Through a creative non-fiction piece, Seth Gwilym Owen writes about depression through the lens of a partner. Part of Durre Shahwar’s Artist in Residence blog series on mental health.
We were driving home from Sam and Elly’s wedding where I was best man. You kept saying how they had taken advantage of you and how you couldn’t say no when they asked you to do something and you hated yourself for it. To be fair they had worked you hard, but they loved you and had thanked you so many times. I was sure that once they were back from honeymoon they would make up for it. Saying this didn’t console you even though you normally saw the best in people.
“OK, I’ve got it,” I said through gritted teeth, taking a corner too fast. I’d never told you to stop talking or change a subject like that before. It was so unlike you to be this way and it was then we realised you were ill.
We found what it was – depression. I know depression, I’ve got some weapons for it. I made you do what worked for me: exercise and loads of it. You cycled while I ran. I encouraged you to go swimming just about all the time. I bought you a book on yoga. And when it didn’t work I had nothing.
You did so well when you saw I didn’t know what to do. You wrote me a little check list of things to do: text you through the day, just to see how you are, ask if you’ve cleaned your teeth, check if you’ve been outside. It was almost like a little project for us. We went to the doctors who gave you beta-blockers to help with the anxiety. You reacted to them in bath so severely you thought your skin was on fire and that you were going to have a heart attack. Your body was nearly too heavy and slippery for me to get you out. You went on a waiting list. You went to group therapy and came back saying two people monopolised the whole thing. There was no one-to-one therapy available. You refused drugs – it’s your body so I didn’t argue. This was when I first felt powerless: if the state couldn’t help you what could I do?
You were getting out of bed after me even though you were the morning person. You would eat the whole of a pizza for dinner, just like me. You started playing computer games for hours on end and binge watching Netflix. I knew how bad these habits were because they were my habits and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone. You socialised less but posted more on social media.
The house felt smaller, colder and darker. Your parents found you a private hypnotherapist that we would never have been able to afford. It worked for a bit but it was just coping mechanisms in the end. The anxiety attacks drove you out of your job and I felt guilty for trying to make you stick with it. You told me you sometimes think about suicide.
I read a lot of articles about depression at the time. Many told me to go down into where you were and support you there. I searched in myself for the strength to do it but I couldn’t. If I carried my own unhappiness down I wouldn’t have come up. It would have drawn the lid over both of us.
Remember the fight in the restaurant over money? That was where I decided I didn’t want to be your partner. That was a couple thing and not a depression thing, a core values thing. We were comfortable so I wanted to give a proportion of my income to charity while you wanted us to invest in our future. Even then the depression had wrapped itself around what should have been a clear decision. Depression makes people more self-centred – how could I trust what was you and what was the illness? What was our relationship and what was a symptom?
We’re touring round Scotland with Sam and Elly. Most of the time you are here, but one night it’s only Depression. We’re on a campsite at the northwest tip of the Isle of Skye. It feels like the edge of the earth, nothing left of the mainland but the sea. I love it, it’s beautiful and we’re happy. But at night, a storm sweeps in and pelts on the van, rocking us at the heart of the dark. It’s as if the storm gives Depression strength: you spend the night telling me I’ve ruined your life, that I’m a waste of space, holding you back, a selfish piece of shit. I think Depression is going to start kicking and scratching me. Now the edge of the earth is God forsaken, an outpost where everything menaces in the blackness. In the morning, the sun is out and a robin waits for us to leave crumbs outside the van. You come back, exhausted from wherever you’d gone. I love you and I can’t believe what came out your mouth last night and however hard I try I can’t unhear it.
I’m getting so tired and I miss work some days. One night when we are sleeping in separate beds it comes back dark. This time, I thought I’d fight back. “Being on holiday with you was like dragging round a sack of potatoes.” As the words leave my mouth, all the good words I’d ever said to you blow away like sand caught on one gust of wind. I try to take it back straight away but I know you’ll remember it all your life. I watch you sink with that sentence as if its words are stones in your pockets.
I’ll never know for sure if I did the right thing. I don’t even know if writing this is the right thing to do. Is it OK to write about the darkest unravellings of someone else? I still loved curling up with you, waking up next to you and walking out holding your hand. You were still beautiful whatever you did or didn’t do with your hair. I knew what I had to do when I saw you fighting for the relationship more than you fought for your own happiness. I ended it. You dealt with it well and I admired you for it. It looks like you’re happy with someone else now and mutual friends tell me you’re back to yourself. It’s hard to tell – you’re posting less on social media.