Over a year ago, I dated someone for a while. We got to a point where I realized I wasn’t stable enough to be dating. I realized that I was fundamentally too self-focused at the time. I didn’t want to go out, commit time to him, devote daily time to contacting and communicating with him, and the end result was that it was time to cut it off. So I did, as politely and calmly as I could.
A year later, I very gently got back in touch with him and made overtures to be friends again. One thing led to another over a month and eventually we were dating. We had a decent fall together, and as winter drew on he began to act strangely. Despite being right there with me, he would withdraw and become nearly catatonic and unresponsive. His responses were monosyllabic and he seemed disinterested. After the first two times I started just letting it go because all attempts to talk to him about it failed and were met with shrugs.
Eventually he admitted he’s been depressed, but it’s no big deal. I spotted a scar on the inside of his wrist, and I put two and two together. It’s very old, but apparently some years ago he attempted suicide. I pushed gently to get him help. He finally agreed to see a doctor, but not a therapist, because he “couldn’t talk about it.” I told him that the talking half is vital with the meds, because they open Pandora’s proverbial box. He didn’t believe me and said I was pushing too hard, that medication should be “enough.”
Time passes. The doctor put him on Celexa. First week in, and he was a different person. I sleep during the day because of night time sleep issues, and apparently he (like many others) decided that this means my sleep time isn’t really all that important. Every day for about two weeks there were texts and messages about how he was falling apart at work, how the world felt dark and everything was horrible, how he couldn’t get through the day. It got very, very difficult to handle. His perspective narrowed to the point where I certainly felt like he was unable to see past the end of his nose. He would say things like, “But I’m stressed so something HAS to be wrong LET ME CALL YOU.”
This culminated on Christmas Day, when he turned suddenly moody and withdrawn at midnight when I wouldn’t go to bed with him, and left my house in very expressive despair, waving off taking one of his Christmas presents with him. I would call it melodramatic, but I understand his perspective was skewed. I get that.
I came to realize gradually that I had become his therapist rather than his girlfriend, and again, I pushed him to go see a therapist. He resisted and resisted. Said he wasn’t ready, he couldn’t, he couldn’t talk to anyone about it. I fought with myself and eventually lost my ability to cope. On the one hand, it was unethical for me as a psych student to let him use me for therapy, because I wasn’t qualified. On the other, it was wrong of him to ask his girlfriend to be a therapist, because therapists get paid, and are paid to be on call.
He saw how stressed I was and that I was pulling away, and pushed for “when can I see you again” type things. I gently said that I wanted to wait and see him set with meds and therapist before we hung out, or at least establish some sort of plan for how to deal with it if he went all depressive again.
A few days later, he railed at me over text communication that I was refusing to see him until he got better. Things got tetchy. This was the second time that he had ignored my request for a coping strategy and instead said that I was just refusing something. He had also said I “refused” to meet his family, when I had said repeatedly that I just wanted to meet them separately and out at a restaurant or something – I’d even treat. I just didn’t want to go over and meet all his sisters and his mother at once. Especially not for a holiday.
After all of that mess, it came to a head with one conversation. To make a long story short, he got very petulant and pissy because I didn’t reply to an instant messenger conversation fast enough and with the answer he wanted. He went off to sulk in what I felt was a childish way. I ignored him for two days. Then I broke it off.
I realized that it’s like chemo. Recovery to a place of balance with mental illness is like chemo, because you’re going along with this horrible thing inside you. They pump you full of toxic drugs that give you all kinds of side effects. You get fat, or you lose your hair, or you pick it out of your scalp because something has given you a neurotic condition. You utterly change from this person with maladaptive coping to someone who utterly falls apart before they start to cope again from square one.
I couldn’t be there for his falling apart, because I just barely got through my own alive. I feel bad about that, and I’m sorry for it. I wanted to be. I wanted to support him and to offer him my help, but he wasn’t letting me take a role that was healthy for me. The thing is, I have to respect my own limits, and my ability to say when.
I spent many years dating the wrong person for too long, far after I should’ve known it was over. I can’t do that anymore. I can’t live that way. I have to stick to those boundaries I set.