There is a parasite in your brain and it has taken over.
Right now, it looks like you, behaves like you, and thinks like you. With one big difference: it isn’t you. You are not depression even though your illness would very much like to convince you otherwise.
Mental illness has a way of worming itself into every crevice of your psyche until it takes over, disrupting your every thought and eventually corrupting your sense of self until you’re no longer quite sure of who you are.
Although the above reads like the screenplay of a horror movie, this is often what real life is like to someone living under the yoke of depression.
I lost five years of my life adrift in my head, to the point when the face looking back at me in the mirror became that of a stranger. Not only is major depressive disorder something that keeps trying to kill me, but it also attempts to control my every emotion.
For several years, it told me I had become unlovable, a waste of space, and that I would never write again.
Unfortunately, it may have had a little help.
Imagine you’ve just gotten married and depression fells your partner.
From one day to the next, the person you thought you knew turns into someone you’ve never met and so thoroughly incapacitated it falls to you to keep your household afloat on one salary. And you’re suddenly saddled with an adult dependent when the only experience you have of caring for another creature is your senescent cat.
Would you know what to do? How to react? Who to turn to for help?
I’m afraid my husband did not and I was too far down the rabbit hole to provide any helpful suggestion.
For some reason, mental illness sufferers are expected to school others on ways to deal with us and advocate for ourselves but it is the last thing we’re able to do when in the throes of distress.
And yet, because mental illness is so stigmatized and misunderstood, our inability to assist is seen as us not wanting to help ourselves. It’s about as ridiculous as asking someone with two broken legs to run a sprint and yet it happens all the time.
My husband’s confusion turned into resentment as mine turned into enduring guilt at being unable to muster the psychological wherewithal to get better and support myself.
By then, it had become clear our financial means were so reduced access to therapy would forever remain an unavailable luxury.
Because health care is a commodity in America rather than a basic human right as it is most everywhere else in the Western world, I was left holding my own hand and trying not to die. Even though I’ve always had insurance, we couldn’t afford the co-pays. Or we could have, but that would have meant more bills going into collection and probably even less than one meal a day at that point.
This, in short, in what happened from 2013 to 2018 as depression cancelled me out as a professional, a wife, and a community member. Annihilation was so brutal I lost my writing voice and the ability to think, which put the kibosh on my career as a journalist and editorial translator.
Instead, my newfound talents were staring at the wall for hours on end and crying on my cats without getting clawed, while showering became synonymous with achievement, extra bonus points for hair brushing.
Can love see you through depression?
Although I had experienced depressive bleeps before, they never lasted and I had always pulled myself out of the funk, on my own. I thought I was a dab hand at managing the sad, and I also believed I knew myself well enough to do so.
By the time I got married, I was thoroughly fed up with going through life solo. Even though there had been relationships in the 15 years since my divorce, they were transient, often abusive, seldom fulfilling.
I longed for someone to share my daily reality with.
When there’s no one around to encourage or support you, you may never achieve your full potential, no matter how driven you are. Or if you manage to get going against all odds, you’ll eventually crash and burn when you realize no one cares.
To most of us, loneliness is reductive and even stunting.
There’s nothing more life-affirming than to love and be loved, and marriage was my holy grail. I took it to mean love on tap and the end of loneliness.
I didn’t expect depression to build a fortress around me and alienate my husband.
When you have no way to contain it, depression contaminates everything.
In the absence of help, the best I could do for years was resist suicidal ideation and try to keep myself alive, albeit reluctantly.
This wasn’t good enough to sustain my marriage, which turned into two lonelinesses in parallel as both my husband and I sought refuge in our respective heads. We became proficient in the art of pretending the other wasn’t there, sometimes going for days without speaking even though we lived under the same roof.
One-sided at first, resentment was silent and eventually became mutual.
I felt let down and trapped, and so did my husband who saw me as lazy, not sick. Soon, the climate turned to ice. I was so numb I couldn’t feel much of anything but for the few occasions when I would collapse into a heap of tears, generally because I thought I’d die without ever seeing my family again.
I do not recall being comforted. Instead, I remember a vague look of embarrassment on my husband’s face as he stared at me. His absence of empathy nixed mine, and I became convinced I had become unlovable.
Because I did not feel loved.
I was half a world away from the place and the people I came from, but none of that seemed to register, hold any importance, or elicit any interest. The various cultural and linguistic components of my identity felt worthless, as did I.
Chronic mental illness is a shared burden.
In the context of a marriage, it doesn’t just affect you but your partner as well. Although they may not be emotionally supportive, chances are they’re doing other things to keep you safe.
My husband made sure we were never homeless although we came close and became very familiar with hardship. He also tried to keep utilities going and food in the pantry, with varying success. Power got cut off a few times, we both went hungry but the cats never did. Whether all this happened out of duty or out of love, I do not know.
Depressive propaganda withholds love and turns it into a transaction.
For reasons I still cannot parse and for a long time now, my marriage has been mirroring the many ways in which depression messes with my thought process, with tragic consequences.
A relationship may reinforce depression’s message that you are unlovable but it doesn’t make it any truer. Human value is intrinsic to who we are, and to what and whom we love.
Find what makes your heart beat faster, hang on to it, and let it carry you.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.