After Robin William’s death, a lot of articles were circulated on the internet related to anxiety and depression. These articles tend to focus on the person suffering from the illness and miss the point in some ways because the person struggling from anxiety or depression is often not going to be aware or be in denial about their condition. It’s the friends and family of the person who are more likely to look for ways to help their loved one and there aren’t many resources available to them. Caring for a loved one with anxiety or depression is a difficult emotional experience. It can be extremely painful to watch your loved one lose interest in things they once used to enjoy or be unable to do things they used to do. So, I’d like to dedicate this article to those who are caring for a loved one and share some experiences you may go through and ideas on how to cope with them.
When anxiety or depression first takes its hold, you may have absolutely no idea what’s going on and expect the person to just get better. You may say inappropriate things like “what’s wrong with you?” and “why can’t you just do it?” and think that you can talk your way into their head. You will soon realize that this doesn’t work and is actually very damaging to the person you are trying to help. Once you realize this, you may be inclined to get professional help but this may not be something your loved one is ready for. Instead, you may do research to educate yourself and realize how little you understand what this person is going through and what you could have done to help sooner. You may get upset at your past actions and blame yourself. While it’s hard, try not to do this and recognize that you are not a health professional. It’s okay that you didn’t know. Be kind and forgive yourself.
As you learn more and begin to share ideas for different coping techniques with your loved one, they may be receptive to them or not. Some days you may feel like you are making great progress and not others. If things aren’t going well, you may really start to blame yourself and feel that you are somehow responsible for contributing to the person’s illness. Your loved one may even say things like “you are not helping” or “you don’t understand”. It’s true; no matter how much you read about anxiety or depression, you don’t know what this person is going through. Acknowledge this but also remind yourself that you are trying to do your best. And realize that while you are important to the person you care for; you cannot be so significant that somehow you are responsible for their condition.
Some other ways you might react if things are not going well are going to opposite extremes. You may start to minimize and overlook what’s going on and tell yourself that nothing is wrong. Or you may decide to take matters into your own hands and think that you can just fix everything on your own. If only you did this or that, things would get better. Reality is that you cannot fix things for them. You can only offer to help and beyond that, it’s up to the person to take action and help themselves. This is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn. Another struggle might be figuring out how to be supportive without feeling like you are being an enabler by making lifestyle changes to make things more comfortable for your loved one. How do you decide when to push and when to accept? This is more an art than science. So trust your intuition to do the right thing.
And finally, remember to take care of yourself too. Helping a loved one through anxiety or depression is not easy and it will take an emotional toll on you. It is possible that you may start to feel depressed or anxious yourself. Or you may have selfish thoughts about how caring for this person is affecting your own life. These thoughts are not selfish and you have every right, if not an obligation to care for yourself first. So, don’t be afraid to get professional help and/or even leave the person if the situation gets to a point where it makes sense for you. Only you will know the answer. The important thing is to give yourself permission to take care of you first and understand that doing so is not being selfish. It’s also better for the person you are caring for.
Anxiety and depression deeply impact lives of the people they touch. By way of sharing this article, I hope you recognize that you are not alone and more importantly not wrong in experiencing the kind of feelings I described. If you have more advice or agree/disagree with me, please do share your thoughts.