Love is patient, and love is kind. Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. Love, according to every book, every movie, every song, and just about every person I have ever met, is the most powerful force in the world, capable of overcoming anything. Anything, that is, except maybe depression.
When you have depression, everything — even being in love — is different.
I have suffered from depression since I was a teenager, and for a long time, I avoided acknowledging its existence. I was comfortable letting it sit inside of me like a dirty little secret I thought only I was in on. My family, on both of my parents’ sides, has a long and complicated history with mental illness — so the possibility of it manifesting in me is something I have been hyper aware of since childhood. I heard the stories about family members who were born and died before me, and I saw the effects of mental illness on those closest to me. But I always told myself, No, that’s not for you.
That’s the funny thing about depression, though.
It doesn’t care what narrative you tell yourself or what story you try and live out for others. When it rears its ugly head and sets its sights on you, everything in your life, including your love life, changes.
While it’s true that depression affects everyone differently, I can report suffering from the most common symptoms of the disorder. I’ve spent the last decade on a pendulum, swinging between episodes of overwhelming loneliness and detachment, debilitating exhaustion and hopelessness, and violent anger and frustration. No matter where I was, what I was doing, or who I was with, those feelings were there, too. They still are.
Every awkward day of high school, my depression hitched a ride in my backpack and sat in on every class I took. When I moved into my dorm room at college, I unpacked my clothes, my books, and my pictures only to find out my depression had come along, too. After graduation, when I moved to New York City to start my career and a very new and exciting chapter of my life, I left a lot of things behind — but not my depression, which was by my side at every job interview, department meeting, and performance review.
Even now, after moving back to Massachusetts to follow another dream and to live with my loving partner, I find we aren’t building our future alone. Every brick in the relationship foundation we’re laying together comes with a crack: my depression.
It seems like, everything I touch, it touches, too. It’s not an innocent bystander just watching things unfold, either. It’s an active participant in my life.
See, my depression isn’t just a lens in which I see the world through, its a prism that distorts all of my experiences, even — and especially — love.
When it comes to falling in love, my depression turns an exhilarating experience into an exercise in second guessing myself. It’s excruciating. It transforms butterflies in my stomach into tiny fire-breathing dragons, determined to rip apart the pit of my belly. It takes the warm-and-fuzzies and converts them into a toxic mix of guilt, anger, and fear — ready to explode at any moment.
As a result of my depression, I constantly wonder if I am good enough for my partner. I worry that, at any moment, he could realize I am not and leave. When we argue, even if it’s a normal relationship argument, I get sad and hopeless and angry and anxious that this fight will be our end. When he’s sweet and sincere, I question his motivations and get paranoid that something else is going on.