When I Realized My Wife Needed Support, Too
My major depressive episode impacted my life and the life of my family for anywhere from four to six months. It’s hard to say exactly when it began and when it ended. However, I would say, in my case, my wife kept our family together for at least four months (and likely more). My depression was quite debilitating. In the beginning, I did the best I could to mask my depression, to continue working and living as “normally” as I could. However, after “holding it together” through the workday as an assistant principal in a public elementary school and managing the best I could to engage with my four children, I’d often break down crying to my wife in the evenings.
As my depression worsened, I took time off from work. First, nine days. As they say, hindsight is 20/20, and I would say now that taking nine, unstructured days off from work was about the worst thing I could have done for myself. In the evenings, I would create small tasks to accomplish the next day. These tasks would include things like doing a load of laundry or cleaning a bathroom. I could never get these tasks accomplished. I wanted to sleep all day, yet I couldn’t sleep at all. I’d spend hours in my bed trying to nap, unable to sleep, yet I found that being closed in the bedroom lying in bed became a safe haven. I didn’t have to worry about my behaviors or lack of engagement with my wife or kids. After returning to work for a short bit, I had reoccurring thoughts of suicide. Once my thoughts became more frequent throughout the day and my general thoughts of not wanting to be alive turned into an actual plan of suicide, I decided I needed more help. I took three more weeks off work and entered a partial hospitalization program.
Still struggling at home, I would find myself literally following my wife around the house as she’d do the dishes, cook dinner, or clean. Other times, I’d sit quietly on the couch, many times quietly lying down on the couch trying once again to sleep. My wife never woke me up in the middle of the night, even though we had four kids, two of whom were 3 years old at the time and would often wake us in the middle of the night. Because I shared my suicidal thoughts with my wife, she was worried to leave me home alone and also worried about me if I were to leave the house. I can’t imagine how stressful this must have been for her.
I would imagine my feelings of being an incompetent father contributed to my suicidal thoughts. I now understand the incredibly ugly and fierce power of feeling a “burden” to others. I understand how those who have said “I’d never take my life” have taken their lives. The debilitating nature of depression, the feeling of being a “burden,” the invisible pain… It is all so very overwhelming. It can take over. It’s pervasive. I remember saying to my wife one night, “You’ll be OK, right? You and the kids… if I kill myself.” I cannot even believe, at this point, that I said such a thing to my wife. I adore her and my four kids, and I now cannot even fathom the idea of taking my own life. Even with this love of my family and kids — even knowing how devastating it would have been to them — I still planned to take my life. That’s the ugly nature and power of depression.
Less than two days after I completed my three weeks at the partial hospitalization program and began to work again, my wife came down with a very bad case of strep throat and a serious virus in her eye. She spent three days recovering on the couch when typically nothing takes her down. Luckily, since I was still recovering, her parents happened to be in town and helped us get through those days. I felt as though my wife’s body had not allowed her to get sick throughout my depression, and so it all hit her at once.
I knew what I put my wife through must have been so incredibly difficult. I asked her to see a therapist so she would have an outlet to share her thoughts, feelings and experiences. I also told her (while I was attending the partial hospitalization program) she could share her experience (and my experience) with any of her friends so they could help support her. My wife took me up on both offers. She got the name of a therapist, who she really enjoyed seeing.
My wife supported me through the most difficult time of my life — a time I feel lucky I made it through. I cannot imagine the amount of trauma and pain I put her through. The experience has helped me learn that spouses of those who go through depression (and I would imagine other mental illnesses) also need support. I know there are support groups, at least in larger cities, that offer support for spouses. I would highly recommend the support groups. I have also written about the power of support groups, as well as the importance of a support team.
Image via Thinkstock.
A version of this post originally appeared on Al’s mental health blog.
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