Depression isn’t a one-time disaster in a life relationship. You think you’re through the great crisis, but little by little you feel the weight pressing down again. The stone face that wordlessly says “I can’t let you in” is back.
It kept coming back to me and my wife for decades, and each time it did I became the absent, distant, irritable – or worse – disturbance in the house. I’d resolve that next time I wouldn’t let it get that far, but I kept losing track of who or where I was when it actually hit. We managed to survive, though deeply changed and aware of our losses, but still together. I’m not clear how we came through, but we did.
I’m thinking about this once again late at night on a special anniversary in our lives. It was 40 years ago on this day that we met. Ours was a truly-madly-deeply, total-immersion, body-and-soul-embracing, what-we’d-been-waiting-for, instant-move-in-together kind of moment. It was a now that kept opening up, one that seemed to have no boundaries. Of course, we hit the boundaries and found a lot we’d never imagined, courtesy of recurring depression.
Maybe the worst of it was seeing the illness wear us both down over time. We had to live through all those endless moments when we could plainly see what was happening but couldn’t do anything about it.
I’ve pulled out some journal notes from times like that and have tried to piece them together. These words aren’t exactly coherent and don’t flow by any logic. They give a hint, though, of the inner frustration and damage that depression causes between two people.
When I’m depressed, I hear the words, but they don’t seem to mean much. Sometimes, I don’t hear them at all. I’m looking at your face and see the worry or anger or fear. The feeling is in your tightening eyes that say many things.
I see and hear through filters just now. I see the words you’re aiming at me. But they pop like bubbles before I can make them out. When I try to listen, they’re waxy to my ears.
I see your need to get through to me, but all I can say are the words of regret, the words of shame. I’m sorry but I can’t let you in. I wish I could, but nothing’s coming through. Retreat is the refuge I need. I’m desperate for the aloneness that will let me relax my tense mind, even though I know that being alone won’t help at all.
Everything you say, everything I see in your face tightens around me, and I’m twisting inside while wishing I could open up to you. I can’t move. Your need pulls at the small vital source I’m trying to protect. A crazy voice in my head tells me I have to hide it or I’ll die.
I want to be with you, but I’m splitting with tension. Everything you need comes through only as so many demands that I can’t meet. Demands for feeling, signals of caring, eyes full of loving reassurance.
I do imitations, but I’m not very good. My empty show of being attentive and responsive is an obvious disguise. I’m getting desperate to shut the door, shut you, everyone, out.
I feel like there’s a rip in the center that holds me together. I can almost touch the danger of breaking open. I’m spilling out fear that sounds like anger.
I’m tense with holding on, holding together. Too anxious – it’s all I can handle and I can barely do that.
I say it’s not you who’s doing anything to me, it’s all me, and I’m just desperate. Please, I need to be alone. I’m sorry. God, I’m sorry.
I’m full of apologies and sadness at the grief I’m causing. It makes you angry now. It exhausts you, but you know these periods come and go. I’m trying to get back but I’m not there yet.
I know you understand, you get it, but that doesn’t matter. I’ve pulled too far away, too often. I keep coming back, expecting to be whole with you again.
But then I’m gone once more. I’m not a person to hold onto, to count on. Closeness doesn’t get a second chance, a rehearsal for the real thing. Which will it be today? Will I be present, will I be hidden? You’ve been through this so often, you’re exhausted.
Hope survives only so long. It doesn’t die out in despair. It wastes into weariness.
You’re looking so blank now, withdrawn. We’re both unanchored, floating. This graying cloud that hides me is hiding you too. We’re becoming invisible to each other.
I have to hope the feeling and spirit will come back one day and stay. I have to hope we’ll be with each other then, unworried about whether I’ll be me tomorrow or just a shell or perhaps all stone.
If you were to slap me hard now to wake me up and strike warmth into my face, you’d only hurt your hand.
One part of me is torn, another is tightening, I’m nothing but confusion. I’m nothing to you. I’m nothing to me. It hurts. It just hurts.
Right now I can’t let you in, and I know you can’t take any more of this distance.
You can try to talk to me, but I’m disappearing. I don’t have to leave this room to be alone, but it’s more calming when I can.
I’m so bone tired, I just need to lie down and pull a cover over my head. I so need to disappear. I need to sleep, to shut down, and I’m almost there. I can only creep away and leave unanswered your ultimate questions about you and me.
My mind has these words, but they’re only notes to myself. I can’t speak them clearly. You’ll never know what I’m trying to say, but you need to hear the words more than ever, if only to know I’m still there.
We’re coping in our separate ways. You’ve learned to live without my presence, and when I’m this way I’m grateful for that because I know your independence is your survival guide.
You don’t bottle up your feelings, ever. You’ve tried to rouse me with your energy and humor but found long ago how frustrating that is. You keep coming back, you keep on being there. You rage at me, get exhausted, give up on me and turn back to your own life. You have the gift of creative energy and it doesn’t die down for long.
You’re a survivor, and I’m one too. But that’s too lonely, too separate. There’s an “us” here as well as a you and a me. It fades out, but we both seem to know this “us” is still there.
If only I could say that to you now, if only I weren’t so walled away, if only I could really hear what you’re saying and open to the flow of your feelings.
But I can’t let you in right now. I wish I could. There’s nothing but static and TV snow.
I can’t let you in.