As I read through the web for conversations, questions, ideas about depression, I am struck by how many people who write to forums and blogs are desperately asking for help not for their own depression but for that of their spouses, partners, loved ones. So often, they report bewilderment. They feel stunned to find anger and rejection in place of love. How can it be that the person I have known so well is suddenly different, alien, hostile and wants to break out of the relationship that is so precious?
What is this longing to leave that so many depressed people feel? I have no simple answer to that, but I can describe my own tortured experience with an almost irresistible drive to break out and start a new life.
I spent many years feeling deeply unsettled and unhappy in ways I could not understand. Flaring up in anger at my wife and three great young boys became a common occurrence. I’d carry around resentments about being held back and unsatisfied with my life, fantasizing about other places, other women, other lives I could and should be leading. My usual mode was to bottle up my deepest feelings, making it all the more likely that when they surfaced it would be in weird and destructive ways. I’d seethe with barely suppressed anger, lash out in rage and, of course, deny angrily that anything was wrong when confronted by my wife.
I was often on the verge of bolting, but there were two threads of awareness I could hold onto that restrained me invisibly. One was the inner sense that until I faced and dealt with whatever was boiling around inside me I would only transplant that misery to a new place, a new life, a new lover. However exciting I might imagine it would be to walk into that new world, I knew in my heart that it would only be a matter of time before the same problems re-emerged.
The other was a question I kept asking myself – What is it that I am leaving for? What was this great future and life that I would be stepping into? Could I even see it clearly? More often than not, the fantasy portrayed a level of excitement I was missing.
Some buried part of me knew that a life based on getting high – on non-stop brain-blowing excitement – wasn’t a life at all. Maybe it wasn’t alcohol or drugs that lured me, but it was surely the promise of intense and thrilling experience, the perpetual opening scene of an adventure film without the need to wait for the complicated plot to unravel. There was no real alternative woman out there waiting for me, only a series of fantasies with easy gratification, never the hard part of dealing with a complicated human being in a sustained relationship. And inwardly I knew that after the initial burst of energy wore off, I would still face the fears, depression and paralysis of will that had plagued me for so long.
That bit of consciousness kept me from breaking everything up and leaving the wonderful family that I’m blessed with.
So just imagine what my wife was going through. She had to face the rejection of my anger at the deepest levels. At the worst of it, she had to hear me telling her she wasn’t enough for me, that I needed more than she could give. And the tension and pain between us, the frequent rage that I felt, spilled into the lives of my children in ways that slowly and painfully were to emerge over time. That is the hardest part of talking about this now, to grasp how my closest loved ones disappeared from awareness into the haze of my own self-hatred, my own feeling of emptiness that I was desperately trying to fill. I had no idea how my behavior spread in its impact, like widening circles in water, to touch so many around me.
I’ll continue with this theme and try to get at what can be done or said to someone possessed of a longing to leave.