Apart from my story, here is one of the pages that kept me on foot when I really, as a Depression fallout (DF), did not know what to do with my ex’s dog. Some of them helped me make the situation a little bit better but this does not replace therapy. At least make sure to combine both this advices and your lovers/spouse/boy or girlfriend counseling!
Aside from my personal story, for those who are interested in understanding depression better, I totally recommend this BBC documentary that was just published last year.
For the spanish version go to: https://historiasdelperrogris.wordpress.com
How do you treat the Dog when you’ve never seen one?
Mental disorders can be so unrelated to us if we do not have a family history or a member near our social group that is living with it. I could not be more ignorant myself until I met my former boyfriend. Since I had grown up in a family already with four adults, I felt protected and secure most of the time. Our problems now past my father’s alcoholism, which had ended more than ten years before I was born, rested more on financial crisis than on damaged relationships within our nucleus. I grew up to be a very lively and happy person (with serotonin levels higher than average) and I surrounded myself with friends who had common moods and interests. By the time I met my boyfriend, mental disorders could not have been more strange to me than UFOS could have been to any other human. I had only read once of twice about them in school and I mean, it wasn’t on purpose… I just think that people come to be interested or impressed by certain topics if they are related, in one way or another, with their daily routines.
So meeting up with the Dog in complete unawareness of what it was o how to treat it, was frightening. Not because I was afraid of my former boyfriend but because I was completely inexperienced on how to handle his mood changes and I was confused on how to make the relationship work even if there was canine breathing in my ear. One of the biggest mistakes after meeting up and finding the presence of depression in my partner was that I didn’t take the matter into account with seriousness. I repeated constantly to myself, “Okay, everybody has their traits and flaws and Edward did not choose to have depression so it’s better to let it be.”
Wrong. Completely wrong.
First thing I should have done was researching and informing myself (which is a total pain since my career emphasizes in investigating what you don’t know). I only explored months later when I was desperate to find a solution to the fights we had rooted because of certain canine annoyance. What added to the whole confusion frenzy was thinking that maybe his depression was something “seasonal”. “Of course, it is no current form of disillusion, but it can be something that just came into his life sometime ago, and as it came it will go”.
In this seasonal hopelessness my lover was in, even if I did not make the effort to dig up more deeply, I felt the need to help. Let’s cheer him up! let’s help him see that he can make it out of his blue season, of the dark spot and into my amusing world ‘goggles’!
And in some occasional months, I am sure he did.
Feeling in love, having someone to share your problems and your happiness with, finding that person with whom every conversation is filled with comprehension and surprises…all of it reduces the presence of the Dog. The illusion is that we expect, once an alternative works, that this is the path to take. And you keep repeating the stimulus of love and comprehension as the complete answer to his/her problems.
Reality came to me again when in a sudden relapse of depression, he decided to cut all his hair off with a razor and ended up completely bald:
“I just needed to change something in myself. It bothered me to realize how fed up I was with the person I looked at in the mirror.”
After that, I always reacted with disgust when he told me he was thinking of cutting his hair once more because he did not feel ok with the way he looked.
For me it became a painful symbolism of how the Dog took control over my partner and tried to reduce his lovely features into something strange, unknown and ugly.
But never told him that.
However, playing the loving therapist was not only not going to solve the ‘Dog problem” but it was going to transform the union into a twisted type of patient-counselor relationship. Depression takes a whole lot more than that. Because love, I found, cannot remedy the absence of will or the extreme incompetence a person feels with themselves. It is a problem that needs careful treatment. And I am talking about professional treatment and not only lovely-dovey girlfriend conversation here.
Finally, one of the most fundamental details I left behind until recently (and that most of ‘depression fallouts’ disregard) was the importance a stable family environment has in the recovery process for this illness. When I came to know his family, it seemed as though there was a strong support group of people for him and his disorder was mostly a product of an unbalance of chemicals and negative thinking. When I looked closer, not only did he have a long family history of relatives with different types of mental illnesses (one of his cousins tried to commit suicide some months ago) but also his family nucleus was constantly in distress with infidelity, sadness, anger, fights and rivalry.
For a person that has any kind of mental illness, including depression, the need to rise comes within, inside the most private and intimate part of your life: family. Love, again, is not enough and though your relatives do want to help you out and do the best for you, the foundation has to be one of a functional union between the couple, the offspring and the extended family. Conflicts between them cannot only prolong and deepen depression but it can also be traced as the root of the illness itself. In my boyfriend’s case, I found later a direct correlation between the intensity of his depressions and the conflicts between his parents.
So I asked myself: “If you do not see what surrounds the Dog, then, how are you going to understand its existence and its solution?”
For the spanish version go to: https://historiasdelperrogris.wordpress.com
“Vero, I am very lucky to be able to maintain this relationship now without needing what most people need: sensitivity. The thing is I no longer have the need to hug you, kiss you or be with you like before. There are so many things in my head right now that our relationship is not in the list of my priorities”.
I was used to hearing those words, even though they pierced my heart with pain. I was used to his “there are so many things in my head” because “those things” were the ones that sometimes did not let him sleep or made him sleep in excess. They rambled constantly in his eyes, making them more distant and untouchable. The “things” in his head froze his creativity regularly while studying. They stumbled across his dreams and passions and made him lose not only two or three subjects at college, but also his already fragile confidence. They had taken away his witty comments, his sarcasms, his humor and his need to socialize with most people but most importantly: in his relationship with me. I had to invariably make amendments with his mood changes and, every once in a while, I had to give in and give up something I treasured in our affiliation. The problem came when affection became the card to bet. If we could not communicate as we had before, if I could not “cheer him up” as I did before and if I had progressively been placed outside of his daily routines, then physical contact was one of the remaining spaces were I had been trying to maintain our union. Now, in the midst of another of his possible failures (graduating from college), I had the constant sensation of being alienated from him. Edward was there with me, yes. But let me get this straight: not his mind or his feelings were with me. I waited for him to come back “to his senses” and apologize, because after a week or two he did, but this time absence just got stronger and ended what had been a two-year and a half union.
When you write a story about a relationship whose wounds and memories are still fresh, it is indeed very easy to abide excess of sentimentalism and describe the person who is absent either as the prince charming or the Dracula of all your feelings (the ass who left me unattended). It could have been all those things at one time of your relationship but just as you, she/he is a human being who has their dark spots and embodies their own frustrations and desires. Nonetheless, things change drastically when the person who inspires the story has a being so externally and internally united to him as a mental disorder. Winston Churchill called his depression a “black Dog” and even though I am not really sure as to why he chose that metaphor, it relates to an animal who even if it coexists with its owner and relies on him to live, he is finally an independent being from him. The bigger the Dog is, more responsibility and work it requires because he is, in the end, the being who wakes up with you all mornings and sleeps with you all night. And though they say that in all relationships you end up sharing not only with the boyfriend/girlfriend but also with his or her family, when a mental disorder kicks in, it has to be included without question.
On a global scale, depression is one of the most common mood disorders. The majority of us may have depressive episodes caused by painful circumstances of failure, loss and frustration but when the matter becomes repetitive and constant in one’s life even when external circumstances seem favorable, it is not only an “under the weather” feeling. Sometimes, depression is only the entrance hall to a great variety of disorders like bipolarity and schizophrenia. This Dog has the power to disable not only the inner peace of the person affected but also of all the ones that surround him, making an arduous task of what can be seen as an “easy” daily routine. In my case, the Dog did not become my ex-boyfriend’s faithful companion once we were in the relationship, it was something he confessed to me once we were dating and I consciously (?) decided to accept it in order to be with him.
For me then, the grey Dog came with Edward’s life package and I really tried to see it as a mere “turn off”. In spite of that, and even when I tried to ignore the idea, we were not a couple but a threesome. Progressively, it became hard to identify when the third being in our relationship was in fact separate from or was indeed my boyfriend. Little by little what I thought was a puppy, feeding from his career failures and his unhealthy family context, was a totally full-grown adult Dog that started to hang out with us all the time. The grey Dog started to demand more and more space; care and attention between us that not only disassembled the emotional links we had struggled to maintain but, he also filled my relationship with emotional absences and gaps that made the “us” end with a wary “me”.
I am not blaming him for the entire storm that came with his Dog. He was always sincere, warned me and tried to keep me away from his crisis (even by taking antidepressants) because he said he “needed to fight this alone”. I am completely sure now that having a mental disorder is not an easy task for the person itself and I added more difficulty in maintaining a steady balance. Regardless of all the precautions he strived to sustain, he did hurt me a lot. And I, confused and uncertain on how to handle the Dog, his scratches and his demands, did not find much help from professionals or books around. I just stubbornly tried to fight and continue on with the relationship because I wanted to believe we would be able to smile and love one another as we did in those weeks, or months, were depression did not present itself.
These emotional gaps and absences is what I want to narrate here. Not only because writing enables you to immortalize a chapter of your life (and of that person’s life) somewhere foreign to your memory but it also helps make sense of your experience. So, similar to people who have a lover or spouse who suffers from depression, I am here writing that side of the story that surrounds the Dog but that mostly remains silent, secluded and afraid to tell their loved ones that depression has become part of our daily routine too. And mostly, I write this to emphasize that even though we want to be able to support and help this person who suffers, we can end up risking our own emotional stability. Depression can be surpassed easier with a loving and caring environment but it is an individual journey that the person has to assume with seriousness and commitment. Even if that means that we cannot longer be a couple anymore.