Tomorrow, the charity Time to Change launches their annual Time to Talk Day. The charity is “a growing movement of people changing how we all think and act about mental health problems.” This is particularly close to home for me; in general, I think that mental health practices need to modernise so that not all mental health is tarred with the same brush. I know that this is often the case as I know many friends who have a form of mental health issue that they are tackling now, or have done previously. Plus, I know first-hand how little awareness there is for how to manage mental health issues in romantic relationships.
My ex-boyfriend suffered with depression brought on by his medication from a discovered heart defect. The first month was tough when he was, let’s say, ‘in denial’ that he had depression. Personality-wise, he wasn’t the most forthcoming about his feelings anyway. He always showed me the affection and intimacy I needed since I had met him, but he never spoke about feelings as such, and had only admitted to crying once at this point (over the ending of a film which really got to him — it happens to the best of us). On top of that, our sex life was never an issue.
When I first noticed that he was showing signs of depression, he met me with full forces of passive aggression which would stretch to actual annoyance and anger at my support. I never insisted that he had depression, nor fed the idea to him or try to ‘self-diagnose’ him; I never forced him to tell me how he was feeling; I never questioned why he would ignore my texts or calls or be offish with me when I was with him. I accepted it, because it's what he needed from me. All I could do was wait for him to accept and acknowledge that something had changed with his mental state and be there for him through all of it.
This was the hardest part for us, because I knew that he needed me to support him, yet it was getting harder and harder to try and be someone’s walking stick when they didn’t want to walk. He hadn’t noticed his behaviour with me. He hadn’t noticed that his sex drive had almost gone. He hadn’t noticed the way he spoke to people or wouldn’t speak at all. And I don’t blame him. Despite all this, I knew that this was depression, this was not who he was. And it wouldn't be worth breaking our relationship over something I knew that he could be supported with. Because the support he could have was out there.
The day finally came when that denial shifted to awareness and acceptance. We had our daily phone call, but this one was so different to the ones just days before. It’s like the depression had temporally lifted enough for him to think as him, not as this dark thing clinging to his head and body. He apologised profusely for how he had been acting (which I told him was not necessary because I understood completely) and he'd booked an appointment with the doctor to talk about the depression and his medication. After that, he was in control. He was him again. The depression was still there, as it's not something that just disappears overnight, but he knew now how to not let it affect him how it was affecting him before. And the day his sex drive came back… phwoar!
The problem comes when there isn’t a mutual understanding of why your partner may be acting the way they are. If the mental health issue is undiagnosed or unknown, their changed behaviour may make you think all sorts of things. Why are they being such a twat? Do they still love me? Why won’t they tell me what is wrong with them? But what makes it worse is if you push them to tell you; that may be the last thing they want to do. They probably just want to push everyone away - nothing personal to you - and go and hide away under a duvet burrito for days.
The best thing you can do for a partner with a mental health issue is be there for them. It’s all good saying “call me if you need me”, but they probably won’t because their mental health isn’t in a state to reach out for help. Even if it’s a quick one-minute phone call to them to ask if they want anything from the shop, or popping round to make them a cup of tea, or even just sitting with them in pure silence. You are there for them.
I know it must’ve taken my ex so much strength to be able to finally open up and talk to me - and a medical professional - about his depression. For that I loved him even more. If your partner is suffering with a mental illness, don't overthink it, just be their walking stick.
Your stories - the good, the bad, the ugly, and the awkward - have continued to make our day, and every week, we want to hear YOUR stories. Send them via The Unedit's Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Keep ‘em coming. (No pun intended.)