My husband struggles with depression, which means that our entire family does, too. Throughout my life, I have been fortunate to have basically no experience with mental illness, so the learning curve these past few years has been difficult.
It began a few years ago, when both our children were toddlers. We were all adjusting to life as a family of four, living on one income as I had recently stopped working to stay home with the kids. My husband had never been a super upbeat, optimistic person, but his sarcasm was part of his charm. He wasn’t the most outgoing guy, but he was usually up for getting together with friends or trying something new.
Suddenly, it seemed he never wanted to do anything. He stopped playing sports, previously one of his favorite activities, saying that he didn’t have enough time or money to be any good, so he was just going to quit. Around this time, it became very difficult to get him to do anything with our friends. I would make plans with other families or couples he knew and liked, and he would come up with reasons to cancel, claiming to have to work, be sick, etc. When I would push the issue with him, he would become angry with me, and it would be the beginning of a huge fight.
As the months went on, I noticed other changes in his behavior. He was always tired. Granted, we had two young kids, one who never slept, but I handled almost all of the nighttime shenanigans, and he was never doing anything other than working, so I couldn’t figure out what was making him so exhausted. He was also so negative about everything. We never had enough money, the house was never clean enough, the kids were always doing something wrong, his job was always miserable. This is the point when things got really bad. I had started to dislike him so much, and the kids and I were living our own life, moving on without him. It was the first time in our marriage when I truly thought we wouldn’t make it. Thankfully, as I was telling one of our friends, who had known my husband as long as I had, she said it sounded like depression.
It was as though a lightbulb went off in my head. As I mentioned, I had no personal or family experience with mental health issues, so it had not occurred to me that it could be something other than him being a total jerk. Looking back now, it seems obvious. My husband also suffers from two autoimmune disorders, and one of the top side effects of both is depression. I didn’t learn this until after I started researching, and then it all made sense. Also, I had always pictured depression as crying and obvious sadness, while my husband’s symptoms were more aligned with hopelessness and anger.
It took a few weeks to convince him that he was struggling with a mental illness. He did not want to hear it, and it caused more fighting. Finally, I told him something had to change because the kids and I couldn’t continue to live the way were. I stopped short of an ultimatum, but he got the point. He agreed to get help and began seeing a therapist.
Therapy was a difficult road for him. He’s a computer scientist, and sees things as very black and white. How was talking to someone about his feelings going to help him get better? But after a few visits, the therapist referred him to a psychiatrist, who prescribed him antidepressant medication. After a rocky few weeks fine tuning the dosage, I began to see the man I fell in love with again. It was small changes, but it was still amazing. I hadn’t realized just how much I had missed him. After a few months on the medication, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had my husband back, and everything was going to be okay.
I honestly thought we had moved past his depression. He was diligent with his medicine, and we were able to have open, honest discussions about how he was feeling. We were working together to solve problems that came up with the kids or in our marriage. This lasted for about two years, but last year, my husband’s mother passed away. It shocked both of us, and watching him deal with the grief and guilt of how he handled their relationship was heartbreaking. As we struggled to process the loss and help our children deal with their grief, I asked him if he wanted to go back to his therapist. He had stopped going after a year because he was feeling so much better, and he hadn’t liked going that much to begin with. He was adamant that he didn’t need it, and he would be fine. But he isn’t fine.
I am not sure if the loss of his mother or a few other negative things that have happened in our family triggered it, but the depression is back. Despite taking his medicine every day, that angry, sullen, depressed man has crept back into our lives. For me, dealing with it this time around is more difficult because I am realizing this is not something that will heal like a broken bone. It is going to be a process, and it is so hard.
He recently began seeing a new therapist. It took a lot of convincing to get him to go back, and I went to the first few appointments with him. I am so thankful that I went, as some of the advice she gave me has helped so much. She told me that it wasn’t my job to fix him or make him happy, only he can do that. Such a simple statement, but I really needed to hear it. I hadn’t realized how much I was worrying and stressing over things that weren’t important. Part of his problem is feeling so badly about himself, that he would project his feelings and get angry about the things he thought he should be able to control — like whether the car is clean or the kids remember to put their shoes away. Each time he would get mad over something small, I would put so much pressure on myself and the kids to make it right the next time so Daddy wouldn’t get angry. And none of us want to live in a house like that. I don’t want my kids to remember an angry dad from their childhood; I want them to remember the dad who got on the floor and tickled them or who makes the best animal noises when he reads stories.
Living with my husband’s depression has been one of the most difficult challenges of my life. Despite the struggles I feel, I know it is so much more difficult for him, and that breaks my heart. I try to remember that when I am fed up, crying or angry with him, but it is hard. Recently, things have started to get better, and my hope is that this recent season of depression is coming to an end. And while I’m sure it will come back around, hopefully we will both have the tools to deal with it more effectively each time.