In your very well-written book, I found a lot of the description of your struggles with loneliness and depression very easy for me to relate to, as someone who still struggles with both. Also, your book inspired me to find ways to better communicate and listen to God.
I have a boyfriend that I’ve been in a relationship with for close to 3-and-a-half years. He is very good to me and he seeks God and communicates with Him often like I do. The only problem I’ve noticed in my relationship with my boyfriend is that he doesn’t seem understand my struggles with loneliness and depression. He says that I have a pretty good life, which I do, thanks to God. He also has said that he doesn’t believe that depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc. are real. Which I think would probably explain why lacks empathy when it comes to something I know is a real struggle.
I’ve been communicating with my Heavenly Father about my relationship with my boyfriend. This is my question: How can I help my boyfriend better understand my struggles as well as God does and also possibly educate him on mental illness in general?
You’ve read my book, so you know how it went for me.
You know depression came so imperceptibly I barely noticed it at first – at least not as a distinct, real thing.
I thought I was just sad. I thought I was in a funk. I thought it had something to do with the fact that I was living in China for a whole year and I didn’t want to be living in China for a whole year. I thought maybe the smoke from the clothing factories in Pinghu had gotten into my skin and turned my insides somehow greyer. I imagined it to be linked to the food, like the parasites we got from eating grapes with the skin on. I thought it would go away when we moved home.
But of course, we moved home, and it didn’t go away. Not when I found a job or when we found the perfect apartment or when we started attending a church. I didn’t know what was the matter with me, why my life felt so heavy, why the world around me felt so muffled. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t seem to connect, no matter what church we went to or why some gigantic chasm had opened between The Church People and me.
Without a name for what was happening to me, I cast wildly around for a reason. For someone to blame. Church. People. God. My marriage. And while certainly there were external factors at play for me, the magnet pulling me so relentlessly down wasn’t any of those things.
When the doctor said depression that first time, I was incredulous. Certainly it couldn’t be that. That was for people who had really terrible things actually happen to them. I blinked at him and at the paper where he was drawing my misfiring neurons and synapses, the connection points flickering like bad lighting, flickering and dying and making everything dark.
It took me a while to accept that word as a gift. But it was. To have a name for that powerful magnet gave me a way to understand it. It gave me a way to move forward.
It has been nearly a decade since I was diagnosed with clinical depression. It has never entirely gone away. Depression is a part of me, the negative space in the artwork of my life. It’s not something I’ve conquered or that I ever will. It is the low hum buzzing always at the back of my head. Sometimes it’s very loud, and sometimes it’s quieter, but it’s always there. It will probably always be there.
My life has taken the shape it has because I’ve had to learn how to work with the negative space of my depression, to accept it as part of my particular canvas. When I try to ignore it or bury it, that’s when I get in trouble. That’s when I start drinking too much wine. That’s when I start thinking dark thoughts about disappearing, about running away, about how nice it would be to go to sleep and never wake up.
But when I acknowledge it, this depression, when I speak it and treat it and accept it and allow God and others into it…then depression becomes part of the beauty of my becoming instead of the indefinable terror in the dark.
When I say it – depression – it loses its power over me. The word gives it boundaries and lines and shape; it reminds me that it is just one thing, one piece. It is not the whole story.
But I have to say it.
And I can’t always do that by myself. There are times I forget to name it. There are times I don’t want to name it because I don’t want to admit it’s bad again. There are times that find me in denial, struggling under the weight, drowning.
In those times, it’s my husband who almost always saves me. You see, he has learned to name it too. He can recognize the distinct color of depression on my face when I’m still trying to convince myself I need a little more makeup. He can sense it weighing me down when I’m still convinced I need to work out more, need to get out more, need to go somewhere warm for a week.
Without Andrew, I will almost always wait to identify my depression until it’s nearly too late and I’m a heaping mess on the floor, barely able to get to the phone to call for the help I need.
Depression, when it’s at its darkest, makes things blurry for me, hazy. I can’t see like I usually see. In those times, I rely on Andrew to see it. To see me. To lead me toward the light.
I know what you’re looking for from me, dear Meg. You want me to give you a magic phrase you can hand to your boyfriend like a gift. You want it to be the key to unlock this room of depression inside of you so he can finally walk inside it.
You want me to be able to spit into the dirt and rub it on his eyes and make him see. And I so want to be able to give that to you. But even in that Gospel story in which Jesus heals the blind man, it doesn’t start with the mud and the spit. It begins with the blind man wanting to see.
But even in that Gospel story in which Jesus heals the blind man, it doesn’t start with the mud and the spit. It begins with the blind man wanting to see.
It begins with recognitions and desperation and faith.
Look, there are a thousand things the person you spend the rest of your life with will not understand about you. You will always be two separate people, and there will be rooms in your heart he cannot completely access. There will be things you love that he hates, shows you’re addicted to that he thinks are garbage, friendships and hobbies and tastes that he doesn’t understand. There are things in marriage that will belong to you and only you, and there will be things that belong to him and only him…and that’s okay.
But, Meg, Love – clinical depression is not one of those things.
It is not something you can compartmentalize. It is not something you can tackle on your own or with a couple of girlfriends or even with a doctor or two. If you are with someone, that person has to be in this with you. He has to be able to see it and to name it and to help you name it when all you can see is dark.
By refusing to see the negative space of your depression as a real, important part of the story, he is essentially refusing to see you. And if you spend your life in a relationship in which your depression is not okay, not real, not acknowledged, not named, I’m afraid you will wake up one day to find yourself drowned.
I don’t know whether you should choose this relationship. Meg. I don’t know if, after three and a half years, you should keep choosing this relationship. And the question, unfortunately, is not how do I make him see? –- because you can’t pry open someone’s eyes to your truth no matter how hard you try.
The real question is: What will I do if he doesn’t?
Will you choose yourself? Will you choose your own healing and wholeness even if speaking the word aloud – depression – shatters that relationship you’ve spent three and a half years building?
I know everything gets impossibly tangled up and complicated when you’re in love, and you’ve been in love with this boy for a long time. But, Meg, what if the depression is part of you? What if it is the oceans punctuating the continents of your heart? What if he will never name it? What if, convinced the world is flat, he refuses to acknowledge the rounded shape of your soul?
Will you settle for being half seen? Half loved?
Darling, you are worth more than that.
I believe in the hard gift of depression. I think God formed some of us this way, with so much water, so much negative space. I think we offer the world something they can’t get elsewhere. In the hum of the darkness, we hear harmonies of grace that others cannot hear. We learn to sing it back.
But not if we drown.
Say it, Meg. Invite your boyfriend to say it, and maybe he will. Maybe he will.
But if he won’t, I think you should think about letting him go. He is not really holding you to begin with, dear one. Not all of you. Not the real you.
It will feel like drowning, like all breakups do at first. But don’t be fooled. What it will actually be is a baptism.
You will stand back up on the solid ground of the truth while the water swirls around you. Depression. Not a phantom stalking you in the night, but a nameable, treatable thing with boundaries. Not the truest thing about you…not by any stretch.
A gift. A struggle. Like all of the truest things are.
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