Reading the comments that appeared at Beyond Blue about The Longing to Leave-2 has been a continuing inspiration. I realize how different everyone’s experience is about the impact of depression on marriage, and how desperately hard everyone works to reach what is for them the right answer about staying married or not. For some, the “longing to leave” is a justified move to safety from a destructive relationship. For me, though, it was a fantasy borne of depression. I often wonder how it is, given where I began in my struggle to build a loving relationship with another human being, that my wife and I have stayed married for so long. “Marriage is survival,” I once heard a pastor say at a wedding, and the uncomfortable laughter in his large audience confirmed the truth of it. Despite all our struggles, we’ve managed to survive the worst of times.
For so many years, though, and long beyond adolescent dreams, I was searching obsessively not for the real work of two people always learning about each other but for a drug-like love that would give me a shortcut to salvation.
Depressed and full of shame at who I was, I searched desperately for someone who would make up what was missing, gifting me the worth I felt I lacked, so that I could feel like a whole person at last. Of course, I didn’t think of it that way. I simply imagined I was falling in love. It would start with an attraction that soon became obsessive for a woman whose spirit and warmth I reached for instinctively – almost like a predator – to take in as my own. This was falling in love in a strangely one-sided way. I needed the responsiveness of the other person, to be sure, but only to a certain point. I can try to explain with a story, really a moment when something began to get through to my isolated mind.
I had, or imagined I had, an intense bond with R for two years in my early twenties. Her loving me meant everything. She was beautiful, talented and lively, and deep down I felt not just proud that she was part of my life, I felt alive and justified because of her presence. More than that, I projected into the minds of everyone I met a judgment that I had value because such a woman loved me. That was the reality of what I needed from her – the sense of self-worth that I lacked on my own. Then I had to take a one-year job in another city, and after some months, the strain was evident. I ignored what was clearly happening – so desperate was I to believe that we would be together forever. After all, I was nothing without her.
I was visiting, and we were up early, getting dressed and ready to go out for breakfast – avoiding deep talk though clearly ill at ease with each other. The windows were open to a fine New England spring morning. I was dousing my face with cold water in the bathroom when suddenly I was startled by a beautiful singing voice floating in through the window. It was a woman’s voice pouring a haunting melody into the air. It seemed to surround me, and the feeling and the sheer beauty of the tone put everything else out of my mind. I relaxed into its flow for a few still moments, and then I started to move – I had to find out where that was coming from. It seemed part of the air I was breathing for that short time, but all of a sudden it was gone! Don’t stop, I thought – where could that singer be? I leaned out the window but could only glimpse shut blinds and blank walls through the low-hanging sycamore branches. I walked back to the bedroom and found R quietly sweeping a brush through her long dark hair.
“Did you hear that?” I asked.
“That incredible singing – it was the most beautiful thing. Where could it have come from?”
“Oh,” she laughed, “that was just me.”
“Just now? Just right now? I mean, it stopped a few seconds ago.”
She nodded slowly, still brushing.
How could that be? She had a wispy speaking voice that didn’t carry well across a room. I didn’t know what to say.
”… I … I never knew you could sing.”
“Oh, I sing all the time.”
“I mean … I never heard you sing.”
She smiled into the mirror. “Well… you have.”
She finished brushing her hair. We got our coats and left. And she was gone for good._
To say I crashed when she left is putting it mildly. What could happen when my sense of who I was and what I was worth in the world walked away? Gone! There was nothing left! I drank heavily, fell into complete depression, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t work, cried a lot, burned with the obsession of having to get her back. For the second time in my life, I went to a psychiatrist. He treated the immediate breakdown of functioning and tried to assure me it was a natural grieving over an event that had the emotional impact of divorce. I suppose that was all I wanted at the time – to heal enough so that I could function. Then I’d be able to resume my obsessive quest for a woman to make me feel whole again!
And so the pattern continued for years. When I met L and we married, things seemed so different. But as soon as we got past the intense early years into the time when the relationship gets real or gets broken, I picked up again the habit of obsessing over that shortcut to fulfillment. I could dream of other women, other places, other careers that would end the inner fear, emptiness and pain. It was the sort of dreaming that would always keep me from hearing the song close by. The dreams gave me a way out instead of opening up and talking to the woman who loved me about the real crisis I was in. There was always a fantasy person elsewhere who wouldn’t need all that talking and honesty!
It took many years, but finally the escape artist in me called it quits. Those fantasies came in such abundance that I just couldn’t take them seriously anymore. Only then could I get on with the work of recovery and the work of marriage.
What has your experience been like? What have you tried in order to get past the voice of depression and reach out to another person?