My boyfriend freezes up when I talk about my depression

I can handle my psychological state, but I'm not sure I can handle the way his eyes glaze over.


Cary Tennis
April 5, 2005 4:00AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

So, here's the deal. I have on-again, off-again depression that has turned back on after a recent move to start graduate school. I have appointments with a counselor and doctor to get some therapy and Paxil, which worked like a charm when things got especially bad five years ago.

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I'm very lucky this time. The school is being supportive, and my boyfriend (who hasn't seen this side of me before) has the makings of supportiveness. He asks how I'm doing and seems concerned until I actually start telling him -- things like, "It's not a big deal, just a little unhealthy thinking, nothing to do with you, don't worry, I'll get it sorted out."

Then he seems to sort of freeze up. He probably just doesn't know what to say, but of course I'm worried that the depressed-loser side of me is freaking him out.

Is it? What can I do to make him really understand that it's nothing to do with him? Until I'm all fixed up, is there any way to stop worrying that he'll leave me any minute?

Depressed but Dealing With It

Dear Depressed,

I know what you're talking about. I have that same thing. If my wife tells me about any ailment, however minor, I freeze up just like that guy. I have never really discussed this with other guys before. Maybe we all do it and none of us talks about it.

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I do know that I will talk to my wife about my own ailments gladly and in detail. It seems normal to talk to her about my ailments. But she's not supposed to have any ailments of her own. It's shocking when you find out she has ailments.

Why do we think women aren't supposed to have ailments? This is disturbing and intriguing. Of course they have ailments. They're always having this or that.

One part of it is this: When we hear she has an ailment, we think we will have to perform surgery. Or, if it's depression or some kind of emotion, we figure we have to start psychoanalysis right away. But we're not sure quite what fee to charge or where she should sit. So it makes us nervous but we can't show nervousness so we freeze up and try to look like Dr. Kildare.

Here is what I suggest. You need to package this information carefully, like it's radioactive. Frame it. Make it an event. Lead up to it. Don't just bring it up casually.

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Say something encouraging and reassuring like, "OK, you know me, this is me, I'm right there, I'm OK, but I want to talk about this one aspect of me. It's just one aspect of me, and it's a little troubling, but it's important that I talk about it." Take a good look at him. Is he freezing up already? Get him a glass of water, but don't leave the room or he may start watching reruns of "Starsky and Hutch."

Then tell him you just need like five minutes of his attention. Now this is important: If you want him to perform surgery on you right away, or begin psychoanalyzing you, let him know so he can begin. Otherwise, tell him it's not necessary to drape you for surgery or show you the ink blots. Tell him in clear, simple terms what you do need from him: attentive listening, occasional nod of the head, some positive indication that he has heard and comprehended the material presented to him. Seriously: He may not know what he's supposed to do here. You have to tell him.

Then, having sufficiently prepared him, say whatever you have to say about your depression. Afterward, have sex.

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Should I endeavor to understand this in greater depth? I suppose I should. Do I want to? No. When I think of why I freeze up on the subject of female ailments, I have the unsettling sensation of tumbling backward into a dark, noiseless tunnel; I am falling; there is no light and no air and I am being smothered by an unseen hand. Might that be the reason I do not wish to pursue this in depth? Might I mention, as I get comfortable, that I dreamed last night that my wife, while out with some friends, killed a man and brought him home, and I then had to figure out how to dispose of the body in the redwoods? Based on this, might we speculate that men freeze up when women talk about ailments because in some prehistoric memory bank we carry a tripartite terror of being swallowed by the mother, abandoned by the mother or witnessing the mother's death?

So you see? We guys are not so dumb. Thinking about this is dangerous. Best to keep it buried way down deep.

Now I really need a psychiatrist!

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