When you’re down, everything seems hard. I know this sounds like whining, but it’s something deeper. My silence usually means one thing. SAD.
It’s a bit more than sadness, however, that pulls me under. It was a bit more than sadness that changed the marriage to my kid’s mom as well. And before I get the push back about depression just being a weakness of character, or laziness, let me clarify what I’m talking about.
You know the sinking feeling in your body as you can tell the flu has entered your system? Depression is kind of like that feeling, except you don’t have any outward signs of illness beyond your refusal to do things that bring you pleasure and avoid everything that’s hard. But it’s not like a hiding that’s going on when your depressed. It’s more like a death that’s happening right inside you. There is simply no pleasure to be had. It’s as if the hope molecules have been completely depleted from your body. My self assessment comes in the form of ice cream and my craving or lack of interest in it. If I can’t get excited about Ben and Jerry’s Coffee Toffee Crunch, then something is seriously out of whack with my system.
The minute I feel it coming on, if I’m that self-aware, I begin taking action to delay or avoid the storm. I try to exercise regardless of the ballast that’s beginning to weigh down on my back. I do my best to get enough sleep and good food. I try to keep talking to my loved ones. But sometimes, despite my best efforts, I fail and fall in to a period of silence.
The silence is only in what I’m willing to share. My brain is not quiet at all, if fact, it’s on fire with bad ideas. Negative predictions. Catastrophic terminations of everything from my job, to my love life, to my life in general. And again, I want to stress this (especially now that I’m on the other side of this “episode”): depression is an illness like no other. The flu-like symptoms are mainly in your mind. And when I try to tough it out, it’s usually the sadness that wins.
And it’s not that I’m giving up, either. I’m fighting like hell to maintain my outward appearance of normalcy, but it rarely works. In normal times I’m fairly loud and flamboyant. When I go quiet, everybody notices.
On this side of the darkness I can look back, examine, plan, and talk about ideas that might help next time. When I’m IN it, there are almost no words that help. Here are a few that did make a difference. My significant other did her part to remind me that she was here for the long haul, that she loved me, and that she was not leaving. And even when she couldn’t quite understand what had happened to me, she stayed close, cuddly, and supportive. That’s the best you can do. Stand beside me. Don’t try to make it better, that’s my job. But do tell me you’re not leaving. And then stick around.
Depression is exhausting for everyone. If you, as my partner, can stay out of the tractor beam of my darkness, you can take time for yourself, and let me know it’s hard. And primarily, take care of your heart and your emotions. Mine are shot. I will try to get you to save me, primarily by replaying my helplessness. But don’t give in. I’m not helpless, that’s the depression. And it’s my fight against my own feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that is my path back to normal times. Happy times. Even ecstatic times. (Oh, but be careful about those, the term bipolar is bandied about too easily these days, but it must be taken into account.) Those of us with the deepest lows often spring back into hyper highs. And without meaning to, we can rebound off the happy ceiling and blast right back into the sadness. It’s a vicious cycle, this cycling. Something must be done.
Today I’m moderating my joy. I’m trying to take simple steps back into the routine. I’m introducing my “big projects” back into my activity stream, but I’ve got to be watchful that I don’t blast off. Finally released of the flu-like hopelessness, you can only imagine how much I want to soar, and zoom back into my ultra-productive hyper times. My thinking today is that it’s the small steps that I can take to come back online. It’s also the tiny victories I will log as I reject my avoidance habits and step back into full responsibility for my actions.
It’s not like depression is a release from those responsibilities, but it’s as if I no longer see myself as being capable. And when you begin imagining yourself absent from the future consequences, because you simply won’t be alive, you can see how this too (suicidal ideation, they call it, thinking about suicide rather than acting on the idea) is an avoidance. We learned avoidance when we were really young. And as a defense mechanism it occasionally serves it’s purpose. But as an adult coping mechanism, avoidance is the worst. I can’t say it’s the reason I fall off the wagon, but it’s one of the harbingers of my decline.
Taking the responsibility for all of my life again, requires some ramping up. From things like, making a dentist appointment, getting the car into a service appointment, and even showing up at my daughter’s basketball games, is part of my responsibility to SHOW UP. It’s when I try to disappear that I realize I’m avoiding. Avoiding even my own life. That’s a bad sign.
We all need defense mechanisms. I’m looking to build some healthier ways of coping with stress and complications of being a parent and recently engaged partner. If I can just say the things that are worrying me, write them down, share them, I can find a way to own up to getting them done. I believe for me, those are the baby steps back towards making the unbearable actually joyful again.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff posts
- With the Time I Have Left: Keep Climbing the Hill
- Little Ghosts Still Flutter My Heart
- Confronting God Alone, After Divorce
- Am I Back? What’s New, What’s Changed, What Will I Do Differently?
- The Self-Regulation of Poetry and Longing
- Things Broken and Unsaid
image: into the blue, arindam bhattacharya, creative commons usage
One of my posts on The Good Men Project got a very interesting comment from an articulate and intelligent woman. She was clearly trying to figure out the parts of her relationship (and sexual) experience in marriage. And I hear this a lot, about the fundamental differences between men and women when it comes to sex and sexual appetites. But let’s clear a few misconceptions up. There has been a lot of new science recently that shows women are just as interested in sex, and historically have not always been as repressed as they are today. I’ll get to that in a second, but here is my response to Erin’s comment. You can go read her full comment here on the GMP, but I think you’ll get the idea from my response.
Hmmm… You make a few assumptions that I don’t necessarily agree with, Erin.
1. Sex is about not disappointing your partner. Hmmm. I don’t think that’s the point. Sex should be a mutually desired part of any relationship. I don’t agree with all this stuff about monogamy becoming boring over time. After 11 years of marriage I was never bored or uninspired by my then-wife. Ever.
2. Men are just men and need sex, women can either comply or risk losing their man. Um… Well, some of that is true. But sex can come in many forms. Intercourse is not always the best option for either partner. And it’s true the male of the species has a more dominate drive, fueled by higher levels of testosterone. But both partners should want to be intimate, at least occasionally. Your milage may vary.
3. Sex is not about maintaining monogamy. And men will not necessarily go wandering sexually if they are not getting sex in their marriage. Just as not all women grow bored with sex after being married for a while. It’s simply the average story. But we’re not average, are we?
4. Men deal with the exact same thing, from the other side of the bed. Being constantly rejected for intimacy is hard to handle. I got creative with my requests. I had unspoken attempts. I had happy and playful attempts. I had lustful and passionate pleas. When nothing (and I mean nothing) worked, we were dealing with something other than a difference in libido.
So let’s take as an assumption that men and women desire closeness and affection with the same intensity. And for men, often this affection is driven by the sexual drive inherent in our higher levels of testosterone and our natural hunter instinct. This is biological. BUT… That’s not the whole story, and it’s definitely not the answer for our differences in sexual desire, or desire for frequency of sex. It is part of the story, but in my opinion, not the most important part. Hear me out.
Sex is about hormones and release. Sure. I can agree with that, from an animal perspective. When we were beasts we conquered dinner on the hunt and we conquered women back at home, partially as reward for our prowess and success as a provider. Well, dear women and men, the modern era is much different. The concept of the hungry and sexually frustrated male is convenient, but not all that helpful in navigating or negotiating an equitable balance in touch and intimacy, both sexual and non-sexual.
If we put the imbalance idea on hold just for a second, let’s assume that both partners desire closeness and this involves cuddling, kissing, holding hands, and sexual interactions. If we start with the idea that both partners desire closeness, we can start solving for how to get that closeness, regardless of if it involves intercourse.
What started happening in my marriage to curb our intimacy (and this was just as much about casual touch and holding) was my then-wife began distancing herself physically and emotionally from me. As she got activated by something, anger, fear, frustration, overwhelm, exhaustion, she would withdraw rather than engage. Now, I do understand how any intimate interaction has the potential to become sexual, but that was not the issue. For me, I would’ve been happy with snuggling. But the threat of sex may have kept her from even asking for that simple nurturing.
When I get scared or sad I feel closer and more supported by a gentle touch. That connection, even a hand on my neck, shows me (in some animal – dog-like perhaps) that she is near, she cares, and she is available. Available not for sex but for hearing and supporting me whatever I’m going through.
I can see how in many relationships that are based on much more base, caveman-like, relationships that even a hand on the neck might signal, “hey let’s have sex” but this wasn’t how our 9 – 10 years of closeness had developed. I was as fulfilled by a hug, sometimes, as a good roll under the sheets.
But something emotional was beginning to happen in my marriage that was more fundamental. It was not about sex. It was about being seen and being honest.
If you have sex in a full and open way, you begin to see deeply into the other person’s nature. (I’m not talking woo woo here.) You begin to feel more connected and in my case, you crave that connection, that transparency. I could tell when she was closed down and when we were close, and some well-thought-out touches and supportive words were often all it took to get her to open up and tell me what was bugging her. And most of the time this was not about sex. I was sincerely opening my heart to hers to hear what was hurting her or freaking her out. And more often than not, in the earlier stages of our marriage, it was about external things, or someone else who had done something hurtful.
But… As we began to experience more stress in our marriage, due in large part to the financial collapse of everyone’s economy including ours, she began to avoid being close. If she got scared she would often withdraw. When I had energy and passion for her I would frequently seek her out and dig in my heels until she let me in and told me what was going on. This was the equivalent of a housekeeper making sure nothing was getting swept under the rug. And this type of closeness rarely evolved into sex. It was not about sex, it was about closeness and intimacy.
After a while, however, as things continued to slide, she was harder to reach. And she began to express uncontrollable anger, that would pop out from time to time as a “fuck you.” It was shocking the first time she just blurted it out. The second and third time I had the impression she was bottling up so much anger and rage (in her mind it was 100% about me) that she could no longer contain it in her isolation. But she was so withdrawn that I couldn’t talk her down either.
In some ways maybe she was avoiding sex too. But I think the sex we had was so open and opening she was avoiding sex in order to not be revealed. Whatever she was afraid of or angry about was so frightening she didn’t want me to open her up. She didn’t want to tell me what was really going on. And in the end she really didn’t want to tell me she was consulting an attorney and trying to figure out her best options in asking for a divorce.
So sure, she was withdrawn and withholding of sex at this late stage. But it wasn’t about sex. It was about the closeness that often opened us both up to each other’s deep feelings. She didn’t want to share her hurt and pain. She didn’t want to tell me she was actually considering divorce and not just randomly shouting curses as me. She was so far gone she didn’t want me to see into her at all.
Sex opens you up to another individual in a human way, that is very different from our Neanderthal ancestors. Some of us are still stuck in the model of that old hunter/conqueror vs breeding partner/reward dynamic. That no longer holds true, if you are consciously coupling and relating with all of your intelligence. I do know that some relationships are not based on honesty and sharing, and I’ve seen examples of the caveman mentality too often to count. But that’s not us. That’s no you. That should not be your default understanding of the man vs. woman equation.
And it’s not the way it should be with sex. Sure we men want sex more often. And it is the woman who is the gatekeeper to her own body and the gift of that intimacy. When the intimacy dries up completely, it’s more about the relationship than it is about the animals in the relationship.
The Off Parent
reference: Good Sex: Or Five Ways to Avoid Bad Sex – The Good Men Project
- Dating A Divorced Dad: We Might Be Good For Each Other
- 5 Wonderful and Unexpected Benefits of Being a Serial Monogamist
- The Honey Trap: How Beauty Can Lead Us Astray
- a little love poem – a poem
image: fk, marina caprara, creative commons usage
When she broke up with me the first time, I wasn’t sure if she knew about my blogs. And I wrote about the experience. She contacted me and said that what I had written was very honest and accurate, but not very flattering. She didn’t ask me to take it down. And eventually we continued dating.
She vowed to not read this blog. I know I would not be able to keep away if I knew she was pouring out pieces of her heart and soul. It’s too tempting.
She let me know that my love poems really tripped her out. “I don’t want to hold all that expectation for you. That’s not me.”
And as much as I tried to explain to her that the love poem was an art form, and though she had been the inspiration for the passion and fury of the expression, I often lifted off into some altered state where I was writing to the gods. The love poem to end all love poems. The best love poem, ever. Still it freaked her out. So I learned not to share them. And she continued to profess not to read the blog.
But she read the blog and broke up with me several times over the next month. Still, I understand.
I can’t imagine what it would be like if the tables were turned. Well, in fact, I sort of can, a woman I dated for a while is also a blogger. And it’s a bit voyueristic. But we’re no longer involved, so it’s cool.
Anyway, the one time before that I dated someone who knew about the blog it didn’t go so well. I told her that I would not blog about us. And we proceeded to implode rather quickly, but I couldn’t write about it. It was my promise.
Moving on towards the present moment, I can understand the temptation to read the words of the person you are in a relationship with. In fact, it’s hard for me to imagine that I wouldn’t read the entire tome back to front, just to get oriented.
But rather than learn and explore with me, this woman tended to defend or take offense to much of my writing. And that was a bummer. She would miss the entire point of a post, to share her take on where I got it all wrong. Um, excuse me? Which part did I get wrong? The part where I didn’t agree with you?
Her objections to my love poems, however were more troubling. As our relationship continued, I continued to express my desire, hopes, fantasies, and ultimately my sole-created projections. I am aware that poems and even some posts are simply projections of what I want. She was not so easy to convince that not every single line was about. her. So she stopped reading the love poems too, and I learned not to send them to her. But that’s a bit of a problem right?
It’s as if this blog is a loaded gun, pointed directly at our relationship. And if I am already unable to share what I’m thinking, dreaming, and hoping for… Well, that says something about how the relationship was going to progress, unless something amazing changed. And I know waiting for the other person to change is a big problem. (see: Waiting for the Other Person to Change)
Okay, so things aren’t going to change. And my poems and posts are going to freak her out… forever. That’s no way to be. And she’s now let me know, once again, that she’s not right for me. At this point, I am inclined to accept her protestation.
It makes me very sad to have invested so much heart and time into this wonderful startup, and yet have it fail. And now she can read this blog freely as I stumble to learn and move on from the experience of loving someone fully again.
Here’s how the story ends: Walking Away from the Wreckage
Here’s how it felt when it ended: don’t tell me how it ends < a poem
The Off Parent
- Waiting for the Other Person to Change – The Path Towards Divorce
- Taking a Break from Online Dating: Offline for the Summer
- in between < poem
- Fractured People: Learning About Boundaries in Dating After Divorce
- No Means No < poem
- Three Loves: Eros, Filial, Agape
image: bye, bye 288, tim, creative commons usage