I have depression. I fully expect to be on medication for the rest of my life. Right now I’m on a drug cocktail that is helping control my symptoms, but the depression is always there, lurking and waiting for me to miss a therapy appointment or skip a pill or just let the bad thoughts in. I also have anxiety, which can make me leap to rather alarming conclusions with no reason.
Being non-monogamous has played out in really difficult ways with my depression. When I was in the thick of it, I Googled the shit out of “Depression and non-monogamy” and “anxiety and open relationships,” but everything is about one or the other. In poly/open circles you just hear “Jealousy is toxic. Buck up and purge it from your life.” In depression help circles you hear “Well of course you’re depressed if your partner sleeps with other people. Get yourself in a proper, monogamous relationship.” Neither of these views was at all helpful. When I’m depressed, my brain and my emotions are very hard to control. It’s like I can’t trust my own thoughts. I knew that I couldn’t blame others for my jealousy and had to take responsibility for it, but i was paralyzed. Simply not being jealous felt like an insurmountable task. And why would leaving my primary support system, the person who hugs me until I stop crying and says silly things to coax me to smile, help me at all?
For a while I felt lost. My partner would sleep with someone else or flirt or make plans to play and I would experience the normal twinge of jealousy. But then my depression would kick in and I literally could not figure out how to process my emotions and so my thoughts would spiral out of control until I was in crisis mode. It took a huge toll on our relationship. It was emotionally draining and scary for my partner. It kept getting worse and worse, and I was so ashamed. I worried that if anyone knew how jealous I got no one would want to touch my partner, even though I never blamed the women he played with. I was afraid that people would think I was a crazy bitch and not like me anymore. I thought people would say to themselves “Why is he with someone who holds him back from having fun?” Those feelings of shame and failure only made things worse.
Now I’ll fast forward to the present. I’m not perfect, but my jealousy is well controlled. I can watch my partner flirt and can smile about it. I can hear him tell me about his plans to play with someone and feel neutral on the matter. I can watch him walk out the door to a play date and think “now I can play loud music that he doesn’t like and dance to it!” I still have flare ups, both of depression and jealousy, but now I have much better coping mechanisms to deal with the latter.
The real reason I’m writing this is to share how I got to this point from where I was only a few months ago. If I had been able to find some sort of advice I would have felt a lot less lost and lonely on my journey. If someone in my former situation came to me and asked me what to do, this is what I would tell them had helped me.
Step 1: I wrote a letter to my future self. It’s a very long letter that I wrote when I was calm. I have it saved in several places so I can pull it out and read it to myself when I start to get jealous. I started by reminding myself it will all be OK, segued into the reasons I am in a non-monogamous relationship and then ended it with a list of specific things I worry about and reasoned my way out of them. The goal of this letter is to take myself from panic mode to feeling calm and able to distract myself.
Step 2: I found a new therapist who understands non-monogamy and is kink-friendly. I feel comfortable talking to her about any aspect of my life, and she has helped with my self-esteem and taught me different ways of looking at situations. I know some people either can’t afford therapy or don’t feel comfortable with the mental health profession, but if you can do therapy, I highly recommend it.
Step 3: I bought a therapy workbook. I know this sounds redundant, but it was very, very helpful for me. I had heard good things about Dialectical Behavior Therapy and was curious about it, so I went on Amazon and ordered something. It gave me something to do that felt like I was proactive in tackling my problems and taught me a lot of good coping mechanisms and ways to calm down. And I can pull it out when I am feeling bad.
I know this has been a long post, but I hope that people read it. I want depressed people who struggle with jealousy to know that there is a way out and you are not broken. If my way doesn’t work, you can still find something that works for you. And I want non-depressed people to understand that this is an illness. It can be very hard to deal with, but it doesn’t disqualify us from having healthy relationships.