The In-between: Blue Love

9/5/2018

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It all started one Monday night in February when I was driving home from work. My phone rang, and a quick glance at the caller ID revealed that it was my boyfriend on the other end. He and I had just had the most incredible weekend together, and so I assumed that he was calling to murmur sweet nothings in my ear until I made it home. However, as soon as I answered the phone, I was greeted by his angry voice on the other end, and at that moment sensed our relationship was about to take an unexpected turn.

Instead of our usual loving conversation, my boyfriend greeted me with a borage of confusing accusations. Startled, I tried to make sense of his anger, which was centered on some unmade rice that just yesterday he had said he would cook, but none of my attempts to calm or rationalize the situation seemed to work. Over the next several days he continued to treat me with hostility and disrespect, until he finally came around and apologetically owned up to his hurtful and erratic behavior.

Despite this reconciliation, over the next several months our relationship became increasingly rocky. Even though we continued to have some really incredible days together, there was now a dark cloud hanging over everything. At any moment, it seemed, something might set him off, and so I did everything I could to keep us both from spiraling back down into that angry abyss. Of course, on several occasions, we backslid into it anyway, which I found to be both incredibly frustrating and emotionally draining.

Finally, one morning about a month later, he called me on his way to work and admitted to me that he struggled with depression. Although that did not excuse his sometimes-cruel and often unpleasant behavior, it did provide me with an avenue through which to begin making sense of it. Until that moment, I had no idea what was happening in our relationship, or why he was behaving the way he often did, and the mysteriousness of it all had made the situation seem hopeless and stressful.

As soon as we hung up, I started googling “dating people with depression,” and immediately found myself paging through articles in which strangers described romantic relationships that sounded a lot like mine. In “Dating a Man with Depression: What You Need to Know and Do” for example, section subtitles like “He Might Interpret Neutral Things in a Negative Way,” “Depression Might Make Him Feel Unworthy of Your Love,” and “Depression Can Make Him Seem Like a Different Person” all accurately described some of the most perplexing behaviors that I had been experiencing in the relationship. Likewise, on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website, the advice section for spouses and partners also noted similar behavior, and offered suggestions on how to best support a loved one with depression or anxiety while also caring for yourself.

Almost instantly, a wave of relief began to wash over me. Although the picture these articles were painting of the road ahead seemed difficult, at least I finally had some sense of what kind of terrain we were traversing. After reading through several more of these articles and giving it some serious thought, I decided that I would try to support him in addressing his mental illness. When he wasn’t having an “episode” (as I later began to call them), he could be incredibly warm and kind, and in our conversations about his depression he seemed earnest in his determination to get a handle on it.

So, I made a list of the things we both needed to do. First, I told him, he had to find a therapist that he could meet with regularly, and I also encouraged him to consider exploring pharmaceutical options. Second, I insisted that he and I come up with a plan for how to handle future episodes, so that when the next one arose we would already have an agreement in place for exactly how to deal with it. Finally, I also decided to get myself a therapist, so that I, too, would have a safe space to process my feelings and feel supported.

He agreed to all of this and so we began to trudge forward in our relationship. However, over the next several months, I continued to feel like there was less and less room for me in it. Although he was taking his medication and going to therapy, the depression (which we later discovered was only one symptom of a more complex, undiagnosed borderline personality disorder) was taking over everything. Despite all the reading that I had done, none of the articles I had found had adequately prepared me for this. Even though these were his mental illnesses, not mine, I too, was being ruled by them.

Sadly, these challenges and others ultimately led me to conclude that this relationship was not one I could stay in. However, my experiences while in it once again brought to the surface the familiar sensation of living a life in the in-between. Although I myself did not experience the intense feelings of sadness, hurt, anger, fear and/or worthlessness that my partner often did, I was no less affected by these symptoms of his mental illnesses.

Surprisingly, this predicament of being caught in between a partner’s mental illnesses and one’s own need for mental health and stability was almost never acknowledged in the articles I came across in my research. Instead, most authors gave advice like “try not to take it personally” and “pay attention to changes in their behavior,” both of which put the un-afflicted partner (me) in a position of responsibility for the other’s mental welfare. Although well-intentioned, I found that such advice had the tendency to encourage un-afflicted partners to sublimate their own needs for the sake of the other’s, which is ultimately unsustainable and thus harmful to both people.

There were many times during this relationship that this perceived responsibility made me feel helpless and alone. I often felt ashamed of the challenges I was experiencing in my relationship, and so I tried to deal with them alone. In contrast, I encourage anyone currently going through something similar to speak up and reach out to others, because the in-between space you are currently struggling in is not one you should ever have to reside in alone.

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Lorien Hunter
Lorien Hunter is a writer, researcher and aspiring world traveler who currently lives in San Jose, California. In 2017, she earned her Ph.D. in media studies from the University of Southern California, where she examined digital media, popular culture and marginalized communities. Today, she is a regular contributing writer at Bi.org, where her weekly column, The In-between, centers on her experiences as a biracial bi woman finding comfort and belonging in the spaces between worlds.