The Road To Recovery: Living With A Depressed Partner

By: Donna Mack

My boyfriend and I met during college when we lived in the same dorm. He was a year ahead of me in school, so I constantly worried about maintaining our long distance relationship once he graduated and moved 1,200 miles away to take a dream job. But with graduation around the corner, it made things easier when we dove into planning monthly visits to see each other and found things we could do to make the distance feel less consuming, like, Skyping dates and sending cards in the mail. At first, everything was great. The distance wasn’t actually as hard as I imagined it would be. My boyfriend didn’t love the city he was in, but his job was okay. Soon after he moved and started his new job, my boyfriend’s doctor recommended he start taking a steroid to treat his Crohn’s disease- which had mental and emotional side effects. Around this same time, the atmosphere at his job drastically changed when he was put on a project with a poor management team. He started working 80-90 hour work weeks which gave him no personal time for rest or self-care. Despite the hours he put in, the project went south and the company lost a lot of money. The managers put the blame on him and gave him a poor performance evaluation. So between the new meds and his job, my boyfriend’s mental health started to decline.

The man I fell in love with was brilliant, funny, kind, incredibly hard-working, and confident in his abilities and relationships. During the emotional and psychological decline in those months, my boyfriend became someone who doubted his every move, both personally and professionally. He actually started to believe the negative words his self-serving managers wrote in his performance evaluation which lead him to lose confidence in his talents and intelligence. He pulled away from me emotionally- probably without even realizing it. His moods became extremely mercurial and almost anything could trigger either a high or a low. The man I fell in love with became obscured behind a dark cloud and I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

These patterns continued on, and my boyfriend progressively became moodier, emotionally out of reach, and unsure of himself. He tapered off the medication and both of us hoped he’d return to “normal,” but things only continued to decline. And as he declined, so did our relationship and so did I. I researched everything imaginable to try and get him help. But nothing seemed to work- he quickly became a danger to himself and was inevitably forced to see a therapist, who diagnosed him with severe clinical depression.

Being in a relationship with someone with depression, diagnosed or otherwise, is quite honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through. I would not wish it on anyone. This person you love, someone you know oftentimes better than they know themselves, is stuck in a fog neither you nor they can wipe away. There is no one magical cure or thing you can do that will bring the happier version of your partner to the surface for good. The worst part is probably watching this person you know to be so incredible and vibrant wallow in a pool of self-doubt and loathing. You love them so much, but they only seem to hate themselves.

Our relationship struggled immensely. I blamed myself for my boyfriend’s depression. If only I had researched the medication more thoroughly or told him not to take the job, maybe none of this would have happened, right? Completely illogical, yes, but that didn’t matter. I got angry at him all the time for seemingly not being able to see himself or situations the way I did- nothing was that bad, why did he have to be so negative? I’d snap at him and then blame myself even more. During a visit, my boyfriend told he thought it was best if we just remained friends while he dealt with his depression because our relationship obviously wasn’t a healthy one at the time. I bawled my eyes out all night, angry that he’d pull away even more, and scared of what would happen if he was alone. The next day, I convinced him to stay together and to not make any decisions until he had spent some more time in therapy because I didn’t want to cause any more disruptions in his life. But really I was just being selfish. I wanted the man I loved to be mine, even if it was the wrong thing for him at the time.

And because of all this, I started to hate myself even more. Regardless of how I logically should have looked at things, my emotions told me I was partly guilty for his illness. I should have been able to make things better– he told me I was his best friend. If I couldn’t make it better, then who or what could? My own emotions and mental well-being took a turn for the worse. I was constantly down and didn’t enjoy things as much as I should have. I began drinking, especially when my boyfriend hit the very bottom and was thinking of hurting himself. I only rarely drank before, but now I was easily downing a bottle of wine on my own in one sitting to try and numb the guilt and the fear I held inside. I contemplated leaving him for my own health, but would never follow through, partially because of how much I loved him, and partially because I was afraid I would cause a steeper decline in him. I never saw a therapist, but I’m sure I was, and probably still am, in some state of depression from seeing my boyfriend fall victim to clinical depression.

Nearly a year after my boyfriend was first diagnosed, things are slowly getting better. He’s on a new medication with no side effects and is leaving his job for new opportunities. He’s continuing therapy and fighting to get back to what he sees as a “normal” version of himself. We’re still together, despite everything, and are now stronger than ever. I haven’t opened up to him about all my emotions and thoughts from the last year, but I am trying to talk to him more every day about how I’ve felt through this so that we can heal together.

This experience has taught more than I ever thought possible. We can’t plan our lives, no matter how hard we try. Love is a force both beautiful and terrifying, helping us support people in their darkest times, but also paralyzing us in moments that could forever break us. Ultimately, living with a depressed partner has shown me that sometimes, all we can do is be there in the darkness, and hope that somehow we can bring a pinprick of light to someone we care so deeply about.