Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Divorce, Marriage, and Depression

I guess it's no big surprise that depression is on the minds of a lot of people right now, myself included. It's incredibly hard to see someone we all perceived as being so happy succumb to an illness like depression. I find it much the same to when we see someone we perceived as so healthy succumb to something like cancer. We just can't believe this would happen to someone like that.
But the truth of the matter is, illness doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care who you are, how much money you have, how great your life is or isn't. Illness comes in so many forms, and societally we are still learning how to address and talk about mental illness, but at the end of the day, it's the result of a chemical imbalance in our brains. Some people have other chemical imbalances. Like diabetes. And we find ways to balance these chemicals through pharmaceutical methods. The same thing happens with mental illness, but for some reason we still have a hard time believing that it's an illness and not just someone who can't "suck it up" or someone who just "isn't trying." I've seen every bad answer to mental illness from "you need Jesus" or "what do you have to be depressed about?" or even "Just cheer up already" or "Stop worrying and just do it." It's one thing if no one in the situation has realized mental illness is involved, but quite another if the person tells you they suffer from a mental illness and you think that you, with your obvious PhD in psychology (oh wait?) have the expertise to tell someone how to get better.

So what does this have to do with divorce and marriage?

X refused to accept any of my mental illness as an illness. To be honest, I'm not sure I really had yet either, and not all of this is on him, by any means. But if I was unconsolable, if I was down, if I was low, all he ever did was tell me how stupid I was being. He never tried to make me feel better or even see if there was a reason I felt down, he just didn't care to know. This isn't terribly surprising given some of the things from his background and life experiences, but it certainly didn't help me be a better wife to him. If I was being honest with myself (which I was failing to do in a lot of aspects in my relationship with him, this isn't the only time), I would have seen that I needed to seek medical attention. That I needed to address this with a professional. I had no shame about therapy, my ADD treatment as a child had often included seeing a psychologist to make sure my emotional needs were being met as well as my medical. I had even sought counseling after a heinous break up at the end of my senior year of high school when I was spiraling down in ways that I knew even then a break up shouldn't do to me. But for some reason, it just didn't occur to me that this was the problem. I honestly couldn't figure out what the problem was, and maybe that's the most insidious part of mental illness. Especially if a lot of the things in your life don't feel quite right, it's easy to forget or ignore that mental illness might be playing a larger role in that and just figure it's the overarching idea of "stress."
So I suffered, mostly alone. As I've mentioned, I had a difficult time making close friendships while I lived in Cincinnati. I had a handful, but none that I was ever as close to those I had back home. And the ones back home didn't seem to see anything wrong, or if they did, they didn't think it was their place to say. So I continued on, not understanding what was wrong. And again, lots of things were wrong. Mental illness was only one of them. But the thing is, while I have come to believe that my split with X was inevitable, it might have been delayed or less nasty if my mental illness hadn't kept me from being a better partner. X's problems with me could often be tied back to some symptom of my depression. Mood swings, freak outs, refusal to go out without X with me, irrational fears or letting past things influence our current situation. It's hard to say if my constant fear of him leaving me was a result of a previous break up we had or justified since he did leave me, or if my paranoia was a factor in his choice to leave. Either way, it certainly didn't make for a happy marriage. And it certainly made for an incredibly traumatizing divorce, I imagine for both of us. I can't say for sure, since he & I haven't spoken in years and years, but I can imagine the process damaged him, probably in different ways from me, but still damaged him.
I'm no psychologist, but I'm willing to bet he suffers from some mental illness as well. I don't know which one, I wouldn't even deign to pretend to have an idea of what goes on in there. What I will say is that when he left me, when I confronted him upon returning from Seattle in our shitty two bedroom apartment that we both clearly hated, was that he had essentially been pretending to be someone else with me for the entire three years we'd been together. Because the image he projected to me, the person I thought I had married, wasn't the kind of person would be so callous and hurtful like he was being to me in the end. And when I addressed this, he simply shrugged at me. He was quick to jump into not giving a damn what happened to me, as long as he got what he wanted.

So two mentally ill people, unchecked, in a marriage, refusing to help the other. This pretty much seems like a formula for divorce.

But here's the flip side.
Alan has anxiety. Not just run of the mill anxiety, but a true anxiety disorder. When we began dating, I remember he mentioned in passing that it ran in his family, and someday he might need to be on medication for it. At the time, I honestly had very little idea of what an anxiety disorder meant. It turns out I had several friends and even a family member who suffered from it, but for some reason I'd never really thought about it much. Depression was something I understood, even some other forms of mood disorders and things like ADD/ADHD. But I just couldn't wrap my head around the idea of anxiety so high it prevented you from doing things, especially things you might enjoy.
And for a while, I didn't see Alan's anxiety at all. I didn't see its impact on our relationship until we'd been together almost a full two years. And then I remembered what he had told me in the beginning, and it all clicked in my head. I came home from work that night and had a tearful conversation with him about how unhappy I was despite how awesome I thought everything should be. He was wonderful, kind, and supportive, he gave me free reign to be myself and to run my life the way I wanted to, he wanted the same things out of life that I did, he loved doing the same things as me, and he loved the things I introduced him to. And yet there were problems I just couldn't figure out why he couldn't overcome. We'd had endless conversations about these things, and still nothing had changed.
So I asked him to seek help for his anxiety. I asked him to seek counseling, and if necessary, medication. It was a long, bumpy road we started on, but he's come a long way since then.
And not only that, getting help for himself emboldened Alan to urge me to seek help for my depression when it sought to overwhelm me and drag me under during my first year of grad school. He's seen depression in me for most of our relationship, and he's respected me when I told him it was so low grade, I could handle when it reared it's head, it was just so infrequent. But when he saw me in danger, he reached out, held me, and said "Maybe it's time you get help." I nodded slowly, I did some research about what my possible diagnosis was, and suddenly just having that possibility made my load seem so much lighter. I began seeing a therapist this summer, who has been giving me tasks to slowly get my life in order and give me coping skills. And while medication isn't in the conversation yet, we've agreed that it's not off the table.
Sometimes diet and exercise corrections are enough to fix an illness or physical malady. This can be the case for mental illness as well. But sometimes it's not, and there's no shame in that. There's no shame in taking chemo treatment when you need it, there's no shame in going to physical therapy after an athletic injury, and there's no shame in seeking therapy or medication for mental illness.

Alan & I recently hit a new point in deepening our bond, one that I think should have happened a long time ago, but thanks to a combination of both our mental illnesses, I believe we just had to work around the long way. But we made it here all the same. We worked together, and we trusted each other. We opened up and have never felt closer before. Just in time for our first wedding anniversary. And I know this is what marriage is truly about. No one marriage is better than another. Each marriage must be on its own schedule, and the people taking part in that marriage must come to an agreement about what that means. For Alan & me, this means being patient and trying our best to understand that we are on no one's clock but our own. We can make decisions that are best for us, and while we can seek outside advice, we must ultimately come together and come to understand each other. We don't have to be perfect, nor do we have to be the envy of others. We have to be happy with one another and the life we are creating.

As an added, sad note, yes, a lot of this post was inspired by Robin Williams' recent death. He created so many good memories for millions upon millions of people, and will likely continue to do so long after his death. One of my all time favorite memories as a child was watching Aladdin over and over again with my brothers. In the Genie's song, there is some line about Aladdin being a "big nabob." We never really understood what that meant, and I'm not sure I'm totally clear on it now, besides being another word for a big wig/important person. But for some reason, my brothers and I thought this word was hilarious. We even drew out pictures of what a "big nay bob" must look like, and giggled endlessly while my dad just rolled his eyes and laughed at us. We loved that movie for so many reasons, but a large part of it was the Genie. And Robin Williams had so many other roles that have been touching and pivotal at other points of my life. As I'm sure for many others. It's strange. Celebrity deaths don't usually affect me in such a way, but this one really did. Maybe because I loved his work so much and because I feel so much empathy for someone truly suffering from depression.
Thanks for all the laughs, sobs, and other feels, Mr. Williams. I hope wherever you end up in the afterlife is right where you need to be.