Hello everyone, my name is Taylor Spesak and for those of you reading this who don’t know me, I am Bree’s boyfriend of almost six years. Before getting into the rest of this there are a few things I have to say. First off, this is a story about life; there are highs and lows, happy moments and sad moments, along with times of joy and times of frustration. So please, bare with me. It ends well, I promise. Second, I want to apologize that it has taken this long to get this post up. Bree and I talked about me writing this post at the beginning of Orange Bead Collective, but as with life there were several factors that led to me pushing back the finished product which is what I have for you now. Third, I want to thank each and every one of you who have supported and continue to support Orange Bead Collective. Whether you bought a bracelet or you are reading these posts, words will never be able to show our gratitude. Every donation and shared story is one step closer to Bree’s healing process and trust me, it is working. Lastly, I want to warn you this is a long one, but I felt it necessary to share the deep personal stories of my relationship with Bree before trying to come up with solutions to help those with significant others facing Depression/Anxiety.
When Bree asked if I would share my side of the story to the world I was overwhelmed at first (and truthfully still am as I type this). Sharing such a personal story about our relationship over the last six years isn’t easy for me, but I have thought about everyone who has already shared their story, whether it was publicly or personally to Bree, and I was inspired. The first night when she was flooded with encouragement and support showed me that this topic needs to be talked about. I know that there are so many out there who face Depression and Anxiety head on and I applaud you—keep your heads up because there is a community out there who are here to support you any way possible. I am not one who personally struggles with Depression or Anxiety, but I see it on a daily basis at the lowest times and I am here to share with all of you my perspective in hopes to help any loved ones, family, or friends out there understand what we can do to help, or at least understand.
I first met Bree senior year of high school, she was the bubbly, outgoing girl, “friends with everyone, hated by no one” type of person. We had American government class together first semester and the first words she ever said to me after a heated political debate were, “shut up you don’t know anything”; I knew right there we were going to be best friends. Ironically enough, fast forward to present day and I am about to get a degree from Loyola Marymount University in Political Science and Communications, but she still says I don’t know anything. Anyways… Later that year after becoming very close friends after my group of guys and her group of girls started hanging out more I fell for Bree, hard. She still had her boyfriend of almost a year so I didn’t think there was ever a chance, but that was okay. I was friend-zoned but enjoyed every minute because she lit up my day. That is the thing about Bree, her personality is electric, and her energy is addicting. Everyone wants to be around her because she can make any bad day better. Second semester came around and I heard through the grapevine that Bree was now single, and I made the move that no guy ever dreamt possible, I got out of the friend-zone. On February 10, 2010 I asked her to be my girlfriend in the parking lot of Chipotle with some “persuasion” from my little brother (I know, romantic right?), and that is when my life changed.
Our relationship started off as any high school relationship. She was my drug, I wanted to spend every minute with her, talk to her at every second of the day, I missed her after seeing her five minutes ago. The whole nine. We were the happiest people in the world, we traveled that summer, we went on dates, we did everything we could in those three summer months, because we both knew she was leaving in August for college in a different state and I was leaving to play hockey in Montana. Even though everyone told us we were crazy for staying together long distance and that “it will never work out” we didn’t believe it. I knew that the girl from government was going to be my best friend forever.
Her first year at college wasn’t as hard as everyone said, we skyped almost nightly, we visited as often as we could, we texted throughout the entire day, and we trusted each other. There were never fights or anything, we knew that these were years we had to enjoy as young kids and to not worry about little things. Bree joined her sorority and was happier than ever! She was going out with her girlfriends, making memories, and living the college life everyone dreams of, all while maintaining her grades. Girls envied her, I envied her. But it wasn’t until the end of her sophomore year of college that I started noticing something changing.
At first I didn’t think of anything when Bree started staying in to watch Netflix while all of her friends were going out. I didn’t think anything of it when her ex-boyfriend was now a more frequent discussion in our daily conversations. I didn’t think anything of it when she started having meltdowns on airplanes. Looking back knowing what I know now, it makes sense to me—I failed as a boyfriend in those nine months of our relationship. I stopped wanting to text her because it was always about her ex, I would get annoyed whenever she “caused a scene” when we flew (and we traveled A LOT), I was getting frustrated over summer when instead of going places we sat on the couch to watch countless hours of TV. I thought it was all a phase. August came around again, time for her to go back to school for her junior year and my first year at Loyola Marymount and I thought it would all be great and back to normal. I remember one day driving around town and an airplane flew over us in the car and Bree started freaking out to the point of crying at just the sight of an airplane knowing she had to be on one next week to travel with my family. This was the point I knew something wasn’t right.
In this short time period I have seen the girl I love go from being the happiest person in the room, always laughing and smiling to being a shut-down introvert, barely speaking to anyone if we even left the house. Being a communications major I have studied the difference between masculine and feminine communicators and the tendencies of each. I am the type of guy where I need to fix and solve everything, just tell me what I need to do and I will do it. But during this time that wasn’t the case. There were days when I would try to hold and hug Bree and I would be pushed away. There were nights where we would go without a kiss goodnight. Any intimacy was long gone. Talking would turn into frustration and anger, so that lead to days without speaking to each other. I acted out of frustration and as a coward and asked for time away from our relationship. Since I couldn’t “fix” whatever was happening in our relationship I thought running from it was the best option. However, this was when she needed me the most. We spent Christmas and New Years apart, and when February came around to celebrate her birthday, our anniversary, and Valentines day things were still shaky, but we started trying again.
Things started to get a little better in our relationship but we still weren’t the couple we were before. It was a full year of me telling her during every panic attack, “that it’s all in your head” or, “you’re going to be fine, stop overreacting”. In that year, panic attacks were happening more frequently, asking for reassurance about EVERYTHING was more frequent, doubting herself was an hourly thing. In that year I didn’t know what to do. We stayed distant, but still together. It was the hardest year of our relationship, and that following March was when she was diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety.
I remember driving home from school when I got the call from Bree, she was in tears and almost couldn’t catch her breath. When she told me I didn’t believe her. No one believed her. Bree is the happiest girl, always smiling, always laughing. But that is why we are here, and why there is this amazing initiative from Bree. Depression and Anxiety isn’t an external thing, it is completely and entirely internal. Those without it will NEVER be able to understand the strength it takes to make it through a simple day; what would be a routine day for you or I, takes every ounce of energy for Bree. Going to sleep that March night I thought long and hard, I cried for hours thinking back over the last year (maybe year and a half) and how I was disgusted and embarrassed with myself and how I acted as a boyfriend. In the times Bree needed me the most I ran away. When she needed some support to lean on, I stepped out of the way and watched her fall by herself. I promised myself I would never let that happen again. I am far from perfect, and dating someone who has Depression and Anxiety is not easy. It takes work on both ends. What the rest of this post is about is what I find helps not only myself but also helps Bree, and helps those we surround ourselves with to understand and respect what Bree faces on a daily basis. This helps Bree, and this is what I learned from Bree, so when I say “they” I do not mean to generalize, so please don’t think that I don’t respect individual situations.
First of all, people have to understand that those struggling with Depression and Anxiety don’t want to be defined by just that, they are so much more than that! None of us would like to be defined by only one characteristic that we have, so why should that be true for anyone else? Seems like common sense, but that isn’t the case here. Those with Depression and Anxiety don’t want to be treated differently or babied, they just want to be understood; and that is not asking for too much.
Second, I had to learn and accept that Depression and Anxiety is exhausting. Bree sleeps a lot throughout the day. A LOT. And I always took this personally, like she wasn’t having fun, or that she would rather sleep than spend time with me. But like I previously said what seems like a routine day for me, takes much more for Bree. She is always in a hyper-tense state; almost like constantly in that fight or flight mode. Whenever I have had a stressful week of school and work and all I want is a cold beer and to sit on my couch with a mindless read, that feeling is what she feels after every. single. day. I now understand this, and encourage her to sleep on the couch while I’m making dinner for us, or while I’m getting ready to go out. Because even if it is a five or ten minute nap, I can see an instant glowing “recharge” from her when she wakes up.
Third and most importantly, Bree can get overwhelmed easily. This is a two part point because I think they go hand in hand. But like I said in earlier, she is constantly in that fight or flight mode, so everything going on around her is more intense; sights, sounds, smells, every person she sees, every noise she hears is amplified. This is what leads to her panic attacks. So crippling that no words get through, no touch is soothing, no gesture is accepted. These have come on at any given time, at airports, at Disneyland (her happiest place), laying in bed going to sleep, in the car; no place is truly safe. I have learned to just let it happen, as painful as it is for me to watch my INCREDIBLY strong girlfriend to freeze, and I want to do nothing more than stop it, I can’t. A few things that I know have started to help Bree are light gestures; giving her noise canceling headphones, lightly scratching her back, light comforting words of encouragement, “shhhh, I’m here, everything is okay”. Whatever it takes to help your significant other, find out what it is. This makes things easier for the relationship. I know Bree isn’t pushing me away because she doesn’t love me, and she knows I’m not walking away out of anger; we know that it is best for her healing if I leave her alone. Being the loved one of someone facing Depression and Anxiety it is this point we must understand the most. Trust your loved one, and know it is nothing you did, just remind them you love them no matter what, and when all is passed and they are calm again take a moment to kiss them and ask what they can do next time this happens. Learn from these moments, it will help their healing as well as yours.
Fourth, related to the last point but worth talking about. They are often times well aware that their anxiety is irrational. But just because they are aware doesn’t mean they can shut off the thoughts. It is actually the opposite, Bree’s anxiety is often cause by her knowing how irrational her thoughts are. By pointing this out to your loved one isn’t helping— instead show them support, love, and understanding. Very rarely do you need to give them advice about how to not be irrational, cause what do we know about that?
Fifth, communication is difficult. Not communication about the relationship overall, but communication about their Depression/Anxiety. There were some days when Bree did not want to talk about what she was thinking or how she was feeling, no matter how hard I tried. But there were other days when she wanted to talk for hours. This has changed more as she has opened up on the Orange Bead Collective blog, and as healing has gone on. But being on the other side, we have to respect this. If they want to talk, sit down and actively listen; because who knows, some day listening could save them.
PLEASE DON’T CONSTANTLY ASK “are you okay?”. When I start seeing Bree freeze up, the LAST thing I want to do is ask if she is okay. As a significant other it is pretty safe to say we know when they are most definitely not okay, so don’t ask. Try and remember what is soothing to them. ie. “keep breathing, it is all okay” or whatever you may find that helps them calm down and allow them to get through it, however they find appropriate.
Lastly, and what I found to be the hardest at first is that they aren’t always intentionally ignoring us or aren’t always present. Dealing with the loud internal thoughts can often times be controlling, and takes their attention away from something. This doesn’t mean they are ignoring you, we will never understand what is going on inside. Allow them to figure it out, trust me, they will even if it is only momentarily. But incase you already forgot the previous point… DO NOT CONSTANTLY ASK IF THEY ARE OKAY. Showing an understanding speaks more than any words and will be received.
If you have made it this far I want to thank you again. I adore everyone who has reached out to Bree to share your stories it has helped the healing process for her tremendously. We are both still learning on a daily basis on what works and what does not. We are far from the finish line but life is showing both of us great promise. Since Bree has started this baby of hers I have seen the a little bit more light come back into her eyes every morning. There are days when she gets overwhelmed with orders and I ask you please understand where she is coming from. She is a single woman operation, hand making every bracelet by herself on top of just finishing her Masters thesis. If there has been a delay in her shipping out orders don’t take it personally she is doing her best to get it done. I have told her to step away for a little bit and to enjoy time with her family and relax over the holidays but she loves this too much. If any of you reading is dating someone with Depression and Anxiety please do not hesitate to reach out to me or Bree, I will answer any question and share any story with you, and if I don’t have an answer I will find one for you. Have a safe and lovely holidays and Happy New Years.