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Fiance Clinically Depressed


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Last week, on Christmas Day, my best friend of over four years and boyfriend of six months asked me to marry him. We've been talking about this for a while so it was no surprise, but the joy of it is overwhelming. But he was diagnosed with long-term clinical depression last spring, which was caused by a specific childhood trauma and parental abandonment. He also struggles with severe insomnia and anxiety.

Considering where he is, he's doing really well. He works really hard to communicate well with me and to connect with other people. He sees a physiologist, is on medication, and has several older mentors (including our pastor). I knew all about all this long before we got into a romantic relationship, and almost didn't move forward with him because of it. But I love him deeply and would rather learn how to do this with him than leave him. 

But now we're getting married and things are shifting. Sometimes he doesn't see that he can be demanding of my time, energy, and affection. Recently, we've had several fights because he'll get irritated when I set healthy boundaries and he'll turn cold to me, making me feel like I've done something wrong and putting painful pressure on aspects of our relationship (e.g., intimacy). It was making me not feel quite safe with him. In those moments, he's someone else, not the man I love. (For the record, he will never actually hurt me, for those of you who are worried.)

We met with our pastor last night and were able to talk through a lot of these issues. I know when he's really low, he can't communicate what he's thinking (that's fair, me too) but I end up assuming things. I'll feel like no matter what I do, I'm a disappointment to him, or like he's angry with me or not attracted to me. In his good moments, he'll tell me that what's actually going on is that he's pulling away from me to protect me, or that he's upset with the whole world (including himself) and not just me. That, I can handle. I just can't remember it in those hard moments.

I love this man and I'm convinced he loves me. We're both so much better when we're together, but these things are so hard. It's scary moving toward marriage with this illness, but I'm so willing to do it. But I need help. I'm looking for a counselor for myself, but in the meantime, I need practical everyday advice. How do I shield myself from his lows? I'm a very empathetic person (I think one of the reasons why he loves me) but I'm also prone to melancholy and I get intensely stressed when I feel relational tension. How can I set up healthy boundaries, while we move into marriage? How to I love him well, care for myself, and protect our relationship?

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You cannot change an individual or control them. You can only work on yourself. With that being said, it seems like you are on the right path in taking some self-care and seeking a professional.

You can set healthy boundaries for yourself by expressing what you are willing to deal with. You can express your desire for his own boundaries but you cannot enforce them. “Shielding yourself”, from him might be stepping back from a situation that you feel uncomfortable with or it may be diving directly into his issues. We can’t answer that for you, we don’t know the circumstances or your own personal boundaries.

Marriage is no different in dating, in that you both will need to give 100% in order to have a healthy relationship. However, do not expect that you will both always give it 100%. Sometimes one of you will end up giving or taking more. That’s okay, as long as you’re both okay with that.

Keep in mind you’re both humans with your own inconsistencies and vulnerabilities and issues. There will be many bumps along the road. It’s just a matter of how you both decide to conduct yourselves because you can’t control one another but you can control yourself.

Go in with realistic expectations that life will not be easy or perfect. Marriage isn’t going to magically fix any issues you currently have. But time can if you’re both willing to intentionally work for it. 

Wishing you both the best, congratulations!

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Hi LauraJane and welcome to the Forums.

     I'm sorry that things between you and your fiancé are difficult right now.  Having a relationship with a person suffering depression can be very challenging.  As a depressed person myself I know that often it is my depression taking or acting out and not the real me and this can be very hard for those around me. 

     I hope you will get many responses to your sincere and poignant post so you will get a variety of views.  Hopefully some will be helpful to you.

     As a depressed person myself, I often find myself 'stuck' in an attitude I call "could be better, but isn't better" or "could have been better, but wasn't better."  When I am stuck in this attitude, which probably has neurological and psychological causes, I cannot access the attitude:  "could be worse, but isn't worse, thank goodness."

     I think that everything in life can be looked at with two basic attitudes:  "could be better, but isn't better" or "could be worse, but isn't worse."  One attitude, the first naturally generates feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiety, discontent, aggravation, stress, disappointment, unhappiness."  The second attitude, "could be worse, but isn't worse" naturally generates feelings of gratitude, appreciation and feeling lucky.

     When I am in a depression, I cannot access this attitude of gratitude, appreciation and feeling lucky, except rarely.  I look at everything, at everyone and at myself and constantly think "could be better but isn't better."  I look at the past and think "could have been better but wasn't better."  I look at the future and think; "could get better but won't"  

     Since depression is an illness, it is not helpful if others tell me "Oh, it could be worse."  It doesn't help because I am, while in depression, unable to access that.  So it is insulting to be told to look on the bright side and other such things.  In fact, it is like rubbing salt in an open wound.  In depression I just need someone to be there with me in the darkness and hold my hand, so to speak.

     Perhaps it would be helpful to you as someone in a relationship with a depressed person to write down on a piece of paper:  COULD BE WORSE, BUT ISN'T WORSE, THANK GOODNESS and keep that paper with you.  You might want to look at that paper often especially when you feel the effects of your fiancé's depression starting to affect you negatively.

     Maybe I am wrong, but I suspect that a healthy person can move between "could be better, but isn't better" and "could be worse, but isn't worse."  But depression, the illness makes it difficult and sometimes even impossible to get free of that "could be better but isn't better" attitude.

     Obviously I can look at myself and say "I could be better than I am, but I am not."  And I can look at other people and things and events and think the same thing.

     But I can also look at myself and others and events and think: "could be worse, but isn't worse."  

      Once a suicidal child told me that she didn't deserve to live because she was "bad."  I asked her why she was bad.  She told me she was bad because she did not get a good report card.  This is depressed thinking. 

     Good and bad are not all-or-nothing things.  They fall on a range of points.  Adolf Hitler caused the deaths of tens of millions of people.  That is really bad.  Now this little girl did not cause the deaths of tens of millions of people, or millions of people, or hundreds of thousands of people, or thousands of people, or hundreds of people, or even a single person, so how bad could she be?

     There is a story of a little boy who was found crying on a beach.  When asked why he was crying he said:  "I put a drop of ink into the ocean and now it is completely ruined."  This is another example of depressed thinking.

     I once met a man suffering painful bone cancer.  The outlook for him wasn't good and he knew it.  But he was usually in a good mood.  I asked him why and he said:  "because I realize that things could be worse but are not."

     I was so shocked by this and asked him:  "How in the world could things be worse for you?" 

     And he said:  "I could be on fire."  "I could have this cancer and not have pain medication."  "I could be in the middle of a huge desert without water."  This man's answer taught me a lesson:  No matter how bad things are, they could be worse, but are not worse!

     People who have been in relationships with me have had to struggle not to be pulled into my waves of negativity. 

     You also have to try to protect yourself while helping the one you love. 

     It is okay for a good swimmer to dive into the water to save a drowning man, but not if a person who dives cannot swim.

     It is good that your fiancé is being treated for his illness with medication and therapy.  And perhaps having your own therapist might be helpful if you desire that.

     What I have written above applies to me and may not apply to you in any way . . . might not be helpful to you in any way.  That is why I hope you will get many and varied responses to your post.

     I hope everything works out for the best for you.  You sound like a really wonderful person.

- epictetus

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Hi @LauraJane. Living with depression is tough, living with someone with depression is also very difficult. To your credit, you've already done some very important work like setting healthy boundaries, meeting with a counselor (pastor). Also, you already recognize that as a carer, you will need support. Seeking a counselor of your own and reaching out to peers here are both very good ideas, so well done. 

On 1/3/2020 at 8:12 AM, LauraJane said:

How can I set up healthy boundaries, while we move into marriage? How to I love him well, care for myself, and protect our relationship?

The depressed mind views everything through a distorted lens and thinking is generally black or white. You can help him find the gray by helping him see balance rather than just the extremes.

But first, it's helpful to be mindful of what balance looks like:

He is doing the best he can now with the knowledge he has AND he can do better as he learns more ways to manage and cope with depression and treat his other conditions. 

You are doing the best job you can right now as a carer and a loving partner AND you can learn more ways to support him and support yourself.

Examples of out-of-balance thinking:

Things are bad now and can only get worse with time.

My needs can never take priority because my mental health is better than my finace's. 

~-~-~-~-~-~-~

What else besides you exists to support him? There are: treatments he hasn't tried, help he hasn't yet sought, ways to self-sooth, to cope, to self-regulate he isn't yet aware of. We all like to believe we have no trouble asking for and receiving help but in fact, we throw roadblocks in our own way because we insist on controlling what that helps looks like. In practical terms, he might attend a regular in-person meeting of a depression support group - or join an online group, like you did -  in order to belong to a supportive community. Cognitive therapy for thought distortions can provide tools to manage everyday negative thinking. Increase his participation in religious community activities to heighten spiritualism. He can dive into volunteering, as serving can be a way to increase a sense of purpose and build a greater sense of self-worth. 

What else can you do to support you? A friends and family of persons with mental illness support group can link you to community of caring people with shared experiences. Also, taking breaks. Every day time allotment for you-only activities such as listening to music, creative outlets, self-improvement. Consider a vacation from caretaking once in a while, away from your fiance, where you have space to recover.

You asked how to set up healthy boundaries in a relationship? Those require knowing where one person ends and the other begins. What do you need to feel safe, to be respected, to have and maintain an identity of your own?

And finally, practicing acceptance. There will be bad days no matter how many skills he practices, no matter how much support you can offer. Accepting that his moods are not your responsibility, that they never were, you don't own them. Waves of emotional distress are part of living with depression. From what you wrote, your fiance's waves are transient. He can ride them out by practicing distress tolerance and emotional regulation techniques. You can ride them out by practicing ways distract yourself from feeling worried and from the feeling of powerlessness - neither are in service of helping him of yourself and they lead to burnout. 

Wishing you better feelings and growing optimism going forward into 2020. 

 

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Wow, thank you all. You are so very kind and supportive. And these are really good practical things! This is exactly the kind of help I've been looking for. I've made careful notes and hope to practice these things in the coming weeks.

Thank you all for using your painful experiences to help others. I hope someday Simon and I can do the same. ❤️

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I'm pleased you found our lived experiences useful and thanks for letting us know. Knowing that what I've learned from living with depression can be useful to others, it helps. 

I would welcome you to post more from the point of view of a carer for a loved one struggling with depression, or a person working on improving her own mental health. That can include any frustrations, complex feelings that emerge from seeking such a balance in your life. Wishing you and Simon well in the coming year. 

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  • 5 months later...
On 1/3/2020 at 4:12 PM, LauraJane said:

Last week, on Christmas Day, my best friend of over four years and boyfriend of six months asked me to marry him. We've been talking about this for a while so it was no surprise, but the joy of it is overwhelming. But he was diagnosed with long-term clinical depression last spring, which was caused by a specific childhood trauma and parental abandonment. He also struggles with severe insomnia and anxiety.

Considering where he is, he's doing really well. He works really hard to communicate well with me and to connect with other people. He sees a physiologist, is on medication, and has several older mentors (including our pastor). I knew all about all this long before we got into a romantic relationship, and almost didn't move forward with him because of it. But I love him deeply and would rather learn how to do this with him than leave him. 

But now we're getting married and things are shifting. Sometimes he doesn't see that he can be demanding of my time, energy, and affection. Recently, we've had several fights because he'll get irritated when I set healthy boundaries and he'll turn cold to me, making me feel like I've done something wrong and putting painful pressure on aspects of our relationship (e.g., intimacy). It was making me not feel quite safe with him. In those moments, he's someone else, not the man I love. (For the record, he will never actually hurt me, for those of you who are worried.)

We met with our pastor last night and were able to talk through a lot of these issues. I know when he's really low, he can't communicate what he's thinking (that's fair, me too) but I end up assuming things. I'll feel like no matter what I do, I'm a disappointment to him, or like he's angry with me or not attracted to me. In his good moments, he'll tell me that what's actually going on is that he's pulling away from me to protect me, or that he's upset with the whole world (including himself) and not just me. That, I can handle. I just can't remember it in those hard moments.

I love this man and I'm convinced he loves me. We're both so much better when we're together, but these things are so hard. It's scary moving toward marriage with this illness, but I'm so willing to do it. But I need help. I'm looking for a counselor for myself, but in the meantime, I need practical everyday advice. How do I shield myself from his lows? I'm a very empathetic person (I think one of the reasons why he loves me) but I'm also prone to melancholy and I get intensely stressed when I feel relational tension. How can I set up healthy boundaries, while we move into marriage? How to I love him well, care for myself, and protect our relationship?

I think that you really need to help each other through issues, marriage is a good thing. Marriage does not change things naturally. What marriage does is create a superficial loyalty and security. (Mentally it prepares you to be loyal and you bind yourself emotionally to your partner, etc) There are no guarantees that marriage alone would solve your issues. You may still go through these issues whether married or not. I am just saying.

You know the cause of the issue, His mental issue is caused by a specific childhood trauma and parental abandonment. He also struggles with severe insomnia and anxiety.

These things can be overcome, it really depends on how determined he is and how much he wants change. A pastor is good, but this is something where you need to pray everyday and have a very active faith when it comes to solving the issue. He needs to simply let go his past and completely renew his mind. I went through childhood trauma, my best friend in primary school tried to get me killed literally. My dad was never there and i was fostered by my Nan most of the time because my mum was mentally ill and would set the place we lived on fire, she did it twice or three times (Cant remember). 

Support him and let him know your there for him and try different methods and solutions. Dont count your chickens yet, there is a solution out there for you. You just have to keep looking and supporting him. 

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