When discussing mental health it is important to understand many points of view, which is why this series has focused on varying individual mental health issues. My guest today is Ra Avis, who explains what it’s like to love someone living with depression.
How To Love | Ra Avis #DCfC
Once upon a time, I married a man with depression. He was also a diabetic.
His body didn’t make enough happy. His body made too many sugars.
Some bodies are just different than other bodies.
For some reason, the diabetic episodes were much easier to understand, even when his illnesses paralleled each other. One time, a cold glass of sweet tea made him shake for a month. One time a beautiful sunset made it difficult for him to speak for weeks. As a bystander of his body, I could only see the effect, not the complex body processes firing behind them.
Neither the blood sugar or depression mattered to me.
I held his hand through it all,
and hoped for the best.
That’s all you can do, when it’s someone else’s body, you see.
It’s normal, I think, to want to fix it, but…
Dave would become depressed for the same reason sugar would flood his body and immobilize him. Sometimes, his body didn’t take care of him as well as he deserved.
His body wasn’t like him.
Dave was a careful man.
He wore the same pair of boots for 15 years, and people still thought they were brand new. He wrote his books by hand. He was always on time. He knew how many calories he ate, and how many he burned, every day. He lived with precision, and much of that willpower was born from the fact that he could not trust his brain and body.
He had depression.
It’s a very big concept to throw in a tiny sentence, and it took me quite awhile to understand it.
I get sad, too. Sometimes, I get really sad.
When Dave died, I met a new level of sadness, and it crippled me, but here’s the thing.
I had some control over it because I don’t have depression.
Depression isn’t sadness. Depression is a chemical imbalance.
It’s not a one-lever malfunction like diabetes either
…. Don’t get me wrong.
Diabetes can kill you. Diabetes killed Dave.
Actually, actions Dave took– rooted from depression– caused him to be reckless in his care of his diabetes, and that’s what killed him.
Depression is confusing if you don’t have it. It’s this great big ball of weebly-wobbly lying-flying stuff. For me, the easiest thing was seeing how it compares to the Very Big Sadnesses that we all experience.
I don’t have depression but I have some recent experience with Very Big Sadnesses, so I feel qualified to speak on that at least.
When I lost Dave, I felt it. The sadness handcuffed itself to my life. It didn’t seem like it would ever let go. I felt like if I broke eye contact for even a second, it would grow bigger and bigger and consume me.
My friends said that was normal. I just lost the love of my life. They took out their matches, and moved the sadness a little farther away, so it looked a little smaller, even if it wasn’t actually.
Now that the Very Big Sadness was a little smaller, taking care of myself helped wear it down. I wrote, and read, and stood on thoughts that made me feel very powerful.
And finally, I was able to start doing some Good things in the world again. Good has a funny little residue and it eats away at the links that connect us to the stuff we don’t want. Stuff like Very Big Sadnesses.
I’m not all better, of course. My Very Big Sadness still trots behind me, jumping on my back at the oddest of times. Sometimes I walk right into its cloud.
But it is not chained to me any longer. It is no longer in control of me. That’s the eventual progression.
Depression is different, even though it looks so very much the same. When I met Dave, he told me all about his. Like my Very Big Sadness, it’s nearly invisible to everyone else. I believed him when he told me it was there because I believed in him in every other way– why not this one?
I imagine it looked like this.
Unlike Very Big Sadnesses, depression stays the same size when things are going really well on the outside. I loved my husband very much, and he loved me– every day, every minute. We were best friends. He spoke to me more than anyone else on Earth, and yet–
I never got to see the exact shape of his depression. I never got to talk to it directly.
When I tried to scare it away, or distract it with Very Big Good things, I realized it didn’t help.
All it did was put me on the wrong side of the picture. I wanted to be on Dave’s side, no matter what he was tied to.
So I moved.
It didn’t make his depression any smaller. It didn’t give me magical insight into it, or the ability to shrink it down or push it down or transform it into a Very Big Sadness. All it did was give me a chance to love my husband– and it gave him a hand out to reach out to when he could, if he could.
Both of us knew that might never make a difference, because depression is a disease. And sometimes, diseases get the better of us.
All it takes is a wrong turn, and he could have walked into his cloud.
There’s so much shame, blame, guilt and confusion around this topic. I see a lot of articles that say “How to love a person with depression”, and I always hope that the author has written a series. That his or her next post is “How to love a person with diabetes”. “How to love a man who thinks Star Wars is better than Star Trek.”. “How to love someone with talent.”
Because I did all those things, all while loving one man, and the answer to all of them is the same.
You just love them.
Even when diseases win.
Especially when it’s hard.
Because that’s how to love.
Ra lives and loves in Los Angeles and the internet, where frightfully wondrous things happen. She is a once-upon-a-time inmate, a reluctantly-optimistic widow, an exponential storyteller, and also basically a dinosaur. Her own story is a long one, but the short version is she (probably) loves you. Visit her at Rarasaur.com