James at “Finding Optimism” is devoting several posts to this specific topic because of all of your feedback to his great post “12 Ways to Care for Someone with Depression” and “Things to Say to Someone with Depression.” His wife, Anna, has written some excellent pieces that I am sure will help the mates of us bipolars and depressives. This is the type of stuff reader JCH (who asked the question on my previous post) might want to print out and hand to her husband. Good job James and Anna! Thank you!
Here is the first post in the series, called “The Depression Dialogue“:
It’s really hard being a carer when all you want to be is a wife, husband, partner, or friend. It’s important to have strategies to deal with different situations and remain in your normal relationship as much as possible. This is what I want to work through in these posts.
I’ve learned over time that James and I can relate to each other in a rational manner even when he is ill. This has been a learning process; it hasn’t always been the case. And I still often feel like I’m walking on egg shells depending on the severity of the episode.
The key strategy that I’ve learned is how to talk to James when he is sick, either high or low. When he becomes ill he turns into a different person. I say goodbye to my husband, so to speak, and hello to bipolar James. In a depressive episode he becomes highly irritable and usually itches for a fight. Early on he will often make comments to bait me. “All I do is work, work, work, to support your lifestyle and your precious social group.” You can imagine what a red rag to a bull that comment is.
At this point I have 2 options:
1. Take the bait, have a messy fight and accelerate his downswing, or
2. Grit my teeth and say “it’s the illness speaking”. If I can do that then I have a much better chance of diffusing the situation. A comment like “You sound stressed about work – let’s talk” has better results and sometimes can even stop the mood swing.
Lately I’ve also been able to say “Let’s talk before you get stuck in a negative cycle of thinking.” This is huge progress for us. It usually results in a fairly sensible conversation.
James says some very hurtful things to me when he’s depressed, but I only tell him how he’s hurt me when he’s better. I wait until he is rational and can deal with it, rather than inflame the situation further when he is ill. I’ve also learned not to take his bait so personally, as I’ve come to recognize it for what it is.
It’s important to know that I couldn’t do this if I didn’t recognize the start of a mood swing. You need to listen to what is really being said before you reply to comments. Is the person sick? Are they really asking for help? Is this a normally held opinion? A few seconds of thought can save a lot of heartbreak.
Next time I can get on the computer I’ll write on learning about the illness and recognizing early symptoms.