I’ve been asked by several people to incorporate mental health into the blog in some way, and those of you who read my post about my late Mum will have seen how paranoia affected my family life.
In her Experimental Dater profile, Southern Belle answered the question why she is single in the following way
‘I thought my last relationship was the person I was meant to be with for the rest of my life. Unfortunately he became unwell and refused help or treatment so we are no longer together. I’m looking forward to rediscovering the Houston scene and starting fresh!’
Here she explains more about her ex’s mental health, and how it affected their relationship.
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx
It was difficult for me to decide what to write about this week. As we approach Christmas and my birthday, I can’t help but be a little sad.
Six months ago, if you’d have asked me what I’d be doing this week, I’d have told you that my boyfriend, his Mom and I would be getting ready to fly back to the UK and have our first ever joint family Christmas before he and I headed off to an exotic location for beaches, scuba (me) and surf (him).
I’d have told you that I hoped he would propose on my birthday. I’d have said yes.
Go back 18 months: after some of my disastrous previous American relationships (which I’m debating whether or not to share) I’d put in place a safety net. A list of criteria that a guy had to fulfill based on what had gone wrong with previous relationships – some funny (Do you have any latent desire to be the woman in the bedroom? Have you previously advertised for sex on Craigslist?) some not so funny and basic (Do you secretly still live with your Mom?). My close friends were to meet anyone that I was considering going on more than 3 dates with to vet them.
I joined eHarmony and had some good and bad experiences. but after a few months, I was a little burnt out. I invited a very good (male) friend for drinks at a beautiful new restaurant a mile away from my house for a catch up, planning on regaling him with some of my stories.
As I sat at the beautiful bar waiting, I ordered a cocktail and chatted with the bartender. The cocktail menu was unlike anything I had ever seen and having grown up in the hospitality industry, I had some questions!
We chatted for a few minutes while I sipped my drink, he told me all about the inspirations for the drinks and how the goal was for the restaurant to win awards for both the food and the cocktail program. He was passionate, articulate and incredibly focused on being the best at what he did.
My friend, The Skydiver, arrived and we cooed over the menu, decided to order some food and got chatting to a pretty girl next to us. The pastry chef at one of Houston’s best restaurants, she gives us some tips on what to order. We caught up on recent life events including my dates, all the while paying somewhat close attention to the bartender serving us. When The Skydiver asked what I was going to do next in terms of dating, I said that I was done with dating for a while and planned to take a break and focus on myself. I then blurted out “But that bartender is .. interesting.”
Skydiver laughed and asked if I’d checked my list recently.
I’d had some bad experiences with being the main earner / only employed person in a relationship and somewhat taken advantage of. It was important to me that a guy had a career that he was passionate about.
Three cocktails in, my brain argued that he was passionate about what he did, incredibly so in fact. Skydiver knows better than to argue with me.
When the bartender came over to check on us, my friend introduced himself. He reached over, shook his hand and gave his name. I sat patiently waiting for my friend to introduce me too: he didn’t. I rounded on him.
“Are you kidding me?”
“I’ve just told you I think he’s interesting and you go and introduce yourself but leave me sitting here like a lemon? Bad friend!”
I was joking. I was. But the Skydiver was having none of it and called him back over (politely, might I add).
“I’m sorry, I very rudely forgot to introduce you to ….”
“Lovely to meet you too! Is this your wife?”
“Ex-wife? I’m sorry, you’re just so comfortable with each other. I assumed. That was rude of me.”
At this point Skydiver watched me turn crimson. He leaned across the bar and introduced me. He explained that I was single and.. yes, he told the bartender outright that I thought I might like to get to know him better.
The bartender smiled and shook my hand, saying that it was lovely to meet me.
At the end of the evening (once I had castrated my friend for embarrassing me) the bartender came to say goodbye. In a manner that was confident yet unassuming, he gave us both a hug, looked me straight in the eye and asked if I would come back soon. I blushed (damn English skin tone) and said that I probably would.
I was scheduled for girls’ drinks that Saturday so I decided to switch the venue to the restaurant, where my girls confirmed that he was unbelievably nice, attractive and charming. It turned the bartender was actually the bar manager. He had worked in a number of high profile places in Houston and was considered to be one of the best in the States for what he did.
Long story short: I was specifically told that if I didn’t make a move, one of my friends would.
For the first time in my life, I wrote down my number on one of the coasters at the bar and looked around for him. He had disappeared. I was disappointed, but left the coaster on the bar. If he found it, great. As we were waiting for our taxi, he came running out of the building-he’d been upstairs doing paperwork for the closing. He handed me his card and asked if he could take me out for dinner on his next day off, to which I agreed immediately.
I got a text message five mins later when he found my number on the bar.
We went on our first date the next weekend. It was perfect.
I have never met someone that clicked so well, so quickly.
On our first date we talked about everything, including the fact he’d lost his Dad to cancer two years previously. My Dad has MS so we both had shared experiences of caring for a loved one and the different impact it has approach to life.
Three months after we started dating, we went to Costa Rica together.
I could write pages and pages about how in love we were, how much fun we had together and the life we planned.
Then we went to Paris.
His Dad was French, but grown up in the States and married his Mom in the 80’s. When he successfully got through an operation to remove the brain tumour, his doctor cleared him to fly with his son to Paris for a 3 week vacation in April to recuperate.
They were going to see the sights his Dad had grown up with, explore the country and have some Father/Son time outside of the care giver/patient relationship.
3 days into this trip, his Dad collapsed and had to be flown home.
In August he passed away.
We took the trip to take the last of his father’s ashes to Napoleon’s tomb, with a couple of days in London and a trip to see my family, before coming back to Paris. We planned tours of museums, galleries and mapped all the cocktail bars in Paris that needed to be experienced.
The first few days were magical. Then, gradually, he started to get quiet and very sad.
One day, he didn’t want to get out of bed at all. I had expected some reaction, so I was patient, understanding, and loving.
I asked him if he wanted to talk about it. He didn’t.
We didn’t go to the museums, or the galleries. We spent our days walking in companionable silence, eating at little cafes and visiting cocktail bars.
He was so much more “himself” when he was around other people, so I researched more places where we could meet people in his industry. Our London days were fantastic and I felt like the fog had lifted. We had dinner with my brother, cocktails at the Savoy, ran around Shoreditch like kids in a toy store exploring everything we could.
We headed up to the Midlands to see my family and went on a snowy pub crawl, where he told all my friends and people I’d grown up with that I was the love of his life, the one he was going to marry.
We were so, so happy.
On the train back to Paris, the sense of unease came back as he got quiet again. We went to Napoleon’s tomb the next day and sat in the Chapel. We lit a candle for his Dad and scattered the rest of the ashes in the grounds and held hands walking around Paris. He barely let go of me all day but didn’t speak at all until we were around other people.
The next day, things were better. We were both excited to be heading back to Houston and the challenge of the new bar he was opening. To see our dogs, our friends, his beautiful goddaughter. The rest of the trip passed somewhat uneventfully and when we got back, he spoke as if the trip had been the most amazing experience to others.
I have one photo of us from the trip, sat on the steps of Notre Dame. He looks sad.
I felt like he was talking about a completely different trip.
Two months passed and something was just.. wrong.
A couple of days a week, he was lethargic and apathetic – towards everything. I asked about it. Nothing was wrong. He didn’t want to talk about anything. He sent me away for the first time ever, saying he wanted to be alone. He slept all the time or not at all. He drank more: lots more. I found myself start researching what could be wrong and the answer is pretty simple. He was suffering from a severe depressive episode.
For those of you who don’t know, depression is much more than just sadness.
Some people describe depression as “living in a black hole”. However, some depressed people don’t feel sad at all. They may feel lifeless, empty, and apathetic, or men in particular may even feel angry, aggressive, and restless.
My boyfriend’s feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness were intense and unrelenting, with little, if any, relief.
Once I had a good grasp of the literature and research on how to support him best, I tried to encourage him to seek treatment. I reassured him constantly that I loved him no matter what he was feeling and that, more importantly, he was worthy of that love. Nothing worked.
I didn’t feel like I could share with my friends what was going on because I didn’t want them to judge him or blame him for the stress I was under, so I withdrew from my social circles and stopped going to girls’ night. I unfairly assumed that they wouldn’t understand my decision to stay with him. I knew deep down that if I’d been the one that was sick, he would have been there every second supporting me.
I told my friend Rob, a psychiatrist who specialized in grief counselling and he supported me as best he could from afar. Truthfully looking back, Rob saved me in those first months. He ordered me to look after myself and not blame myself for something that I had no control over. It’s hard to not feel like it’s something to do with you when your partner pretends to be ok for everyone else but you.
He could find the energy to participate in life for his work but wanted me to understand that he needed to be alone. He still loved me, very much. I’d sleep at his place and when he finished work, he used to come and sit on the bed and just hug me. It was my favourite part of the day.
On good days he used to jump on the bar and tell the whole world I was the love of his life. That memory still makes me cry.
On bad days he started to talk about how much he wanted to die so that he could stop hurting and living his worthless life.
He stopped wanting to surf. He stopped wanting to see me every day and told me I deserved someone who wasn’t broken to make me happy.
It tore me into a thousand pieces. I started to go to a support group secretly for the loved ones of people who suffered from depression because I desperately needed to know that there was hope, that we would be ok, that people got better.
I cried in work, secretly in the bathrooms and not so secretly in my cubicle because every day I would hold my breath for the first text message, the one that would tell me what type of a mood he was in.
I cried a lot. It is the most helpless I have felt in my entire life.
It all came to a head one Sunday after I got back from a trip. We met at our favourite Sunday brunch spot and had a lovely lunch and a few drinks. He was attentive and affectionate, kissing my temple and holding me close. We met up with some friends who invited us to come grill out, swim and have drinks close by. We headed to the supermarket and grabbed some groceries, beer, wine ready to go and have a good time. I was relieved and selfishly excited – if we were with other people, he’d stay happy for just a little bit longer.
As we got to the apartment to let his dog out, I reached out to give him a hug and a kiss. He shrank away from me, realized what he had done, then started to spiral, talking about how much he hated himself for not being there for me, how much he hated himself for being worthless and having no purpose, why he just couldn’t see the point anymore with any of it. He sat down in the apartment and sent me away, looking exhausted and completely defeated. As I drove the two miles home, text messages started coming through to my phone that were heartbreaking.
He just didn’t want to live anymore.
I called his best friends immediately and told them what was going on. I called Rob who said I needed to get back there straight away and I probably broke every traffic law in the States.
I talked about him wanting to die and what that would do to the people in his life that loved him – but he’d thought all that through and it didn’t make a difference. We weren’t the ones suffering every day: he was. He repeatedly asked me to leave him alone. Finally, I did what I had promised I would never do – I threatened to call his Mom. I had a good relationship with her and I knew it would break her heart to know he was suffering like this.
He had to promise me that he wasn’t going to harm himself or I would go and get her. He promised. I believed him.
His friends called me and I talked them through what was going on. They sent him videos of his goddaughter (who’s two) telling him that she loved him and to be careful. He traveled up there that night and spent a couple of days with his best friends, who also encouraged him to go and talk to someone about how he was feeling. He refused.
At that point, we were done.
The thing that I’ve learned (through therapy and time) is that you can’t make someone want to get better.
They have to reach that place on their own and work through it. It wasn’t a reflection of how much we loved each other or that I didn’t support him in the right way – he just wasn’t ready to get better. I did everything right but it still went wrong.
I’ve met many people through the support group I’ve attended who have healthy and loving relationships with people suffering from a mood disorder or addiction.
The key is to be open and honest with your loved one about how you and they are feeling, getting involved in the treatment and not losing yourself in supporting them.
The most important thing to know is when to get out of an increasingly unhealthy situation (for you) and seek help when you need it.
I should have got more support sooner and I should have trusted my friends and family with what was going on.
I am not ashamed of saying that the greatest love in my life so far was with this man and I still think of him and miss him every single day.
That being said, if anyone at all who reads the blog has questions about dating someone with a mood disorder, I would be happy to answer them.
I wish I had a resource like Miss Twenty Nine and the Experimental Daters when I was going through this.