Stating Our Needs is Uncomfortable
In my family, not talking about one’s personal struggles is a form of humility.
We cope alone until we can’t cope anymore and need to enlist help, by which time a bad situation has generally gotten much worse.
That’s why, for a long time, my parents knew nothing about depression felling me almost as soon as I landed in the US and still don’t know all that much about my life stateside.
Some of it — like being unable to access health care due to lack of means — is unfathomable to them. In France or in the UK, when you get sick, you go to the doctor’s. If your primary care physician can’t help, they refer you to a specialist who can.
By EU standards, I should have been in therapy a long time ago. As a result, I’d likely be back on my feet now, a staffer somewhere, and earning a wage commensurate with my skills and experience.
Instead, I was left to hold my own hand for five years until I could bootstrap a way to get back on my feet.
Bluntly put, the only help I received was room and board.
Because I am married.
In sickness and in health, right?
Right. At least until your ill health become a festering source of resentment and kills the cat.
The death of Buddy, my husband’s feline companion of 21 years, made me fear for my own life. The cat died in pain for lack of a vet visit we couldn’t afford, and to this day I still don’t understand why we never thought of asking for help.
Some vets offer payment plans; others do pro-bono work.
Alas, Buddy the opinionated feline is no longer around to vocalize his outrage.
However, his picture and the small urn containing his ashes take pride of place on our mantelpiece.
For the last five years, I’ve felt personally responsible for Buddy’s demise.
Because I failed him.
Guilt made it impossible for me to see or understand I wasn’t the only one who failed him. When the truth hit home, it was a brutal awakening that forced me to reassess everything.
As I set out to try and identify the genesis of this paralyzing depression, I started asking myself which of depression or marriage came first.
The two aren’t unrelated but I flat out refused to see it because doing so would have gone against my personal convictions. Being the fiercely loyal type to whom love is the universal balm to all of life’s problems, I continue to believe that two people are always stronger than one.
While my collapsing has a lot to do with years of peripatetic living mired in all kinds of abuse, I had always managed to keep going somehow.
So why did I let myself down when depression struck?
The answer still isn’t clear but my yearning to lean on someone else for the first time in my life has a lot to do with it.
After managing on my own for my entire adult life — including during a traumatic first marriage many years ago — I thought I would no longer have to.
This turned out to be a grave mistake, one that lost me five years and put an inordinate amount of pressure on my husband.
After five years, my depression has come to mean I have failed him. When pressure overwhelms him he says as much because he’s only human. Most of the time it’s implied. Little does he realize that the person I have failed most of all is myself.
But we both did exactly that.
I can’t speak for him but I made assumptions I never should have; I concealed my illness; I tried to shield him from it; I didn’t explain what it was.
Worse, I expected him to seek to understand it.
Even when communication is your job, depression makes it difficult to share what’s going on.
You don’t want to disappoint, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself, you don’t want to appear as less than capable. Hence my initial reluctance to let anyone into my head.
Although I eventually stated what I needed, I soon realized we couldn’t afford it so I shut up. Going on about therapy isn’t going to make it appear any more than remarking we still lack furniture a year and half after moving in will conjure it up.
But it’s extraordinary what the human mind will do to keep you alive. You learn to live with lack just as you learn to live in a permanently distressed state.
There is a downside though. All this stress and denial wrecks you physically and gnaws away at your self-esteem until you become convinced a temporary situation is likely permanent, an accurate reflection of your worth as a human being.
On the darkest days, this leads me to ask myself whether there is a place in this world for me or if I’m just an inconvenience to all. This is depressive propaganda at its finest, easy identifiable by its monotone and lackluster syntax.
While I do not believe I’m an inconvenience to the world at large, I fear I’ve become one for at least one person: my husband.
This doesn’t make for a harmonious home life. To mitigate this, I make sure not to burden him with my “stuff”.
Equating marriage with being and having a personal savior on hand 24/7 was shortsighted of me.
It doesn’t work that way, at least not in this household, not in this country, not in this capitalist monsterhood that passes for culture.
A thought occurs to me, so plausible yet so abhorrent: What if marriage were just another business arrangement based on combined earning potential?
Can you apply capitalism to matters of the heart? I live in America now, after all.
Should you be wondering, I got married for love and companionship, high on the hope we’d encourage each other to learn, grow, and create to become our best selves, day after day.
Illness and hardship have foiled those plans.
Instead of incubating mutual self-actualization, our marriage has incubated resentment, anger, and dread. Our daily life is a ménage à trois with depression, whose presence is as destructive as it is unwelcome. What’s more, we live in perpetual fear of something going wrong, wronger.
Now that it has, there’s no choice but to step up and deal.
Right now, the urgent need is for me to be there for my father and stepmom, meaning I get to dig deep into my head and heart for solutions as I re-activate my former resourceful self.
It’s on me. My husband has more than enough on his plate.
Magical thinking, daydreaming, and fear of failure are out. When you’re in a state of urgency, you no longer have the luxury of second-guessing yourself, or worrying about how you come across.
This is why I’m examining issues I had long set aside so I can document them and keep afloat financially. It is necessary work, in every possible interpretation of the phrase.
In doing so, I’m also stating my needs so others can help should they feel so inclined, and then letting go.
Because you cannot control everything all the time.
And a lot of life is also down to forging ahead regardless of perceived hinderances and obstacles rather than giving up because it — whatever it is — is too hard.
Even though I am powered by the unwavering conviction my pen has the potential to help me meet my current needs, the outcome is out of my hands.
After all, you can only do your best and hope it turns out to be good enough.
I’m a French-American writer and journalist living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.
Stating Our Needs is Uncomfortable
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