Dating with Depression

I'll carry my own baggage, thanks.

By Patricia DiBenedetto

illustration of man rejecting woman because she has depression

Man — He’s Just Not that into You can’t even touch this. You know, the typical: girl meets boy, girl likes boy, boy likes girl, girl tells boy she has depression, boy runs like hell. OK, maybe not so typical. Ben Folds would’ve said “the bitch went nuts,” but I guess in my case, the bitch was already nuts. I just hadn’t pointed it out to him yet.

Before this, I’d never run into anyone who saw depression as a big deal. In the past, whenever I mentioned it, a chorus of “me too” or “omg, I have ADHD” ensued. Until this guy, now referred to as “He Who Must Not Be Named” (thanks, J.K.), all of the people I spoke with about mental disorders viewed it as a source of camaraderie.

“He Who Must Not Be Named” shocked me when he said, “When I date a girl, I like to take on some of her strife, and yours is just too much for me to handle.” As much as I appreciated his honesty, his intolerance ripped my peace-lovin’ hippie soul right out of my body and steamrolled it so deep, I said hello to the philosophers in the first circle of hell on my way back to earth.

He could’ve picked from a long list of good reasons to dump me — I’m Catholic, I’m boobless, and I’m in a sorority. Those are all “bad” things. But with the exception of my breast size, I chose them. Soon after I found that I am inadequate because of something I cannot control, a new word entered my vocabulary: stigma.

Now boys and girls, stigma means “a negative judgment based on a personal trait.” Funny, that sounds like a stereotype, and teachers tells us stereotypes are bad.

Thanks to “He Who Must Not Be Named,” I got a taste of stigma, and by taste, I mean a roundhouse kick to the face. The word depression possesses negative connotation, forcing society to view it as a “disorder” with symptoms including loss of pleasure, a dejected mood, a questioning of self-worth, and other uncontrollable problems.

Look at “mental disorder.” Sounds like a medical term to me. Funny, then, how the stigma of depression associates it with phrases like “personally weak,” “volatile,” or potentially “violent,” implying a person can control or overcome their depression — turn it off even — with the appropriate amount of will power. They clearly just don’t want to. Some assume the depressed simply seek attention. In the United States, 21 million people suffer from depression. That’s quite a few people just crying out for attention, if you ask me.

Stigma builds a wall between those who need help and those who can offer it. It prevents people suffering with depression from sharing their situation and from seeking professional help. In my case, it took seven years to realize I wasn’t just an ungrateful, whiny bitch. My feelings immobilized me, and stigma told me, “life’s tough, get a helmet.”

It turns out, my case is one of many — 72 percent of students stated that they could not seek help due to “embarrassment.” Thank you, stigma.

Well, “He Who Must Not Be Named,” congratu-fucking-lations. You live a life totally free of uncontrollable problems. Good luck with that. I hope that if someday you pick up some emotional baggage, someone shows you more understanding than you showed me.

illustration by Elizabeth Latella