The following is an unashamedly soppy diatribe about how wonderful my partner is. If that sort of thing makes you uncomfortable, change channels now.
My partner’s name is Alex. I love him very much and he makes me very happy. It’s important to note here that he is not responsible for my happiness, but nevertheless; he makes me happy.
We chose the term ‘partner’ for a few different reasons. On the surface, they may not seem like the most romantic of reasons, but I like to think that the romance lies in how perfectly our views on the word aligned. The first reason is that we began our relationship in a slightly unusual way and the terms ‘girlfriend’ and ‘boyfriend’ didn’t really fit. As time went on and those terms would generally be considered to be descriptive of our relationship we again chose not to use them. They almost trivialise things because of their association with young teenage couples. Which isn’t to say anything negative about teenage relationships, just that those words didn’t really feel comfortable with either of us, and why use them when the word ‘partner’ exists? It doesn’t hold those expectations and negative connotations that ‘girlfriend’ and ‘boyfriend’ do. When Alex mentions his partner on a night out with his friends, people don’t ask him whether his girlfriend will be waiting by the phone for him to call. When I mention my partner to people when he’s not around they don’t ask me when we’re thinking about settling down and having children. The term exists in some other kind of space where those expectations and associations aren’t attached to it, and that can only be a positive thing. It means that we can determine what our relationship is and how it works, without all of those stereotypes and stigmas weighing it down. It’s also gender neutral, which I personally like. It’s a good word to use at the start of a relationship when you’re not entirely certain of where it might go, and it remains a good word to use when things become more serious or long term. Couples that have been together for years, and don’t wish to get married don’t call their significant others ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend’ because they seem to have some impermanence about them; ‘partner’ seems to carry enough weight to be taken seriously, but also be ambiguous. I like that. (I’m aware that to some this will sound like I’m screaming from the top of my lungs; ‘look at us! look at how mature we are!’ but hey ho, you can’t please everyone and that’s the term we feel comfortable with for our relationship)
Alex is my partner. Not simply because we are in a relationship, but because we are in an equal partnership. When he is having a bad day, I look after him. When I’m having a bad day (frequently) he looks after me. It feels nice to have that mutual care for each other and that we both actually want to be nice to each other. Especially when we’re at our worst.
Mental illness is something that I have struggled with on and off for most of my life. It’s chronic, it’s not going away, but it’s usually manageable and it isn’t something to be ‘fixed’. I know that can be hard to understand, maybe I’ll talk about it in another post sometime, but I know how hard it is for Alex to understand too. He doesn’t like it when I talk so negatively. When I say that my depression isn’t going away, it hurts him because he doesn’t want me to hurt. But that’s not what I mean. I mean that I need to learn how to deal with it better, I need better coping mechanisms for the bad days, because there will always be bad days. That’s what I mean when I say that it isn’t going away.
Bad days. Bad days are what I call them, or bad brain days. There’re differences between them, but that’s quite difficult to explain, so I won’t do that here. But regardless, bad days. There is a perception of depression, especially chronic depression, that the people suffering are just sad all of the time. They wallow in it and almost indulge in it. The perception is that it is self-indulgent and that the people are not trying to get better, that they mope about being sad and don’t get out of bed for days. Whilst sometimes it does make it seem impossible to get out of bed, and sometimes it does make you sad and a bit mopey, those are actually not the worst symptoms, and not everyone experiences them. For me, bad days mean that I can’t eat, can’t cook, can’t shower. Bad days mean that I feel guilty for being so shit at things that are supposed to be routine, supposed to be easy. Bad days mean that I can sit doing absolutely nothing and be bored, but not be sure what I could possibly do. Bad days mean that I can’t open a bottle of drink because for some reason I become so weak. (Probably because I don’t eat) Bad days mean that some days I forget to eat because I’m just not hungry. Bad days mean that I forget to go to the toilet because I don’t know that I need to. Bad days mean that I feel guilty for not cleaning myself, for not eating, for not going to the toilet until I am desperate, for not listening to my body and providing it with what it needs. But the worst symptom, for me, is the anger and the anxiety. Depression makes me scared of everything. It makes me feel completely unable to go to the shop down the road on my own, or to do anything on my own. Which is frustrating. I’ve always been a very independent person, and that is hard to deal with when you suddenly find yourself scared to do very easy things. And it makes me angry. It makes me angry that I can’t enjoy things that I know that I love, it makes me angry that I can’t just get up and do things that I want to do. It makes me angry that it messes up important things like my degree. I am capable of so many things, that depression makes seem impossible, and every time I fail to go to a lecture, or fail in going to the shop when I want to, it just pisses me off that I have to work so hard just to do things that I want to do. It’s tiring to try so hard all of the time, and it’s tiring to fail so frequently. That’s what bad days are for me. There are good days too. Days where all of my trying to succeed actually works and I manage to get to the shop. Good days are when I don’t beat myself up and feel guilty for not being able to do those things.
Obviously all of that can put a strain on any relationships that you have. Not just with your partner, but with your friends too. And this is where the soppy bit comes in I suppose. When you’re sharing so much of your life with someone you can’t hide it from them, and you don’t have to deal with it alone anymore. That’s hard to come to terms with because of course you don’t want to be a burden, you want to be their partner. But they want to help you and that can make you feel guilty, and ashamed for not getting better when they’re trying so hard to help you. But then you feel guilty for feeling that way because you know that they’re only trying to help you and it can feed the cycle. To be clear, I don’t meant that being in a relationship is a bad thing for depression, many many things feed the cycle and there is absolutely no point not being in a relationship because of depression. You may well feel guilty and ashamed for not getting better, but breaking up is not the answer to that- it will make you feel worse and you may well have lost your support network. I heard somebody say once that if you’re depressed you shouldn’t be in a relationship because you’re not mentally healthy enough to be in love. I think that’s bullshit. Just because you’re suffering from a mental illness does not mean that you are not worthy of love. I’ll say that again for the people at the back. JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE SUFFERING FROM A MENTAL ILLNESS DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU ARE NOT WORTHY OF LOVE.
Alex is wonderful. He’s my partner because he is kind and patient and he looks after me on my bad days. He listens to me when I say that I’m struggling to eat, and he cooks for me and helps me. He tells me that it’s okay to stay in bed all day, so long as I get up and use the bathroom and change my pyjamas. He knows that sometimes it just takes someone to say that it’s okay to do that, in order for me to actually get out of bed. He deals with me being frustrated and angry, and although that’s not always easy, he keeps trying and he gives me the time and space to figure things out. He understands when I’m having a panic attack and when I’m having an anger attack, and although he doesn’t always know what to do to help me, he seems to do a pretty good job by just being there. There’s obviously a lot more reasons that we’re together, that we choose to be around each other, to be each other’s ‘person’, but I’m very glad that we did choose each other. I know that I’m very lucky to have an understanding partner, and although I probably do let him cook for me more than I should, I never take him for granted.
I’m not entirely sure what this post was supposed to be about. I started out writing this with the idea that it would be some really soppy thing, but I don’t think it has been. I think it’s important to battle against that perception of depression as people just being sad all of the time. We’re not just sad. And even when we are, we’re still allowed to be happy. We’re still allowed to be loved, if we’ll let ourselves be.