A few months ago, as it does in fairytales, I met a very lovely girl on a winter’s morn. As so often happens, our eyes met across a dark and dusty theatre above a pub; I was a goner from the word go.
I established early on that she is visited by the Big D. Now, how could I possibly live up to such grand expectations? Would I be able to fulfil (or indeed full fill) what she had grown used to? It transpired however that the big D wasn’t quite as I anticipated. She was not in fact used to the presence of a veritable girthworm; she suffered from depression.
Initially my stomach dropped and I felt panicked. I knew few precise details of depression but my initial preconceptions were that it meant she would never ever be happy, probably kill herself, and that I was setting myself up for a life of frustration and misery. It turns out I was completely and utterly wrong. So here is a whittled down 101 of misconceptions about Depression and ways to support a partner who suffers from it:
It is an illness: Recently a metaphor addressing sexual consent via means of tea drinking went viral. Here is my answer to it: food poisoning as a metaphor for depression. Now, it is an illness in the sense that it is something wrong in the body. The person is not merely feeling “a bit sad”. There is a chemical imbalance. If someone was shitting out last night’s poorly cooked chicken, you wouldn’t holler through the door, “You’re being weak. Toughen up. Sort yourself out.” So don’t do the same to someone with depression.
The small things: No, this is not a return to the visitor I mentioned in the introduction. Do not underestimate the small things. A well timed cup of tea, or a meaningful hand squeeze can remind a person feeling the effects of the Big D, that they are cared for. A decent motivational quotation doesn’t go amiss either. After all, you can’t stop a person chucking up the remnants of that two-week-old Jalfrezi but holding their hair and stroking their back whilst regurgitating Jarod Kintz’s sentiment that “the best part about vomiting is that right after you do, you can continue eating” will remind them that they aren’t alone.
Educate yourself: Buy a book*, google it** (but be careful which sites you trust…), ask someone about it. Do you know that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression than men? Did you know that most people suffering from depression get better? I do, because it said so in the book I ordered. If, when nursing your nauseated E Coli ridden pal, you show them that video of the dog puking up spaghetti*** or offer them some of Chicken Cottage’s gourmet poulet, you probably haven’t educated yourself. Be proactive.
The S Word: Suicide. Don’t be scared of it. After all, one must “always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” Cheers Albus. Suicidal thoughts can be a symptom of depression just as an inflamed rectum can be a symptom of that rare, raw Japanese squid you simply had to try. Neither is a reflection of who that person is, it is merely a symptom of illness. Don’t shy away from it. Talk about it. Address it. Laugh about it if you can. It is not something to be embarrassed about and talking about it makes it possible to be dealt with. If necessary, advise them to go seek the professional help of a doctor (in both cases).
Crawl under the duvet: Finally, there will be times when someone is just having a bad day. They don’t need motivational speeches, they don’t need solutions, they just need you to disappear into duvet land with them, to gently stroke their achey over-retched stomach (metaphor) and to silently remind them that tomorrow is going to be better. This is not defeat; sometimes you have to stop fighting against the current (too many metaphors?) and realise that rest can be the most beneficial thing.
That lovely “dusty theatre” lady gets visits from the Big D. I have a receding hairline. Both of these are a result of a hormonal imbalance. Neither of these define who we are as people. One of them can be fixed and the other can’t (unless you are willing to stitch bum fluff onto your scalp… thankfully Jude Law has done a stellar job in making those among us who are follicularly challenged, acceptable within society).
I am now starting to build something with a girl who has already surpassed all my expectations. Who is beautiful, caring, intelligent and inspires me every single day. Those are the only details about her which are important.
Written by Liam Steward-George
Actor and writer.