By Christina Bauer
After falling in love with a man who shirks labels and simply states there is a darkness that at moments is all consuming, I have learned more profoundly than through all my years working in mental health the heartbreaking meaning behind this statement. Deeply touched by the world around him, he is a sensitive and intuitive man with the heart of a lion. It is in endurance sports and time spent in the natural world, the moments on the brink of mind and body collapse, that the rare experience exists when descending into the darkness he finds only light. I watch with tears of joy, optimistic that such a moment will feed him in the inevitable difficulties ahead. But these last few months of injury and rehabilitation void of these bright moments have felt especially dark.
There is much written about depression and in my experience it focuses on the person in its throes and leaves in the quiet shadows those that love them. I could speak about my own inner struggles, but I want to bring to the forefront the painful powerlessness of watching the shadows descend on the love of your life. No matter what treatment is pursued, these shadow days still come. With each passing year the weight seems that much heavier on his shoulders, the pain more evident in his eyes and the ache in my heart deepens as the fear sinks in – what if he doesn’t find his way out?
This is coupled with a sweaty panic that perhaps I am somehow the cause of the vacant look in his eyes, the consuming sadness. I come home from a day of work to see the bedroom door closed tightly – the room dark. A desperate yearning to be able to “make him ok” that perhaps just this once there is some magic action – a meal, a smile, the right phrase that can drag him out from under. Meanwhile knowing deep within it is ridiculous, but still wondering if the relationship is a burden, and afraid to reach out for support from my partner and find it’s not there when I need it most. Feeling alone and afraid, closed off in a private pain all my own, I sit in my silence. Not wanting to betray the intimate inner world of my partner, loyalty and stigma often hamper my ability to reach out for fear of judgment. These are the worst times, these are the days I am married to the darkness and not the man I love.
It is especially in these moments that I ride a roller coaster of emotion. I vacillate between believing our relationship is collapsing and I am the cause, and blaming the disease with one broad stroke for any difficulty and stress. It is far too easy to take all of it on, or push it all away. There is always a third member of our relationship lurking and intruding. I face sleepless nights of knots in my stomach and tears that I force myself to hide away. I question everything. When I find myself out of energy to continue steadfast in providing support, and taking things too personally, I retreat to the mountains alone. The peaks and valleys soothe my addled mind and absorb my tears until there is nothing left. As the wind kisses my cheeks I feel at home and find the perspective I crave and need to continue. I come back set into my own skin again. These wild places hear the struggle and offer silent solace to help me through the darkest moments over which I have no control.
It’s incredibly important for me to find the things that keep me whole and these moments also help me to connect with the people who support me and understand the grip of depression. For there are no easy answers, sometimes there are no answers at all, and these periods have been some of the most painful of my life. It is only in the rhythm of my breathing and my feet that I find the ability to let it go.
Luckily this is something my husband and I share, for ours is a love born of blue skies, red rocks and deep canyons. I feel most complete when I am spending long days in the dirt. My heart is full when I can glance over at the svelte frame and bushy beard of the man I love and see reflected in his eyes a moment of peace. No words are needed and so often it is the only thing that makes sense in a life and world full of chaos. The wild places allow this stillness to occur within and between us. As time has passed, balancing the commitments and obligations of life has grown increasingly challenging and these free moments together are fewer and farther between. The dark has seemed to settle and stay around longer.
Somehow through a series of unlikely events we found ourselves in the land of the midnight sun two summers in a row and our lives were filled with light. These trips brought us together in ways not possible at home and I have carried the images around like treasured trinkets to pull out when like the past few months it all seemed so suffocatingly dark.
Standing atop a towering green cliff in Iceland teeming with birds frenetically feeding their young I turn and see a set of hazel eyes framed with the crinkle of smile lines – a shock to my heart – they had disappeared for too long. The wind plays with his beard and he is simply present and in awe of the majesty before us; water pouring off the cliff, the vast ocean below and rising behind us a green misty mountain pass. Possibility floods back into the eyes of the man I love and we silently renew bonds inside ourselves and our commitment to wild places as a vital and living part of our existence together.
Fast forward a year to when our plane touches down in the Lofoten Islands of Norway. I see the same sparkle in his eyes. Craggy peaks butt up against a turquoise sea. We become immersed in this place. The experience is magnified by the people we meet that are deeply invested in preserving both the beauty and the culture of this magical land. We participate in a race and both smile as we tumble over late season snow, eat until we are stuffed to the gills and wander rows of drying fish and brightly colored huts. We settle into an easy rhythm and leave with a fresh hunger to return and explore.
These trips signify for us a commitment to leave behind the darkest moments and strive to live in the glow of possibility – to be outside together for the pure joy of discovering what is around the next bend. They inspire us to cultivate experiences that allow the light to flood in. This relationship with the land around us is vital. It helps us to reconnect, and even for a brief moment forget the darkness. The new bonds we form allow us to persevere standing side by side facing the demons with our faces raised to the sun. I have been drawing on this energy as we have faced a string of the bleakest months of our partnership, and found the light streaming out of the smallest moments, like the first running steps on a treadmill.
We are constantly reminded of how important it is to share this love of open spaces. I hope everyone has an opportunity to adventure with the ones they love, most especially when there are so many reasons not to. Whether out the back door or on the other side of the globe, time outside together is unmatched. It has had an extraordinary impact on our lives. The different paces, priorities, likes and dislikes don’t matter in the end. I know that whatever the future brings these are moments I will treasure for the rest of my days.
Christina Bauer is a self-described desert and mountain maven. She loves exploring new trails around the world, but most often you can find her running the Flagstaff trails or exploring new corners of the Colorado Plateau with her partner Rob Krar.