If you’ve lived with someone who is seriously depressed, then that iconic scene in Mission Impossible, when the hero is descending into a room, dodging laser beams on hairline triggers, seems like child’s play to you. That guy is going to get out of the room, be celebrated, probably get a promotion, certainly get laid, and go on about his life with the catastrophic triggers in his past, little more than a great story to tell at parties. Fuck him. He doesn’t know tension. He sure as hell doesn’t know what it’s like to love and have kids with someone who is seriously depressed, and also an addict, and also suicidal.
I’ll take your fucking laser beams, and I’ll raise you the hair-raising sensation of the phone ringing. Every time the phone rings. I’ll take your laser beams, and raise you the thundering sound of a clock ticking and wondering if tonight’s the night he doesn’t come home and you have to explain to your kid that daddy killed himself.
I’ll take those few moments of self-doubt, and raise you the soul-crushing realization that you’ve actually stopped caring and secretly wish it would just happen already.
If you’ve never been here, you don’t know.
I only know one other person who’s been here. I might be the only person she knows who understands why the overriding initial sensation when her husband killed himself was relief. I know what it’s like to spend most of your psychological energy assessing how you will handle it when it happens. How you can stop it from happening. How you can fix it so that it won’t happen. How you will protect his memory, explain his pain, justify his actions, keep everything together. What else you will find out, after he’s gone.
I know what it’s like to feel like a cold, hard, bitch for just wanting out, no matter what it takes.
I also know what it’s like to watch someone you love so much, unconditionally and no matter what, be in pain 24 hours a day. I call it “cancer of the soul,” and wish other people could see it for the gut-wrenchingly real disease that it is. I have watched the light and life drain out of him. I have thought I caused it. Or his mother. Or his work. Or…. But none of us did. He is just sick. And he is in pain, constantly.
I know what it’s like to hold a man that I love while he cries and tells me that he starts and ends each day in a state of overwhelming anxiety and dread, and that nothing makes it better. Not me. Not drugs. Not therapy. Not the alcohol he self-medicated himself with, in secret, for years until it was the thing that day-lighted his dark, internal agony.
I know what it’s like to walk into the kitchen and see him with his head in his hands, holding back tears and shaking. And to wonder if I should even ask why.
I called my friend tonight, the only other one who knows, and asked her not to turn her ringer off tonight.
We talked about the agony of waiting for the phone to ring, and being terrified when it does. We laughed, now we all have cell-phones. Thanks to Caller ID, we only have to panic when it’s him. Or an unknown number when he’s late getting home.
We talked about the cycle. It’s clear as day, and she knows it too. When I am up, things are going well, he will, without fail, go down in flames. It’s a well known cycle. They don’t know they’re doing it, but it happens every time. It did for her too. Not just when she was doing especially well, but when life itself seemed to be going really well, that’s always when the destruction begins.
The next man I fell in love with after him was also depressed, and an addict (though he would admit neither.) He was not suicidal, but he was narcissistic to a clinical degree, and it all manifested the same. When I was great, or did something particularly wonderful, he would get angry and surly. When things were great with us, he would find a reason to be destructive, usually a silly one. It’s how depressed people function in relationships. It’s a way to control others, and to justify their internal agony. And it sucks.
My friend knows that. She knows.
She knows what it’s like to wish things were different, no matter what it takes. And to not care about anything at all except the space to be happy. And finding other happy people. And just, simply, quietly being happy. That one, simple thing is all that matters in the whole wide world.
Everything else, like all those laser beams, is just a distraction. It’s fake peril, fabricated anxiety, and it will kill you. Happy, that’s all that matters.
Without that, it’s an illusion.