A four-word comment from Stephany has set my mind going. “Hope is not love.” she writes in reference to my last post on the difficulty of sustaining a marriage in the midst of major depression. At the end of that brief story I used a house-building image in talking about hope, and I think that’s what she’s responding to. “Hope” and “love” are such big words, I’d better get clear what they have come to mean to me in the very specific context of fighting depression.
I spoke of hope as a house my wife and I were building, and that sounds a bit strange. Isn’t hope something you feel about the future rather than a conscious construction? I can feel it as a response to something that creates an expectation about good things to come. Or it’s a coloring over all my thinking and actions, an energizing force, a constant Yes! Yes! at some preconscious level that is a motive to keep on building things. In depression, of course, I feel hopeless, but beyond the simple absence of hope I get to despair, a force that moves me in the opposite direction – doom, gloom, futility – the deep belief that I’m worthless and so is everything I do. At its mildest that means stillness and paralysis, at its worst, the urge to undermine what I’ve been building, to destroy – ultimately – me.
Hopeful and undepressed, I can be emotionally open, responsive to my wife, loving and even, on occasion, considering I’m a man, able to talk about these things with her. In other words, in small ways I’m trying to build, or rebuild with my wife a relationship that has been damaged. Those are the things that love, an action word, depends on. This marriage can’t be sustained by hidden feelings – I have to get them out there by doing, sharing, talking. And that is the last thing I can do when depressed. Then I’m despairing, isolated, closed off from her, unloving, irritably silent – taking down what we’ve been building. And that’s the problem as far as sustaining marriage is concerned. She can’t count on me.
From her point of view, what is the basis for trust? Now he’s there, now he’s gone. Now he’s loving, now he’s hostile. Now he’s talking, now he’s silent. And the swings can be extreme – from total warmth and wanting to be close to angry abuse and longing to get away into a different life. That’s not stable, not secure, not safe so how can she be open with her feelings when they might be tossed right back at her or ignored and overrun completely?
So true enough, hope is not love, but I need hope to get to loving action, and my wife needs hope to believe there is a future for a relationship with a man who is often warped by depression. Hope comes and goes so much we need to give it support, a structure, a place to feel at home in. Whatever we can do together in practical day-by-day actions helps create confidence that there’s a there to the relationship. Not only in the future – though that’s vital – but also right here, right now.
This recurring deep depression has been with us for the entire time we’ve been together, and recovery is a daily shoving match with that negative force. Not merely the uninvited guest at the wedding but its worst nightmare, depression doesn’t fit at all in a picture with hope, love, trust, marriage. But there it is.
So I guess there’s no end to this building and unbuilding thing – or to this story.
Photo: Galina Barskaya – Fotolia.com