Rollo Reese May was an American existential psychologist and the author of many books including the influential “Love and Will.” In my mind, he sums up depression perfectly: “Depression is the inability to construct a future.”
I personally do not suffer from depression but women in my life at one point or another advised me that they were depressed. When I was a very young man, my mother advised me that she suffered from depression. I had no clue how that illness would follow me throughout my personal life.
In my mom’s case, depression was still being researched and treated with “new” medications, the side effects of these “meds” were significant and dangerous, so much so that my mother vowed to never take another anti-depressant again in her life. She never did, but all of her life she suffered from bouts of sadness, crying, and a deep depression that I, as a young man, could never rescue her from.
I had to watch my mom suffer and sometimes inflict pain upon me because that “part of her” never had a chance to heal. I was the target at times because I was the closest person, the closest thing to her. It didn’t help that her depression was triggered by the loss of her marriage and having to raise 2 kids alone, in an NYC project building with her only help coming from her friends in the church. Oh, and I am the spitting image of my father, so being his “mini-me” didn’t bode well for me.
Many women I know were depressed in their lives because parts of them were never healed or treated after the sexual violence perpetrated against them. One woman was sexually abused from the time she was eight years old through to her 20s by the boyfriend of her older sister. All the while, eight siblings and others of various ages were continually in and out of the house. No one knew until she told me, and we confronted the family, but she never sought treatment.
Another woman was kidnapped and raped in a foreign country, held for days against her will. I learned of it one evening when I heard crying in the bathroom and this tall, beautiful Barbie-shaped woman was literally hiding under the sink crying uncontrollably, having relived the incident in my presence because a television show that we watched earlier in the evening had a famous artist performing who looked exactly like her attacker. When she confronted her mother with the issue, her mother’s response was, “I told you not to go there” (meaning to the country where the crime was perpetrated against her). She also never received treatment. Unfortunately for me, at some time in every relationship, I have to ask if the woman who I intend to spend time with was ever subject to violence because it has affected my past personal relationships. There are many women who have never sought professional help to recovery from sexual assault.
I was in a twenty-year relationship with an incredibly beautiful, talented, and brilliant woman who suffered from depression. She had extra pages in her passport and had passed through every continent multiple times as an international buyer for a major fashion concern. She smoked like Bette Davis, cursed like a sailor, and knew football better than most men. To top it off, she was one of the best chefs I ever knew and worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants in NYC as a pastry chef that could also double as a sous chef. Her cooking was her life. I supported her through cooking school, we married and had, what I thought, was a pretty good life. She was the definition of a “broad” and because I grew up watching Bette Davis movies like “Now Voyager” I thought that was sexy. And at times, she was.
She medicated with alcohol and sometimes alcohol with the anti-depressants and anxiety medications that she needed to take in order to function. Despite new medications, years of multiple therapists, un-relentless love on my part, detox, I had to leave her. We separated because she was violent with me; being with her was killing me. After too many evenings of physical attacks, thrown glasses full of wine or vodka and the final straw, which was a full frontal punch right in my face, I knew I had to leave. Not too many kids from the Bronx allow themselves to be “cold cocked” as we called it. Before I would retaliate, I had to leave, period.
You would have hoped that the act of “leaving” would have forced her to see the reality of how her behavior was affecting her life, “our lives” together, but it just got worse. The depression spiraled until the drinking caused her to dive into renal failure. She died far too young, with incredible talents and she succumbed to the depression that haunted her all of her life which dimmed her light, taking her spirit back to “the source”. I personally, never, ever expected and never wanted her story to end that way.
Men want to fix things. If it’s broke, we grab the toolkit. We want to assist but we aren’t equipped to handle the person with depression alone. It hurts even worse when they are someone you love. You get confused, you get caught in their issues, you begin to internalize the pain that you feel and the things that they say to you (some very hurtful) when in reality, it’s themselves they are talking about and they are crying, yelling, dying and appealing for some relief from the noises and the voices in their heads. If you happen to be an empath, this could literally put you in a pain spiral that could cause you to want an escape from the pain, even self-medicate.
I have learned lessons in healing, lessons that I want to impart to my brothers that you MUST pay attention to. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV…but I have lived this, more times that I would want to wish on any man, especially men in love when the subject is someone who you want to spend the rest of your life with.
I learned from error and from success. Here is my advice:
1. Seek professional help.
If you have been in the relationship a long time, seek professional help yourself. Yes, go talk to someone about “you” and what you are feeling whether you feel the “need” to do so or not. You may find that you have “issues” that are being brought to life because of the illness facing your loved one. In addition, their condition (depending on severity) will affect you. You need to talk about it with a professional (and as much as I love my pastors and preachers in the church) unless they are a licensed therapist or psychologists, it does not count.
2. Empower, don’t enable.
Ensure you are not an “enabler”. If you do number 1 and discuss the relationship with a good therapist, you will learn if some of your actions or habits are enabling the negative behavior of the person who is depressed.
3. Be patient.
Be patient, but take positive progressive action towards a resolution. You can’t “wait it out indefinitely” if the person decides not to heal, in my case the person took years to even admit there was a problem. You cannot tell an alcoholic that they are an alcoholic and depressed people have to admit that they are depressed. They have to know it, and they have to want the help.
4. Attend counseling with her.
At some point throughout the healing, you will need to attend a session or more with your loved one. GO – do not put it off, do not be stupid and macho and say, “there is nothing wrong with me” dollars to donuts your dumb ass (sorry, I need to go here) has never been to therapy either and you may learn of some underlying behaviors or traits that you have that may be undermining the healing of your depressed loved one. Remember it’s HER session, not yours.
5. Be honest.
Speak the truth in the session with the professional. You want to be helpful, not angry, not blaming the depressed. The therapist doesn’t know your mate like you know your mate. So you have to bring truth to the scenario and know that in their session you are there for your loved ones help, not your own. Fix yourself in your private sessions.
6. Stay safe.
If it becomes dangerous to stay, or you fear for your own safety, or the person does not seek help (that was my case) you have to leave. It hurts like hell, but I stayed 20 years, I know I have the scars from it. I wanted to save her, not for a relationship (by that time the relational damage was done) but I wanted to see her live, be the person she could be and to have her shine her light in the world. She didn’t make it, I could not save her.
7. Act out of love for her and for yourself.
Do all of the above in love. Be the most loving, caring, calm, patient, righteous God-fearing man you can be. If you don’t go to church and she does? Get off the couch and go with her. Hold her hand when you go out with her, be proud of her when she makes an effort to break out of her depression, support, support, support her. But do not do it to the detriment of your own life, of your own sanity. That is the one cost that is too high to pay because you can’t help someone else if you too are ill.
Depression has affected so many people that I love. It’s revived some and forced them to save themselves, it has caused some to be the walking dead, it has caused some to hasten their own actual death. Depression is insidious, it robs people of living their lives to its fullest. If someone you love tells you they are depressed. Listen to them, don’t judge them, and don’t try and fix it. Be there for them and love them up.
If they don’t want you to be there, then let them find their way without you, while always reassuring them that you are reachable. When they are lucky enough to breach the depression, you and your relationship with them may not be what matters to them anymore (that happens) you may have to be ready and accepting of that, not because you did anything, but because you
remind them of that depression state. Depression is destructive, battle it, be happy, be blessed, follow your faith through the darkness if you have to hold the hands of a loved one through this. It’s what’s best for you and your loved ones.
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