When My Partner Told Me He Forgot About My Depression
Standing in my kitchen with the stovetop island between us, I put my right hand out in front of me, my palm parallel to my partner’s body. My left hand was resting on my hip. It was the most literal, Richard Scarry-style signifier of stop I could think of. Enough, it said. I have to opt out of this.
I live with my boyfriend — I call him my partner because that’s what we’ve agreed to be to each other, and I can’t get by the seventh-grade tone of the former term. We’re more than boyfriend and girlfriend: we’ve invested in a mattress together, surely that deserves a more mature term, right? We’ve had “discussions” like this before, a domestic spat about dishes of all things: he had promised days ago to finish them, and in my own frustration, I called him to tell him I was taking care of it. He came home, and the argument continued.
During his proceeding litany entitled Things I Do Around the House That You Never Notice, I was working overtime. I was in an argument with my boyfriend, listening to him complain about picking up my shoes, but I was also monitoring my internal reactions before they could make it out of my mouth in the form of hurtful words. It was becoming harder and harder to do both, and my irritability was about two seconds away from vomiting out on our just-cleaned countertop. So I turned into a gerbil dressed in a crossing guard’s neon vest, and put my hand up.
I am allowed to do this. I live with chronic low-grade depression with the added perk of major depressive episodes, a condition earned from years of feeling both unsafe and unworthy in my own home. Opting out of conversations when my reactivity isn’t in check, when my fight-or-flight cannot catch up with my rationale, is allowed. It’s protective for both me and the person I’m arguing with. It can seem dismissive at first, I get that. But it’s a carefully honed coping mechanism that my partner and I have agreed upon: you can use this when you need it.
Except for this time. He takes a deep breath and says with some disdain, “Well that’s nice you get to bail on this conversation. It’s great you have that option.” That hurts, like it was supposed to. To turn my coping mechanism, which is in place to protect both of us, the entity that is “us,” into selfishness? Oof. It’s in my gut.
The day before I had called out sick from work, the second time I’ve ever done so. I woke up with an incredible headache, one that wasn’t going away. Before noon, I had begun breaking out in cold sweats, shaking. My stomach felt empty, and no food felt agreeable. I tried to drink water, but it felt like so much effort, I gave up. I ended up spending the day in and out of sweaty naps, never fully descending into sleep so that I could toss and turn until my stomach quieted down for a moment. I was withdrawing from the antidepressants I left at work over the long weekend, experiencing the flu-like symptoms that occur when suddenly coming off of the SSRIs my brain and body are dependent upon. I was too scared to let myself into work over the weekend: I had a key but didn’t know the security code. I couldn’t risk the police showing up, my boss being called, and me having to disclose my dependency on medication — let alone what that medication is for. I’m 26 years old. I’ve just started my career, and in an incredibly conservative environment at that. I can’t risk letting the inevitable stigma of my condition bloom like a stain across my reputation. Not this early. Not this soon.
So instead, all day, I sweat the drug out of my system. And all day, I felt like a liar. I knew the next day inquisitive coworkers would reach out to see if I was OK, and I would have to have something prepared that doesn’t signal a mental illness to them, or the burden of medication-dependency. I would have to ribbon dance around the truth, the lies like white pieces of fabric used to distract from the fact that I am not a dancer at all. It’s necessary, yes. But it feels like utter sh*t.
I slam my hand down on the newly-shined stove top, smudging it with the oils of my palm. A flood pours out of me as I remind my partner that I have *just* experienced withdrawals from my meds, that clearly my brain chemistry is not balanced in the way that I’d like it to be, that my rationale cannot control my emotions right now. It’s the exact situation this coping mechanism was made for. I cannot believe I have to reiterate that to him.
He says something I am not expecting, and it makes my cheeks burn.
“I’m sorry, I forget.”
He forgets. He goes on to tell me he forgets about my medication dependency. He forgets my daily life is impacted by my depression. “You don’t let on that it does, you’re really good at covering it up,” he says, in a bizarre compliment with good intentions that I can’t process.
My partner forgets about the condition I am resigned to living with, and I am awash with jealousy.
I attempt to re-balance after this statement, a car that swung by me in the middle of the road and turned me around cartoon-style, leaving me with spirals and stars for eyes. It never once occurred to me that he could forget.
Shortly thereafter, the guilt and shame arrives. A familiar voice in my head tells me I am selfish for not putting myself in his shoes. I should be ashamed for allowing him to clean up mine, and for forgetting that he may forget about my illness. It’s crafty, this roundabout non-rationalization my brain so readily produces. At least there’s some creativity to it that I can appreciate.
“I never forget,” I choke out.
It’s the depressive person’s burden to have a better grasp on their internal lives than the non-depressive ever may have to. I experience my condition as a negotiation of dualities, the internal monitor and external experiencer. In the depths of my depression, this negotiation stops. I dissociate from the external experience and seek refuge within. But my partner forces me to reckon with the external. By telling me he forgets about my mental illness, I have a sudden realization that he knows the parts of me that are not my depression.
Like many people with chronic depression, I have integrated it into my broader sense of self; my psychiatrist tells me this is common.
“Do you think of yourself as kind of a dark person?” he once asked me.
“Dark and twisty” are common descriptors I use for myself, I admitted. I wrote my entire Master’s thesis on marginality, trauma and death. I am naturally inclined toward “complexity,” what others may call, “some seriously depressing sh*t.”
But in this moment, my partner reminds me that, somewhere outside of my mind, there’s a version of me that exists without it. One that puts on shoes and goes about her daily life like it’s not a phenomenon to make it out of the house that day. Though I am overcome with jealousy that I don’t know this person — what is she like? I can also take comfort that my partner does seem to know her. He protects her when I cannot acknowledge her, allows her the freedom I’m too guilty to give myself.
Instead of being jealous of him, though that feeling is still there, I am trying to work toward appreciation. What a beautiful reminder his forgetfulness is — there are facets of me that will always survive outside of my mental illness.
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