This piece was written a few years ago, in the depth of trying to understand what was happening with my partner.
Depression is very real.
I never thought I’d be hit head on with this monster of a condition, or whatever it is.
I don’t understand it. And the scary part is that to be honest, I don’t think I ever will. And with lack of understanding I’m afraid comes an inability to help.
I don’t know if not understanding depression is a blessing or a curse…
What I do know is that it terrifies me to death.
It comes out of nowhere, when you least expect it and at the same time, when it’s most dreadful.
It can stop you from making plans, in fear that they won’t be realized. It implants thoughts in your mind, at the slightest sign, that it’s just around the corner. This stops you in your tracks, wondering what’s next, stepping on eggshells at the thought of it and making up stories about what triggered it…
You try to analyze it, just to attempt to have the upper hand and maybe, just maybe, divert its course so that it doesn’t impact your loved one, or yourself.
For me, depression attacks one of the people I love most – my boyfriend.
When the time comes, it transforms him from the most loving man I know, to a stranger who is indifferent and full of blame, mostly towards himself.
He speaks calmly and doesn’t show strong emotion. In the times he chooses to communicate with me, he’s neither sad nor angry. Not bored, not preoccupied either.
A blank slate of nothingness, having wiped himself clean of all the characteristics that make him who he is.
It’s like a drug.
Changing the behaviour, the words uttered, even the facial expression, making him unrecognizable… And most toxically, it creates the thoughts that go on inside his head.
Whether those thoughts had never crossed his mind outside this state, or they had only subtly existed before, they are spun for the worse and amplified to no limit.
With each episode, I’ve slowly started to notice some of the signals, trying to find some form of predictability, so that I’m prepared when it hits.
I’ve learned this is crucial.
When I’m not prepared, it is way too easy to take behaviour driven by depression to heart. It’s way too easy to become upset. To think that he “doesn’t care about me” or “I must have done something terrible wrong”, or “He doesn’t love me anymore”.
No matter how illogical those thoughts might be, in a particular state of mind, they become very believable. A tiny spark occurs, the thought gets born, and as it’s fed, it grows into a tiny baby of self-doubt and self-destructive behaviour.
If not noticed and managed, it can tear your relationship to pieces.
It’s also very sneaky.
In my experience, the signs of depression are shown in tiny little pieces. Feeding you small bits of information that are almost normal – they make you believe that his behaviour is driven from something that you did. Or didn’t do. Or you didn’t do right.
Once you’re already a main character of the story and the plot is unfolding steadily, it’s incredibly difficult to call the whole ordeal to a halt, put your feelings aside, step outside of the scene and notice that something isn’t right.
The awareness itself is likely the hardest part. You need your brain to look past the facts. You need your heart to put your emotions away. You need to find a way to go back in time to a state where you could be reasonable and your judgement isn’t clouded.
Then, you need to replay what happened with a fresh outlook, putting the blame aside for all parties involved, and find a way to be supportive.
Looking back at the first time it happened…
I am so thankful that I somehow put my sadness and anger away and was just there for him. He was acting like an alien had taken over his words and actions. He had lost the self-confidence I was used to him having. He lost the fun, the playfulness.
Instead, he indulged in self-pity, disrespect for himself and jumped to conclusions. We were on vacation and he stated that he had decided to catch a flight back to Toronto the next day. That he feels like an intruder in my life and doesn’t think we’re compatible.
I was shocked. Didn’t know where this was coming from. Started wondering what may have been the trigger and with his help, could pin point an action of mine that his ex-girlfriend used to do that made him feel alone and unimportant. I wanted to go to a party and he was making himself wrong for not having a desire like mine to party. He hated that he was different than ‘most people’ who enjoy such social situations.
Thank goodness I stayed with him that night, and showed him that I was there for him and I wasn’t about to choose a party over our relationship, no matter how incompatible it felt in that moment.
I brushed away the tears, drop-kicked as many of my toxic thoughts as I could, and armed myself with positive energy instead. As he laid face down in bed, I sat on top of him, talked to him, tried to be silly and make him laugh…
It didn’t help right away, and that’s where depression tests a whole other world of efforts.
What I’m referring to is patience. The love that you need to show in the fight with depression must be consistent, strong and unbreakable. Patience is the key. And trust that your positive energy will have an impact. Trust and patience, because without these, it’s so damn easy to give up and say “there’s nothing else I could have done”.
There’s always more to be done – sometimes the same things, just for a longer time. But all of this raises the question…
When is enough?
Being the support to someone with depression is the most exhausting thing I’ve ever experienced. Mentally for sure and somehow even physically.
I learned something about what are called donors and acceptors. Donors are people who can create energy by themselves and share it with others, while acceptors are those who cannot create their own energy. They must get it from others.
As a donor, I have the duty to create and share. And naturally, donors sometimes over-share. We give too much away. Not enough remains to satisfy us. Not even the minimal amount that will let us feel ready to take on the easiest of days.
The reason I ask ‘When is enough’ is because it’s tiring. It’s so God-damn tiring that it brings tears to my eyes even thinking about it.
Depression can never just be in its own little bubble – a bubble that magically comes back together in one whole after the drops are collected the first time. When it bursts, it bursts. And its essence becomes part of you. You breathe it, you live it, and unfortunately, you fear it. The knowledge that a new bubble is forming and will eventually burst is scary and is destructive to the good in the relationship.
And so I ask myself. Why? Why endure the rollercoaster over and over again? Like you got on the last ride of the day and then the theme park people forgot to turn it off, having you ride involuntarily all night… A nightmare. Then again at the end of the next day. And over and over.
Until you become immune?
I do believe that immunity can be slowly built. That we can find strategies to overcome it.
To warn each other when it’s near and just wait for it to pass, trying to realize it’s a nightmare as you’re dreaming and see it through a different lens. One that helps you cope.
He’s once told me…
That he doesn’t want me to try to cheer him up.
Another time that I have his permission to drag him to the gym if he’s in an episode. Physical movement definitely helps, but convincing him to do it is more brutal than 10 times that workout in a row.
Other times he seemed to have liked when I managed to cheer him up with my silliness, only later revealing that he was lying and he didn’t feel a thing. That I should have never bothered.
So what do I believe?
When he tells me that he doesn’t know what love is… that’s when shit gets real.
And sometimes it’s really tough to ignore his hurtful words. Wanting to take a flight home, sure that’s one thing. And it was near the beginning of our relationship too. But telling me he doesn’t know if he loves me anymore, that just hurts in a whole new way.
You would hope that he would have the decency to pull up just one of the many amazing memories we’ve shared, to give him a sense of joy, peace and also mercy – before he chooses to take a hot blade and stick it dead into my heart. You would hope. Until you learn from repetition that it just doesn’t work this way.
Decency doesn’t exist in the face of depression. Reasonableness is nowhere to be felt in those situations.
Whatever happens happens.
It’s up to you to interpret it as the depression talking, and not the person you love.
And what really sucks is that for a day or two, or a few more, after the storm has passed, there is a mess to clean up. It’s not a physical one. It’s the turmoil in your own mind, in your heart. As though a tornado hit, your house was torn down and now it needs rebuilding.
How much time do you spend before you move in to your new residence? Do you choose to use the best material, build it strong from the base, build it to last? Or do you take the shorter route and create it as quickly as possible, to try to jump back into how things used to be. Do it quickly, as though it never happened… Choosing speed, you choose instability. The house is surely to get torn down next time too, if not even more quickly in its flimsy state.
That’s how I feel. I rebuild, trust again, tear down the walls and let myself be vulnerable.
Do I take all the walls down fully though? Should I be just as vulnerable the second time around? I don’t know.
And aside from the less than perfect outcome, I’m afraid the process takes a toll on the relationship as well. Those one, two, three days after the storm passes, those days don’t always feel right, even with the positive energy flowing strong. Holding his hand, hugging him, talking to him sweetly, being intimate – all those things require a strong base, a burning desire, excitement, spontaneity…
It’s no job to fake. You can’t pretend with it, so you wait until it feels right. And maybe you wait too long, sending you further down the slippery slope.
But I know it must be worth it. He’s too good of a man to be given up on. And I’m too strong to be the one to give up. We need each other and we love each other.
In the most recent turmoil, he stated that he doesn’t feel the same way about me as I do about him. He doesn’t know what love is.
I wonder if this will pass with the storm and he will take his words back. I wonder if we’ll ever rebuild our home to how it used to be.
I guess we’ll find out.
Now it’s time to replenish my energy with sleep.
– Katrin, with Love
P.S. If you liked this exploration, look out for another three vulnerable shares from me on this topic. The next blog post in this series is called “Depression Diary – The Waves Keep Coming.”