I had gone through episodic times where I felt pulled down by sadness and despair, mental health issues had touched my family, but never had I experienced anything like this before.
I fell in love with someone with depression.
The first six months of a new relationship are thrilling and exciting. Depression was kept at bay, at least from me, and maybe even him.
However, once real life crept in and time moved along, reality set in.
I had no real clue what to expect or any clear understanding how I would handle being the girlfriend of someone whose good days were good and whose bad days could be pretty bad. If I had been more prepared, I still don’t know how I would have prepared for the worry, the fear, and the stress. I was so far in love by the time I would learn what living every day with depression in my relationship was going to be like, that by then there was no going back and I didn’t want to.
What do you do when you care so much for someone by then? How could I turn back, how did I see our life going forward, and what was I to do when the bad days began?
If I were this weighed down by these questions, just imagine how he felt. I did and I tried, constantly. I often grew obsessed by trying so hard to put myself in his shoes, even for a moment, to feel what he might be feeling.
“I know…I know,” I continuously told myself. There was no way I could. My ability for empathy drove me crazy thinking I could truly understand, even attempt to.
There’s no real way to describe the weight of it.
One moment our love felt like enough to carry us through the dark days and the next thing I knew a wall shot up between us, boxing him away from me, somewhere I could not follow and felt unable to travel with him. I could kick and I could scream but what would be the point if the wall would not come down, only dismantled, brick by brick, by hands that were not my own.
It’s times like these that I felt his struggles and him struggle most acutely.
Helplessness would threaten to overtake me and I could feel the undertow threatening to pull him down and away from us, from himself.
I didn’t want to feel the anger, directed at nobody in particular but at myself more than anyone else.
Love, I hoped, could be the answer. I could have told myself before falling, how naive of me and just how unrealistic of a hope this was, that depression and mental illness could not be battled and defeated strictly with the love of a good woman, not even me.
While I lived day to day with these realities, on the other hand, my guilt grew with every sad day he had. Why wasn’t I enough to stem the flow of his pain? What more could I do.
How selfish of me, to think this way. This wasn’t about me, but soon love and pain became so tightly entwined that I didn’t know, some days, how to separate the two elements.
If I wasn’t careful, my guard was let down, and we would wake to one of those blue bad days.
Winter and January, following the busy days of the Christmas season and with the start of a new year, these ran into some particularly dark days, when the cold and the snow made for one long season. I could fight the stir-crazy and the cabin-fever, but easier said than done for him. Soon my fear of this time of year was very much a rational one.
Then the days would lengthen and the sun would shine. Would these environmental factors be enough?
Medication, enough sleep, enough sunshine, fresh air and exercise.
I knew the ins and outs of what could contribute, in both good and bad ways, to the harshness of depression.
Love and stress were much greyer of areas. I couldn’t be that perfect girlfriend I so wanted to be for him, one that would be the difference between being his salvation and a part of the problem.
Silly were these thoughts I started to have. I could not make anyone happy that was not happy with themselves. If there were an imbalance in our relationship or in his brain chemistry, how much control did I have over these things?
If I could only make him laugh more. If I could only make him his favourite meal or offer him the right amount of peace and serenity at the end of a long day that he told me, in the early days of dating, I had been enough to provide.
“All I could do was love him,” I would tell myself.
I would hear the soon all-to-familiar words coming out of his mouth, that he just felt blue that day, just not himself, and my stomach would drop and my heart would sink.
How was it possible to feel both my stomach and my heart all the way down in my feet?
Here we go again, but no and wait…he didn’t choose to feel like that. I just had to wait it out and it would pass.
It would pass, right?
I am using this date, January 28th, Bell Let’s Talk Day to write about these extremely difficult memories of the harder parts of love, in among the tricky minefields of depression.
I believe, though I could not make his pain and his suffering go away, that I learned how to become an even more loving, sensitive, and compassionate person for my own sake. I will take this into any future relationships, whether depression is an issue or not, and I will know what it is like to love someone, no matter what they may be living with, all the more deeply and entirely without self-absorption.
I had to get over the fact that although I hoped my own experiences living my own life with some of the extra hardships I have might have been the thing to hold us together. I had to face the fact that all the love in the world that I hoped I could give might not be the thing to ensure a for-certain future. I knew the cure for depression wasn’t in my own hands.
I can honestly say that watching someone you love go through such ups and downs of depression, when you witness the sometimes daily roller coaster, is one of the hardest experiences life can throw your way.
I wanted to write about it though, as hard as it is to talk about for me, because I feel that it’s important to speak about. I never wanted to admit I felt such guilt and anger with myself, so hard for me to admit, but these feelings are a part of a very important period of my past.
As important as it is for us to talk about mental illness, to “stop the stigma”, I know I would have benefited from hearing experiences like mine before I felt what it felt like when love and depression mix.
How could I s
ee someone I loved suffer with something so out of control and not learn what compassion really meant?
How can we look but not see?
How can we continue to pretend depression doesn’t affect relationships, love, and lives every day?
Love. Understand. Talk.