I believe what causes depression, and makes it worse, comes down to the withdrawal of love. Either love has been withdrawn from us or we feel like it has been withdrawn – through death, relationships ending, anger, abuse, punishment, illness, injury, parental response, etc. Even just the feeling of love being gone is enough for depression to be triggered or worsened, because withdrawal of love makes us think we are unworthy. Then we feel ashamed or guilty, which is another way of withdrawing love.
I mentioned illness and injury in the list above. Yes, even these can make us experience a withdrawal of love, because in our misery we feel powerless, we feel cheated, we feel like we’ve been given a raw deal. We start to question, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” In those moments, we lose love. We learn to dislike the world around us and ourselves. We start to hate ourselves and think that we deserve shit.
Personally, I have long used withdrawal of love as a barrier. That’s the core of my depression. I felt like love was withdrawn from me and so, as a technique for protecting myself from being hurt again, I withdrew love from others. I withdrew myself. If someone wronged me, I cut them out of my life, wrote them off, and held an unshakeable grudge. I did it for decades. The problem is that this strategy no longer serves me. In weaponizing it against others, it has injured me over and over. Even sitting in isolation during a depressive episode is an act of withdrawing love from the world, and thus an act of withdrawing it from myself. It’s self sabotage.
I started doing it at 12, during a crisis. But the seeds were sown earlier. I grew up needing love. (What kid doesn’t?) When I was punished by my parents, I felt like love was withdrawn. Occasionally I was spanked and there was great anger in those moments. (I’m not blaming here, I’m simply explaining. My parents are good people.) But in those moments, I absorbed and wallowed in anger, shame, and guilt. I would be punished and then sent to my room. In there, I ruminated in shame, with some anger of my own mixed in. When it was over, I was expected to apologize. But there was no love expressed after that. Their generation didn’t do that. There was no explanation of why, no counselling, no make up hug, no arm around the shoulder to show that I was still loved. I was left kind of hanging. The shame and guilt were still there within me. I knew what I was expected to do to avoid problems again, but that’s as far as it went.
Love wasn’t actually withdrawn – they still loved me – but because it wasn’t displayed at those formative moments, I felt like it was withdrawn. It was what I personally needed most. It still is.
When I was 12 and we moved so far away from my childhood home to another state, love left me completely. I felt like my life had been taken away and that my family wasn’t available to help me in my hour of greatest need. Again I felt like love had been taken away. (There were reasons they weren’t available. I don’t blame them. There’s no point.) On top of the punishment/discipline techniques from earlier years, I felt like this change of life was a punishment. That I deserved punishment. That everyone was an asshole for doing it to me and for not giving a shit about me. I wasn’t taught how to cope with it. I wasn’t counselled. Instead I just had to live up to expectations of how a bishop’s son should look and be.
If you think this isn’t much of a hardship, just know that very few kids deal with situations like this, where they’re scrutinised by the wider public every day. I had nobody to turn to who shared this experience. You yourself likely weren’t “on display” every day at age 12, knowing that any wrong move would reflect poorly on your father and cause a stream of damaging gossip. Any negative stuff about the family was going to get twisted in the retelling and could easily become a scandal. As a 12-year-old kid, I was in fear of doing the wrong thing. We were nothing like the Royals or anything like that, but I understand how families of public figures withdraw into privacy and guard that privacy jealously. I also understand how they can feel like their lives aren’t their own. I felt very much under pressure. I had to grow up long before I was ready.
As a 12-year-old, I saw all the new adults in my life – and there were many – as people I had to withdraw love and care from. I did my best to stay away from them, so when they visited or when we hosted functions, I retreated to my room. I basically assumed the same mentality as I had when I was punished as a small boy.
As a teenager, I didn’t get to rebel the way others do. So instead, I withdrew love. I withdrew myself. I moved to another city for university – subconsciously getting away from the life I didn’t want. When I moved back to my parents’ city, I lived somewhere else, partly because I thought I should do that as an adult, and also because I wanted to stay away from the church happenings and news. Then I returned to my home state, subconsciously so I could be away from that other life entirely, and perhaps trying to recapture the better emotions and memories of my childhood. I didn’t call my parents very often. I didn’t visit often, either. In the end, I moved overseas, subconsciously moving away from it even more, from where I still don’t call often and visit even less. I essentially withdrew everything. Not only had I weaponized what I felt had happened to me, but I carry shame and guilt over doing it.
I weaponized the withdrawal of love against myself. It became my “survival” strategy.
Is it any wonder depression has been with me for so long? What a pity it has taken me so many years to wake up.
Over these past couple of years, it has been my parents’ hour of need and I’ve been pretty much useless. So I feel guilty. Distance is a factor, for sure, as is money. I can’t just drop everything and travel across the world. I have a wife and children and a mortgage and bills, etc. But most essentially, I can see the recurring pattern of subconsciously withdrawing love.
Since becoming aware of all this, I have tried to reconcile with my feelings. I even told my parents I loved them (something we didn’t say much in our family), because I do, but I don’t know if it really registered. If I call them, I feel dragged back into their world. And I don’t want to be in that world.
It’s like I’m trapped being 12. That is the heart and cause of my depression. I’m stuck with the emotions I felt when I was 12 – and the withdrawal of love has become a pattern.
As I write this, at this very moment, an email came in saying I was unsuccessful in obtaining an interview for a job. It’s really hard not to feel all over again like something has been taken away or withheld.
Through my teenage and adult years, when I received rejection from someone, I rejected them right back. “Fuck them. They don’t know what they’re missing. They can eat shit.” 12 years old again. Still.
I was 29 when my first marriage failed. I went into awful depression for a couple of years. That’s understandable. But I was sent back to being 12 again and reliving all those same emotions. Love had been taken away. I must deserve it. I must suck. Why must I be dealt a shitty hand all the time? Fuck everyone, get them away from me.
Although I knew our marriage wasn’t great in the months beforehand, I have to admit I was blindsided when the moment came. I had thought things would come good again. But there was nothing I could do and I descended into feeling like everything had been taken away.
A few weeks after we split, I remember thinking that I didn’t miss my then wife personally. I didn’t picture her face or remember her perfume smell or remember how our embraces felt. I didn’t long for the good memories. I ached for a general sense of togetherness and intimacy, with somebody generally, not specifically her. I needed love. I always had. And it was gone. Therefore love for myself was gone. Actually, now I can look back and realise that love for myself hadn’t been there at all. What a paralysing, paradoxical conundrum.
Now I’m aware of all this, the question becomes what to do. I have some ideas. They’ll take time. It’s a new world – one where I need to stop being a victim of my 12-year-old emotions.
How has withdrawal of love affected you? Where does it tie in with your depression? I’ll bet it’s played a pretty big role. Each one of us copes and responds in different ways. But our depression is a sure sign that our coping/defence mechanisms are no longer serving us.