Help me understand.
August 31, 2010 2:51 PM   Subscribe

My ex-boyfriend is depressed; I'm not. He ended our relationship abruptly, leaving me with unanswered questions. I'd like some perspective on how depression can affect and end otherwise healthy relationships.

My ex has suffered for a long time with clinical depression. He was formerly diagnosed (I believe, he never really talked about details) in 2006 after a suicide attempt and was on and off medication until 2008, at which point he was prescribed Effexor. He was taking it when I met him (early 2009) and throughout our relationship. He experienced a lot of the normal physical side-effects but didn't want to stop taking it for the sake of his metal health.

Anyway, skip forward to this year. He's nearly graduated and his health insurance is about to run out, so he has to either stop taking his meds or switch out to something cheaper. On the advice of his doctor, he chose the second option and started weaning off Effexor and onto Prozac (something he had done before -- the weaning -- so knew what to expect). A week into this new regimen, he talks to me and tells me that he is trying to figure himself out and doesn't feel like he can be in a serious relationship. There's also some stuff about a girl he thinks he's got feelings for, but I don't know how much of that is real and how much of that is him being lonely (it was an LDR). I could have forgiven him for that, but he says he doesn't feel like himself and needs to "find out who he is", you know. (Please do note that I respect that wish and while I'm still heartbroken over it, I'm trying to leave him alone and keep my distance.)

However, having never experienced either serious depression or taking long-term meds before (let alone SSRIs), I'm wondering if his feelings could be something to do with his mixed-up brain chemistry during the change of meds. Is this possible, or does there need to be an underlying feeling for stuff like that to manifest? Does this sound familiar to anyone? Have you, or has someone you've been close to, gone through something similar? Is it just an early-20's life crisis? Is he just a jerk? Or could it have been something else?

Once again, I'm not asking this because I want to use it against him or as a reason to get back with him, I'd just like to hear from people who know more about this than I do. I realise that his mental health is no longer any of my business, nor can I change what happened. I've already come to terms with the fact that the man I loved was suffering from a disease that I couldn't help or cure and that it is part of him, as much as my astigmatism is part of me. But there's only so much I can understand about his mental state without asking people "in the know", as it were. I'd like to be friends with him someday -- and who knows, maybe I'll end up with someone battling these problems again -- so I would like, if possible, an outside perspective on what may have been going on in his head.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
However, having never experienced either serious depression or taking long-term meds before (let alone SSRIs), I'm wondering if his feelings could be something to do with his mixed-up brain chemistry during the change of meds.

Yes, absolutely.

Is this possible, or does there need to be an underlying feeling for stuff like that to manifest?

It's totally possible it had everything to do with changing meds and nothing to really do with you and your relationship. Note: this does not mean you are getting back together, this means that the relationship ended because of circumstances outside your AND HIS control.

Now, it's also possible that there was an underlying feeling that just manifested once he was off his regular medication. However, particularly because of the timing, I doubt it.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Yes, it sounds incredibly familiar... see below.

Have you, or has someone you've been close to, gone through something similar?

Every time I get severely depressed (I'm talking suicidally depressed), I tend to break up with whoever I'm dating, tell my friends I don't want to talk to them anymore, avoid people who come to see me, avoid any obligations I have, et cetera, et cetera. It's gotten to be a real pattern that I'm trying very hard to break, and it's hard as hell to break so far.

Is it just an early-20's life crisis? Is he just a jerk? Or could it have been something else?

Just because he's depressed doesn't mean he didn't behave like a jerk, for what it's worth.

If you'd like more information, memail me or email me; I'll send a quick note to your throwaway email.
posted by saveyoursanity at 3:05 PM on August 31, 2010 [6 favorites]

Oh, I forgot to say: My therapist told me this behavior is called isolation and it's particularly marked in sufferers of very strong depression.
posted by saveyoursanity at 3:07 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes, yes, yes.

As I've mentioned in other comments, I had taken Effexor for a while and (with the caveat that of COURSE you feel better, you're medicated!) felt that things weren't super severe, so a couple years ago I thought that perhaps I should switch to another drug with fewer side effects. I tried to switch over to another SSRI, and WHOA, I was NUTS. Things were sort of closer-to-the-surface than usual, and I felt much more prone to crying or getting upset, but I dismissed them as being stress-related with things going on in school.

Then one Friday I was feeling kind of sensitive about how I'd performed in a concert in front of my then-boyfriend, and two days later I had wound myself up to the point where I developed a muttering crying jag while doing laundry on Sunday morning. I wanted to scream at my boyfriend and beat him up for being such a horrible person (???). I was throwing clothing into the dryer like I was pitching batting practice. So then I nearly DID start whaling on him, but about 20 minutes into screaming at him I realized how ridiculous this was and we stopped and laughed. (I don't know how that happened, either -- I think he was ready to commit me before the storm suddenly broke.) It had stopped as quickly as it had started, and you'd better believe that I called my psychiatrist first thing Monday morning.

This was a great, albeit scary, reminder that different drugs work very differently in different people. So back onto Effexor I went, and I am really pleased with how it's gone for the last 2.5 years.

I'm glad you're keeping your distance, and I don't know how you could express support while trying to be objective about these concerns. That's another question for another day, but you do sound like you have the right things in mind. If he's not able to manage his depression, you certainly won't be able to help him either.
posted by Madamina at 3:22 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Depression is a very murky ocean, and, unfortunately, there are no solid yes/no answers to your questions. Yes, his actions could be the result of his changing meds. On the other hand, his actions could also be brought on by very real, deep-seated personal feelings within. Feelings of self-loathing, for instance. Or both. Or something new.

Deep depression also has a tendency to drag-down others around the sufferer.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:25 PM on August 31, 2010

Every time I get severely depressed (I'm talking suicidally depressed), I tend to break up with whoever I'm dating

I think that's true for a whole lot of people - it has been for me in the past.

A week into this new regimen, he talks to me and tells me that he is trying to figure himself out and doesn't feel like he can be in a serious relationship.

Going off an SSRI or SNRI can REALLY be hell -- like, before I had to do it, I completely underestimated how crazy it can make you. I think of myself in those times and I'm like, 'that wasn't even me.'

So yeah, depression can have major implications for someone's relationship. And dating a depressed person can be really difficult (hooray for depressed people dating each other! which is even more interesting...). It doesn't sound like he's a jerk, but he/you won't be happy unless he goes through his thing and gets his shit together. But don't hold this against him.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:34 PM on August 31, 2010

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Yyyyep. There were many differences with my situation, so this is all anecdotal and might not apply to you. But I sense a lot of resonance with what you've described.

I was in a relationship where I was in your position. Now, I don't know anything about the specific switch from Effexor to Prozac. And it wasn't an LDR.

She was on anti-depressants and then want off them completely and stopped seeing her psychiatrist, which she originally described as a positive step to achieving more freedom. She became increasingly suicidal. She had told me from the beginning that she had attempted suicide once in the past and that she had self-mutilated.

The relationship ended with her forcefully punching herself in the head at least 10 times in front of me. Immediately afterward she started crying and saying over and over that she's "crazy." During the same incident (but before the hitting), she finally revealed that she had stopped seeing her psychiatrist not based on a rational decision that she didn't need to anymore, but because she was afraid she would be committed to a mental institution. (That's no outlandish hyperbole: that had actually happened to her before.)

This was shocking at the time, but in retrospect, it's not so shocking when someone with a history of suicide and self-mutilation does something like that.

Were there underlying issues? Yeah. She started making more of a big issue of something that had been a smaller issue between us. It's analogous to your ex's issue with the crush. It wasn't a crush on a human being, but the details would take too long to explain here. It was something that threatened to interfere with our compatibility with each other. By emphasizing this issue beyond what really made sense (notwithstanding that the issue itself was a legitimate one to discuss), she had an excuse for forcing the end of the relationship. (I ended up deciding to break up, though she immediately went along with it.)

But let's assume those underlying issues were really important. That means it would be doubly hard to try to get back together. She would need to deal with the psychiatric problems and we'd need to solve the other issues. The prospects of that all working out are dim.

You're in an especially tough situation because of the distance. You might not have had as much chance to observe the day-to-day changes in his behavior.

The best thing to do is try to get over it and move on to a relationship with someone who doesn't have these issues.

There's a cultural taboo against criticizing someone who commits or attempts suicide (or who self-mutilates), but let's get real: deciding to commit suicide is deciding to murder yourself. Attempted suicide is, of course, attempted self-murder. The law makes a judgment that this isn't a crime even though attempted murder is a crime with any other victim, but I'm free to make my own judgments even if they're not in line with the law or the cultural consensus. What she did was violence, and I decided I would not stand for any violence in my relationship. I could have predicted this from the beginning, but I blinded myself. If you knew he had abused other people 5 years ago, think how worried you would be. Well, he abused himself, as my ex-girlfriend did to herself. You're lucky things ended as mildly as they did.
posted by jejune at 3:41 PM on August 31, 2010

Yes, this all sounds familiar to me, but from the other side. (Except my pattern was get depressed--date jerks due to low self-esteem--get medicated--feel better--dump the jerk). Depression is a hell of a thing, and it's pretty impossible to have a healthy,loving relationship with somebody else when you don't have one with yourself.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 3:49 PM on August 31, 2010

Oh dear, from experience .. whatever underlying reason .

He is not that into you anymore.

Leave him to do whatever he needs to do, let the other girl suffer all the consecuences of his pscycological problems.

Don't speak to him any more, not even like friends perhaps in 10 years.

You were willing to help, and to love him even with his problems. Fact
He doesn't want to be in a relationship. Fact

Get over him ,I am doing it. Stop all contact PERMAMENTLY and day by day it will get easier FOR YOU not try to find excuses for someone who wants to be somewhere else physically and emotionally from you.

posted by zulo at 3:52 PM on August 31, 2010

Approaching this from a pharmacological perspective, comparing fluoxetine(SSRI) to venlafaxine(SNRI) isn't exactly comparing apples to oranges, but it is a little like comparing apples to different apples that have been duct taped to pears.

The modulation of norepinephrine could make a big difference. Also, the drugs may have different pharmacokinetics so it might be difficult to titrate the dose of Prozac to try to match the Effexor. This doesn't answer the questions of the heart, but there's some complicated drug mojo going on here.
posted by abirae at 4:17 PM on August 31, 2010

You want to go out tonight? I don't want to go out. I should want to go out. I'm a shitty person. Oh fuck, now you want to have a talk about how we don't go out. Oh fuck I've blown it I've blown it. I can't say these things I'm thinking. You don't understand. It's just a mood, it will pass. But it will be back a lot, it's part of who I am. Why am I in this normal relationship, trying so hard to be normal? I'm not normal, I'm broken. Am I just living a lie? Are you just pushing me to live a lie? Oh now you're telling me that other people have problems but manage to have normal relationships. Why don't you just come right out and call me a piece of shit? Fuck you. No no no, this whole train of thought is suspect. I can't trust what I think. I barely even know what I think. How can it be your fault? It's all my fault, I'm the crappy one here. Shitty on the outside, shitty on the inside, shitty down to the bone. What if it's all in my head and I'm just a manipulative asshole, this is all just a big mind game I've trapped myself in to get attention? Oh God it must look totally like that, that must be what you really think about me. That's how the world must see me. It's what they're really thinking but they're just too nice to say it. I see them thinking it. Truth hurts. It hurts so much it must be true. I deserve to hurt myself by thinking these things. No no no, I don't want to make any decisions now, I don't want "now" to exist. Please don't make me talk, don't make me think, don't make be anything right now. I just want to hit Pause for awhile and not have anything happen, not have any decisions I make have any effect in the world. I just want to be in stasis until the feeling goes away. But how can I expect you to obey my schedule? Christ what a selfish piece of shit I am. I'm inflicting myself on you, I can't build the beautiful world with you that you deserve. I can't have that world at all, it hurts just to think about it. You need to get away from me, I need to get you away from me, no no no just be calm try to be normal it'll be okay keep it inside keep it inside keep it inside.
posted by fleacircus at 4:19 PM on August 31, 2010 [36 favorites]

Depression is a bitch. You feel like hell normally, then you get on drugs, then you wonder if the person you are on the drugs is the person you really are. If you've never been through it, it's a lot of wrap your brain around that you need meds to function while other people just ARE. There's really no telling what he's thinking or why he's thinking it.
posted by CwgrlUp at 4:29 PM on August 31, 2010

A moment in my head, "You hate me. I know you hate me. Do you like me better now? You hate me. I hate me. Hate. I wish I wasn't alive."

Almost seriously a repeating conversation that I have with myself daily. Being clinically depressed is an awful thing, and a trap that we constantly put ourselves into. It's about misery, loneliness, despair and destroying that which we love and depend on. I've been medicated for 21 years (since I was 13), and can echo the sentiments of several previous posters.

I especially relate to CwgrlUp, who says that you wonder if the meds are changing you into someone that you really aren't.

I've accepted that I need them, and that I need to take extra special care to tell my wife when I'm in my danger moods. Sometimes I might need a hug, or sometimes I might need no hug.

One of the worst things that I can share with people is that my greatest fear in life is that when I was 13 and my parents put me into counseling for being very sad and very angry, I was placed onto medication and became addicted. What if I didn't need medicine then, and now because I've had it for so many years, I can't function without it. There is a lot of time spent thinking, worrying, fretting, and being sad.

I don't know if my words help bring clarity to you, and I'm sure that they don't bring comfort. Know that the person behind the depression's feelings for you aren't negated by what they feel. Those feelings of love, they are real. Sometimes they are caught behind more fickle and powerful emotions though. I wish you happiness. I wish us all happiness.
posted by Draccy at 5:13 PM on August 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

You know, even depressed people sometimes get tired of their relationships and decide they want someone new.

Just sayin'.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:50 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Depression is a funny beast. Otherwise reasonable and rational people lose the ability to put things into proper perspective. Self-loathing can be so deep-seated that one may choose to project it onto everyone else: "I'm worthless - s/he must think I'm worthless too and is just too polite to tell me. I can't stand waiting for the other shoe to drop so I'll just break things off now - it'll be best in the long run."
posted by plinth at 6:17 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

This previous AskMe is particularly relevant: Can depression wreck a relationship, and convince you that you don't love someone?
posted by hugsnkisses at 6:22 AM on September 1, 2010

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