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Lessons from Depression Part 3: Respect your own needs

In reflecting on our Lessons from depression, here is my second:

Respect your own needs.

Take time to understand yourself and what it is that you need.

Respect your own needs

Respect your own needs

Of course, this is true for all of us, not just in a relationship or friendship dominated by a Black Dog. This is not about being selfish and ignoring the depressed person in the relationship, or distancing yourself from that person. They need your consistent support, belief and listening presence. But neglecting your own needs will eventually cause emotional, mental, physical burnout as you try to be alongside the depressed person without having your own energy levels topped up.

It takes time to understand ourselves and what we need, enjoy and what makes us tick. But it also takes more than that – a willingness to invest in ourselves and look below the surface.

Sometimes, this can feel too hard, too raw, or requiring too much energy.

I can see this being true for me when I look back at my own experience of living for years with MB when his Black Dog was dominant. The focus (through no one’s fault) was usually on him and impact of his illness on him, and us. We just got through life. Me, my stuff, my needs, and what I actually wanted, seemed very far down the list of priorities. It felt selfish and disloyal to take time just for me, and sometimes I was scared of what I would find – that the differences between us and what we both wanted and needed were irreconcilably great.

If I really engaged with who I was, what was important to me, and became more confident and self-assured as me, would that cause me to become more independent from him, more distant? And of course, because we didn’t talk about our Black Dog, or I spent a good deal of my time being ‘fine’ when asked, there was no one to gently but firmly encourage me to look after myself.

So what broke the stuck negative cycle of my angry, hurt outbursts at him when I had reached the end of myself and run out of empathy and compassion, and his inevitable withdrawal further away from me and my rage?

How did I learn to respect my own needs?

Stopping to breath, look under the surface, and invest in myself a little. Stepping back to see the bigger picture. Asking questions like:

  • What do I love to do that inspires me and gives me energy?
  • Who do I love to be with, people who make me laugh, or with whom I can cry and not be ‘fine’
  • What matters to me most, and how am I planning that into my day/week?
  • What am I involved in that gives me a sense of purpose and fulfilment, that benefits others?

This is not about being selfish and self-absorbed. It is about self-awareness and a growing self confidence in your own unique contribution to the world. Investing in ourselves appropriately enables us to be properly resourced to care for those around us and serve a greater good.

For me, it was learning to say

This is me, these are my needs and I can best be alongside you if I am strong and resourced and supported by trusted folk who understand and value me in my own right, not just as the partner of the depressed one. “

But looking at my unmet needs was not enough. Also required was a willingness to admit where my attitudes and behaviour were wrong. It was all too easy to blame all our struggles on MB and his illness, or his reaction to it. Again, brutal honest self-examination showed me some harsh truths about myself that were not pretty.

How willing was I to let go of my resentment, learn to be more gracious and humble, let others in and not give the appearance of always being ‘sorted’?

The gulf between us was only going to narrow if we both chose to move.

This takes time, support, being gentle with each other, making lots of mistakes, and bucket loads of forgiveness. But it comes right back to where we started – what are our needs, and what is most important to us?

How important are we to each other?

What is true of this in your relationships? Take time to understand yourself. Respect your own needs. And if you don’t know where to start, the 10 Things Challenge is for you!

Inspired? Encouraged? Get in touch!

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