How to Deal When You and Your Partner Are Both Having a Bad Mental Health Day
Photo by Zackary Drucker as part of The Gender Spectrum Collection.

How to Deal When You and Your Partner Are Both Having a Bad Mental Health Day

Written by Emilie

Topics: Mental Health

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.

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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.

Your Turn

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.

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Could you use some multipotentialite-friendly support as the holidays approach?

This time of year can be really stressful and difficult for people. It’s common to feel depressed or anxious around the holidays. We also often end up spending time with family members who might not be 100% supportive of our multipotentiality… So we’re doing something special in the Puttytribe to help. It’s called Slow Down December: a month of collaborative self-care.

Throughout the month, we’ll be running workshops and discussions on topics like anxiety, art/creativity therapy, and mindfulness, all from a multipotentialite perspective. There will also be weekly check-ins in the forum, live group meditations and light activities like making our own comfort boxes. Slow Down December is an invitation to, well, slow down and care for yourself—and to do it alongside your multipotentialite family.

To take part in Slow Down December, sign up for the Puttytribe waitlist, and join us when we open the doors on December 1 (or if you’re already a Puttytribe member, just show up!):

Emilie Wapnick is the founder and creative director at Puttylike and The Puttytribe, where she helps multipotentialites build lives and careers around ALL their interests. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is the author of the award-winning book, How to Be Everything (HarperCollins), and her TED talk has been viewed 6 million times. Learn more about Emilie here.

13 Comments

  1. David B Rice says:

    My wife is Bi-polar type 1 with panic disorder and I have borderline personality disorder and possibly aspergers. We have trouble expressing our needs and capabilities on a regular basis, and have developed several workarounds. My favorite, which I recommend to everyone In a similar situation, is a clock graph with hands pointing to your current mood and mental state and ability level. It worked for us so well that we no longer need it. What it does is give you the opportunity to express yourself in a non-confrontational manner or reassure your partner with a guarantee that they are not the source of your current mood. The use of this device made it possible for us to express ourselves in words as we got more and more comfortable updating and consulting our mood ccharts. It may not work for everyone, but it made a serious difference in healthy communication between two people with wildly different communication expectations and abilities.

  2. MIsty says:

    Thank you Emilie, for the support! There are certain times when I feel like everything in life is out of control. I do handle it badly but your tips will help the next time it happens. Usually, I go outside and walk and think of what is GOOD in my life.

  3. RK says:

    This was so nice, thanks! It’s reassuring to hear others talk about this and that you can get to a place of observing and strategizing these kinds of feelings – especially with your partner. I still struggle with this (especially the not falling into defensive mode and believing the feelings), but this makes me hopeful!

  4. Rafa says:

    Thanks for that piece of gold. My boyfriend and I are both in very tough spots in our lives and we’ve been both very tensed for the past 2 days (like “arguing about paper towels” tensed… We both know how much of a pointless argument this is, yet, we still had it). I’m in absolutely no position to be of much help right now and I feel like a dead weight most of the time, and I’m feeling like he’s pretty much spreading too thin right now. Just yesterday, it took all of my will power to do the laundry (which I usually enjoy doing). I’ll talk to him about the article. Hopefully, he’ll read it and enjoy it!

    • Emilie says:

      I so feel you, Rafa. Everything you’re describing–like about the paper towel arguments, heheh–I have been there!! I hope this tough time passes soon for you both. It’s not fun at all. Sounds like you’re both very conscientious and supportive, despite the fact that things aren’t easy right now.

  5. Farshid says:

    Hi every one, I think “doing some thing together” has a very sharp and meaningful message, you are saying I am not in the mood, but I have not problem or at least serious problem with you and it works.

  6. Thanks for this wonderful post and David for your mood clock, I too love it.
    I used strategy 4 for my son and I when we both struggled with our mind space.
    I really appreciate the other ideas as well!

  7. Kimberly says:

    This was invaluable to read right now. Thank you!
    It can be so hard to step back and recognise your feelings for what they are when anxiety, depression, and PTSD take over.

    • Emilie says:

      Thanks Kimberly! Yeah, it really is. But remembering that you are struggling with mental illness helps so much. I suffer from PMDD, which is basically really bad emotional PMS symptoms. You’d think that being reminded by my partner that I might be pmssing right now would be annoying, but I find it so helpful. It’s like, oh yeah! That explains why I’m feeling this way!

  8. Giulia says:

    Hi everyone!
    Thank you Emilie for all of yours articles..they are very helpful and inspiring!! And the comments are really interesting too :)

    When I have a bad day I go 1 hour to the gym to do a workout, even though I would prefer to stay at home! I do it because I know that when I do the workout my mind is empty, focused on the exercises..and in the end I feel better thanks to endorphins too!!
    Sometimes happened that I started the gym-lesson with my mind full of problems and, when I finished, I didn’t remember why I was upset.
    This new state of mind gave me the possibility to see the problems from another perspective and to find out the right solutions for them.

    Byeeee :)

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