I know a lot about depression. Kyle was diagnosed in 2003, right after our wedding and honeymoon. It was his first episode. I can still see him peering into Canyon de Chelly from one of the National Park’s viewpoints, his damaged soul grasping for answers, desperate for a glimmer of happiness, knowing his behavior was ruining our honeymoon, destroying his sleeping patterns and his sexual cravings. He tried. He tried so very hard. And I tried with him, rummaging through the cold and flu medicine aisle at the local Arizona Safeway, buying up anything to do with depression, though it was over the counter, hoping for a temporary miracle that would redeem our honeymoon, not wreck it entirely. But that was before we knew it was an illness, one that would require of us more strength, energy, consistent effort and quantities of hope that I didn’t even think could be manufactured in one’s body.
Even when I was about to leave Kyle or contemplated ending our relationship, the hope reared up, like a wounded puppy, and I attended to it with a mix of mother, nurse, armchair psychologist and raving lunatic. I had to match his behavior with in-kind sometimes. And I needed to vent now and again. Still do.
Late 2002-early 2003
At first I thought Kyle was panicking because he was turning 30 and hadn’t found his calling, the one job that fulfilled him in every way. He watched his friends climb corporate ladders and obtain master’s degrees and settle into building families in secure marriages. On top of that he had issues with his body. He always thought he was fat; his weight went up and down by 20 to 30 pounds. But I pointed out to him that he was losing the pounds through running and going to the gym. He didn’t see the difference and he certainly wasn’t any more content.
He was distant. He read the New York Times daily, along with The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. Kyle read anything in the house, whether it was a recreation center brochure or a Vanity Fair magazine or sections of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He devoured the written word. He knew more about current affairs, and could actually contextualize them, than anyone I knew. I was proud of his unparalleled knowledge even as I was jealous of it, for it seemed to offer him more than I could. I couldn’t penetrate his private world – the news, the analyses, all of these had a hold on him.
It’s not that I didn’t try to get in. I would wait several months, then break down crying, telling him I thought we weren’t meant to be together. That I longed for good times, dancing, rock concerts, joking around, laughing. Perhaps, I would say to him, we are oddly matched.
Yet I craved his attention more and more. He had a hectic travel schedule. He went to Australia seven times, Ireland, Rome, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam — all with his management consulting firm. My family and friends thought he had a sophisticated, worldly profession and lifestyle. They commented how his employer afforded him a unique view of global economics and values. From the outside, Kyle seemed to have a confidence and genuine humanity that few didn’t find endearing and admirable. But at home I struggled to make our relationship what I had always wanted – an exchange not only of ideas, but a sensual union full of kisses, caresses, sex and cuddling on a daily basis. I was embarrassed about our lack of intimacy and worldly relationship. Though he was so caring toward his coworkers and family members, he hardly seemed to care for me. Once we went nearly six months without having sex. We were only 30 and 31 respectively. Hardly an old married couple.
What I have been most afraid of, in really, truly documenting my life with Kyle, is that I will have to face all of this. I have stared down the beasts, I have hacked at hooded demons with my scissor hands, emitted fierce breath that turns to windstorms in an effort to send the darkness to another universe and attempted, through it all, to extinguish the black fireball that has enveloped my husband’s, and by extension, my life. I hear the voices of dozens of people, advising me that I was only human, that what I did was only an act of understandable tragic, sad and desperate twisted hopefulness. I remain hopeful despite it all. This is my story.
It would be easier if Kyle’s illness was in fact a disability, one that others could see, like a broken leg or a cancer that forced him to go for chemotherapy. People would see him losing his hair and they would understand. They would be sympathetic and there would be no value judgment. No one blames you for getting cancer. But they do find fault in not bucking up and dealing with a mental illness. I wish I could file with the insurance company that we need financial help because my husband can’t find work, that his mind gets in the way and he suffers from bad interviews under the pressure of depression. We’d receive payments akin to worker’s compensation, just like when an ironworker’s safety belt snaps. The man cannot physically work, but he will still be able to provide, albeit at a reduced rate, for his family.
When you are chronically depressed and that depression is debilitating, but you are not hospitalized, well, society doesn’t know what to do with you. You don’t qualify for much. Even your health plan will only give you ten to twelve psychiatrist visits, if that. You better sort out quickly what is wrong and pray like hell that the medications you are offered are the right ones in the right doses. And you pray even harder that you find the right doctors.