There’s not a lot of help out there for people living with a partner who suffers with depression.
My husband was sitting at my computer, reading something on the screen. Without looking at me, perched on the armchair across the room, he said “I don’t think I can go to work anymore,” and started to cry. My feeling – just overwhelming relief.
Yes, it might sound a little uncaring. The sight of my husband reduced to a crying, ashamed heap, unable to think clearly or go out and do a day’s work – it’s something I’ve been waiting to happen for over 3 years. Finally he had broken, admitted he was not coping, which meant finally we could start to do something about it. I’m not uncaring, the opposite in fact. And tired – very tired.
There’s lots of information for people suffering from depression – support groups and websites and treatments and medicines. There’s a lot of information about how to help someone you live with if they have depression. What you can do for them.
What’s harder to find is help for the people who live with a depressed person. It’s much like being the father in pregnancy and childbirth. Everyone knows you’re there – in fact you would be criticised if you weren’t – but you are expected to just get on with it because the mum is the important part of the story, the person going through the hormone changes and body changes and birthing pains. Your emotions, fears, worries and the impact on your life is secondary.
Making excuses for depression
It’s hard to talk to friends about my husband’s depression. Firstly, because of his own feelings. He’s embarrassed and ashamed. He feels he is failing us in his role as strong provider. He doesn’t want people to know he is at home and off work, or has, in his view, mental issues. So I can’t go talking freely about what’s happening at home.
That also means I’m constantly trying to think of inventive excuses as to why we can’t go to dinner parties or nights out. Over the last few years he’s been less communicative and friendly when we’ve been out, so the few friends who do still invite us are important to me. It’s rare I get asked anymore, and I hate always turning them down, but turning up alone is awkward. Our circle of friends is diminishing.
I’m selfishly complaining about my life.
Secondly, I feel like I’m whining. Here I am, healthy, with a home to live in, gorgeous children, food on the table and the occasional holiday. My husband is ill, and I’m complaining about that? How selfish do I sound?
I don’t want to be selfish. I’ve spent 3 years being positive. I’m the optimistic wife, the capable one who manages the house, keeps the appointments, organises the holidays, keep track of the finances.
I’m the parent who always keeps calm, finds a way to divert attention away from the broken glass, the spillages, the lost keys and the puppy accident on the carpet. Because over the last 3 years his ability to deal with these everyday incidents has also lessened, and now the kids are worried the slightest mess will cause a big outburst.
So, yes, maybe I am selfish. But I am so goddamn tired of dealing with everything.
Yes, I am a little embarrassed too.
Thirdly, I’m embarrassed. I am, I admit it. I’m a little embarrassed too. My husband finds everything the kids and I do annoying. I’m embarrassed to admit my kids are a little scared of their daddy’s shouting.
I’m embarrassed that he has been so unsocial, even in public, that he just appears damn rude, but I can’t explain the reasons to people. I’m embarrassed that my house is a pigsty and my kids homework is half-hearted, or not done, and my son is lagging behind in school because as a full time working mum with very little help coming from the other parent, I can’t fit in reading and maths and cleaning as well.
I’m so very angry
It’s hard, too, to watch the man I love change over the years as he gets lower and lower. When we met I was the shy, unconfident one, and he had travelled the world. He could talk to anyone, strike up a conversation in any situation. Everyone loved chatting with him. Seeing him become the surly introvert, losing his friends as they decided he was so difficult, so temperamental, too much hassle to invite out – it’s heart-breaking.
And I’m angry. I’m angry with his friends for not seeing that he is in need. For deserting us, losing patience with him, not understanding, not even trying to find out why.
I’m angry with his parents. They see that he has changed, that he is low, and so they nag me to sort it out. Sort it out! Make him see a GP, they say. If it was so simple, wouldn’t I have done that already? Or, do they also think I am uncaring? Do they blame me?
And I am angry with him – for refusing to get help earlier. Two years ago, one year ago. And even now, when he finally has seen the GP, still refusing to get all the help he can. Because, being a man, he’ll take the medication if he must but he won’t see the counsellor or talk about the causes. No talking, so we are applying a plaster to fix a break.
And finally, I am relieved
I should have got him to the GP earlier. But I couldn’t make him go. I had to wait until he chose to get help. Oh, I told him he was depressed, and scaring the kids. On occasion I lost patience and shouted. Of course I did. But that didn’t get me anywhere.
After years of being outwardly cheerful, being positive, being the person responsible for him in the eyes of his family and friends, I was reaching my own breaking point. Every comment from his parents was a criticism that could reduce me to tears – even when it wasn’t. Every declined invitation felt like the nail in a friendship. Every moment of impatience or irritation felt like a cross in the parenting win list.
My husband has had depression for about 3 years. And I have lived with his depression for about 3 years. I am tired. I’ve spent a long time hovering on the verge of tears. My back is aching, I have tension in my shoulders that feels like stabbing knives and I have a constant migraine. The signs of stress as a visible pain in my body.
I’m tired of smiling, of being the barrier between him and world. I’m tired of dealing with everyone else’s expectations and disapproval. I’m tired of being the only one coping. I’m tired of the constant pressure.
But it’s not about me. He is ill and I am just the passenger.
So, when my husband broke down in front of me and admitted that he could not go to work, that he could not think anymore, that he had considered, and even researched suicide – I was relieved.
Because by finally reaching his low, we can start to climb back up together.