“You wouldn’t leave someone with cancer,” he said.
She blinked, not quite sure she was hearing what she was hearing. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“You’re breaking up with me because I have depression,” he said. “That’s wrong. Not only is it wrong, it’s cruel. I never thought you were someone who would do something like that. I guess I was wrong about you.”
“I’m not breaking up with you because you have depression,” she said. “I’m breaking up with you because we’re drowning in debt, and you refuse to either get a job or stop spending so much money. Because you’re always insulting me. Telling me I’m annoying. Stupid. Worthless. Because you haven’t touched me in months and never seem happy to see me.”
“All of those things are because of my depression,” he said. “They’re all symptoms of it.”
“It’s not the illness,” she said. “It’s the way it affects me. The behaviors.”
“Whatever,” he said. “Whatever you want to tell yourself. I thought you of all people would understand.”
“What do you mean by that?” she asked.
“This is really heartless coming from someone who’s struggled with mental illness themselves,” he replied.
Just Because Someone’s Sick, It Doesn’t Mean They Can’t Be Held Accountable
They had spun round and round on this particular merry-go-round for months.
She had tried to get him help — therapy, meds. He’d miss appointments. Try a medication, say it didn’t help him, and refuse to trial another. She even recruited other friends in this effort.
I was one of them.
I had watched with alarm as his behaviors seemed to grow worse. He’d become meaner, even more short tempered with her. Began to insult her regularly. The money problems grew worse. While he hadn’t hit her, he’d started to throw things they owned in frustration against the wall , breaking them. I began to worry for her physical safety, not knowing where the bottom was.
Finally, she’d decided to leave.
“I know it’s the right move for my own personal happiness,” she said. “If I were just thinking about me and what I wanted, what was good for me, it’d be a no-brainer.”
“But you’re worried about him?” I asked.
She nodded. “And I feel selfish. He told me I wouldn’t leave someone with cancer. And that by dumping him, that was basically what I was doing. Because depression is an illness, and his illness was what was making him act up.”
“Do you think he has a point?” she asked.
“He could, if the circumstances were a little different, I suppose. But knowing both of you, it seems more like another way he’s lashing out at you,” I said. “I’m all for honoring depression as a real illness, because it is, but being ill doesn’t give someone carte blanche to be a jerk. There’s a balance here. Just because someone’s sick, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be held accountable. Nor does it mean that there are no consequences for any of their behavior. Explanations aren’t blanket excuses. And besides, you did try to get him help.”
She nodded. “I’d say that the fact that he didn’t take it is evidence that he doesn’t want to get better. That he’s being manipulative and taking advantage of me. But then I remember how hard it was to treat my own mental illness. A lot of trial and error. So I know it isn’t necessarily as clear-cut as that.”
I nodded. “And he knows that, too, doesn’t he — about your own history? And your difficulty with treatment?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Why?”
“Well, that complicates things. Because it means that he knows that you’ve struggled that way and would be sympathetic to him. So if he were refusing treatment out of manipulative motivation, then he’d be likely to know the approach would work,” I said.
She frowned. “Crud.”
“I wish these issues were simpler,” I said. “But they aren’t.”
“That’s okay,” she said.
“If it helps, I don’t judge you for leaving,” I said. “And I don’t think you’re heartless. I think you’re protecting yourself.”
“Thank you,” she said. “It does help.”