There's A Hole In Your Bucket, Dear Lover, Dear Lover

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 9.648% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

If you’re dating a person with depressive issues, you have to realize they cannot retain love.  They’re like a leaky bucket; you fill them full of love and affection and bold shows of adoration, and a few days later it’s all trickled away.
Most normal people can hold onto love for a while – a nice gesture will make someone content for a while.  Whereas a depressive will be working merrily and suddenly some dark part of their brain will go, You know she’s lying.  She doesn’t really love you.  It comes out of nowhere, this bucket-puncture, and all the affection that’s been given just vanishes – unless you’re a depressive, you can’t know what it’s like to be mugged by your own brain like this, where you’re filing papers and suddenly you’re consumed by this baseless terror that the person you love most is on the verge of leaving you.
Your job, as their partner, is not to take their need for more love personally.
Yes, I know, it’s crazy, two days ago you bought them a pony tattooed with “HERE’S HOW MUCH I HEART YOU” on its flank and then took them on an expensive ride around candy mountain.  They should know by now.  But the very nature of their disease means that this, too, slips away from them.  They’ll still be cuddled up with you, wondering.
If you get mad at them, it’s counter-productive.  Then their stupid-brain goes, Oh my God, he’s angry, I’m screwing this up further, they must not really love me, and wham they’re in a frenzy.  It’s difficult, I know, but you need to just nod and say, “Yes, I love you,” not the very reasonable riposte of “OH FOR GOD’S SAKE LOOK AT ALL THE PONY POOP IN OUR BACK YARD, DOES THAT REMIND YOU OF ANYTHING!?!”
You need to be calm, remember they’re pretty fucked up, and just say, “Yes.  I love you.”  Refill the bucket.  And remember it’s gonna drain again, and that it’s nothing you’re doing wrong.
As the depressive, it is your job not to make filling the bucket their job.  You must remember that your leaky bucket is not their issue.  The temptation is strong to go, “Well, my bucket’s empty, so they need to fill it now!”, but you can drain your partners really quickly that way, and eventually they do stop loving you because you’ve made them into little Mickey-brooms constantly toting endless buckets…. Or worse, you find someone who will be willing to constantly fill your bucket at a price, which leads to abuse and dysfunction like you wouldn’t believe.
You got a bad bucket, which means that you’re gonna have to learn to function with it empty sometimes.  Doesn’t mean you’re dying of thirst, man, it just means you can’t drink now.

12 Comments

  1. Anon
    Dec 28, 2011

    This explains my partner very well. Thanks. Not that she is depressive, precisely, but yeah – a very leaky bucket. Now I understand why it doesn’t seem to help when I bitch about the mounds of pony poop in the back yard.

    • TheFerrett
      Dec 30, 2011

      Yeah, we know about the poop. Then we start wondering how awful we are that we can just wave away the pony, and we feel worse. It’s an awful thing, really.

  2. Dan
    Dec 28, 2011

    I sooo understand this as the lover to a leaky bucket. But this article doesn’t say anything on how to put some duct tape on that hole. Or completely repair it. The only advise is to keep saying, “I love you, dear”. Really?
    He’s tried everything from terrible medication which makes him a monster at night, to herbal teas, and even breathing practices. Some work better than others. I’ve been with him for 14 years, and the best advise I can give to him, besides the reassurance, is to have him hold one of our pets for a few minutes. It usually calms him down.

    • TheFerrett
      Dec 30, 2011

      Frankly, yes. It’s his job to find out what makes him happy. It’s your job to support and guide him through that without getting too exasperated.

  3. Kimy
    Dec 29, 2011

    A very well written and accurate portrayal of what it’s like to have a depressive disorder. May I post this to my blog with a link back?

  4. Anon
    Jan 17, 2013

    What you describe seems to be a seriously insecure and mistrusting relationship. I have personally gone through periods of depression at times, and been in long term relationships with partners who also struggled with depression. I’ve never had occasion to find the leaky bucket expression appropriate in a healthy relationship. The only times I’ve ever experienced that sensation of someone regularly doubting my affection was when I was actually not committed to the relationship. That feeling was not caused by depression, it was caused by actions I took that made my partner legitimately feel threatened. I think that if your partner’s bucket is leaky, you should first ask what your filling it with.

  5. luvmy4grands
    Jan 17, 2013

    Very well written. Having had many holes in my bucket over the years, I understand exactly what you mean. I am very blessed to have a husband of nearly 44 years who can tune it and over time, I HAVE managed to retain just enough of the love I know he has for me, when the hole appears! Thanks for writing and sharing this!

  6. Prucilla
    Mar 29, 2013

    I find this describes me, however i now have a partner who is sensitive to it and does make it all better. I often worry that he won’t be like this forever but he does things that remind me that he is on my side and he looks after me when i really need it. 😀

  7. davis
    Apr 26, 2013

    Thank you for bringing some insight into a partner suffering from depression.

  8. Virginia Jolly
    Sep 13, 2013

    There is a leaky bucket, yes. But it has nothing to do with love. It has to do with a broken brain. It has to do with chemical imbalance. It is a PHYSICAL problem.
    When a person has a broken leg, the result is they walk funny. When a person has a broken brain, they act funny. Behavior and extremes of emotion and non-emotion are big symptoms of the disease. They are not the disease itself.
    To support a person who is clinically depressed or bipolar is very difficult indeed. I really salute all those who are able to give support–and especially an ear to hear and a closed mouth to listen–and a dry shoulder to cry on. These are very important gifts you can give anyone who is depressed or bipolar.
    There doesn’t have to be a reason for the actions or thoughts of a depressive or bipolar. It comes out of the blue and takes the form of whatever the person is currently stressed with. It has nothing to do with love. It doesn’t have anything to do with affection. Indeed, while a mental health consumer might not be able to be passionate, she might be able to cuddle, or even appreciate a small thing. All the rest might be overwhelming at the time.
    Stress is a mental health consumer’s enemy. Being able to air one’s miseries, not have to reach a “normal” goal which can easily seem impossible to them, and other reducers of stress–including realizing this is coming from the illness–can really help them–US–live day to day. Which is about all we can do.
    Mental health illnesses are not like the flu. They can’t be cured. they can only be treated and lived with. Even pharmaceuticals are only part of the treatment. Identification of triggers, re-working the environment to reduce or eliminate stress, exercise, eating right for oneself, seeing the doctor regularly, attending support groups, assessing one’s own health, and participating in spiritual beliefs and practices are all part of the journey of a person with clinical depression and bipolar. And schizophrenia. And other mental health issues.
    It is a day to day struggle. When I get one thing done in a day, I feel I have accomplished something. If not, I have to let it go and try tomorrow.
    Mental health consumers who live with clinical depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, brain tumors, and other mental disorders must live day to day. Yes, we have dreams. Yes, we have causes, and yes, we have daily lives to live and interact with others. But we feel our stress extremely; our emotions extremely and sometimes uncontrollably; our habits and thinking can get turned around and even paranoic.
    Marriages with mental health consumers can be very difficult indeed. It helps to have support of as many people as possible, and I highly recommend support groups like NAMI–National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org) and DBSA–Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (www.DBSAlliance.org)
    Be sure to educate yourself about these mental illnesses. Mental health consumers are just like you, but with more intensity that can be the greatest hindrance to themselves–not, for the most part, other people.

  9. Tom
    Jun 27, 2014

    Thank you thank you so much for this. Not just for the article, but also in comments where you advised someone that it’s the job of the partner with the depressive disorder to figure out how to self-soothe if things are going wrong.
    It’s something I’ve been practicing (and having a lot of time to practice, since a job search tends to drain my self-worth like no one’s business), so that when I get into a relationship, I’m not constantly wearing down my partner by asking for constant reassurance. I want to be able to take care of my hurt by myself.

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