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5 Ways My Husband and I Strengthened Our Marriage During My Depression

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This is a question that has been asked often of me, as I’ve shared how my husband and I worked through my depression together. There really is not a simple, quick answer for this. It really depends on the history of your relationship, the unique dynamics of your marriage and your current situation. What I can do is give you some guidelines and ideas of what we’ve done to grow closer and strengthen our marriage through this trial.

Let me first explain why this takes a bit of strategic planning. For years, I treated my husband, Chad, horribly. I didn’t understand what I was going through and blamed my anger, depression and wretched behavior on him, believing he wasn’t meeting my needs. I also blamed it on my role as a mom, realizing this dream of cute, snuggly babies and an organized, clean house was definitely not reality. I know many parents have these thoughts, especially when it seems like all you do is cook, change diapers and do laundry.

I was a wreck, and I was blaming Chad and making it his responsibility to fix me. After being married for almost 20 years, I realize now that is not how marriage works. When I started seeing a counselor and making small but noticeable changes, it was very, very difficult for Chad to trust me and rightly so. He had every reason in the world to doubt my improvement or to believe it was just a short-lived change.

He did not expect me to be perfect. He never has but he did want respect from me, just as I wanted unconditional love from him. I had not shown him any respect for years. So how were we able to grow from seriously thinking about a separation to a respectful and loving marriage?

(Yes, although my husband is a minister and we are both leaders in our church, we seriously considered separation. Do not ever think just because someone is a Christian or a church leader they are immune to worldly problems. If you ever have a church member going through something like this, do not judge. Offer to help and pray however you can. Let God take care of the rest.)

1. I gave my husband time.

This was actually difficult for me. You see, I noticed changes inside of myself before there were really any outwardly changes. Naturally, I thought Chad would notice the same thing right away. He did not.

2. I offered my husband patience.

There came a point where he did start to notice some changes. This was great news, but these changes were very, very slow. As I was living in depression for so many years, it was going to take a lot of work on my part, the counselor’s part and, I believe, God’s part to make these changes more and more consistent. Renewing your mind is a process. There is always room for improvement.

With these waning changes came waves of basically what I call temper tantrums. Yelling, talking down to my husband, unrealistic expectations of him, treating him like one of my children rather than my loving husband and partner. The difference between these episodes and those pre-counseling times are when I apologized I truly meant it. I no longer wanted to live this way or treat him like that. Again, it was very difficult for him to believe me, but with time he did choose to have faith in the process.

3. I offered my husband respect.

When I needed to talk with Chad about something, I was respectful to him. Just as when he talked with me, I needed him to do it in a loving and gentle way. We had fought, accused and probably disliked each other for so long it was difficult for both of us to do this. If I wanted my husband to listen to me, then I needed to treat him with respect.

What is respect anyway? Merriam-Webster describes it as “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important and should be treated in an appropriate way.” If I love my husband, then he needs to know that is important to me and I should treat him in such a way to show him he’s important to me.

What did this mean for us? I want to clarify here that Chad and I had our own problems, our own struggles and our own solutions for both. Because of the way I treated him for so many years, I had to make some obvious changes so he knew he was so important to me.

For you and your spouse, this may look completely different. Actually, it should look different. It should reflect your relationship and your marriage. These may seem so simple and almost too easy, but these actions told my husband I was serious about making changes. They told him I wanted his help and I wanted to be his wife, rather than his mother.

4. I helped my husband understand what depression was like for me.

My husband had never experienced depression before and had no idea what it was or how it affected me. I had to help him understand it by being honest with him, telling him how I was feeling and asking him for help if I needed it. When his father passed away unexpectedly, he did go through a bout of depression, rightly so. At that time he did tell me if this is what depression felt like for me all those years, it must’ve been horrible. I never wanted him to go through that, but I am glad he was able to understand a bit of how I was feeling all those years.

5. I created a strategy with my husband.

We had to come up with some kind of plan for when I had a depressive episode. If I was going to continue living in victory with my depression, then I needed help.

Again this reflected our personal relationship, how we communicated with each other and what our goal for our own marriage was.

Our strategy consists of:

  • Open and honest communication: He cannot read my mind, nor can I read his. When I am feeling on edge, irritated or angry, I need to tell him and not wait until it gets too bad.
  • Time alone: Often I need five to 10 minutes alone, to pray, to read, to rest or simply to be alone. If I need five minutes alone I say, “Chad can you give me five minutes alone?” He knows what this means, that I’m feeling out of sorts and I need to re-group.
  • Permission to take the night off: This may sound funny and I don’t want you to think my husband is some kind of tyrant. In fact, it’s the exact opposite in our home. If anyone’s a tyrant, it’s me. Seriously, I do not give myself permission to relax ever! So if I’m feeling overwhelmed or it’s been a bad day at work or with the kids, I need to hear from someone else that it’s OK (and good) for me to come home and take the night off. This means no housework, no laundry, no cooking and minimal childcare. Sometimes, I’ll ask him if he can cook dinner, bring food home or we just let the kids eat cereal. He has never, never, said he wouldn’t help when I’ve asked him.

These are just a few of the ways, that have worked for my husband and I, when it comes to talking about depression. What has worked for you and your spouse? If you’d like to add anything to this list, please leave a comment below.

With joyful blessings,
Samantha

This post originally appeared on Living With Real Joy.

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The Problem With Telling Ourselves Not to Be Depressed

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It’s a place no one wants to be, sobbing uncontrollably on the floor. Knowing I couldn’t do it myself but begging God to make it stop or to just let me die. The feeling of the carpet on my knees. I even remember watching classic antidepressant commercials saying “depression hurts” and thinking, “No, crap!” I felt so violated. It’s almost like experiencing a trauma.

This may sound extreme or dramatic, but that’s exactly what depression is, a scrappy relentless animal. It fights hard and doesn’t give up. Even when we think we have it beat, it comes back for round two, three, four or more. It’s been several years since I’ve faced depression of this magnitude, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

So what if we tell ourselves not to be depressed? To watch out for sadness and beat it off with a womping stick before it gets too close. To guard our happy with thankfulness, kindness, servitude and even busyness. It works sometimes.

What happens when it doesn’t? What happens when the sad creeper comes and camps out in your brain, despite your best efforts to keep his nasty at bay? If you are like me, then you feel defeated, alone, confused, not good enough and violated all over again.

So what does work? If we can’t beat it off or busy ourselves out of it, then what helps us in the moments when sadness seems like too much? I’ll tell you what works for me. It may sound silly or oversimplified, but it works.

Drop the rope. Drop the rope and stop fighting it.

It’s often the fear that depression will get too bad that takes us from sad to miserable. We borrow trouble from past experience and drag it willingly into the present and future. Here’s the thing: It doesn’t fit there. So instead of kicking into full-fledged panic when we feel sad, what if we just learned to accept it for what it is? What if we didn’t make it bigger or smaller? What if we didn’t tug it closer or smack at it in attempts to make it go away? Just letting it be what it is.

I’m not saying depression doesn’t hurt. We all know that it does. What I’m saying is, we don’t have to make it go away or never struggle with it again to live life. Depression can ebb and flow, and you can keep on going. It may be a part of you, but it doesn’t have to define you.

Depression is tough, but so are you. You don’t have to be violated. You can welcome it for what it is, and at the same time know it will get better. Soon enough, you will find joy.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741

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To the People Who Leave When a Loved One Struggles With Depression

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I got sad, and you left. I wish I could say I don’t know why you did it, but the ugly truth is I do. I got too big for you to handle.

Maybe you’ve never met someone like me — someone who seems so “normal” one day and the next is staring blankly at the world. Maybe you’re too busy holding yourself together to hold me together, too. Maybe I shared too much and you got scared.

Whatever the reason, you left.

I wish I could say I don’t understand how a person could do something like that, but I do. Believe me, if I could leave myself, I would. Because it’s the worst when I’m by myself, when my own thoughts keep attacking me and the whispers to do something about this just won’t stop. When sleep won’t come and I feel like everything in the world is sitting right on my chest. When I cry so hard I can’t breathe, and I pray someday someone will come and pull me out of the hole my life is now. I thought you would be that someone. But you left.

And I won’t say it didn’t hurt because it did.

But I’m not mad. 

Because for every person who leaves, there’ll be a person who won’t.

There will be a person who sticks by me even on my worst days because they know how it feels. They’ve been left before, and they wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

They stay because no one stayed for them when they needed it most. So they see what I’m going through, they see the hurt in my eyes.

And they stay.

My message to the people who leave is this:

I don’t know why you left. But I do know I don’t need you to come back anymore. I stopped missing you. But if you ever need someone by your side, if you ever need someone to just stay, I’ll be there.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Image via Thinkstock.

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When Depression Is a Clamp Between Your Head and Your Heart

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I’m on a plane between D.C. and Chicago. I’m halfway between my life’s wish fulfillment (lobbying in the Capitol) and my life’s reality (sick kids and sh*ty neighbors). I feel the long-forgotten but readily-remembered clamp of depression closing down inside me. I sigh at the realization, and then begin the long struggle to unscrew it.

For me, the slow descent into depression begins with a flutter of anxiety. My thoughts run a looped track in my brain, and there’s truly no slowing down their frequency or stifling them with reason. My heart’s anguishes, my mental illnesses (how very difficult it still is to say that), never sneak up on me in the middle of the night. They never steal their way into my daytime thoughts. The anguish slowly backs up inside me because my anguish, my depression, is a clamp.

The clamp does not just drown out reason or color my world with sadness or any other of the common themes that swirl around depression. It does all those things, but more. It turns itself ever-so-slowly, yet ever-so-steadily tighter and tighter. It sits right above my breastbone in my chest. It screws more and more tightly shut, and in doing so it separates the lifeline between my head and my heart. For me, mental well-being means the clamp is wide open, and reason and emotion can flow freely between my head and my heart. For me, mental illness is a shut down between the two, leaving emotions trapped in my heart, unable to be reasoned out and deciphered by my level head.

I knew why this clamp was screwing shut. I felt it open the minute after I landed in D.C. and had a good cry, ridding myself of the bad blood and bad decisions I’d left in Chicago. Family stress, neighbor annoyances, judgmental people and most damning of all, my harsh treatment of myself, had bogged down in my heart and screwed that clamp tighter each day. How happy I was to be free of everything I’d left behind.

Being in D.C. meant being me without the encumbrance of my family or my responsibilities. Here I was, back to being me when I was single, and empowered and free. How selfish, I realize, but what a nice treat. So on the plane ride home, when I’d almost forgotten the clamp had been there just days before, it circled back on me and took me quite by surprise. I drew a deep breath, I looked at my tray table, I tried not to cry.

And I thought about how we unscrew that clamp. Why does the medication and talk therapy work? For me, the medication lubricates the machinery, while talk therapy and all the supportive work I do on my own (journaling, meditation, yoga) allow the clamp to untighten and finally release. The process can often work without one or the other, but many times, in the most desperate of times, we need both.

I thought of how hard it would be to write these words, to even own these words, even in this day and age: I have depression. I need help. But how if I don’t write these words on my best days, I may never have the courage or the energy to write them on my worst.

Write them I must, we must, you must. I volunteer now for suicide prevention as a tribute to a lost twin brother and an honor to my own struggles. We are changing the conversation about mental health in this country, but we have not yet changed all the attitudes. I tremble in fear of the looks from my peers after reading this, whether perceived or real. I ache to make them stop.

One day in America, a visit to a mental health practitioner twice a year may be as commonplace as a visit to the dentist. Last time I checked, we all have teeth as well as feelings and brain chemistry. And a mental health professional can help you keep the lifeline between your head and heart unclogged and unclamped and healthy.

But until then, won’t you write these difficult words with me when you’re having a struggle, or even when you’re not? The more mouths we hear from, the more change we’ll make. have depression. I need help.

I can’t do this alone.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. 

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10 Things to Know If You Want to Understand Your Loved One’s Depression

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Depression is a battle I’ve bee fighting my whole life. I tell you this because we have a unique opportunity to have an honest conversation about depression. In that vein of thinking, this is my top 10 things I wish people who do not have depression could understand.

1. We don’t stop being depressive.

Being depressed can be a 24/7 condition. It is a constant, daily battle with our brains on a good day when nothing else is going wrong. Add in any stressors or other medical conditions, and that battle is like fighting while trudging through mud up to your knees. We have to continue to fight because we know if we stop or if we just rest a minute, we’re going to sink into the abyss.

Climbing out of there can take days if we’re lucky, and as long as years if we’re not. Triggers determine the difference between a good day and a bad one. I’ve had more than a dozen times where I have felt OK. Then, the voice in my head will whisper. Sometimes, I can tell that voice to STFU. Sometimes, I really can’t, and that becomes all I can focus on until I can again.

2. We feel guilty about being happy.

If you ask me if I’m happy, then I’ll tell you I am. Really, sincerely for the first time in my life, I am honestly happy with my life. I am loved by my amazing husband and children. I have a great network of friends who support me. I am well-respected within my work scenes.

And I feel absolutely guilty about it. We’re used to being “less.” So when we find something that makes us “more,” we usually try to enjoy it with a sense of wary caution. After all, experience has shown us the other shoe will eventually drop, and it will be like an anvil to the head. Why? Because we don’t deserve this happiness. We should know our place and just stay there.

That’s why telling us “But you have so much to be happy about!” you are only feeding the guilt that we’re already carrying around.

3. If you can see we’re depressed, then we are losing the battle.

We are master thespians, we depressed folk. We know how to be “on” for the rest of the world when we have to be, like at work or friend/family functions. It’s a mask we wear, because we know if we don’t then:

  1. We’re not going to survive the day.
  2. It’s easier to pretend to be someone else than deal with our demons.
  3. If we let you see, then we have to explain, and explaining is exhausting. I’m not sure what it is, but every time I am depressed, people outside my circle of friends feel this entitlement to know every nuance of “why” I’m depressed. As if they have an ability I don’t to figure out how to “fix” me, if they just have every detail.

Except they can’t “fix” me. There is no “fixing” people with depression. We can manage our disease, but we cannot be cured. You are not entitled to know what very personal trigger set off this episode.

So I wear a mask instead, and nine times out of 10, it works. It fools you into that complacent “I don’t have to get involved” state. I get to muddle through, and you get to go back to your life. On the occasion, I cannot get the mask on just right and you notice, it means I’m losing that battle. It means I am struggling with everything I’ve got to keep myself together because I have to work. I have children who depend on me to be present. I have people who depend on me to do my part.

4. Depression affects everything.

Have you seen the commercial for “Depression Hurts”? Not only does depression cause physical issues with our bodies, but it can make any other medical issues we may have worse and harder to treat. It can make sleep a combat event (if we get to sleep at all). It also shortens our fuse to an irrational rage at trivial nonsense.

Depression can steal away your creativity and drive. It siphons the precious little energy we have in brain fogginess, inability to focus, downward spiral of job performance and bad decision-making. Doesn’t make it OK, but I have done things in a bad depressive state I would never do when I was well-managed. Ever. Why?

Because when you’re in a bad depressive episode, it’s usually a toss up between feeling everything and feeling nothing. (Sometimes that means knowing you should feel something, but being a wreck because you are unable to touch that bauble of emotion.) So we go to what we know will either dull the sensory overload or let us feel something.

Let me clarify: I am not making excuses for our negative aspects or behavior. I am explaining these are part of our disease. We already know we’re screwing it up. Thanks.

5. Your good intentions confirm our sense of worthlessness.

We know you mean well, but man. Let me break it down for you:

“Just choose to be happy.”

Because we’re actively “choosing” to be miserable? We can “choose” to pretend to be happy. When we do that, it’s for you so you stop telling us that the only thing keeping us from not feeling like giant steaming piles of sh*t is that decision.

“[Insert terrible thing that happened last week], but I don’t let it affect my day.”

Good for you. I envy your ability to separate out the facets of your life so you can function like a normal human being. I do not have that ability because my disease is not logical and infiltrates every part of my thought process. If I could do it, then I would. I don’t so I’m here, working my ass off, as best as I can.

“Exercise more. You’ll feel tons better.”

Or diet. Or go on vacation. Or…the list goes on and on. I know we humans are innately insistent on fixing our fellow humans, but this is really hard for us. One, we’ve already considered all the possible fixes, and we’ve probably tried them all. And you know what? Everything is a Band-Aid for this gushing wound.

Two, the idea that you think we haven’t already exhausted the resources we know we have is demeaning, whether you mean it to be or not. In our heads, we’re screaming at you, “How am I doing it wrong? I must’ve done that suggestion wrong, because I still think I’m worthless!”

“If I had your life, then I wouldn’t be depressed.”

Not sure if this is part of the, “You have so much to be happy for” thing, but if you had my life, then you’d have my depression. You’d sure as hell would be depressed. I honestly have a love/hate relationship with my life. See #2.

There are so many more, but I hope you get the point. We know you’re trying to help, to love someone as broken as we are the best you can (and the most we’ll let you), but for the millionth time: You cannot fix us.

6. We’re usually the most loyal friends.

Just about every person who has depression I know will give the shirt off their back to help another friend in need, even when we’re in crisis (If we know and can manage to get out of bed, and sometimes we can do it from our beds. Thank you, technology!). Why? Because we know what it is to be at the bottom of life, looking up at that speck of light from the hole we’re sitting in. Self-made or life-made, everyone could use a little help getting up and out.

I know. I know. You’re thinking, “So, you clearly know how to get out…” The thing is it’s not that simple. We don’t believe we are worthy of getting better, but damn, if we don’t think every single one of you are.

7. We hate burdening you with our problem.

I have an amazing support system. All you have to do is read my wall this week and amid all the offers of help (and most were offers of a listening ear), all I can manage is a, “Thank you.” Not because I think they’re insincere or nosy busybodies, but because I know they have things going on of their own. And I don’t want to burden them with this pain.

Again, I know this is illogical. Most of us depressive folks are the first to tell our friends, “You need me, you call me. I am always here for you.” All I can tell you is to keep offering. Don’t be pushy about it. Don’t say, “You’ll feel better if you just get it out.” Just remind us we are worthy and you are there whenever we’re ready to reach out. And hey, sometimes just knowing you’re there makes a little of our darkness go away.

8. Depression does not mean suicidal.

I am severely depressed right now. While I have been suicidal in the past, some 20 plus years ago when I was a teenager, I am currently not. I have too many things I need to do still. I have kids to raise, books to write, TARDIS to paint, people to love and networks to build! And that’s just the easy stuff!

We can be depressed without the urge to kill ourselves. Think of a Venn diagram: one circle is depressed people, the other suicidal people. Mush them partially together, and you have the depressed people who are suicidal. It’s not all of us  though many of us have considered it. Some of us have a history of previous attempts. So please, for the love of all things sacred, do not let the first thing that comes out of your mouth when you find out we’re having an episode be: “OMG, are you going to kill yourself?”

You should only be concerned if we start giving our personal belongings away. Worry if we specifically talk about trying to kill ourselves. Worry if we’re suddenly reconnecting with people to make amends for wrongs we think we did against them. Worry if we don’t return calls, emails or texts. Even then, tell us you’re concerned about us and ask if we need you to help us get professional help. If we say we need help, please follow through.

9. Your sad and our sad are painfully different.

This is probably one of my biggest pet peeves. I’m not saying my constant issues with depression trump your dog dying last week. I am saying they are different and should not be compared. When you do decide to compare how you managed to move on from your dog dying, your parents’ medical issues, how [insert random event] was so stressful, to my struggle to keep my head above water without any undue stress, in my head I want to scream: “I’m not you! I cannot just ‘move on’! If I could, don’t you think I would? Do you think I like feeling like a complete and total failure at life because I cannot do this one thing and get past all the guilt, self-doubt and self-hate over this issue which clearly isn’t a big issue for you?”

10. Genuine happiness does not equal “cured.”

My second biggest pet peeve is when you say things like, “Yesterday, you were all happy. Really depressed people aren’t ever happy.” Ever? We are allowed our happy moments. We are amazingly great in celebrating life milestones, birthdays, promotions (even ours), and all the great parts of being human. However, that does not mean we are “cured” of our depression. It really just means we won the battle for the day and manage to carve a little goodness out for those we love. The war is still ongoing, but even during the battle weary can have good days.

So, where do we go from here?

The best thing you can do for us is be there. Be patient. Be compassionate. Remind us to eat. Let us sleep. Buy us a book. Nudge us to come out of the darkness when we’re able. Be a safe place where we can cry hysterically at night. Forgive our irrational anger. Help us find our worthiness, even temporarily.

Let us grieve our losses, however trivial they may seem to you. Don’t look at us like we’re crazy. Buy us a coffee or tea and sit on a park bench with us in silence. Remind us that you’re our 2 a.m. friend. Don’t pretend you know our struggle. Just respect it and support us. Listen without trying to fix it. Hugs. Fresh baked goods. Kleenex in your house. It really is the little things. We’ll be ever so grateful.

This post originally appeared on The Medium.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. 

 

Related: Mental Health on The Mighty Podcast

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5 Seconds of Summer's Openness About Mental Health Is a Strength, Not a Weakness

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Earlier this year I went to see the band 5 Seconds of Summer with my daughter. It was magic. We had the best time. We sang, danced, jumped, fangirled and had a ball.

My 12-year-old adores the band and has gotten me to love them too. It is such a joy having a daughter with good taste in music who helps you discover exciting new bands and feel a bit younger than your 46 years. 5SOS come from Australia and have been together since their school days, no “X-Factor” manufacturing involved. You may have heard some of their songs. Several have been in the charts, and they supported One Direction on a previous tour.  One of their songs has also just been used on the soundtrack of the new “Ghostbusters” film. Their music is a mix of feel good, upbeat rock such as “Hey Everybody,” and lyrical, sensitive emotional songs.

One of the reasons we love them is they are real role models. The song “Broken Home” relates to the experience of growing up in a broken family and dealing with the confusion of parents who no longer get on. “Jet Black Heart” is about the reality of being human and flawed. It talks to young people of the difficulty of emotions and of the reality of depression, isolation and low self-esteem. The video for the song is beautiful. The band invited fans to send them stories of their own struggles and created the video around those fans who have struggled but lived to tell the tale and recover.

These young men have done a huge amount to challenge the false stereotypical images of the music industry. They have shared themselves as humans, not idols or super humans, and encouraged their fans to do the same.

So this article made me cross: “5 Seconds of Summer’s Calum Hood Looks Fit to Drop as Pressure Mounts.”

The article is written in such a way as to imply a weakness in the band and an impending split. Comparisons with One Direction and Zayn Malik are drawn and the scare-mongering tone is neither helpful, supportive, nor responsible. It criticizes bassist Calum, noting his exhaustion, suggesting he is on the edge of leaving the band, which misses the point of what this band is about. It goes on to suggest the drummer Ashton’s revelation of depression and guitarist Michael’s experience of anxiety and depression are weaknesses. In reality, all this reveals is the writer’s misunderstanding of mental health.

In fact, it is hugely positive that these artists are honest about what they have faced and about the fact that life, and true stardom, can continue in the face of mental health issues and difficulties. We need role models like this for our young people to keep challenging stigma. (I have written about this here.)

I hope Calum looks after himself and manages to enjoy the tour. I hope 5SOS keep going for as long as they can. But above all I hope that we can recognize and celebrate the huge achievements, musical and personal, of these wonderful, talented, honest and ultimately human stars.

 A version of this post was originally published on staffrm.io.

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