My depression doesn't look like everyone else's, but that doesn't mean it isn't real
I sat in the doctor’s office recounting my family history of mental illness, as well as my own. I answered the doctor’s questions. She didn’t think I was depressed. She didn’t think I needed the medication I was there for because, to her, I didn’t look like what a person with depression should look like. She saw someone who was able to get out of bed that morning and shower and make it to an appointment. I answered “sometimes” when she asked if I had trouble going to work. She told me the usual: eat healthy, exercise, do things you enjoy. Pray, even. When I started crying in her office — because she’d just told me I didn’t have a mental illness when I knew that something was wrong — she offered the medication anyway. She said, “Well, if you really want me to write the prescription, I’ll write it for you.” I could feel her judging, so I said no and left. I didn’t have the energy to fight her.
Depression isn’t “one size fits all,” and of all people, doctors should know this. It should go without saying that everyone experiences everything, including mental health issues, differently — especially when it comes to one’s relationship with sex. But sometimes we forget how different we all are from each other. My depression ruined my sex life, but not because my libido disappeared, as I’d been led to believe would happen. My libido skyrocketed and my then-boyfriend simply couldn’t keep up with it.
Prior to realizing my depression was to blame for this shift, I had assumed that either I had an abnormally high sex drive or my boyfriend had an abnormally low one. Needless to say, this had an effect on him and his self-confidence, too. He felt inadequate. I tried to be reassuring, but at the same time, I silently (sometimes not so silently) resented him for not being able to keep up with me. Masturbating wasn’t the answer either. This was about feeling a connection to the guy I loved and wanting to feel comforted by him.
The thing is, my depression wasn’t following the “rules.” My sex drive wasn’t behaving like the sex drive that someone like me (a person with major depressive disorder) should have. I wondered what was wrong with me and I couldn’t find the help or resources I needed. No one told me that my experience was valid and that you don’t have to have a low sex drive if you have depression. This all understandably took a toll on my relationship, so much so that before I went to work for the dinner shift one evening, I’d decided I’d had enough. I got in the car, drove to the nearest Barnes & Noble, and scoured their Self-Help & Relationships section. I drove directly to work from the bookstore with When Depression Hurts Your Relationship: How to Regain Intimacy and Reconnect with Your Partner When You’re Depressed in my bag.
I didn’t know what else to do, so I went to Google, too. I needed answers. Almost all of the resources I found repeated what Kolakowski wrote in the book I bought. “Low libido is the most common sexual problem couples experience. Seventy-five percent of people who are depressed report a lack of sex drive.” She continued: “This chapter will introduce some reasons why people experience low libido and give you some ideas for how to address this problem if it applies to you.” Well, it didn’t.
I wondered, What about the other twenty-five percent? Are those the people who don’t experience a change in their libido or are they the people like me?
I know other people like me exist. Maybe you’re one of them. Depression and a high libido can coexist. It’s probably true that my depression didn’t literally or biologically increase my sex drive, but when I would fall into the worst episodes, I wanted to feel safe and comforted and taken care of, and sex would do that for me. It was my escape. And that’s something else we all do differently, too: cope.
It’s been a very long road. I’ve had two therapists in the last four years who have helped me understand myself (including my past self) and my mental illness. I had a supportive partner who was supportive even when I told him that I thought I had been unintentionally manipulating him. That was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do. (Depression can mess with your perception of reality. When I wanted sex, I would try anything — including milking the bad feelings —to get it. It didn’t work.) We are in a much better place today than we were a few a years ago, thanks in part to an amazing sex-positive therapist.
I know that not everyone is in a place that allows them the privilege of therapy. So surround yourself with people who will build you up. Release the toxic people. Use the support system you have whether those are “in real life” friends or friends you’ve made online. I made it through that first horrible visit to the doctor who I knew was wrong. I found help from people who validated my feelings. Most days now, I feel like a real person.
I write this for others who have mental health issues that don’t follow the “rules,” who feel the opposite of how they’re “expected” to feel. I can’t very well offer much advice because, not only is this an ongoing process for me, but we’re all different. If you’re reading this, though, I can tell you that there is nothing wrong with you. Your feelings are valid and you are strong. And don’t let anyone tell you that just because you’re depressed your libido should be, too.