‘I broke up with my boyfriend when he had depression’
'I began to feel like I was staying with someone who no longer had anything to offer me'
It's Mental Health Awareness Week and we're looking at people's experiences of mental health issues - their own and those of their loved ones. Here, our writer describes her boyfriend's struggle with depression - and the toll it took on her.
I met Liam the way many modern romances start. We were friends of friends who started chatting online. He offered to help me with my art magazine and it went from there.
We started dating and a month later he asked me to be his girlfriend. It was easy, carefree and very fun. He quickly became my best friend and for the first time, aged 22, I felt I had a partner – not just a boyfriend.
We were building our careers - mine in art, his in music - and we were doing it together, making our big decisions as a team and celebrating successes with wine at night.
Two years into our relationship, when he was 26, Liam’s career took off. He started touring abroad for months at a time. It was hard adjusting to the long-distance stints - sharing our lives via late-night and early-morning WhatsApp calls - but we managed.
Until things changed. Liam started constantly second-guessing himself and his confidence started to dip. He stopped making plans to see friends, and gave up on all attempts to look after himself - body or mind.
The boy who loved spending time with his family and going to museums with me was suddenly living the typical ‘alcohol, drugs and parties’ life of a musician on tour, far from the people and places he knew.
With months spent crossing time zones on little sleep, he was struggling to keep it together, and his once-casual drug and alcohol use skyrocketed.
Illustration: Sneha Shanker
When we hung out, he wanted to pick up drugs before we did anything else. I didn’t realise how bad it had got until I found him doing a line of coke in the middle of the day at my parents’ house. This wasn’t the boy I fell in love with.
He refused to see a doctor, but, in a rare moment of honesty, he once admitted to me that he felt depressed. He was showing all the signs: exhaustion, anger, isolation, feeling helpless and victimised. And he was convinced that the world was against him.
I’d seen enough people with mental health problems – including close friends and my own family - to know he needed help.
At first, I researched NHS counselling and sent him links to articles about depression. But he refused to see a therapist, so I tried to become one for him, speaking to him regularly about his problems and trying to advise him.
A year later, nothing had changed and I was exhausted. I felt like Liam had stopped caring about what went on in my life, or what my needs were a long time ago. He’d stopped looking me in the eye during conversations or even during sex. I had no idea what to do.
On one hand, this was the boy I’d thought I would marry. I wanted to care for him during a time of poor health and I understood that his illness wasn’t his fault. But, at the same time, the person I loved was no longer there.
At the start of our relationship, he was always buying me books he thought would interest me. Now I couldn’t remember the last time he’d done something like that.
I knew Liam – who was so changed by his mental health problems – could change again. But what if he didn’t? How much longer should I wait?
And where do you draw the line of understanding when it comes to mental health? If someone you love starts becoming emotionally cruel, like when Liam barely acknowledged me during sex, when do you stop excusing that behaviour?
Illustration: Sneha Shanker
I was only 26 with a life and career of my own. I began to feel like I was staying with someone who no longer had anything to offer me.
I felt so guilty and selfish for wanting to break up with him. But, gradually, I accepted there was nothing I could do.
At that point in time, he wasn’t willing or able to put in the work to help himself, and I even wondered if I was enabling his issues by staying with him.
My friends told me I was changing too. I’d begun to put up with behaviour I would have found unacceptable in anyone else - like when he didn’t ask me a single question about myself for a month, or when he failed to come to my birthday or any family events I’d begged him to come to - and I could feel my self-confidence starting to crack.
Eventually, I decided to do what was right for me.
It was heart-breaking to say goodbye to him and to break his heart and my own in the process. We’d been together four years. He blamed me entirely. I wasn’t being understanding. I was mean and unloving. How could I do this to him?
I felt lost and more alone than ever. To Liam, he was the only one going through a hard time – but this was hard for me, too, even if he couldn’t see that.
After a few difficult weeks, I felt an overwhelming, unexpected sense of relief.
It’s been over a year since we broke up and I have finally regained my sense of self. I’m dating someone who has reminded me that relationships can be fun.
I bumped into Liam recently and he’s doing better too. We wished each other well and meant it. I don’t know if he is still dealing with his depression, but I know that nothing would have changed if we’d stayed together.
Breaking up with him was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make but it’s one that I know I’ll never regret.
All names have been changed.
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, there's information and support available.
Advice on drink and drugs is available from Radio 1.
Originally published 14 May 2018.