When You Can’t Fix It: Being Married to Someone Who Suffers From Depression Part I

When my husband and I first met, I was recovering from a low point in my life. I had been dumped by my boyfriend of two and half years and I didn’t give myself time to grieve. Instead I pushed myself into my school work and managed to graduate as salutatorian of my class. Then I crashed. That summer was filled with bouts of difficulty and none of my friends seemed to notice, or care. But this new acquaintance did notice and he cared. As we got to know each other better he told me about some of his past struggles with depression. Over the course of our dating relationship we would both have ups and downs. When we got married, he had been on generic Prozac for a year and he seemed fine. In spite of the many challenges we faced in the early years of our marriage, he remained placidly calm. We used to joke that the house could be on fire and he would still refuse to panic, “Don’t worry. It’s just stuff. The house is insured.” He was even able to transition off of his medication and remained depression free for several years. Then in fall of 2008 things began to change.

He wasn’t handling his job stress well and he was losing the desire to do his college class work. After our daughter was born, we didn’t sleep much. In fact we hardly slept at all, for an entire year. He became more negative in his attitudes. He loved me and our daughter but he was very hard on himself. He didn’t see much hope for the future. He decided to take a break from graduate school. Slowly over the course of six months he descended into the deepest depression I had ever seen him in. It was, frankly, a little terrifying. He continued to go to work, but his job performance suffered. He constantly talked about how he was sure they were looking for reasons to fire him. I finally convinced him to go back to see his therapist. He felt like he had failed. He was supposed to be training to be a therapist, not seeing one. Then he visited his doctor to get back on Prozac. For months, nothing seemed to change so his doctor upped the dose. Still nothing. I was beginning to lose hope. I wanted to help him, to relieve his pain, to fix him. But I couldn’t. I obsessed over trying to keep the house perfect. I tried, and failed, to handle our daughter’s night wakings all by myself so that he could get more rest. I prayed for him every night, sometimes aloud next to him in bed, other times alone with silent tears, seen and heard only by God.

Being married to someone suffering from clinical depression is a challenge. I felt the need to be perfect so I didn’t add any new stressors to his life. Yet when he saw me handling everything on my own, he felt unnecessary and guilty for the additional burdens I had to bear. At the time, my husband was very self conscious about his condition, so I told no one. Then I told just my parents, but none of my friends. I felt so alone. I didn’t want to embarrass him or disrespect him, but I was drowning. I risked opening up to one or two friends, only to find that I wasn’t alone. The support of another woman in my same situation helped dramatically. She was there for me when I thought my husband might never recover and celebrated with me when our lives took a turn for the better.

To be continued tomorrow in Part II.

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