‘My boyfriend threat­ened to kill him­self if I left him’

Sarah Jones* re­lives the trauma of be­ing forced to pri­ori­tise her own well-be­ing over her part­ner’s men­tal health

Grazia (UK) - - Contents - To sup­port Grazia’s men­tal health cam­paign, visit wheresy­our­hea­dat.org The Sa­mar­i­tans can ad­vise on re­la­tion­ship prob­lems and sui­ci­dal thoughts, call 116 123

WHEN I MET BEN* through mu­tual friends, he was un­like any­one I’d en­coun­tered be­fore. In­tel­li­gent, witty and buzzing with en­ergy, he was tall, with strik­ing, Bowie-es­que eyes – one blue, one brown. Al­though we were both attached, my re­la­tion­ship wasn’t go­ing any­where, and I knew al­most im­me­di­ately that meet­ing Ben marked its end. I soon found an ex­cuse to break up with my boyfriend, and – as I later found out – Ben broke up with his girl­friend the mo­ment he heard I was sin­gle.

What I didn’t yet know was that the bright­ness that had drawn me to him was the flip side of an in­tense dark­ness. Ben was open about the fact he was tak­ing med­i­ca­tion for de­pres­sion. On our first date he cried as he talked about the ther­apy he’d been through, show­ing a touch­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity. Al­ready fall­ing for him, I wasn’t put off – I just wanted to help him through what­ever dark days might lie ahead. I even flat­tered my­self by won­der­ing if they might be be­hind him now he’d found me.

Phys­i­cally ex­hausted by the in­ten­sity of my feel­ings, I told Ben, ‘If I loved you any more than I do now, I think it would make me ill.’ But for him, this was close to the truth. A few weeks af­ter we got to­gether, the high of fall­ing in love was fol­lowed by a crush­ing, de­bil­i­tat­ing low. Ben hadn’t seemed him­self for a few days and, when my texts sud­denly went unan­swered, alarm bells rang. I went to his flat to find it strewn with empty pizza boxes and wine bot­tles, Ben hud­dled un­der a du­vet on the sofa.

Hav­ing read up about how to deal with de­pres­sion, I knew not to try and tidy up, in case he saw it as a crit­i­cism. In­stead, I qui­etly cleared a space be­side the shadow my boyfriend had be­come, and held his hand while he cried. ‘I just want to not be here any more,’ he told me, trig­ger­ing a dizzy­ing cramp of dread. I couldn’t bear the thought of los­ing Ben when I’d only just found him.

Af­ter that first time, the cycle of in­tense hap­pi­ness fol­lowed by ter­ri­ble de­pres­sion be­came fa­mil­iar. One minute, we’d be en­joy­ing the close­ness of any other cou­ple, and Ben would tell me I was the love of his life. The next, he’d be­have ir­ra­tionally – a sign that he was about to crash again.

One night, walk­ing home alone in the small hours, a man ap­proached me and asked for a kiss. Firmly telling him no and walk­ing away seemed to de­ter him, but I phoned Ben for the last few min­utes of my walk home. Ex­cept, af­ter I’d ex­plained what had hap­pened, he hung up on me, then texted, ‘Have fun with your new boyfriend,’ be­fore turn­ing off his phone. De­pres­sion man­i­fests dif­fer­ently for ev­ery­one but, in Ben’s case, it twisted his per­cep­tions so wildly, he saw any other man as a threat.

Al­though Ben was the one suf­fer­ing, deal­ing with his de­pres­sion was in­creas­ingly painful for me, too. Know­ing he had to own his ill­ness, I begged him to go back to his GP, won­der­ing if more coun­selling or new med­i­ca­tion might help. But he re­fused, too ill to deal with it when he was suf­fer­ing a low, and gloss­ing over the prob­lem once he’d bounced back.

He’d reg­u­larly end our re­la­tion­ship over some small trans­gres­sion, then beg me to take him back. When he was in his dark­est places, he’d tell me, ‘I think I’d kill my­self if you left me. I wouldn’t be able to go on.’ And see­ing how low he could get, I be­lieved him – so I did al­ways take him back.

I wanted, more than any­thing, for our re­la­tion­ship to work. But af­ter Ben dumped me for the fourth time in just five months, I re­alised I couldn’t think only of his men­tal health – I had to look af­ter my­self, too. I loved him more than I thought it was pos­si­ble to love any­one. But his brand of love was mak­ing me mis­er­able and I’d had enough.

So, the last time he ended things, I re­fused to take him back. My friends and fam­ily as­sured me I’d made the right de­ci­sion. But Ben’s words haunted me: ‘I’d kill my­self if you left.’ I was ab­so­lutely ter­ri­fied he’d go through with it. He sent reg­u­lar texts that told me he was in ter­ri­ble pain. And more than once, I called the Sa­mar­i­tans, des­per­ately ask­ing, ‘How can I stop him from hurt­ing him­self ?’

‘ You can’t take re­spon­si­bil­ity for his ac­tions,’ they told me, in the gen­tlest way pos­si­ble. ‘If any­thing hap­pens to him, it’s not your fault.’ I tried, and failed, to be­lieve them.

My low­est mo­ment came a few weeks af­ter our break-up, when I dis­cov­ered via Twit­ter that Ben had gone miss­ing. I was ab­so­lutely cer­tain he’d killed him­self, but since we’d bro­ken up he’d moved house and I didn’t know his new ad­dress.

Un­able to get hold of any of his friends, I called the po­lice, hys­ter­i­cal. ‘His house is near a pizza shop,’ I wept. I was so ter­ri­fied, ask­ing the po­lice to find Ben based on the only de­tail I’d man­aged to glean about his new life seemed com­pletely ra­tio­nal.

When he turned up safe, but liv­ing through an­other bout of se­vere de­pres­sion, I re­alised I needed to cut all ties. It sounds bru­tal, but I sim­ply couldn’t live with the fear that came with stay­ing in touch – and as his ex, it was no longer my role to sup­port him. So I un­fol­lowed him on so­cial me­dia, deleted his num­ber and tried not to think about what might hap­pen.

A few months later, I heard through mu­tual friends that Ben had at­tempted sui­cide shortly af­ter our break-up. I don’t know if it hap­pened when he went miss­ing, or what he was think­ing at the time. But my emo­tions vac­il­lated be­tween over­whelm­ing grat­i­tude that he’d sur­vived and guilt at what might have been my part in his at­tempt. And that self­ish part of me was also re­lieved that the dis­tance be­tween us meant that, if any­thing hap­pened in fu­ture, I could no longer blame my­self.

I’ve lost touch with Ben now but, if the time came, I wouldn’t rule out choos­ing to pur­sue a re­la­tion­ship with some­one liv­ing with de­pres­sion. Ev­ery person and ev­ery re­la­tion­ship is dif­fer­ent and, in hind­sight, I can see that just as our re­la­tion­ship wasn’t some­thing that could ‘cure’ Ben’s de­pres­sion, heartbreak didn’t cause his sui­cide at­tempt, ei­ther. Watch­ing on the side­lines while some­one you love is suf­fer­ing is painful, but I’ve learned that de­pres­sion and re­la­tion­ships are far more com­pli­cated than I ever could have imag­ined.


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