"Trying to support my partner has been a complete role-reversal"
Digital team's blog
What happens when carers need caring for? Paul's partner was recently hit by depression and Paul blogs movingly about seeing mental illness from the other side...
Christmas was very different this year; for the first time I found myself as the main supporter of someone who was struggling with a very dark, deep and lonely depression.
Although the signs were there, for a short period I found myself caught up in the frivolity of Christmas festivities. All of a sudden, like a breaking thunderstorm, my beloved crumbled into misery. A strong, independent, archetypal male had fallen from a very high mountain, struck down by the grief of losing a close relative.
All this put me on a path I have not walked before. It was my time to support, help, encourage, and carry the beacon of hope. This was a complete role-reversal , and meant I needed to utilise and teach the skills I’ve learnt over many years and continue to use daily. Remembering it’s a journey not a destination.
"It really has given me a good insight into how difficult it must be for my parents and partner when I become unwell."
It’s highlighted how those who support us also experience extreme levels of distress: of frustration, anger, sadness, helplessness, and even physical pain as they witness the suffering of their loved one.
I found myself walking in the shoes of my parents who must have been so frightened when I asked for their permission, aged 16, for me to end my life. Trying to support my partner was scary: you are so desperate to help the person suffering and so passionate to ‘fix’ them and take away their pain. What I’ve learnt is we need to just be there for them.
Thankfully I was able to ensure we got the right help from services, at the right time. The crisis team and the CMHT exceeded all expectations and continue to support my partner and I tremendously well. I know this is sadly not the truth for many of you, but when services work they really do work.
I’ve also been able to support my partner by helping him find the tiny steps needed in order for bigger changes to happen, and to allow him the space to feel safe. We’re still early days but thankfully we have been able to use coping strategies, which I employ on a daily basis for myself, such as mindfulness, grounding techniques, distraction skills and engaging activities.
We’ve been swimming, which was a real challenge, and also gone for walks along the beach, and out for coffee. Films: we’ve watched a lot; crosswords; Lego building; and humour, when appropriate, have helped us through.
"You are so desperate to take away their pain. What I’ve learnt is we need to just be there for them"
Language plays a big role. I noticed my partner saying things such as “I ‘should’ be feeling better by now”. “Should” is a dirty word in my mind as it’s limit-setting and negative. Reframing to “I could be better” gives a much more positive and compassionate view. “I’m a burden to my family” and other negative automatic thoughts (NATs) are so common for anyone experiencing distress. What we have been doing is identifying the difference between thoughts and facts, and then reframing my partner’s thought processes.
My parents have been fantastic visiting daily; friends have text, phoned and visited; all this has given a very hopeless person a small glimmer of hope.
Another thing which has played a massive part in helping both of us is technology, including using online forums such as Elefriends, mindfulness apps and, most importantly, Skype. My partner’s parents live in Cyprus but they have been tremendously supportive in Skyping every day and supporting from afar.
"When services work they really do work"
The lessons I’ve learnt have been immense and the advice I would give to anyone supporting someone is to just be there for them and to make sure you look after your own wellbeing. I have taken time out for myself, practicing my daily mindfulness, connecting with friends and family, and hitting the gym, which has had dual benefits in helping my mental health and also shifting the excess Christmas pounds. Result!
As I enter 2016 I worry how and when my partner will return to himself, but I’m also letting myself feel excitement as I’ll be launching a new project this year which will I hope will open up new ways in which people access services. I'm hoping to have more news in the spring with a TV series to run alongside. You can follow me on Twitter for more information closer to the time – I’m @paulscates.
I would like to finish by taking this opportunity to wish each and every one of you a healthy and safe 2016. If you’re reading this and you are struggling, remember, there is always support out there.