Bryony blogs about her partner’s depression, how they deal with it as a couple and how they’re speaking out about it to break down stigma.
Eight years ago my partner Tim began to feel a gentle sadness creeping in. Twenty three and carefree, he put it down to just a ‘bad day’. But it kept growing. Anger began: a spiralling list of repeated questions lodged itself in his brain that he couldn’t quite stop. A loss of appetite appeared, he felt exhausted all the time. He was unaware of the connection of these things, and he buried it.
When asked now, he said he would never have thought of going to the doctor, or turning to a friend. These were the early signs of depression for Tim. Ignoring them led to him slipping into a very severe episode.
He then kept it a secret for over seven years.
Poor mental health will affect one in four of us. Depression is the one I know most about. It helps me to think of depression as a cancer of the thoughts. It evolves into new and unexpected trickery just as you get your head round it, tripping you up at every turn. It’s the stuff of nightmares isn’t it? A few times since this first dark time, Tim’s life has been at stake. My bright, sparky, funny, confident, healthy husband-to-be finds himself a teary, muddled mess.
And yet he hid it. From his work, from his best friends, from every girlfriend before me, from himself a lot of the time. He took his pills, he dealt with the slumps and he tried to forget he was ill. He tried to come off tablets, he fell back into the blackness, he went back on them again, repeat, repeat. All on his own.
He says now he felt like it made him ‘less of a man’. It was only me finding his pills after he moved in to my flat (and recognising them from a family member’s medication) that allowed me to crawl under that armour he wore so well, and try my best to support him as he gently and slowly took it off.
The reason I am writing this down is because over the past year my lovely Tim has come to believe that not talking about mental health makes the problem a LOT worse. Silence not only risks his own mental health, but also denies others an education from his experience. And that might be just as important.
Once he began talking to people, we were both amazed by how many others in our circles were also affected. Sometimes the conversations have come at such important moments, I can honestly say he may have saved a life.
And now Tim has left his decent job in advertising to make a show with me, his performance artist girlfriend. Our show is about Tim’s experiences of clinical depression. It is about how we deal with it as a couple. It is about how gender is a spectrum, and bringing up boys to not cry helps no-one.
Tim told me recently that he feels like if us making our show saves just one person before they reach rock bottom then all the soul searching, learning dance routines and being a poor artist will be worth it. But I think there’s even more to be gained from the amazing potential of the work and him, as a non-performer, being on the stage. I think that when a man like Tim gets on a stage and tells 250 strangers that he cries into his pillow some days, it can unlock something. A taboo explodes and in its wake the pathway of possibility appears.
I just hope this blog post makes a few people look at the men that surround them and wonder - are they keeping their feelings silent? Or for someone to talk just that bit more about their experiences, and help others understand.
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