From Either Side

you are subtle as a window pane
standing in my view
but I will wait for it to rain
so that I can see you
you call me up at night
when there’s no light passing through
and you think that I don’t understand
but I do

Ani Di Franco, Anticipate


** I have used “they” as a gender neutral pronoun.  I realise it implies a plural.  But it is the only neutral pronoun we have.

I spend a lot of time blogging about my experiences of being unwell, of having bipolar and experiencing self harm. I write about how it feels for me/ might feel for others in similar situations. I write about how it is from this side. But I don’t write enough about how it feels, or might feel, from another point of view. Depressionscollateraldamage write this much, much, much better than I could, but I’m giving it a bash.  Give them a read.


It’s fucking hard loving someone who’s depressed.

I’ve been there from both sides. I’ve never had a relationship with someone who doesn’t have MH problems, and I’ve never not had them myself. Besides, I have a large number of friends who have had a range of mental health issues, some similar to mine, some not. And because I know what it’s like from this side, I try to be as sympathetic as I can, when I can. And because I know what it’s like from this side… I sometimes can’t. I have been both the people in this equation.  And both sides hurt.

What it’s like from “the other” side

  1. It’s frustrating. It is frustrating trying to drag someone out of a hole they seem determined to pull themselves back into.I know when I was ill and in a relationship, I spent a huge part of the time drunk out of my head. I know that part of mental illness is that it makes you think you don’t deserve better, or can’t do any better than you are doing. It becomes easier to stay in the hole and fight attempts to help you out of it, than it is to fight the problem with the knowledge in you that it might fail.

    So, for the person trying to understand, it can seem as though you are wilfully fighting against help, against getting better.Past frustration, it is terrifying. If someone can’t drag themselves out of a hole you see them in, what might happen next? Are you always waiting for that call? Are you always watching for signs of losing them for good? And is there anything you can do, anyway?  Helplessness is frustrating.

  2. It makes you insecure. To love someone who doesn’t love themselves makes you question yourself. It makes you wonder if there is something you are doing wrong, for a start. Could you make them love themselves better? Do they love you enough? If they loved themselves enough, wouldn’t they love you better? And the questions circle on and on, until you become insecure in yourself, and start to wonder if there’s love there at all. That’s on the basis of any friendship or relationship.Add to this, in a “romantic” context, the fact that depression can mess up your sex life, and you have a situation in which you yourself are underconfident, and this reflects back on the person you are with.  You feel insecure- you feel blameful- you blame somebody else. It hurts like hell, for both of you, that a certain intimacy is lost and there seems no way of getting it back since depression acts as a barrier to many kinds of intimacy. It is incredibly hurtful, yet it’s no-one’s fault. At all.Besides, if your relationship, for whatever reason, isn’t 100% stable, it can feel as though you are being punished for something.  You probably aren’t, yet it can be difficult to disentangle already-existing issues in a relationship, from those caused by the mental issues faced by one, or both, partners.  The only way of dealing with this is to have a frank conversation, which can be incredibly hard in itself.

    I had a tricky relationship in which some problems were due to the relationship itself, while others were due to mental health problems from both sides.  It is important to know which is which.  And it is important, when angry, not to take something that is your own problem, and bring into question the entire relationship.

  3. It is painful to watch someone you love hurting.
  4. It is painful to feel helpless.
  5. It is upsetting because it all feels so selfish, hurting and being frustrated yourself, when you know it’s not your “stuff”. So where do you put all that energy, where do you find the space for yourself in the tangle of another person’s emotions, without making it “about” you?  When my ex became depressed, I was in a horrible headspace myself.  It became really hard not to tangle her depression with my own sense of blamefulness, but the truth is, you can’t “make” someone depressed.  You can make them unhappy, for sure, but depression is an illness.  If you can accept that, it becomes obvious that you are not the cause of the problem.  Therefore, it isn’t about you.  Once you accept that, you feel less selfish and at the same time less blameful.  Does that make sense?
  6. If you have been through it yourself, it becomes difficult because you recognise you are doing all these things, yet sometimes when you find yourself in the position there is little you can do about your own internal reactions. It also becomes frustrating when you recognise certain patterns you created, or certain decisions you did make/ should have made/ would have made, in another person. “If I could, why can’t they?” “If they could, why couldn’t I?” It also becomes very hard not to relapse yourself, like watching somebody else drink herself into a stupor when you have been sober for six months.And what if you are unwell at the same time???  A whole other ball game, sort of like getting used to the oval shape of rugby, it basically sucks.  All the rules are different.
  7. And of course, the above feels selfish too.

So what can you do?

The sad truth is, that what you can do is be patient and hope for the best. It’s been years and years of this and it’s all I have.

But from this side? What can you do if you are depressed, unwell, in a relationship?

I guess…. that a lot of it is about reassurance.

  1. Reassure the other person that it is not their fault. It is easy to feel blameful and that leads to the other feelings: hurt, frustration, anger. Fear. Just remind the other person that how you act, or feel, is not “about” them as such. There are things that they can do to help- let them know what those are- but there is nothing they can do to make it all better, unless they are in possession of a magic wand in which case, stop reading this and wave it!
  2. When you are safe, let them know. When not, let them know. It is only fair, insofar as it is possible, for you to do this.
  3. Reassure the person that you do love them. It is so easy to get caught up in an argument about what love means- if you love this person, let them know that. It’s easier to try understanding somebody if you don’t doubt that.
  4. Be patient. As much as it is easy to get frustrated at someone who is depressed, it is easy to get frustrated by somebody who doesn’t seem to understand. But not everybody’s feelings are the same, so understand that you might have to explain, when you feel up to it.
  5. Be clear about your boundaries, about what you feel comfortable and safe with and what you don’t.  They can’t guess.
  6. Be honest.  If someone has pissed you off, don’t blame it on yourself automatically.  If you are angry, don’t blame it on the depression or illness.  Talk it through, be clear on what the problems are in the argument, or the relationship in general, before taking it back to that.

ON BOTH SIDES: DO ASK!!!!!  And make sure you talk to other people- MH issues can be isolating for people who experience it in *any* way.

And remember, ultimately, YOU ARE ON THE SAME SIDE!


13 thoughts on “From Either Side

  1. Wow, where to start? First, thanks for the shout-out. And second, you’ve made so many important and meaningful points here. I appreciate the reminders from the other side as well as the validation of what it’s like to be the not-ill person. Excellent post.

  2. Pingback: Mental Health Awareness Week III: Relationships | Only See Your Good Side

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