It’s Mental Health Awareness Week so Brey and I decided to share our story. Not because we’re looking for attention, but because somewhere out there, there could be a person who just might benefit from hearing us be truthful about our experience. To read that they’re not as alone as they might think.
When I met Brey, I thought all my Christmases had come at once. I’d always been a massive Yankophile, and as soon as I heard her voice, I was hooked. Then I saw her and everything else followed suit. How we got together is a long story, and not for this blog, but all you need to know is that it didn’t take me long to fall head over heels, I’d do anything for you, I want to make all your dreams come true, in love.
But there was a problem. Brey had already decided she was checking out of this world. She’d chosen a date. She had a method to escape. She’d picked a place. She’d been methodical in her preparations. A date nowhere near anyone’s birthday, anniversary, or other celebration. A place away from home so home wouldn’t be forever marred with the discovery of her body. A painless method that required no messy clean-up for the people who would be called to the scene.
I’ve been lucky in my life. Almost charmed. I’ve never suffered from mental health issues. My dad has, and still does, but he did the parental thing and never shared his pain and suffering with us as I grew up. Thankfully, he does now, and it’s helped him enormously to have Brey in his life. To share his experience and feelings with her. To feel free of judgement and not have to put on that face that the world expects around us.
But I’m jumping ahead. Let me rewind. I’m an eternal optimist. I’m a glass half-full kind of woman. I love life and all it has to offer. I love colour. I love birds and animals. I love women (though now, just the one). I find delight in the smallest of things, and I wake each morning, glad to be alive and wondering what the day will bring (sure, I’ll give you a minute…here’s a sick bag). When Brey and I smashed together, our worlds collided like a meteor into an already existing crater. Everything changed in that fluffy romantic novel kind of a way. This was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. The rest of her life.
Problem was, Brey had already decided before we’d met, that the rest of her life was only going to be another six months (she was waiting until after a particular wedding before she departed). I had a maximum of twenty-six weeks to convince her that life really was worth living, and a life with me would be worth hanging around for.
I’m writing this over three years after that fateful date—which still hangs heavy on our calendar, and every year we do something special to mark what we’ve termed, Brey’s Re-Birthday. The day she chose to give her life another chance. So yes, I convinced her to stick around, and every day I’m thankful for her willingness to make that incredibly brave decision to be open to a different kind of life than she’d been used to.
But Brey’s depression isn’t all about the life she was or is leading. In fact, it has very little to do with that. It’s a black tar, as she calls it, that threatens to pull her down and never relinquish its grip. It’s an angry, vicious, and hateful presence inside her mind that tells her she’s worthless, ugly, and insignificant. It tells her that I’d be better off without her, that I should be with someone far more intelligent, sexier, and thinner than she is. Whether that presence is borne from life, from abuse, from the complex firing or misfiring of synapses in her brain is largely irrelevant. She sought therapy for a good number of years, and her last therapist told her she could no longer help her and sent her away (that therapist should’ve been struck off and never allowed to sit with a vulnerable person ever again). None of it helped.
I tell her every day that she is beautiful, that she’s the sexiest woman in the world, that I feel so lucky to be with her, to have found her, to have this amazing life we share. We play with words as our job and as published authors every day. For me, it can get no better. Some days she hears me. Those moments have increased over the years. But a lot of the time, that tar and that hateful presence is louder than I am. And we all know how hard the bad stuff hits and how easy it is to dismiss the good.
But for Brey, the battle is daily. Yes, she opened her heart and mind to the possibility of a life she thought impossible. Yes, every day she wakes and throws herself into my arms (I’m an early riser and have usually worked two hours before Brey rises from her bed-swamp!). Yes, if you meet her, you’d probably have no idea how hard she has to work to not run away and hide. But still, that depression attacks with merciless abandon. A lovely woo-woo lady, who practically reads your body like a set of Tarot cards when she gives you a massage, told Brey she had to love that part of her that tells her these things. Love it and it will quieten. She’s working on that.
So what about people on the other side of this kind of depression and mental health issue? How do they cope successfully and live with a partner who has to fight for every unhindered breath of a good life? I can only speak to how I handle it, and I’m no expert, but this is how I see it:
1) I don’t take it personally. It is NOT about me (unless I’m being an asshole, and then some of it might be about me). It’s really easy to think that it is about you. Who reads those Facebook posts that are “anonymous” but directed at someone and immediately thinks, “They’re talking to me” ? When someone is upset in a room and you had a conversation with them three hours ago, who thinks that it was you who probably upset them? It’s human nature. We automatically assume the world revolves around us and our actions, good or bad, egotistically and non-egotistically. I have to park that. Let me say again, it is NOT about me.
2) I’m there. I hear the same things I’ve heard over and over again but every time, I try to hear them with fresh ears. I say the same things. Sometimes she hears them. Sometimes she doesn’t. But she always listens.
3) I make every day the best I can possibly make it. No, it’s not about me or the life I’m providing, but I may as well do my damnedest to make it the best life in the world.
4) When it hurts too much or if I’m struggling to cope, I talk to Brey. I don’t pretend I’m some super hero who’s so strong and like an island and doesn’t need to vent my emotions and feelings. I let them out because otherwise, I fear it might eventually turn to resentment. I don’t think, “She’s not strong enough to hear my pain.” Instead, I think, “We have to share my pain too.”
5) I love her. I adore her. It’s my life’s mission to show her that she didn’t make a mistake when she chose to stick around and enhance my life. I tell her every day that she’s beautiful. I bring her flowers every week to show her that she’s loved. I stop and make time, no matter what I’m doing. I share myself—all of me. I don’t hold back. I give her everything, good and bad, and she makes me stronger because of that.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and we’re sharing our private and very personal experience because we’re not ashamed. There are hundreds and thousands of people out there suffering every day in silence because nobody listens. That’s all I ask. Listen and hear. Or hear and listen, whichever way that works, do it. When you ask a friend or partner or family member if they’re okay, don’t do it in passing and not really hear the answer. Take the time. Be aware.
To hear Brey’s side of the story, click here.