How living with someone with depression taught me the meaning of True Love

Here’s another article I wrote for A Lust for Life.

Christmas 2015, things got really tough. I came home from abroad to spend a couple of weeks with my family and friends over the holidays. My boyfriend at the time was going through a tough time, and another year of being unable to go home to his family in the Middle East brought everything to a head.

I came home in early December and the closer Christmas was coming around, the harder it was to get an answer from him of when he would be arriving. I knew things were bad, I knew he was trying to avoid everyone and also deep down I knew he wouldn’t turn up. He had avoided every other social gathering the year had offered (weddings, parties, meet ups) with various excuses. I knew he had lost his spark for life and I could see his pain and anguish, but once again I had to make up excuses for him and pretend that everything was okay, when in actual fact I didn’t know if everything was okay.

It was a slow, gradual process. I couldn’t pinpoint a moment or know for sure the extent of the inner turmoil he was going through. Yes I could tell he was different. Yes I could see his sadness, yes I could see his lack of motivation and interest in life and yes I could see his pain, but at the same time it was all very subtle. He still carried on as ‘normal’ and hid the true extent of his inner pain and turmoil from me and everyone else around him. We spoke about his difficulties but he always maintained that he knew the line between feeling bad and being depressed and constantly assured me he hadn’t tipped over.

That Christmas was different though. The excuses kept coming. I felt like an outsider looking in. I couldn’t reach him – though I constantly reached out to him with love. I never gave out or shouted at him, I never once told him to ‘cop on’, ‘grow up’, or ‘pull himself together’. I never once threatened to break up with him or leave him and I never once ridiculed his feelings. I knew he was struggling and I felt such empathy for him as a result of that. To see someone you love go through such pain is very difficult. I was told by some friends I was too soft, too kind, too understanding, too nice, as I was constantly making excuses for his behaviours. I know they were only concerned about me, but until you’re in that position what you think you might do, or how you think you might act is very different to the real life scenario.

A lot of people around me thought if it was their boyfriend, husband, wife or loved one, they would be way tougher and make them ‘snap’ out of it. But you cannot make someone with depression snap out of it. They are suffering and until they acknowledge it, reach out and ask for help, there’s not much you can do other than love them through it. That said if they are treating you badly then obviously that’s not acceptable and needs to be addressed. Until you’re in that situation, it is extremely difficult to understand and act in such a way, because the reality is it feels as though you’re loved one is not really there. Physically they look the same, but emotionally they are vacant and distant, they are not the same person and I for one found it extremely difficult to be hard on him. It pained me so much to see him act so out of character.

After Christmas he decided to get some help. He went to see a psychotherapist weekly, for two months. It was a courageous first step and he worked really hard and enjoyed the weekly sessions and self-work he was doing. He was coming back to himself again; you could hear it in his tone of voice. He was excited about life again; the cloud was lifting. His happiness was infectious and I welled up on many occasions when I heard him talking because the person I fell in love with was back. Life was looking up and we were making lots of plans again. I felt our relationship was stronger than ever; my love was stronger than ever.

Fast-forward another month and everything fell apart. There were glimpses of him slipping back into his old mind frame then on 21st March 2016 I got an email, he was breaking up with me. I was in complete shock and devastated. Even with all we had been through, I didn’t see it coming. The shock of him disappearing overnight with no conversation, no explanation and no last goodbye was a lot to take in. He had isolated himself from everyone, disconnected his phone, his family were thousands of miles away and I had no idea where he was.

For days tears constantly streamed down my face; fear and questions raced through my mind (Where was he? Was he alive? What state was he in? What went wrong? Were my friends right? Was I a fool? How could he do this? Did he ever love me?). In hard times, it’s easy to get self-absorbed, self-deprecating and drown in self-pity. It’s easy to make it all about you. Not only was I dealing with the shock, I couldn’t see how I was going to pick myself up. Immense fear took over me. We had moved abroad. I had quit my job, sold my car and cancelled all my bills. I came home for Christmas with a suitcase and now I felt stuck in my hometown, in my parent’s house with no idea how I was going to rebuild my life.

One day, in the midst of another crying fit, something happened, an inner calm took over my body and I had this comforting sense that everything would be okay. It was like a voice whispering to me, it was like a conversation with my inner self and I had a choice to make. I could continue to wallow, question, cry and drive myself insane, or I could pick myself up, accept what was happening and renew my faith in the ‘bigger picture’. I decided on the latter. Difficult and all as it was, I decided acceptance was the only way forward. No matter what way I looked at it, no matter what way I felt, the reality was this was happening, this was my present moment and no amount of crying could get me away from that! And from that moment, the reality became a little bit easier. I was still absolutely heartbroken and devastated but at the same time I could reflect and feel proud of the person I was throughout our relationship.

Fast forward another year and I feel like a different person. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about him but I send nothing but love, positivity and healing vibes his way. I don’t carry any resentment and I don’t carry any bitterness. I look back with fondness of the time we spent together and I’m grateful for the experience.

We all hit rough patches in our lives, they are not to be avoided or ashamed of, they are to be embraced and journeyed through. From this experience I have learnt so much about true love, compassion, inner strength and faith. I don’t believe I will ever hear from him again but I’ve accepted that. I believe there is a divine timing to everything and this experience had to happen for both of us. I have grown as a person from this, and I am grateful that I am okay and deep down I know he is okay too. Life can be funny, but it is also here to teach us.

Brene Brown gave an amazing TED talk entitled, ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, in which she talks about how you can’t switch off just one emotion, when you switch one off, you switch them all off and you become numb. We need to learn to talk more about our emotions, so we don’t have to switch any of them off and make ourselves numb to life.

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