Dear Fuck-Up: How Do I Talk to My Boyfriend About His Depression?

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Ask a Fuck-UpAsk a Fuck-UpAdvice from someone who should know better by now

Dear Fuck-Up,

I’m in a relationship with a caring, funny, lovely guy. We got to know each other through political organizing, and have an easy friendship and a lot of common interests. Our relationship escalated quickly over the last year and a half, in part because of the pandemic and our decision to be each other’s “pod.”

In the last few winter months, he’s become increasingly detached from his job, political work, personal interests, and is barely leaving the house. He’s also not sleeping or eating much.

I’m feeling increasingly alone as my partner sinks into what seems to be a pretty serious spell of depression. I’m worried about him, which I’ve expressed mostly in reference to his insomnia. I’m also worried about our relationship; I miss going on adventures together, making food together, laughing together.

I’m struggling with life in pandemic/underemployed America, too, so when he spends all day watching shit online or playing video games I do too, because it’s easy and kind of comforting. I’ve recently found myself spending more time alone or going on walks with other friends when I’m not applying for jobs, just to avoid falling into a mutual oblivion all day.

I have suggested trying to hold each other accountable to being healthy in quarantine (framing it as my own problem with motivation). I’ve told him I would like to spend more time doing stuff intentionally together. I’ve asked him in roundabout ways if he is depressed. It feels like time to bring all of this up, but I’m not sure how to begin.

How do I broach the topic in a non-punitive way (for both of us)?

Sincerely,

SAD

Dear SAD,

Normally, I find the question of how best to care for a loved one who is experiencing a mental health crisis quite an interesting one. What we owe to each other and to ourselves in these situations is fraught and difficult to navigate, and it’s easy to be either overly disciplinary or unhelpfully indulgent. I don’t think that’s actually what you are asking me though, SAD, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, I find it hard to believe that after seriously dating for a year and a half you can’t just outright ask your boyfriend if he’s depressed and if he would like to start feeling better. I suspect that what you actually want to know is how to make him go back to the way he was, which might feel like the same question but is meaningfully different, mainly because at its core this is about what you need, not what he does. It is perfectly understandable that you miss having a person with whom you can do things in a time when both people and things to do are scarce. It’s hard to feel motivated to take a stupid little daily walk alone, and if I didn’t have my dogs I would almost certainly be suffering from a near fatal vitamin D deficiency by this point. If, somehow, my dogs no longer needed or wanted to go outside I would feel quite adrift because I desperately need that small glimmer of structure and obligation in my life.

But your boyfriend isn’t a dog, and he doesn’t exist solely to be your pandemic partner. He is a person who has quite reasonably reached a breaking point. The fact is based on your description he doesn’t sound much more depressed than basically everyone I know. I simply don’t think that “oblivion” is an alarming choice given the circumstances, and frankly I commend him for lasting until the winter before really settling into it. I’m not saying that you should give in and buy a gaming rig, necessarily, but I would urge you to consider what is driving you to be “healthy” in quarantine. So what if you aren’t getting a regular eight hours of sleep every night? What is so terrible about reacting negatively to calamity?

Ask your boyfriend if he wants your help, certainly, but be prepared for the answer to be no. Then think about whether you are with this person because of who are they are and how they see the world or what they can go out and do with you in it.

Love,

A Fuck-Up

Got a question? Email bjensen@jezebel.com.

Brandy Jensen lives in New Orleans with her two dogs.

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bettertohaveburntandburntthantoneverhaveburntbefore
BetterToHaveBurntAndBurntThanToNeverHaveBurntBefore

Does anyone have a suggestion on tackling depression issues in a responsible way during the pandemic? I know that there are some talk therapy services like TalkSpace, but I have read they employ therapists as contractors instead of employees (and they’re still not competitive on costs in my mind, especially since I don’t need or want a therapist to text with 24/7)