How to cope? Partner with anxiety and depression

For issues specific to caring for someone with mental ill health.
Hi, looking for advice on caring and surviving.

My partner suffers from anxiety and depression with regular panic attacks every morning and in the day, can’t get out of bed or has to go for a lay down loosing hours of the day.

I work but have a bit of flexibility which is regularly pushed to the limits.

We have children who I do most of the caring for on top of shopping, cleaning etc. However I rely on her to look after them in the day. I did quit working at one point to help but this had added issues for all.

Partner getting no support or therapy as put off by past experience. I’m pretty hit and miss and fed up which sometimes comes across making things worse. I do love her but struggle being a carer as well as a partner and parent.
Peter, hi

I'll say right from the outset that I'm an advocate of 'firm love'. This is not 'tough love' (too harsh!) but it is most definitely not 'soft love'.
I feel that 'soft love' is what you're offering your wife now.

That needs to change.

The blunt truth is that she is 'getting away' with her current behaviour because you are letting her. She doesn't do paid work, I take it (no employement), but her 'work' is housekeeping and childcare. That, to be blunt, is how she earns her own living. She gets her food and accommodation in exchang for looking after the house and children, while you go out and earn money.

That is 'the deal' for stay at home mums.

Now, she is breaking that deal. She's not doing her 'work' and yet STILL expects to be fed and a place to live. Why? Because she is 'ill' and 'can't face' getting up, etc etc etc.

I've often wondered just HOW hungry a person with depression would have to be before they actually got out of bed and made themselves breakfast? How long could they last under the duvet?

I say this because the 'firm love' aspect of being with someone with MH of any kind is that your care has to be SUPPORTIVE but not ENABLING.

The difference is crucial. SUPPORTIVE care is constantly focussed on IMPROVING the person, getting them BETTER, whatever that take. ENABLING care just lets them STAY WHERE THEY ARE.

How old are your children by the way?
On a more sympathetic note, do you, or she, understand WHY she is having anxiety, depression and panic attacks?

How long has she been like this?

Are they getting worse?

Do they 'cycle around' - eg, times when she's better and times when she's worse? (Does the cycling link to her menstrual cycle by the way!)

If she DOES have a past history of 'trauma' then that MUST be addressed first, or else there is no way that her current MH is going to be healable.

Not everyone has a traumatic childhood and yet still has depression/anxiety. My niece didn't, yet she is chronically depressed and anxious (it tends to cycle). She's been like that for over fifteen years, and defines herself as 'ill'. That is NOT good.

It can be very hard for those with depression/anxiety to realise that actually they are responsible for the insides of their heads, and the way they spend their lives.

IF she does have a 'chemical imbalence' (eg, inherent lack of serotonin etc), then that can be addressed, at least in part, by pills. Pllls CAN be highly useful as a 'stepping stone' towards better mental health, but there is a danger, eg, if trauma is the root cause, that they simple mask or helicopter over the troubles.

That's why knowing WHY she is the way she is, is so key as a first step.
Thirdly (for now!), do be aware of a psychological phenomenon called 'secondary gain' (I learnt about it on this forum!)

This is where, ironic though it seems, an MH person actually gets 'something out of' being mentally ill.

In a way, it's clear your wife has 'secondary gain' doesn't she? Like I say, she is getting a 'free life' courtesy of your working life, because she gets fed and housed 'because' she is ill. She gets a lot of slack cut for her!

After all, if she were just 'bone idle' and 'couldn't be bothered' to get up and do housework and look after the children, she would get no sympathy at all. But becasuse she is ill, she does, and she gets a 'free life'. That's secondary gain.

Secondary gain can be very dangerous, as it can incentivise an MH person to 'stay ill' because of all the 'good things' that come out of being ill. (Sympathy, excuses and a free life.)

(I'm not trying to be 'cruel' towards your wife, and appreciate that to her, life is not 'nice' or 'enjoyable', which is a shame, but nearly all of the 'cure' is within her - with some help from therapy/pills AND firm love - ie, supportive care - from you. Life can be happier for her!)