I’ve been writing candidly about my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve never been able to pull off fiction, because my brain doesn’t work that way, but I’ve been able to, as Hemingway put it, “sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Or, since it is the 21st Century, sit down at a computer and just let it all out.
Maybe I’m a product of my 21st-century over-sharing generation, or maybe I just want others to feel less alone in their own struggles; some days, I’m not quite sure. But either way, the topics in which I choose to cover never fail to evoke a strong response, and I would never want it any other way.
One such topic, from which I’ll never steer, is my depression.
I’ve been very open in many pieces I’ve written about my struggles dealing with depression, as well as being honest about my suicide attempt about nine years ago. That particular subject, I can say for sure, isn’t about over-sharing at all, and absolutely about providing a sense of comfort and solace to those who are learning how to deal with depression and possible thoughts of suicide.
It has taken me a long time to get to where I am on the matter, to be free of shame, embarrassment, and judgment of myself, but since I’m still here, alive and kicking, I feel it’s a story worth telling.
When I first started writing about that specific part of my life and my person, I was still single. I wasn’t an avid dater, as that’s hard to pull off in New York City, because — breaking news — this isn’t Sex and the City, but I did meet new people here and there, and sometimes, if the stars were aligned, a first date would lead to a second date, but it was rare. Dating in New York City has to be one of the most difficult things in the world.
Despite this rarity, I actually met someone great, and not only did it lead to a second date, but a third and fourth one, too. I wouldn’t say we were “dating,” exactly, because no one likes to use that term too fast, but we were on our way there and it felt good.
He was charming and funny, and we connected over things that are important to me like politics, religion, and of course, music. We had both been raised in New England and, thanks to that, we were extremely skilled in our Boston accent impressions. We weren’t soulmates or anything like that, but I could definitely see us heading in the direction of the whole boyfriend/girlfriend label, as much as I’m not really keen on labels of any kind.
But then something happened a couple of months into our seeing each other: He Googled me.
When I first meet someone I almost always Google them or at least try to find them on Facebook. I don’t do this because I automatically assume everyone out there is like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho (Or do I?!), but mostly because I’m curious. I also tend to meet lots of people in my field and like to see links to their work and read their writings.
So when let’s call him Jay, told me partway through dinner one night that he had Googled me, I wasn’t really surprised. Don’t most people Google? I mean, the majority of us are online all day long, so why wouldn’t we? At least as a means to procrastinate, if nothing else.
But instead of singing my praises, as he should (I kid!), he decided to ever so slightly inquire about my depression and suicide attempt. I kindly explained that the attempt was secure in my past and that, yes, my depression is a very real part of my life, but it’s as under control as it can be — at least for the moment.
It was then that he told me, in not so many words, that he “couldn’t deal” and “wasn’t up for the drama.”
I thought this was a strange response since I know more people than not who are medicated, and about 50 percent of my friends also suffer from some form of depression and/or anxiety. Had this been 1950, I could have sort have understood, considering the stigma that was attached to mental illness then, but now, in this century? It seemed absurd.
We continued to talk about it through the rest of dinner, a dinner we both barely touched, and by the time the waiter came to ask if we wanted coffee or dessert, it was quite clear that we were not going to be able to find common ground on the topic. In his eyes, I was a drama-laden woman who had no hope of being “normal” enough for him, and in my eyes, he was both an ignorant and smug jerk, who probably should have taken at least one basic psychology class in college so he wouldn’t sound so clueless.
I’ve long lived with the idea that I am broken. Although I have come to grips with who I am and the chemical imbalance in my brain, the fact that it’s still very much a part of my daily life, I still can’t help but think of myself as being flawed.
Yes, no one is flawless and I think that’s a beautiful thing, but to be flawed in your brain, to have zero control over your thoughts and feelings, and to be completely dependent on drugs just to keep you alive and to prevent you from seriously hurting yourself, is an entirely different thing.
My depression is what I hate about myself the most, even if I have learned to deal with it. Never before and never since that night has any man, or anyone for that matter, taken issue with my depression.
I’m not saying the other men in my life were excited to be with a woman who suffers so deeply and so often, but their tolerance and understanding were in a completely different ballpark than that of Jay. Although we never got into the particulars as to why he felt the way he did, I could only surmise that perhaps he had lost someone he really loved to the disease.
Maybe it was a past girlfriend, a sibling, or a parent whom he watched struggle, up close and personal, and he just couldn’t stomach doing it again. If that were the case, I would have been more than understanding. I would not wish on anyone the turmoil I have put my loved ones through when dealing with depression.
But since I don’t know the reasons, all I can do now is look back and think ill thoughts about him. It pains me that someone could be so obtuse about the subject and not even willing to budge an inch, despite me having shown him just how great and healthy I was then.
If you or somebody that you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, there is a way to get help. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text “HELLO” to 741741 to be connected with the Crisis Text Line.
Amanda Chatel is an essayist and intimacy health writer for Yourtango, Shape Magazine, Hello Giggles, Glamour, and Harper’s Bazaar.