To mark the inescapable buy-some-pink-tat-to-prove-your-love-day, I wanted to share some personal thoughts on how depression, anxiety and a history of it on both sides can affect getting into and staying in relationships. Then I decided talking you through my relationship history at this juncture was actually slightly less appealing than running through Leicester Square naked wearing an Ed Miliband mask, and instead, I asked people with depression and/or anxiety on Twitter what they felt were the biggest prevailing myths about mental health and relationships. Here are some of the responses:
- “The myth that love conquers all. But people believe that about relationships where people don’t have depression. Suspect depression just magnifies the things people deal with in relationships anyway.”
- ‘…Now you have a boyfriend you won’t need antidepressants any more…’ Love doesn’t fix everything!” (Can you imagine saying to someone with diabetes: “Now you have a boyfriend you won’t need insulin any more!”)
- “The myth that support should come from your family, or significant other. Sometimes support has to come from somewhere else.” (The person who tweeted this shared a very positive experience of finding support elsewhere after her family disagreed with her treatment. But it also got me thinking about instances where “finding support from somewhere else” can be problematic….)
- “The myth that you can’t live without your partner. People think that if you have a partner you completely rely on them to look after yourself. If anything, you push them away! Mine helped to build me up to be reliant on myself not him. Best thing he could have done for me.”
- “There’s the myth (and this goes for friendships too) that we can expect our partners to fix us. We can’t. We can’t. It’s an internal issue. What they can do is support and not judge.”
- “An important fact is that they can massively help you deal with it by understanding it’s not your fault.”
- “For ‘don’t judge’ I’d also read: ” ‘Tell me when my judgement is off.’ “
- “Depression is not a free letter.”
- “Sometimes I think the biggest myth is that it’s different from other relationships. In all relationships, you deal with the darkness in one another.” (I can see where this is coming from, but I think it’s the intensity of the darkness and the extent of the irrationality that is different. The ‘darkness’ of the occasional bad day at work is not the same as the darkness of barely having slept for a month. Or suddenly crying in the middle of the day because you’ve remembered some tiny remark you made to someone 15 years ago which might have been misinterpreted…)
There are many, many “What To Say/Not To Say to Someone with Depression” guides around. You’ll find a couple of good ones at my links page.
For what it’s worth, the relationship myth that’s probably caused me more distress than any is the myth that “chemistry” is the be-and-end-all of them. When you’re young – especially if you’re in some sense not quite a regular Joe or Jenny and mutual attraction doesn’t happen much – someone well-meaning will probably try and soothe you with a nice, American teen movie-ish speech about “chemistry” and how, one day, out of nowhere, you’ll meet someone (maybe not who you think…), you’ll both fancy each other rotten and everything will just fall wonderfully into place from then on. “It’s all about ‘chemistry’! It’ll happen one day, just hang in there..!” Cut to fifteen years later, and you realise how many other things – the stage you’re at in life, how you live your life and what you want from it – all matter as much as good chat. If a relationship is a house, chemistry is the front door. Every house needs a front door but you can’t build a house with just a front door (although it’s easy to think you can if you aren’t taught to think beyond someone being happy to spend an evening with you…). Rather than being told about “chemistry” when I was 16, I’d much rather someone had talked to me about the reality of meeting some wonderful people with some horrendously incompatible lives. Chemistry can be there in spades but it isn’t always helpful and can in fact be just as painfully useless as someone not giving you a second thought.
Thanks very much to everyone who replied to my tweet! Feel free to add any more in the comments…