It’s Fathers Day here in the UK, I spoke in my previous blog post about Dads who are struggling with postnatal depression; but what about the Dads supporting Mums with PND? Supporting someone through mental illness is difficult and its important that you also have someone to speak to for support. Today’s post has been written by my husband John, he shares a couple of things he found difficult while supporting me, and thought they might help other men out there supporting their partner through PND.
1. Try not to take anything hurtful that is said personally –
When Sarah was at her lowest point there were times when things were said that were hard to hear and hurt to think about, things like ‘I hate you’, ‘I don’t want you anymore’ or even ‘I don’t love you’. These are things you never want to hear your partner say to you, especially when it’s at a time where they need you and your support the most (although they may not think this at the time). When someone is suffering with severe depression it can have a huge affect on the way they think, talk and behave meaning that they do or say things that they would never have done before. If these sorts of things are said it can be hard not to take it to heart and be hurt by it, but I found that thinking about in a different way helped me not to dwell on it (at this time your partner needs your full support). I thought of it a bit like a ventriloquist, like another, darker person was controlling what Sarah said and did, like she was a puppet of sorts and the depression had control of her and was speaking for her. Thinking about it like this helped me not to take anything too personally (it didn’t always work but it certainly helped) and allowed me to focus as much as I could on being there with her and for her in one of the darkest, lowest times of her life.
2. Give them space –
There were times during Sarah’s depression when things got so bad she would tell me to leave, to go and stay at my mums, that she didn’t want me around and that she would be better off without me. The logical part of my brain knew that wasn’t true, and that if I left her to look after the kids on her own at this point it would only make things harder for her. There was also a small part of me that was saying ‘just go, come back when it’s all calmed down’, while that would have been the easy option and I believe it wouldn’t have been good for either of us. During these times we would argue, she was depressed and angry and I was frustrated as I felt powerless to do anything, all I wanted to do was to be able to fix it like I would a physical thing, however I stayed, and refused to leave. Instead I gave her space, I would stay downstairs or go upstairs so I was still there to help if needed but she had some time too. Looking back now I’m very glad I didn’t walk away, I will never know what would have happened if I had but I do believe that we wouldn’t be in the same position we are now, with 3 amazing children and Sarah recovered, raising awareness for mental health and helping other mums.
3. If your partner wants to talk to you, then give them your undivided attention –
While this is my last point, it is most definitely not least, in fact it maybe the most important of all. For those suffering any form of mental illness, but in Sarah’s case specifically depression, it can be very hard to open up about it, even to themselves let alone to confide in someone else about how they are feeling. This could be for one of many reasons; they may blame themselves for it, they may feel guilty for feeling that way with no reason for it, they may not want to accept they could be suffering from a mental illness. However, as their partner it is fairly likely that when they are ready to talk it will be to you (of course it could also be to a close friend or other family member, and the point is equally relevant to those people too). If they do approach you and start to talk about how they are feeling please, give them your undivided attention, focus on what they are saying. Turn off the tv, put down your phone, whatever it is that might distract you remove it from the situation if you can. And once they start talking, just listen. Don’t interrupt (I’m really bad at this normally), don’t say you understand, or that you know how they feel, neither of those will be true and won’t help. Just listen, reassure them if you can and just be there for them, talking about it can be the first small step on the road to recovery, so remember that this thing that they could be about to tell you could be both the hardest, and most important thing they will ever say to you.
I am very glad that she came out the other side of this dark time and is now recovered and was inspired by her experience to dedicate a lot of time and effort to helping prevent others from suffering in the way that she did. I am very proud of her and what an amazing woman, wife and mother she is!
It was really hard to read John’s post, I felt guilty for how my much of a strain things had been and the things which were said. I know I never wanted him to leave, I never hated him but at the time I just felt so dark and bleak. I thought he could have a better life if he left, and that I was a hinderance to everyone so started to push away. I’m glad he stuck it out and helped me though because what people need when they’re struggling is support.
It means so much to someone with mental illness to have someone in their corner, as Stephen Fry is quoted to have said
“It’s hard to be a friend of someone who is depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do”
…..and we thank you for it.
John & Sarah
If you need support call Samaritans on 116 123 calls are free and open 24/7