May I state the obvious? Being around someone who is depressed is exhausting. We (the dismal, depressed collective) are pessimistic, weepy, needy and, whether or not We’ve found the energy to shower, possibly stinky. Having been both the depressed person and the loved one of someone experiencing depression, I’d like to attempt a little perspective on what We need as well as how to save yourself from burnout as a caregiver.
To begin, please for the love of all that is beautiful, do NOT say the following: “Your life isn’t that bad.” “You have nothing to be sad about.” “Just snap out of it.” “I was depressed once and then just decided to be happy.” “What’s wrong with you?” “If you prayed more, you wouldn’t be depressed.” “You’re depressed because you aren’t following God.” (I’ve heard all of these and none of them did anything but increase the guilt I was already feeling.)
DO say: “I love you.” “I know that you are hurting.” “We will get through this together.”
But, enough about Us.
You, the caregiver, are going to get tired. You’re going to get irritated. You’re going to feel upset, scared, angry and possibly resentful. So what can you do to save yourself?
1. Realize that your loved one is sick. He/she is not defined by the depression. Stop to consider the things that make her who she is. Remind yourself that much of the negativity she is projecting is a symptom of depression. Separating the illness from the person can help stop misplaced anger and give you an outlet for frustration. It’s okay to be super pissed at the disease.
2. Try not to take everything your loved one says personally. While depression is not an excuse for cruelty, remember that, as stated above, your loved one is not herself and may say things that come across as unkind, whether or not she intended them as such.
3. Find someone you can talk to. Your loved one probably isn’t going to be as emotionally available as usual. It’s important to have someone else you can trust who will listen to what you are feeling, whether that be a family member, a friend, a therapist or even an online forum. I don’t necessarily suggest you tell your loved one you are talking about her to someone else, as this may be interpreted negatively.
4. But, don’t be afraid to talk to your loved one. So many times, I’ve heard people say, “I knew you weren’t feeling well, so I didn’t want to burden you with my own problems.” Completely understandable response. Talking about your struggles, however, may help your loved one to continue to feel valuable as she is recovering.
5. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from friends and family. More often than not, I think you’ll find people are willing to lend a hand if you only just explain that you’re feeling overwhelmed.
6, In addition to asking for help, don’t try to do everything. You may find that some tasks need to be put on the back-burner for a bit. Unless you’re someone who finds relaxation in such things, deep-cleaning the kitchen grout can wait. In this same vein, it’s important to realize it isn’t your responsibility to “cure” your loved one.
7. Take care of your body. You will need to prevent yourself from becoming physically rundown. Try to make healthy food choices, maintain your sleep routine and take time for light exercise. As best you can, keep to some sort of schedule to maintain a sense of balance and normalcy.
8. Treat yourself. Try to do at least one special thing for yourself every day. Pick up your favorite coffee, take a bubble bath, listen to uplifting music. Whatever you enjoy, make time for it.
9. Consider taking up journaling. I started keeping a journal my first year of college, and over the years, I’ve found it is a great way to vent and sort out my thoughts and feelings. You can go the traditional journal route or try art journaling. (Check this tumblr page for beautiful examples of this type of journal.)
10. If all else fails, just breathe. When you’re at your absolute wit’s end, try some deep breathing exercises, like these, for relaxation.
If you’re looking for more information, try this resource for caregivers.