At the beginning of our relationship, my partner told me that she suffers from depression. Having had bouts of it myself, I knew it was something I could handle. Mental illness can make or break a relationship, and the fact that she is always open with her struggles makes our relationship a lot easier. Just a few months ago, her psychiatrist diagnosed her with bipolar unspecified, heavy on the depression. While her bipolar diagnosis gives a lot of insight into some of her behavior, it’s still difficult. My partner’s depression is hard. And it’s been difficult during the last few months. But it never changes the love I have for her.
When we wake up in the morning, I never know what to expect. She can go to bed being in a great mood, but that doesn’t mean she’ll feel the same in the morning. Will I get the version of her that feels okay? Or will she struggle just to get out of bed? My partner’s depression ebbs and flows, and the longer we’re together, the more attuned to her swings I am.
I know when to anticipate a low based on things like her eyes, body language, and the calendar. During a low, everything she does takes effort. Some days all she can do is take her meds, feed the cats, and brush her teeth. On those days, as difficult as it is, I hold space for her. Does that mean it’s easy? Absolutely not. Those days are hard for everyone. It’s fucking exhausting.
We don’t talk enough about the physical toll depression has on a person’s body. Having been there myself, I understand it, but seeing it from the other side really drives the point home to me. Sometimes my partner spends most of the day sleeping. She can sleep 12 hours at night and still need to take several naps during the day. Being awake for a few hours is exhausting. Maybe she can find the strength to run an errand or two, but then that’s it. She’s physically incapable of doing anything else for the rest of the day. That’s why people with depression will go days without showering or grooming — the amount of physical exertion those activities require is just too much.
Being physically intimate is also hard when your partner is in a depressive state. As my partner’s depression has gotten worse, our sex becomes more infrequent. It’s become one of the ways I can track her lows. We kiss and hug and cuddle even if she’s in a low. But if I try to initiate sex and she’s unresponsive? Then I know that it’s a real low and sex isn’t going to happen. My partner and I have an active sex life, but when she’s depressed, it’s non-existent. She begs me to still try even if she seems disinterested, but honestly? I don’t. I know her rejection is stemming from the depression, but that certainly doesn’t make it sting any less. Even though I know it’s not me, I’m human, and I can’t help but take it personally.
And I know that it hurts her when I’m hurt. So sometimes I minimize my hurt to ease her mind a little bit. Because she already burdens herself with so many bad thoughts. I don’t want her to use my feelings as another thing to punish herself with.
That doesn’t mean that I shield her from my feelings entirely. We definitely talk openly about how my partner’s depression affects me, and I speak honestly and from a place of empathy. But sometimes if she can see that I’m upset, I’ll lie and say that I’m okay. Most of the time, she knows I’m lying, but she never calls me on it. She is becoming more aware of how her depression impacts me. That’s why I don’t always feel like I need to share my feelings. Because she already knows how hard it is. I appreciate her giving me my space too.
There are some days when my partner’s depression is crushing. Not just for her, but for me too. I have learned how not to internalize her depression, but that doesn’t mean that I’m immune to it. We live in the same space; of course her depression affects me. Carrying the emotional weight of someone else’s mental illness is overwhelming. I love her, and I know that she needs me to be there for her. But sometimes I have to work hard to show up for her in the way she needs. Since the nature of her depression is cyclical, sometimes the same stuff comes up. She often speaks as soon as the thoughts enter her mind. It’s hard because I want to hold space for her feelings, but I also know that they can pass quickly. Sometimes an hour later she’s completely over it.
Then there are the days where she is so deep in depression that it’s impossible to focus on anything else. Over the summer, she was so low that I had to take time off of work. One night she had such a bad panic attack that it took her at least an hour to come out of it. Even if I want to get anything done, I can’t. Because she needs me to be there for her.
And so I am. Being there for her is always my priority. Sometimes she needs me to listen and talk her down. Other times, I hold her while she literally sobs. All I can do is rub her back and whisper soothing words in her ear. Those are the times I feel helpless — I can’t do anything, I just have to wait for it to pass. When the person you love is hurting, you want desperately to fix it. But with depression, there’s nothing you can fix.
I don’t ever believe that I have to fix my partner, anyway; she’s not broken. No one that has depression is broken. They are sick, and they need support. When things get really hard, I have to remind her of this. She knows, but depression tells her that she’s unworthy and a burden. I never see her as any of that. She’s my partner, the love of my life.
Living with and loving someone with depression is really fucking hard. Anyone who lives this life will tell you that. Being a person with depression is even harder. Sometimes it’s easy to forget they’re dealing with it too. Having empathy for your partner is imperative. Giving yourself space to have the complex feelings that come with your partner’s depression is important too. The only way to get through the lows is with patience and grace.
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