Q: “My girlfriend has depression and I have rheumatoid arthritis, vitamin deficiencies, and symptoms of Hashimoto's and hypothyroidism (need further evaluation, high likelihood though, parents and grandparents have it). Whenever I talk about my physical struggles, she either doesn’t say anything and listens while she holds my hand, or says the most perfect things. I feel good talking about it with her and she just so darn good with words I feel better and understood. What she does is enough and I am so so so thankful to have her. Whenever she talks about her depression, I get quiet and uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable because I don’t know what to say her. I do listen and let her talk and make sure I’m not talking over her, but I want to say something back to her. Sometimes I’m really really trying to listen but I get too into my own head about what I’m going to say to her and I feel guilty for not listening. I want her to know that I am there for her. I want to say more things other than “I love you,” “that sucks,” “I’m sorry,” “i don’t know what to say,” “I’m glad you’re getting the help you need” “oh.” What other things can I say and how do I feel less uncomfortable when she talks about depression?”
A: Thanks for such a good question. I have a few suggestions. I would say to have a talk with your girlfriend when she is feeling okay about what she would like you to do to make her feel more supported. You can even say that you want to say and do more when she is struggling with depression, but you don’t always know what to say. Also saying that your quietness does not mean you are uninterested or not wanting to talk about her depression will help. Discussing how perfectly she supports you and voicing that you want to do the same for her might be a good way to open up this conversation. I can not give you other things to say to help her feel better because everyone is different and depression doesn’t work like that. But hopefully just having this conversation will give you a better idea of what would make her feel supported when she needs it. You don’t have to overthink saying the right thing all the time, sometimes just being there and showing that you are physically and emotionally present and not freak out by her struggles will make her feel comfortable just voicing these things to you. I would also recommend doing your own research on what exactly depression is, because there are a lot of misconceptions, and many people will take other people’s depression personally or think they need to somehow “fix it”. But having this conversation, doing your own research, and just simply being there for your partner can make a huge difference. You sound like such a caring person that she will definitely appreciate this conversation.