Facing My Own Depression After My Wife's Mental Health Crisis
Being “the glue” during my wife’s mental health crisis had many challenges. However, I was surprised by how difficult the moving on with life part was. We were really fortunate Sarah’s recovery from paranoid and psychotic episodes was relatively quick. After she had been out of the hospital for about a month or so, my worries about a relapse went away.
However, the most difficult part for me wasn’t about Sarah. She still had a ways to go in recovering and processing what had happened and what it meant for her life. While it may have slowed her down a bit or made her more somber, I started to see I was having my own issues. A little time and counseling has provided some perspective on things and it seems I have struggled through some major adjustments.
The main thing I realized was life felt numb. Being on such high alert for six months had fried my emotions and response system. Also, I realized how much I relied on Sarah to keep my mood up. Combined, these were difficult to grind through. Everything was a chore. I didn’t really want to do anything. It was like my life had become the embodiment of the Roger’s and Hammerstein song “It Might As Well Be Spring.” “The things I used to like/I don’t like anymore…”
With all of the reading I had done in the previous year on mental health, I could tell I was exhibiting a number of the symptoms of depression. As my annual physical was coming up, I decided to talk with my doctor about it and see if some medication would be helpful. When my doctor asked me how I was doing, I timidly began ticking off the symptoms I had been noticing. When I went to the doctor with Sarah, it always seemed like the doctors were offering drugs, so I thought I would be able to play coy and accept her offer. Really I was getting so desperate to feel like myself again I was prepared to begin with, “So, what’s it going to take for you to prescribe me some medicine today?”
However, to my disappointment, she printed me off some suggestions for coping with depression and anxiety and told me keep at it. I had thought about talking to a counselor, but I didn’t know if I was quite ready to talk about things yet. Also, I didn’t have what I had read about were called “hot thoughts.” I didn’t think everyone hated me, I didn’t think I was worthless or I was going to die. I just wanted to stay in bed and listen to Richard Claderman’s smooth renditions of schmaltzy love songs. Also, I got pretty deep into Quebec pop artist Coeur de Pirate. It was a confusing time.
I didn’t feel like myself. I had often thought of myself as a happy and energetic person, but I now felt I lacked my spark. I also found myself more easily irritated, more easily agitated, less enthusiastic. Every so often something would happen and I would feel my spark again. But it would be fleeting and often only provided me a reminder of what I had lost.
When the Royals recorded the last of their World Series victories I felt empty. Growing up with the Royals winning the World Series was only possible when I made it happen on my video game console. I expected ecstasy. This to me, proved I was broken. Either that or the outcome of a contest over which I have no control and no tangible gain means very little. Obviously it was me being broken.
One of the most difficult things for me has been the cognitive dissonance between my moods and my circumstances. Through my church service I have interacted on a very intimate level with many who have many things to be unhappy about. I try to be conversant in world and national affairs and I am appreciative of the genetic lottery I won that allows me to live in peace and comfort. What reason did I have to be anything other than happy? Were my kids too cute? My food too plentiful, varied and delicious? My air conditioning too comfortable? My paycheck too regular?
As far as Sarah’s experience goes, while I didn’t like that it happened, I could quickly identify and list so many blessings that occurred amid the chaos. So, it was frustrating not to be able to fix myself. Throughout my life I have typically been able to accomplish whatever I wanted if I really focused and worked at it. When my emotions would go haywire, I saw this as my personal weakness. I should be able to control this.
So, when I finally decided to get serious about getting myself right, I began talk therapy and at my next physical my doctor prescribed some medication. I was disappointed to discover a lot of time may be required to recalibrate. For someone who has built a lot of his life on control and discipline, this has made me feel helpless.
I’m still swimming in a lot of this, but the combination of Sarah feeling better, the weather being nicer and feeling like I’m doing things to improve my situation have made things feel better more often. I’m still often “vaguely discontented,” but I take less time to mope and have started to feel things again.
I haven’t been able to perfectly find the words to describe how all this has changed me. It’s been a weird combination of increased self-confidence, gravity, perspective and hope while simultaneously feeling crushing inadequacy, dread and fragility. I’m learning to be more accepting of this.
One teaching of Neal A. Maxwell has steeled me regularly through the past couple of years:
“Real hope is much more than wishful musing. It stiffens, not slackens, the spiritual spine. Hope is serene, not giddy, eager without being naïve, and pleasantly steady without being smug. Hope is realistic anticipation which takes the form of a determination—not only to endure adversity but, moreover, to ‘endure…well’ to the end.”
This is what I aspire to.
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