It’s Mental Health Week. And depression is on my mind.
Not because I suffer – mercifully, although the black dog skitters about our family, he has left me alone. No, not me. My partner. The black dog is wrapped round Ed like a woollen scarf.
Ed gets patches when he is very low. It’s like he is being ravaged from the inside; his thoughts are skewed because he can’t see, hear or think straight. He gets angry, and breaks things. He hurts himself. (Not me, never me.) And he withdraws.
We have been together for four years, off and on. I say ‘off and on’, because he has finished the relationship twice, and then re-instigated it. The first time, my step mother had just died, but he couldn’t have cared less. The second time, I felt it coming so had prepared myself; feigned indifference, and immediately went dating. Both times, Ed was in a depressive dip – walking through soup – and when he came out, he found himself suddenly alone, and astonished at what he had done.
A lot is being written about mental health at the moment, which is good. But there’s not a huge amount of information on how the partners cope. The blind terror I feel when Ed goes off line never ceases; I know he has thought about suicide, and I know it could happen one day. The sad death of the wonderful Sally Brampton last week showed that the threat of suicide is only a whisper away. But practically, what can I do?
We don’t live together. I offer to come and see him, of course. But he doesn’t want to see anyone. I send him supportive texts, emails. Photos, to try to crowbar him out of his black hole. I tread a fine line between trying to maintain contact, and irritating the shit out of him. I try phoning, but most of the time he doesn’t pick up. And I worry. All the time, I worry.
He is on medication and has had some therapy, which helped. He needs more. He doesn’t realise how bad his episodes are, because as he rises out of them, his brain draws a veil over what’s happened. And so he motors on, in blissful ignorance, until the next cycle hits.
We are there at the moment. Yesterday I sent him a text that triggered him to throw his phone against a wall. (I texted that I thought he might enjoy watching Piers Morgan’s Killer Women. It was supposed to be a joke. Are you listening Piers? Look what you’ve done.) Now the phone is broken which actually plays in the black dog’s favour – no communication – although Ed did use his company phone tonight to tell me how boring my recent photo shoot was. When he is in the grip of it, he can be sodding hurtful.
I love him. When he is not depressed, he is a wonderful man to be with. And so I take the rough with the smooth. I allow myself to be softly trampled, because what he is going through is at times worse than Hell itself. He tells me that he feels happiness with me, but is never truly happy, or content.
Imagine never feeling content in life. Never having those moments when you close your eyes and think, ‘Yes. This is just wonderful.’ Imagine always feeling malcontent, dissatisfied at your own achievements, uncreative, sleepless, anxious, unable to order your thoughts. That’s how he feels. He is exhausted.
I wish I could give him some of my contentment. I wish I could help him, somehow. But equally, I need to find a way of protecting myself because every time this happens, it’s like he’s booting me repeatedly in the stomach. And then forgets all about it.
Caring for someone with depression is hard and lonely. The irony is that it can lead to developing your own mental health problems. But in writing this post I came across some really useful information from Mind, the mental health charity. Just reading it helped – if you’re in the same position, I’d recommend taking a look.
To all the partners, parents, sons daughters and supporters out there of people with mental health problems – I salute you. Keep healthy, keep happy. Keep going.
You’re doing a brilliant job.