Depression and loneliness are tough at any time.
Around Valentines Day, it can seem more difficult.
I’m not too into the whole Valentines thing. It’s been much more important to me to let my husband know, quite randomly, that I’m very lucky he’s in my life. Rather than being governed by a time and date set initially by pagan ritual and then declared a Christian holiday, I try to show up at other times.
I admit, however, that I’ve succumbed to buying the “I love you” trinket from time to time. I’ve accepted my fair share of flowers on Valentines Day, and have appreciated them for what they are — probably my husband thinking I’ll be mad if he doesn’t bring something home.
Maybe I should ask him to read this post.
All of that is fairly normal Valentines Day, long-term relationship, “Don’t want to be taken for granted but don’t care for the idea that V Day is so hyped in our culture” — kind of stuff.
But what happens when you’re depressed, in a committed relationship, and Valentines rolls around? What if you desperately want a relationship, and you’re surrounded by V Day talk? What if you’re attracted to someone, yet you’re struggling with depression?
Let’s take these one at a time.
1) You’re trying to cope with depression, and you’re in a committed relationship.
The best Valentines gift you can give to your partner is to win your battle with depression. Pretending to be who or what you’re not at this point won’t help anyone. And pushing yourself to do something you don’t have the energy to do is likely to backfire badly.
To shame yourself for not being in a place where you can sweep him or her off their feet? That’s not helpful and will only lead you down a rabbit hole of self-loathing.
What you can do is have empathy. Your partner may be hearing conversations full of Valentines plans or word of presents. Depending on what Valentines Day means to your mate, you may need to be sensitive to the background noise of constant Pro Flowers and Shari’s Berries commercials.
If you’re in the middle of a low time, you can communicate that. Let your partner know that your lack of joy or energy isn’t about them. You can text, email or actually write a note, and ask for a “Valentines rain check.” It will mean a lot more when you’re able to participate more fully. Make a commitment to yourself to remember that rain check. When you’re feeling better, when the mental fog has cleared or your hopelessness has lost its grip, that’s the time when you can plan something that will actually be engaging and fun.
Depression may be sapping your vitality, but it doesn’t have to drain your empathy. You can be aware that your depression impacts those that love you, and allow that to serve as motivation, not as another reason for shame.
2) You’re alone, and you don’t want to be.
Valentines Day is right on the heels of the holiday season, when your loneliness might’ve hit new lows. If your aloneness is caused by divorce or estrangement, then recent wounds or memories of better times can drag you down. Just like you never wanted to hear”Jingle Bells” again, seeing flowers delivered to co-workers can seem too much.
Loneliness and depression can both feel painful, but are different. It’s one thing to be depressed, and choose to isolate yourself from others. It’s another to want connection, or to be grieving a lost relationship, and not have it. Depression may stem from chronic loneliness, but loneliness may or may not be a part of depression.
Perhaps what they both share is a sense of alienation — not being connected with a part of life we miss, and we view others as enjoying.
If your loneliness becomes urgent, you can make impulsive, destructive choices.
Here’s a thought exercise I’ve suggested to those coping with loneliness. You obviously can’t control whether or not you meet someone that’s right for you. But you can control your own attitude, and you can work on building a life that you enjoy.
“Imagine that six months from now, you’re going to meet someone who’ll be very attracted to you. If you knew that to be true, what would you do until then?”
I get a variety of answers. But here’s the one I like to hear.
“I’d get busy making myself happy or fulfilled with the life I have now.”
Why is that a great answer?
Because if you’ve created a good life, maybe even a great life, you’re going to attract someone who doesn’t need to rescue you. Rescuers typically are controlling, and want to be appreciated for the fact they’re saving you from your lonely fate. And that’s not the type of person you’ll be happy with long-term.
If you’re lonely, it can be very tough. A focus on what you can control — can help.
3) You’re depressed, and you’re attracted to someone.
How honest should you be about depression being part of your life? Will someone who you meet hear, “I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder,” or, “Every winter I have a really hard time. It’s called seasonal affective disorder,” and run away?
That can be a fear, given the prejudice that many are fighting, but still exists against mental illnesses in our culture.
That prejudice builds the fear of rejection. And yet, how much of “not telling” reflects your own personal shame or struggle with experiencing it?
I don’t like that I have panic attacks. They’re embarrassing when they happen. I’m a lot better than I used to be, but panic can still cut me off at the knees.
Their presence in my life doesn’t make me unlovable. Or less valuable.
Nor does depression.
If someone had irritable bowel syndrome, or diabetes, or migraines, you’d want to know. That’s part of loving them. You’d want to help them cope with the frustration of a chronic illness.
Not telling, not sharing who you really are, and what you cope with in your life, seems far more damaging than honesty. If your depression can be severe at times, it’s will be apparent anyway, unless you try (and succeed very well) at keeping it hidden — what I’ve termed Perfectly Hidden Depression.
If someone is going to love you, they’re going to share your life. All of it.
How and when you share that information is important. It’s not their responsibility to take your depression on, to love you so well that it goes away. That’s not their job, nor is it possible.
Revealing yourself can be part of your own healing.
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