencing anxiety or depression. Then you must learn to determine if these perceived toxic behaviors only seem to pop up during mental health struggles, or if they are constant.
It is an arduous process, but one that can help save not only your relationship but your mental health. It can show you when your behavior is hurting the other person versus them hurting you. You are the only person who can differentiate. Once you do, and you realize that it is the depression talking, then you need to recognize how you are hurting the other person and make changes to stop it.
Too much of a good thing.
See, we go online and on social media and see all these wonderful pieces of advice about how those of us with mental health issues need to focus on ourselves and take care of our mental and physical wellbeing and that we should not feel guilty about having a mental health issue.
All of these things are true. However, I do not think it is the ONLY way to treat it. I think that we need to focus on how we are making other people feel. Not so that we feel guilty about it, but so that we can use it as a catalyst to get better, to change destructive thought patterns and behaviors, and to ultimately get on the right track toward overcoming the issues. When our mental health is hurting the people we love, I think we should try to stop and notice and realize that so that we can use their love to help us fight the battles.
The depression/self-focus cycle
We, as a society, have become exceptionally self-centered. While there are a time and a place for this type of behavior, we simply cannot continue to function as if we are the only people who matter, and that our sole focus should be on ourselves. Yes, we need to take care of ourselves. We need to make sure we are eating properly, exercising our bodies and minds, and getting rest. We need to take days off to reduce stress. However, we also need to look out for the wellbeing of others. No, we cannot pour from an empty vessel… but we have stopped pouring altogether.
It is that very focus on ourselves that directly contributes to our mental health issues. We focus so much on our own wellbeing that all we see is that which is “wrong” and that which we need to “fix.” We are not meant to focus solely on ourselves, we are designed to live in a “tribe,” a community, a group. We are designed to look out for one another. This is not only a religious viewpoint – it is also evolutionary.
Again, I must reiterate – I am not saying that we should not take care of ourselves. We MUST. At some point, though, we also must look around us and see how we are affecting others. We must see if our depression can be helped simply by treating someone else with kindness and love. Purpose treats depression. Having a reason – something that drives us – alleviates the symptoms and helps us push forward. Do we still need medical help sometimes? Absolutely. But sometimes we are medicating that which only needs love. There is a balance, and we need to find it.
For so long my purpose was myself, and that got me nowhere. I spent so much time trying to better myself that all I kept finding were flaws – things that were depressing. I have never been an unkind person, but I can become disinterested and moody – largely when I am depressed or anxious. Now, however, I am in a relationship that makes me want to be better. I want to focus my attention on the man I love and revel in his love and support. Most importantly, I do not want to hurt him. Will I get depressed and anxious? Sure. Loving someone isn’t a cure. What it is is an impetus. A reason. A purpose.
A happy, healthy, cooperative life together is the goal that will not be reached if depression gets in the way. So, when my brain starts sinking and focusing on the past and drumming up falsities about how this man is treating me, my attention must focus on treating him like the good man he is. It must focus on making sure he is happy, and not just focus on myself. It’s that purpose, that reason, that goal that pulls me out every time.
Find your purpose, something that you love. Find a reason. If it is not another person, perhaps it is a hobby. Perhaps it is a pet. Talk to your doctor, of course. Some medications may be required; I am not anti-meds. However, no medicine can make you treat others well. There is not a magic pill that can turn your love and attention toward others’ feelings – but that’s what you need to do. And If you focus on others, then you have far less time to think about what is “wrong” with yourself. Try it sometime.