Q&A: depressed partner

There's no quoted email for today, because I've gotten too many emails about living with a depressed partner to pick just one.

I got the first one about two months ago, and delayed answering because I didn't know what to say, exactly. I think my thoughts are maybe not exactly mainstream, because I grew up with a depressed parent who never quite got on top of it, and I have depression myself (that was in remission from the time my older son was born until last month, but I'm back in remission now).

But now these emails are escalating, and I'm getting a new one every week from someone whose husband or wife is just barely functioning, either with or without meds. I think it's clearly related to the economy, and people worrying about not having a job or losing a job and what's going to happen to their families. And WTF does it all really mean anyway? Especially in light of all the climate change and freaky events and the fact that the world basically seems like it's on the verge of blowing up.

The majority of emails I'm getting are from people with depressed male partners. I don't think that's a coincidence, either (aside from the fact that most of my readers are straight women). In general, men tend to be more socially isolated than women do. Even if you don't know anyone in your town, you probably have a friend somewhere that you can talk to if you're a woman, or at least you can come here and hang out and recognize the regular commenters and know you're not alone.

Men are more likely to be emotionally isolated. For the most part, they go to work and come home. Maybe they hang out with some male friends on weekends, but lots of men still don't talk about their emotions, except on approved topics (how much they love their kids, etc.). I don't think most men would feel comfortable talking with other men about the despair and flat-out rage that is part of depression.

So I have so much sympathy for people who are in the middle of it. I know how hard it is just to walk across the room without having your soul hurt. And if you can find those one or two things that don't make you feel like you're going to lose it completely you really grab onto them, even if they're stupid counterproductive things. Even if you're just trading the hurt for rage or derision, or losing yourself somewhere like TV or the internet.

But I've also been on the other side of it. A little kid who didn't know why her dad was never home (self-medicating with work) or alternated among smotheringly loving (because we were the only worthwhile things he had), distant and unable to interface, or angry. I saw how my mom became our parent, and our dad the visitor. It felt like my dad didn't love us enough to try to get out of it. And I vowed that I would do whatever I had to to prevent my kids from ever feeling that way about me.

So the controversial part of my views is this: I think depression is a disease, like diabetes is. And you have sympathy for people who have it, because it affects everything. But if a person with diabetes just stopped doing anything healthy, went off insulin and binged on carbs, that wouldn't be responsible, and you'd hold them accountable for it while still offering them help. There is no one treatment that works for depression for everyone, but someone who doesn't even try anything is not being responsible. And I don't think their families should just take it on themselves to adjust their lives to facilitate the depression.

That may mean having to say to your partner, "This isn't OK. You need to see your doctor." Or asking your partner to stop taking sleeping pills (yeah, insomnia is a symptom of depression, but sleeping pills make the sluggishness worse). Or just making it clear that you can't go on like this indefinitely. If you've been reaching out a hand by offering to talk about it and help with exercise and seeing a doctor or buying supplements or giving massage or buy a light treatment lamp or any of the things that have been shown to help alleviate depression, your depressed partner needs to accept your help. If he won't, then I don't know what the answer is. You're going to have to think seriously about how you can live.

Please be clear that I'm not saying a depressed person should be able to find their way out of it mysteriously on their own (aka "Just snap out of it!"). But if a person is offered help and doesn't even consider it, that's a huge problem.

I know some of you have been going through this and have made some decisions recently. If you feel comfortable commenting, please do, and you can always comment anonymously. If anyone disagrees with me, please go ahead and post. If you agree with me and have your own depression story to share, please comment.

If anyone's feeling depressed right now, please call your doctor, and while you're waiting for the appointment do some exercise that works your core (pilates, T-Tapp, yoga), take some Omega 3s and B vitamins, talk to someone who loves you, and go outside for a few minutes. You can get out of this, and people will help you.