I thought I knew my partner inside out, but know I realise I don’t. Some of his inner-most feelings he has kept to himself – not because he’s dishonest, but he wants to protect me. And I now know he’s not alone.
The world as I knew it changed after sports commentator Mike Gibson’s long-time unsuccessful battle with depression was made public recently.
“How are you? Are you really okay?” I asked my partner after hearing the news of Gibson’s death.
I expected a “Yes, of course I’m fine,” but that’s not what happened.
He paused for a few seconds and then said, “No, I’m not. I suffer from depression.”
I was totally taken aback. We have been together only five years, but I thought I’d know something like that. I didn’t. It turned out that my now-63-year-old partner had been suffering from depression on and off for the past 30 years and had seen a counsellor about it multiple times, including recently. It turned out he was on anti-depressant medication.
My partner had done a brilliant acting job of covering up his depression. Whenever we went out anywhere he was the life and soul of the party. If anyone looked like they were enjoying themselves, it was him. He’d be so animated and involved in what was going on, that you had to drag him away. In fact, at one function he stayed so long talking that the waiters removed the table in front of him.
When he told me about his depression, his over-the-top gayness that had so frustrated me at times made sense. He was overcompensating for his feelings of depression. A sort of “if I act happy, I’ll be happy” approach.
Since then, I have tried to be as supportive as I can. I think hard about what I say to him. I try to look at everything he says in the best possible light. I don’t snap when he does something I consider silly.
I remind myself of how much I love him and how precious every moment we have left on this planet is.
His confession also made me wonder how the other men I know are – how they really are.
I looked up a friend from way back who was a fairly solitary person. I hadn’t spoken to him in a couple of years. It turned out he had been forced to give up work because of a medical condition and in between his bright quips I could see he was really hurting. I let him know how much his friendship meant to me and have tried to stay in regular touch since then.
Talking to another baby boomer girlfriend, I told her of my experience with my partner. It turned out her partner too had been suffering from depression since he retired earlier that year. It appeared the job that he thought was so boring and was so keen to leave, actually played an important part in anchoring his life. He had told her about it, but had hidden it from the rest of his friends. He and my partner got on well, so I asked my partner to touch base with him and be as supportive as possible. Maybe they could help each other, I thought.
I also found another female friend had been unable to shake her feelings of grief after losing her partner two years ago.
Before you start thinking that everyone I know is depressed, they’re not. Many others were totally fine, or at least said they were fine.
However, my experience with the friends I have mentioned shows that depression can strike anyone, anywhere. Men might tend to hide it better because they don’t want to own up to anything that goes against the image of being a “manly” man, but they are just as prone to it as we women are, if not more.
And I got the impression that those friends who did level with me about their inner-most feelings got a tremendous sense of relief from just talking about it. As the old saying goes,”A problem shared is a problem halved.”
Have you suffered from depression or has someone else in your family? Does talking about it help? Is there a family member or friend you feel might be having issues, but feels unable to discuss them?
If you or someone else you know needs help, you can contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.