My mood has been up and down over the last week and I have no explanation. I am feeling more fulfilled in life and happier than I ever have. It might be the winter blues, but I don’t think I have ever noticed a marked reduction in my mood during the colder months than the spring and summer. In fact, it last happened 18 months ago on a warm summer’s day.
The thing with depression is that it does not always need a trigger. There need not always be a reason. That emotional rollercoaster so common in my mental state before the condition I have previously referred to as The Crash is rearing its ugly head once again. Last night, it took all my energy not to let tears flood out. I felt emotionally exhausted, drained of energy and teetered on the edge of a pit of despair. I hate not being able to understand why this happens to me and it’s frustrating when I know there is no cause or reason. At least in 2011, 2012 and 2013 when they were so common I could point to a situation as the root cause.
So I turn now to this blog and one of the reasons I set it up. I want to help people who live with people (especially men) who suffer from depression – how you as his partner can help him through these difficult times with some “dos” and “don’ts”.
Don’t Make It About You
One of the most important things to remember when your man is going through a low point or outright depressed is not to assume you’ve done something. If he is upset or feeling wounded at something you said or did, then that will need to be addressed separately from his depression – it is unlikely to be a cause of his mood. Also, when you make it about you, how you’re feeling and what frustrates you, that won’t help. You’ll only succeed (whether it’s your intention or not) to make him feel guilty and inadequate. It’s important to remember that this is about what he is feeling, not what you are feeling.
Do Listen To Him
In general terms, men retreat into their shells or shut down when there is a relationship difficulty. Women want to communicate. The problem is that this dynamic does not work when a man is depressed. He doesn’t want you to keep talking to him, telling him how you feel, and he certainly doesn’t want you to pressure him into talking either. What he does need is for you to listen when he is ready to talk and never to force the issue. This requires a shift in mindset on your part to take yourself out of the equation and focus on him.
Don’t Use “Tough Love”
I’m glad there has been such a backlash against the term “man up” in recent years. For me, it is one of the key issues in the fight to get male mental health issues recognised as the serious problem that it is. Challenging his masculinity and expecting him to simply “grow a set” is only going to make things worse. Tough love might be useful in some certain circumstances, but having a chemical imbalance in the brain is not something that he can Alpha himself out of. Using tough love says more about you rigid expectations of manliness than it does about him.
Do Support Him
What he needs right now is to understand that you would go to the very fires of Mordor itself with him. I know I said it above, but he needs you to listen rather than talk. He needs you to encourage him and help him. He needs a hug from you. Contrary to popular belief, we do not think that a hug means you want to have sex here and now. He needs your emotional support. He wants to know that you understand him, you are not judging him and still care about him. A simple act of affection can go a long way to remedying that.
What do I mean by “wellsplaining”? By assuming that you know better than the man with depression because of something you read in Cosmo or because your aunt took a ginseng infusion and was miraculously cured. No, forcing a smile or spending time in the sun will not cure it. Do not present him with a pile of pseudoscientific books along the lines of positive thinking or The Law of Attraction. The chances are he won’t be able to concentrate on reading them anyway. Even if he did, he would find much of their content insulting and downright offensive.
Do Educate Yourself
Read articles by professionals. Stay away from the newspapers and magazines, and especially from the purveyors of woo. Psychology Today is a good source, as are the CALM Zone, Mind, Time To Change and any other valuable mental health resources. I would especially recommend CALM as they are a male suicide prevention charity. Your partner or family member does not need to be suicidal for you to gain the benefits from using this as a regular source. It has lots of articles on general male mental illness too and what you can do to help. At the very least, I hope it makes you aware of the unique mental health difficulties of being a man.