Keith and I Don’t Live Together Anymore- A Not So Depressing Post about Depression and Recovery.

Lately I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about the health of myself and Keith’s relationship. Yes, we are still together. Yes, we are very happy, happier than we have been in quite a while, in fact, both in our partnership and as individuals. And no, we no longer share a house.
Some of our friends and family have registered concern and even alarm at this new development, which is understandable. This kind of separation conventionally heralds the eventual death knell of the relationship, a last leg hinted at with false smiles stretched uncomfortably over true expressions of unbridled terror and vague murmurings about “needing space”. But those who know us well also know that, as a couple, Keith and I have rarely been conventional. These people are also aware that I have been ill for a very long time.

I like using that expression, “I’ve been ill.”It makes people so much less uncomfortable than when I say, cheerfully, “my brain has been trying to kill me since adolescence, and recently it has come quite close to succeeding”. I have a complicated relationship with my brain, you see. Growing up lonely, socially awkward and physically stunted, with a twisted spine and the real or imagined threat of bullying forever in the background, I thought that my mind was my only ally. An excellent memory and a high IQ. A gift for languages and choosing a sharp turn of phrase. These were the resources available to me, things I could fall back even if the rest of my world turned upside down in the morning. As I grew better at faking confidence, I learned that I could defuse tension with a well placed joke or comment, as long as I looked people in the eye and smiled in the right places.

I depended on my brain, and when depression and anxiety hit, when early life trauma came back for a ten year reunion, it turned on me like an abusive lover, isolating me, hurting me, undercutting every achievement with harsh criticism and bitter laughter. My inner critic, once a dependable guide on the road to academic success and a good work ethic, turned increasingly nasty. This started when I was about fifteen , and grew steadily worse until the inevitable breakdown four years later. If you’re in the mood for some misery porn, you can read all about that here- (https://meganjanestokes.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/emotional-word-vomit-or-revenge-of-the-killer-feelings-kebab/). But this isn’t a post about misery. This is a post about hope.

Because recently, ladies and gents, I’ve been content. It may be hard for some readers to grasp how much this means to me, but I it’s been five days since I thought about suicide. I haven’t felt this happy, at peace, this comfortable in my own skin for longer than I can remember. The black dog (I imagine it as a yappy, insistent little terrier) has finally taken its teeth out of my ankle for a while. Yesterday I sat out on my balcony, drinking good coffee with the sun on my face, and everything was so fucking beautiful I nearly burst into tears. I haven’t had a panic attack in over two months. I have a job. I’ve found medication and therapy that works for me, and even though I may never be totally free of my mental illnesses (genetics could see to that) I now have some pretty good weapons to fight them with.

During bleaker times, Keith was essentially my carer. He held me whenever I randomly burst into tears, tried to coax me out of bed when I was too afraid or bone-deep tired to move from the pool of blankets and sweat. He was the only one I trusted enough to let near me when the terror gripped my chest so tight I couldn’t breathe. Most of the time, he understood, and when he didn’t understand, he didn’t let his frustration overwhelm him. I know what it’s like to watch someone you love suffer and be powerless to help, and it’s not easy. The man has the patience of a saint. I’ve posted more effusive praise here (https://meganjanestokes.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/ode-to-a-great-pair-of-nuts-or-crafting-a-perfect-argument-from-shreds-of-diagnoses-poor-childhoods-and-general-neuroses/).

But now I’m feeling better, and I need to know that I can stand on my own two feet- be content to be on my own, feed myself, pay my own way. And my wonderful, caring, resilient boyfriend needs a break, having just started a career. He’s young, sharp and finally on something resembling a liveable wage. He needs to get out and have fun.

Thank you for your concern, but we’re both happier than ever.

Ode to a Great Pair of Nuts- Or Crafting A Perfect Argument From Shreds of Diagnoses, Poor Childhoods, and General Neuroses.

My partner and I are not what you could in all good conscience call ‘entirely well-balanced’.

We can both be reckless and have poor self-control. We are both driven and feel slightly socially gawky. We have complicated feelings towards our families, absent parents, bereavement. Both of us were bullied at school and were tested for ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. We occasionally lash out while asleep and buried in a violent pit, hitting a peacefully slumbering loved one in the face. Once, he bit my cheek. Another night, I cracked him in the jaw hard enough that the click of his teeth woke me up. We both love to give context for a situation, half out of respect for the wonderful humans around us, half because we are afraid of being judged.

At various times, we needle each other to stop worrying and slow down or to put on pants and get off the couch. I suspect that he isn’t as interested in my writing as he says he is. He knows I’m not nearly as interested in watching him enthuse over circuits as I pretend to be. Alternately, we try and give up medication and therapy. In cycles, we are giddy over new projects, running around and getting a good night’s sleep, or narcoticising with too much booze, drugs, Netflix or Tumblr. We’re untidy.

We are the biggest fans of tangents and it makes for wonderful conversation when there’s two of us in it, but also for frustrating monologues and hidden allegations of narcissism.

We were incredibly attracted to each other the moment we met and had insanely loud sex on the first date. There have been times when each of us owed the other a fairly large amount of money.

We both mentally like to compare ourselves to Holmes and Watson. We both think we’re Holmes.

Each of us suspects that the other might secretly be a bit of an elitist because we both feel guilty about the amount of approval we crave. At turns, we are drama queens and bitter cynics. He has the patience to hold me when I explode and on the one occasion I pushed him instead of melting into his safe space, it wounded him deeply and he could not speak for the rest of the day. I worry and rub his back as he crumbles inwards and only time he got scared and used his venom, I got so upset that I left our tiny one room flat and walked around around the city frantic and aimless for two hours. We lived in there for nine months, sharing our room with mould spores and our kitchen with seven other people. The barman in the nearest pub knew me by name and I only ever went there alone. My partner began to stay out later and more often with people he barely knew. I preferred staying in with our hodge-podge group of close friends close to our startlingly unsafe and most definitely illegal gas fire.

We move into a suburban house-share.

I want him to read more and he wants me to play more video games. The two of us have made an effort and we also work on excuses for not making a bigger one.

He brings me coffee, just because. I once tried to train him to do it whenever I scratched my chin. Apparently this is not okay. On a date night (my surprise), he got into an argument in the comment section of a national newspaper and only spoke to me to ask for advice on rhetoric. We don’t bring it up. Every day we tell each other what we have learned. I try to make him laugh and have a good track record. He tries to make the stories from his job as entertaining as possible, and we are content.

We have only had three loud fights. All of these have involved escalating amounts of alcohol. Once we got so drunk and angry at a house party that we completely demolished a friend’s stash of Captain Morgan. We still owe her for the bottle. Mostly though, we sound as though we are reading from a relationship counselling manual, seasoning liberally with “I feel” and “this is what I think the situation is. Please correct me when I’m wrong”. We have rules. There is a schedule. Both of us have built up a weighty file of therapy jargon and coping tips. We do cringeworthy things like “call time out”. I try not to raise my voice. He chooses his words deliberately. Witnesses have described the process as a cross between an episode of Dr. Phil and an arms treaty negotiation.

We are incredibly lucky, because it most of the time it works.

And when it doesn’t, and now that we have more space, our obsessive personalities carry us to separate rooms, where we can Google desperately for solutions until we catch our breath and count our blessings.