Need you to be extra touchy-feely.

Earlier on in our relationship, I pulled Kevin aside when we had a moment alone together in the kitchen. Friends were over.

“I need you to be extra touchy-feely, babe. Can you rub me on the back and check in to see how I’m doing? You do already do those things but I’m feeling anxious and I need them a bit more than usual tonight.”

“Sure, boo,” he said. My anxiety was at about a level 8…ish. (How does one even measure feelings on a Likert scale?)

These are the things that are good to relay to your partner regardless of your situation, but when you live with depression, this is particularly important. There needs to be explicit communication about how you’re feeling and what you need from your partner.

Carrying anxiety (or depression) by yourself becomes a habit when you grow up in an environment that enables you to carry the baggage solo. You forget that there’s an option or you’re not yet aware that there’s an option to practice vulnerability and trust. There’s an option to reach out. A healthy, sound relationship requires it of you to reach out to your partner.

I use to think that if my partner’s love for me was authentic, he would notice when I’m feeling out of sorts and that would cue him to reassure me in some way; if he didn’t catch on and offer care and support, I would get upset. Your partner can’t read your mind (and really, would you want them to?) and regardless of how obvious you think your situation is on the outside, it’s best to be upfront and proactive. Help your partner support you by telling them what you need of them. I assure you, they want to know. Your partner wants to support you. Depression tells you that no one wants to support you. Don’t listen. You and your partner will take turns leaning into eachother. That’s how it works.

Clinical Psychologist and author Dr. Sue Johnson wrote in her book, “Hold Me Tight“, “When safe connection seems lost, partners go into fight-or-flight mode… Most fights are really protests over emotional disconnection.”

I know it can be difficult when depression is visiting because the depressed partner, by nature of the illness, is unable to give as much to the relationship as they are able when they’re feeling OK. That’s OK. Kevin and I have acknowledged that and it (along with his kind and gentle soul) has given me permission to give myself permission to not feel guilty about the temporary imbalance. When I’m not under depression’s spell…

…these are some things that Kevin and I do to stay connected:

  • Take walks together with Fuzz after breakfast (I try to force myself out of bed to do this when depressed – it may only be a 10 minute walk but it makes a huge difference)
  • Leave surprise love notes for each other around the house (sometimes I sneak something into his lunch box)
  • Enjoy a weekly date night together – we met on a Wednesday, so those days are our weekiversary days (you don’t need to go out – sometimes we veg at home – it’s the time investment and being present with one another that matters most)
  • Massage each other (OK, sometimes the massage is a 2 minute shoulder massage in passing but any length of time is wonderful) – our favorite is trading foot massages facing each other on the couch
  • Pick up something from the grocery store that we didn’t put on the list but know the other likes – for Kevin, it’s Sour Patch Kids or bleu cheese, for me, it’s La Croix or gummy cherries
  • Kevin has my meds reminder on his phone as a backup in case I forget or miss my reminder alarm – he sends me reminder texts if we’re not together when it goes off
  • I refill or top off his water bottle if I see he’s running low

What are some things you and your partner do to stay connected?

***

Side note: I watched a video on The Mighty today that does a pretty good job of illustrating the experience of a depressive mind; the dizzying and self-deprecating internal world of a person with depression. (It looks like it’s not share-able. You can watch it below my most recent story about depression posted on The Mighty. I didn’t set up a plug for myself, I swear.) Share it with your partner, if you need. Reaching out means reaching out for resources, too. The internet is rife with stuff.

Demons are not yours.

Kevin doesn’t have depression. His knowledge of depression — first, second, or eleventh-hand — is limited. Sixth months into our life together, he’s spent time with depressed O at least half the time. I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression for about three of the past six months. The struggle I’ve been grappling with and have held onto as a ‘my’ struggle for the better part of my 37 years has, in six months, become a ‘we’ struggle.

Every now and then,  when I emerge from the dark dizzying sticky slumber of depression, I ask Kevin, “Are you sure you want to move forward in this relationship? This is how it’s going to be the rest of our lives. I will always fall into depressive ruts.” I feel like I need to regularly give him an out, let him know that I get it if he decides that it’s too much for him to manage. I would understand if nurturing a relationship with someone who cycles through depression as often as I do is too overwhelming for him, for anyone.

Each time, Kevin squares his shoulders and steadies his eyes to mine as if to convey, if you don’t hear my words, feel the conviction of my presence.  “Yes. I’m sure,” he says. “I want to be with you.”

**

I feel as though I’m using up the majority of the relationship resources. On top of the other depressive symptoms, I feel selfish and self-absorbed. I feel small, alone, a failure, like I don’t belong in this world. For years, depression has tricked me into believing that no one wants to hear the ‘ridiculous’ thoughts tapping my brain and to (ssssssshhhhhhh) keep my thoughts where they belong – hidden.

This is one of the ways depression keeps a stronghold on you. It’s hypnotic trickery suspends your ability to trust that people who care for you want to hear your fears, and that they want to hear your fears as many times as you need to speak them. But you must share these thoughts, you must share what frightens you when depression has you by the tongue – whether you believe the thoughts or not. Especially in a relationship.

As Kevin said to me one night, holding me as I cried into his warm chest, “Your demons are not yours to fight alone.”

Dance party mode.

As I sit here, laid up on our lazy boy – legs extended, laptop in lap – Kevin (Mr. K) is wiggling his butt and waving his arms around the living room with a huge smile on his face. “It’s dance party mode!”

I’m in the midst of a depressive episode. He’s trying to make me laugh. and it’s working.

***

***

I hadn’t been hit by depression until about two months after Kevin and I started dating in May. It was magical. unbelievable, even. I thought, perhaps our love has been the antidote all this time!? For the past few years, the trend has been that I cycled about every 2 weeks. Some mornings I’d bound out of bed, link up my phone to my bluetooth speaker and blast some groovy tunes before jumping in the shower. Other mornings, I awoke to my body groaning; I barely mustered an email or text to my boss that, “I’m not feeling well and I’m not going to make it in,” and guilt and shame would tuck me in a little tighter as I fell back into full slumber mode.

In those first couple of months when our relationship was sailing oh so smoothly, I told Kevin about my depression – a kind of pre-emptive ‘relationship damage control’ before it hit. because I knew it would. eventually.

He read my blog posts about my experience with depression and though he said he didn’t understand the first-hand experience of it, he wanted me to know that he was there for me. that he wanted to be. that he wanted to understand the best he could. I felt reassured. And each time depression has surfaced since we’ve been together, Kevin reassures me that he is here and that, “we are going to get through this.”

I’ve not been in a relationship where my partner so explicitly vocalizes and expresses their presence and support when the clouds loom. When in “depressed mode,” one tends to isolate themselves regardless of the support system they have in place. It goes against one of the fundamental symptoms of depression to reach out for or willingly accept support. Relationships are challenging enough. Meeting and melding together two separate lives involves emotional gymnastics and diligence through discomfort. Now throw depression into the mix.

Being in a relationship with someone who lives with depression is scary. How can you support your partner when they push you away? What do you do when they tell you they want to be left alone while clearly in distress? How do you respond when they lay curled in bed all day, sometimes for days?

Being in a relationship as the person living with depression is frightening. How can you trust that your partner will accept you, depressive warts and all? What do you do when they tell you they want to help when you feel the situation is helpless? How do you respond when they attempt to get you out of bed when all you want to do is sleep all day?

There are no clearcut answers to these questions, but there are ways each partner can help their relationship through the stormy storms of depression (more on this in subsequent posts). Kevin and I are learning how to navigate our way through when the thunder rolls. Sometimes he does things like yell, “it’s dance party mode!” while wiggling his butt and waving his arms around the living room with a huge smile on his face. How can I not take him up on his invitation?

We wore wide smiles.

I have a confession. I have totally been holding out on you. and I’m so sorry. Communication and relationship are important to me. and so are you, dear dear reader(s). I’ve started a couple of posts over the past few weeks but they’ve been lying dormant in my draft folder [insert sheepish grin here]. I want to be better about that. Please be patient with me.

But, guys! I have the most wonderful and pleasantly surprising reason for why I’ve been MIA. I’ve been falling in love.

with Mr. K.

So, without further ado, I want to send these writings out into the universe. They’re tidbits from the past month. I tend to want to spend more time crafting my posts, but I have been feeling badly about not staying on top of my writing. Also, Mr. K and I are celebrating our one monthiversary tonight and he just got home from work, so I must bid you adieu for now.

So much love to you. my heart is bursting.

xo, O

***

Guys. I don’t even know where to begin. When I decided to re-ignite online dating a couple of weeks ago, I looked at it as more of a tool. a defibrillator for my broken heart. I wanted to know who else was out there. to see what different things different men are looking for in relationship. to open my mind to being more open-minded about potential dates. about my future.

Who am I kidding, I wanted to meet someone. that someone. Despite the heartache and grief I was feeling from the breakup with Mr. G, I yearned to make a connection and nurture intimacy.

***

As he fell to his seat on the other side of the booth, my bashful gaze caught glimpses of new familiar eyes. we wore wide smiles. He reached over with his right fist, flipped his hand to unfurled fingers; his palm held my phone charger and chapstick, “I wasn’t sure if you needed any of these things…”

“Ohmygosh, THANK YOU!” Earlier I realized that I forgot my chapstick on his nightstand. “This feels kinda like a break-up, except backwards,” he said. he laughed. I giggled. we laughed together. I hadn’t stopped smiling since the night before, when we met in-person for the first time.

After a day-and-a-half of volleying messages via Match.com, I had to meet him. see his face, hear his words, watch his teeth peek out from between his lips as he spoke. Our connection via text was easy and fun, exciting, invigorating. I wanted to see whether or not the butterflies in my tummy would fly away after meeting in person. I didn’t want to fantasize about this seemingly perfect guy for too long.

(And. I was on a mission to find love, damnit. No time to waste!)

I sent a message, “I wanted to see if you would like to hang out at some point soon? I’ve enjoyed chatting with you and think it would be great to do in person. When are you usually free?” He replied that he could meet that night. so we did. and it was wonderful.

 

 

Have I not been smiling.

“I have a weird feeling that the rest of my life is going to be AWEsome.” My arms wrapped around his neck. I couldn’t help but pull myself up to him. to be closer.

“Why does it have to be weird?” He laughed. scooted his body up a bit. Then dove into the crook of my neck to deliver a bouquet of kind little kisses. My fingertips brushed the soft underbrush of his freshly cut hair.

Grinning, I said, “It’s not weird. I just mean… I have a sneaking suspicion…” {I thought to myself, “How long has it been since I have NOT been smiling?!”}

***

These are a few moments of my day today with K. My face is sore from all the smiles. my belly, awake from days of incessant laughter rumbles.

***

Curiosity comes out of a sense of safety...” – Sue Johnson, MD