SUP­PORT ACT

De­pres­sion in men is now openly talked about, but less vis­i­ble are the part­ners of suf­fer­ers, who en­dure cor­re­spond­ing lows and chal­lenges. GRACE O’NEILL shares her per­sonal story

Harper’s Bazaar (Australia) - - Contents -

When your part­ner has de­pres­sion.

Ire­cently tweeted to my mod­est fol­low­ing that “Men know so much about pol­i­tics and sport so they have some­thing to talk about that isn’t Their Feel­ings”. It was an at­tempt to cu­rate my “witty jour­nal­ist” on­line per­sona, but also I’m con­vinced it’s true. Dur­ing the past four years with my boyfriend, Zach, I have be­come intimately ac­quainted with the fall­out of men’s in­abil­ity to talk to one an­other with real depth. Zach and I moved in the same so­cial cir­cles for years, but we ac­tu­ally met at a frat party at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les (UCLA).WE were both study­ing there on ex­change: me, film; him, math­e­mat­ics.we fell for each other quickly; Zach re­mains one of fun­ni­est, kind­est and most in­tel­li­gent peo­ple I’ve met.

We spent the next month holed up in our dorms drink­ing Napa Val­ley wine out of red col­lege cups or ri­fling for vin­tage de­signer clothes at Sil­ver Lake flea mar­ket. It was one of those whirl­wind ro­mances you feel won’t trans­late to real life, but our first two years to­gether back in Syd­ney were pleas­antly sim­ple.when Zach was of­fered a grad­u­ate po­si­tion at an in­vest­ment bank in Hong Kong af­ter we’d been dis­cussing where to go next, he signed the con­tract and we be­gan plan­ning the move.

Look­ing back, signs were creep­ing in that things weren’t wholly OK. Some­times Zach would spend en­tire days in bed for no ap­par­ent rea­son or go days without eat­ing prop­erly, and party much harder and more of­ten than any of his friends.but ev­ery­thing could be chalked up to some­thing. He stayed in bed for days be­cause he’d par­tied all week­end; he wasn’t eat­ing be­cause bank­ing jobs are stress­ful.when he started mak­ing big mis­takes at work and be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ap­a­thetic about the move to Hong Kong, it just felt as if he was re­al­is­ing the life of a high-fly­ing in­vest­ment banker isn’t ac­tu­ally all it’s cracked up to be.

On my rec­om­men­da­tion, Zach went to see a psychologist, who re­ferred him on to a psy­chi­a­trist.to our gen­uine sur­prise, Zach was di­ag­nosed with clin­i­cal de­pres­sion, rec­om­mended a

three-ses­sion-a-week ther­apy pro­gram and told the move to Hong Kong needed to be can­celled im­me­di­ately.

If you were to ask me five years ago how I’d cope with a part­ner with de­pres­sion, I’d have told you I’d ex­cel at it. I’m from gen­er­a­tion #woke, af­ter all. We un­der­stand the pit­falls of toxic mas­culin­ity and the wor­ry­ing sta­tis­tics on male sui­cide (three times higher than for women in Aus­tralia). We’re the gen­er­a­tion who cre­ated “trig­ger warn­ings” and “safe spa­ces”, the ones turn­ing the world ex­as­per­at­ingly PC!

I re­ally did want to be the bea­con of emo­tional sup­port Zach needed at that time, but the re­al­ity is, liv­ing with some­one with de­pres­sion is very dif­fi­cult.there’s a big mis­con­cep­tion that de­pres­sion equals sad­ness. Zach wants me to em­pha­sise in this piece that de­pres­sion isn’t only sad­ness.at times it is, and at other times it’s the ab­sence of feel­ing al­to­gether — a dogged lack of emo­tion that leaves you un­mo­ti­vated, dis­en­gaged and ap­a­thetic.the re­al­ity of liv­ing with some­one with this con­di­tion is that, as much as you want to be pa­tient and sym­pa­thetic, there are only so many times you can hear this per­son you care about be­moan the lack of any­thing good in their life and any­thing to look for­ward to, and that noth­ing good ever hap­pens to them, without feel­ing a lit­tle … of­fended.

See­ing some­one not want to get out of bed in the morn­ing or spend days play­ing video games in their py­ja­mas is con­cern­ing at first, but you soon be­come ex­hausted by it. For me, it started to seem a lit­tle self-in­dul­gent, like, We all find life hard; what gives you the right to be treated with a gi­ant “FRAG­ILE” sticker?

De­pres­sion can also make peo­ple mean. Zach be­came un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally un­kind at times, as if he was try­ing to con­firm he was in­trin­si­cally unlove­able by iso­lat­ing him­self from ev­ery­one who cared about him. It re­quires the pa­tience of a saint (or, at least, a par­ent) to have some­one ac­tively push you away and be un­kind to you and to still for­give them over and over again — es­pe­cially when they’re not ask­ing for for­give­ness.

While Zach was fo­cused on ther­apy and an in­tense amount of in­tro­spec­tion, I was fes­ter­ing with re­sent­ment. I was an­gry the Hong Kong move had been abruptly can­celled without any ac­knowl­edge­ment of how it would im­pact my ca­reer; I was jeal­ous that Zach had the money at his dis­posal to spend thou­sands of dol­lars a week on ther­apy; and, if I’m be­ing bru­tally hon­est, I felt he didn’t have any­thing to be de­pressed about — he came from a priv­i­leged up­bring­ing in a man­sion in Syd­ney’s Rose Bay and went to the best pri­vate school in the coun­try.there was a gi­ant chip on my shoul­der and it was turn­ing me into the ex­act op­po­site of what he needed.

I’m not proud that I felt any of these things. I know de­pres­sion doesn’t dis­crim­i­nate based on how wealthy you are and I’m an­gry that I was so self­ish at the one time I should have been self­less. It felt in­evitable that we would break up, and by the time we did I felt like a failure.

In the months af­ter the break-up, I be­came aware of how lucky I am to have a net­work of girl­friends who are al­ways avail­able to take my cry­ing phone calls or take me out for mar­gar­i­tas when I’m feel­ing low. I re­alised that, while Zach had a huge net­work of male friends, they never spent any time talk­ing about any­thing deeper than the lat­est NRL game or the US po­lit­i­cal cli­mate. I wasn’t con­vinced any of them even knew he had de­pres­sion. Self­ishly, I won­dered if this pre­sented me with a ‘get out of jail free’ card of sorts. Maybe I had been so ter­ri­ble at sup­port­ing Zach through his de­pres­sion be­cause it was sim­ply too much for one per­son to han­dle. Maybe the in­abil­ity men have to talk among them­selves means women are of­ten the sole providers of emo­tional sup­port. And maybe try­ing to be all things to one per­son is a fool’s er­rand.

I posed this question to Syd­ney-based psychologist Dr Em­manuella Murray:“do women bear the brunt of men’s emo­tional bag­gage be­cause men can’t talk to one an­other?”

“That’s a lit­tle harsh,” she replies with a laugh. “It ab­so­lutely ben­e­fits fe­males that they are able to be emo­tion­ally vul­ner­a­ble with each other, and I think it’s true that with men, their friend­ships tend to pro­vide less emo­tional sup­port and less self-dis­clo­sure. But we want our ro­man­tic part­ners to be emo­tion­ally con­nected to us, and we want them to com­mu­ni­cate their emo­tions, whether they’re pleas­ant or un­pleas­ant — it’s one of the only ways to main­tain sound men­tal health.”

In terms of medically di­ag­nosed de­pres­sion specif­i­cally, how­ever, Murray is aware of how dif­fi­cult it can be for the part­ner. “De­pres­sion in­ter­feres with how some­one sees them­selves, their lives and their re­la­tion­ships, which can mess with a cou­ple’s con­nec­tion and make the [suf­ferer] emo­tion­ally un­avail­able,” she ex­plains. “It of­ten leaves a part­ner feel­ing con­fused and help­less, be­cause we all want to feel like we have a part­ner who values us.”

Murray says a sub­stan­tial pro­por­tion of her clients are cou­ples in which one part­ner suf­fers from de­pres­sion, of­ten with that part­ner see­ing a dif­fer­ent psychologist for in­di­vid­ual ther­apy. The best way to tackle the sit­u­a­tion, in her ex­pe­ri­ence, is to make sure they’re fac­ing the prob­lem head on.“when I see cou­ples, the first thing I do is put the de­pres­sion down on the ta­ble so there’s no way to ig­nore it. There are many ways to tackle a prob­lem, but if you don’t ac­knowl­edge the de­pres­sion is there, the de­pres­sion gets worse.”

On a cold night last Au­gust, in a dimly lit pizza bar in Padding­ton in Syd­ney, Zach and I got back to­gether. No pomp and cir­cum­stance, no Bridget Jones-es­que dec­la­ra­tions of love, just two peo­ple who had each grown sig­nif­i­cantly and felt ready to give their re­la­tion­ship a more ma­ture sec­ond chap­ter.

Hav­ing spent the past six months liv­ing with Zach, I’m aware de­pres­sion isn’t some­thing you’re ever ‘cured’ of. It ebbs and flows on a day-by-day, week-by-week ba­sis; it’s a con­di­tion man­aged only when both parties are pa­tient and com­pas­sion­ate. In this Trump era, and nearly 12 months post-we­in­stein rev­e­la­tions, it’s tempt­ing to vil­ify men, and it can feel coun­ter­in­tu­itive to ask women to be more em­pa­thetic to our male coun­ter­parts. But, although she wasn’t speak­ing about de­pres­sion specif­i­cally, a line from Emma Wat­son’s di­vi­sive UN speech keeps nig­gling at me.“if men don’t have to be ag­gres­sive in order to be ac­cepted, women won’t feel com­pelled to be sub­mis­sive.” Maybe there is some­thing in that. Read­ers af­fected by de­pres­sion, ei­ther their own or that of a loved one, are en­cour­aged to seek sup­port at be­yond­blue.org.au.

“It re­quires the pa­tience of a saint (or, at least, a par­ent) to have some­one push you away and be un­kind to you and to still for­give them over and over again — es­pe­cially when they’re not ask­ing for for­give­ness.”

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