“So,” said my pixelated boyfriend on video chat, “what did you do today?”
I was staring at some point to the left of my computer screen, wearing the same sweatshirt I’d been wearing for days. My bed was filled with depression debris -– a bowl of dried mac and cheese, used tissues, dirty tank tops.
“Um,” I said. Tears began leaking out of my eyes, in this very passive way that didn’t seem verb-y enough to qualify as “crying.”
Unsure what to do about the tears, I pretended they weren’t happening and began, “Well, I missed class because I woke up late, like at 4:30, and I went to the supermarket. And I walked around putting groceries in my basket.” Ears of corn, wedges of expensive cheese, organic chocolate. “And then I took each item out of the basket and put it back where I found it.”
“OK…” he said.
I continued, “I did that three more times, so three laps around the grocery store, and then I decided not to buy anything and I came home.” I blew my nose into my sweatshirt sleeve and snuck a glance at the chat window. My hair was matted down entirely on one side. When had I last showered?
“Rebecca,” he said, gently. “Why... did you do that?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know. I got scared.”
“Scared of what?”
“Food, I guess. Of being out. I don’t know.” I burritoed myself more tightly in my blanket.
Everything had been underwater-y for weeks, and it would continue on like that until, one morning, inexplicably, it wasn’t.
When depression plunks itself down on me like several large, inconsiderate bears (“Weeee’re baaa-ack, they screech, doing their best "Poltergeist 2" impression), or when my dormant eating disorder starts to stir somewhere inside my never-[blank]-enough body, my brain short-circuits.
I start keeping raccoon hours. My diet swings to extremes. My energy levels drop to zero. I really, really lose interest in getting laid, and experience no strong desire to “get better.”
Currently, I am dating an almost obnoxiously stable guy. This means that every time I get low with the lowest of moods, I have to try to stop ruminating on ME ME ME and my unworthiness. I have another human being to contend with, after all.
The Crazy Town stuff is difficult to explain to my boyfriend. He’s sympathetic, for sure, but as far as I can ascertain, his biggest life tragedy thus far was wearing a palate expander in the fourth grade.
Because I do love my him when I’ve got the brainspace to feel feelings like that, I’ve been trying to work on myself and my relationship this past year. Most of this soul-searching has taken place when I’m not depressed, because when that shit hits, forget self-help, man.
Look, I don’t know if you should do as I do. Probably not. I do not know how to fix my own mood issues or love life, let alone anyone else’s. I wish I had those powers. I would have been popular as FUCK in high school.
No, this is little more than a brainstorm from a stormy brain.
1. USE YOUR WORDS
First up, I’ve been trying to communicate better, which is pretty duh, but good luck getting me to discuss my feelings when I’m depressed.
“Why even talk?” I might intone. “Is it better to be verbosely worthless than quietly so?”
No, that is not the right time for me to bring up my issues with my well-adjusted boyfriend. When I’m in a good mental space and we’re doing something romantic, however? Whyyy not!
“Sometimes I don’t like when you touch my stomach, because I have severe body image issues,” I proclaimed on one such occasion, when he made that mistake in the shower. “I know I’ve only mentioned my eating disorder in passing, but it was kind of serious, you know.”
Well, it turns out he did not know, not really. How could he? So I filled him in.
There was no clamorous shower sex that night, but we did have a good talk. I know, a good talk is not NEARLY as fun as clamorous shower sex, but addressing those issues when I wasn’t down the rabbit hole was really helpful for both of us.
2. GIVE FAIR WARNING
I’ve also familiarized him with the signs of my Nutter Butter-iness, so he can recognize them and act accordingly. He knows now why I might burst into tears after staring at a piece of chicken for 12 minutes, or what might be behind my apparent weeklong hibernation.
The conversation goes both ways, too. Chronically well-meaning as he is, my boyfriend has asked me plenty of tricky questions, like, “What do you think might trigger these episodes?” and “Why do you feel insecure about your body?” and “How can I help?” Which brings me, and brought me, to therapy.
Therapy and I have a long and complicated relationship, but I think it’s helped this time ’round. Maybe. I’ve been working to develop healthy coping mechanisms, of which I had approximately zero prior to getting my head shrunk.
It’s also helped me identify my needs, which I can now convey to my boyfriend. I remind him that he can’t fix my fractured brain, but he can be gentle and patient and supportive. He can cuddle with me. And, if I’m not at rock bottom, he can help me stick to the routines that keep me semi-functional.
3. SEXT LIKE A TEENAGER
Now. Sex. (This is where it gets weird.)
I should preface this by explaining that I looove sex most of the time, when I’m not depressed. Love!
But I love it not just in a normal “Sex is great” way (although that, too), but in a VERY conscious way, like, “At any moment, I could STOP loving sex, and so we need to have a lot of sex, like RIGHT now. As much sex as possible, in fact. BANG ME, LOVER.”
And, so, there is a lot of sex. It’s like I’m banking it up.
It’s pretty jarring, then, when my libido brakes to a dead stop from 85 miles an hour. I rarely explain what’s going on, so my boyfriend gets confused. Of course, I become hyper-conscious of how NOT into sex I am, and then beat myself up for not putting out. (I am not a very good feminist when I’m depressed.)
Sometimes, I solve this by maturely discussing this with my boyfriend and waiting for the spell to pass.
Otherwise, I’ll just start sexting him a bunch.
Look, sexting is WAY easier than actual sex when I’m depressed. I don’t have to feel sexy to write sexy paragraphs and snap the occasional boob shot. And though I refuse to fake orgasms anymore, I will occasionally take liberties with what “touching myself” means.
Are you going UGH? It is kind of UGH, I know. And wrong. All wrong! Depressed sexting is exactly as weird as it sounds, and I realize it’s messed-up that I’m even REMOTELY concerned about getting him off when I’m all Plath-y.
It’s just, our level of intimacy takes such a hit when I’m depressed. Of course it does, because I’m disturbingly quiet, asleep when he’s awake, and reluctant to engage with the world. And even though depressed sexting (depressexting?!) doesn’t do much for ME, it does seem to bring us a little closer, and bides us a bit of time until I’m myself again.
Anyway! Those are my FOOLPROOF ways of preserving my relationship when I go crazy-bananas: communicating in advance, attending therapy, maintaining routines, cuddling, and sexting. One of those things is not like the others, but. You know. It’s fine.
So, uh, this is exactly how everyone deals with such situations, right? No? Well, if you have better ideas, tell me NOW, and quick! Before the crazy strikes again. I’m due!
Rebecca is looking for someone to explain her to herself on Twitter @rebsanti.