It’s Mental Health Month here on Puttylike! During the month of November, we’re publishing articles and stories that explore anxiety and depression, ways we’ve reached for new perspectives around mental health, and strategies that helped us to rest and nurture our busy brains.
Here’s today’s mental health inspired article.
My wife and I both struggle with our mental health from time to time. The hardest is when those times overlap–when we’re both doing badly.
Sometimes, one of us will wake up feeling sad/fearful and, being preoccupied with our internal stuff, that person might say something in a certain way that hurts the other person’s feelings because they happen to be in a fragile place as well. If we aren’t careful, the sad/anxious buck can be passed back and forth and back and forth all day long.
Today, I want to share some of the techniques that have worked for us on days when we’re both struggling with our mental health.
Before I continue, I just want to say that neither of us are dealing with severe mental illness. That feels important to state. These techniques might be less appropriate in more extreme situations (and in less healthy relationships). But if you and your partner have mild to moderate anxiety and/or depression, this should be applicable. Some of these tips might also be helpful for close friendship or roommate situations.
1. Use your words–when you’re able
Sometimes I don’t know why I’m feeling terrible, what’s wrong, or how I’m even feeling. In these moments it’s easy to think that my intense emotions are a sign that something is very wrong in my life and in our relationship. I can so easily spiral and convince myself that everything is terrible and that all of my fears are real. My mind spins and I work myself up, getting more and more upset.
But when I’m able to go to Valerie and say “My mind won’t stop saying all of this disturbing stuff that is maybe illogical and untrue but it’s really upsetting,” and talk through some of it with her, it is usually incredibly reassuring. I pretty much always realize that everything is basically fine. And if there are problems, they’re usually things we can deal with.
Of course, these conversations are only productive when I’m able to step back and say “I know everything feels terrible, but I think I might be making some assumptions or misinterpreting things. Can you help me check?” Because if you just launch into it when you believe, emotionally, that your worst fears have come true, that can lead to a lot of defensiveness. You don’t want to accuse your partner of anything when you’re in that state. The discussion needs to start from a place of observation and curiosity, and sometimes it takes time to get there. So, feel your feelings first, if you need to.
But I’ve found that, even when Valerie is having a bad day, she doesn’t get freaked out or insecure by me saying, “This is what’s going on in my head and I don’t think it’s real but it’s freaking me out. Can we talk about it?” And I don’t usually get upset when she approaches me like that.
Certainly in some cases, in some relationships, things are bad and your feelings are more rooted in reality than fear. If you think that might be you, it’s worth unpacking things with a supportive third party like a therapist. In my situation though, I only ever worry about my relationship (and everything, really) when my anxiety is bad. The other 95% of the time, I know we’re super solid and a really good team.
2. Help each other with the basics
Even when my wife and I are both in a bad place, I’ve found that our moods tend to ebb and flow to some degree throughout the day. There are usually brief moments when one of us is able to do something simple for the other, like make food or tidy up.
These little acts of support make a difference. And often the best thing you can do when you’re anxious or depressed is to take care of the basics: eat decent food, get enough sleep, keep your space reasonably tidy, etc. Having someone help with that can be an enormous weight off your shoulders.
When we’re both having a rough day, we tend to do little things for each other, at various points, when we are each able to. (As I write this now, I’m realizing that by helping each other with the basics, we are actually likely helping ourselves feel a little better, too.)
3. Do your own thing
Sometimes, sending your person out to see a movie on their own is what’s best for both of you. Or maybe one of you hangs out with a friend and the other stays in and takes a bath. It’s totally possible that you need different things, and that being together isn’t helping either of you. It’s okay to take some time to yourself or to be around other people.
Of course, it gets tricky when one of you needs space and the other wants closeness. That’s why it’s important to have other people in your lives that you trust and can lean on from time to time. Contrary to what conventional wisdom would have us believe, one person can’t be all things to another person.
4. Do something together but make it very low stakes
Sometimes doing your own thing helps. Other times, it’s being together but in a very low-key, chill way. That might mean silently eating nachos while watching mindless reality TV together.
There are days when just saying “We both feel like crap today, so let’s take it easy and not be hard on ourselves–together” is the most helpful thing in the world.
These are just a few strategies that my wife and I use when we’re both having a hard time. They don’t all work all the time, and sometimes none of them work. But as we grow and get through challenging times together, those double-whammy-mental-health-funk-days don’t freak us out nearly as much as they used to.
What strategies do you use when both you and your partner are both having a bad mental health day? Share your suggestions in the comments below.