Since my last big post about depression garnered such great feedback, I thought it would be good to talk about it some more. Specifically, I want to address how much of a shift there is from the way I feel over the fall/winter to how I feel in the summertime, and what my depression looks like from my husband, Andy’s, perspective.
This wasn’t easy for either of us- there were plenty of tears and pauses (from both of us) and some apologies and interjections (from me). But writing posts like this one is my way of working through these issues: it is important for Andy and I to discuss how my mental health affects him and our marriage. Moreover, it isn’t easy to find personal accounts of what depression does to a marriage (or any relationship).
I’m hoping that some of you can take away something important from this conversation.
Me: Before we met, had you ever been close to someone with depression before?
Andy: Not close, no. Mainly at Omega [the community we lived and worked at], was where it first entered into my awareness: people with emotional issues, people ‘going off their meds.’ You could see someone that you interact with daily sort of fading away from you. There could be erratic behavior, nonsensical, paranoia, etc. I’m trying to think of someone [back home] in the UK, but no one comes to mind. So yes, Omega was my first interaction with people with depression, or mental health issues.
Me: What’s the most difficult part of my depression for you?
A: Ah, there’s a question. I’d say…dealing with my frustration, and what it on occasion brings up in me. Initially, dealing with my own emotional reaction to your depression was the hardest for me. It raises feelings of anger, inadequacy, compassion, and it’s all conflicting. But the anger was more in our early years, before I really had a grasp or any sort of real understanding of what you were going through.
Me: Can you describe a typical day for us, when I’m at my lowest?
A: School is one of the few things that got you out of the house at times over the winter. It seems without that sort of outside commitment…other times, there’d be no reason to get up, and it still happens a couple of times with school days, where you wouldn’t go. But it’s interesting seeing how you got up out of bed and you went- and frankly sometimes I was surprised, and worried for how you’d feel, being in this state and not feeling comfortable around so many people.
Sometimes it feels like a caregiver situation. I don’t feel there are typical days, it’s very much a day-by-day thing. You have your distractions like a show of the month or some computer game you get obsessed with, and that seems to be what keeps you focused. You tend to be distant, far away, it’s hard to interact sometimes. I find myself censoring, not being myself in effect, and that can cause internal friction and there’s no legitimate outlet for that frustration.
When you were at school, I felt that was alone time for me as well. It got you out, and it also gave me my space that I needed: to be more relaxed, play the music a little louder, etc. You mentioned it’s important for us to get more space from each other, and your school days are like mini pockets of that for me.
Me: Have you seen any improvement or change in my wintertime depressions over the six years we’ve known each other?
A: Yes, I don’t think in the past you would have done the school thing. That’s definitely an encouraging sign of improvement, but my feeling is that yes, there is a physiological aspect, a time of the year thing that is consistent. I do get the feeling that you expect it, it seems mentally that you’re just expecting the worst and then ‘Oh here we go again’, totally surrendering to it. Part of me was wondering if having a sense of stability with us being married nearly two years now, with having someone by your side regularly, would make some sort of positive impact…and I guess I could say that there’s some disappointment and sadness there, to still see you get so down.
Me: What’s the biggest difference you see in me now compared to over the winter?
A: More animated, more get up and go– rather than being, I don’t know…a combination of passive and distant. Whereas now, you’re not distant: you’re sparky, energetic. Now you’re more lively, active, passionate. [Over the winter]you spend more time in bed. It’s like this placeholder. You could say that in winter, you’re hibernating in some way.
Me: What are 3 feelings that you experience, related to my depression?
A: It’s a daily balance between love and compassion and wanting to understand, and at the same time finding myself frustrated, feeling that whatever I do is futile, and I do feel isolated, just like you do, I suppose.
Me: How can I make it easier for you?
A: I don’t know how you can make it easy- if you are on your medication, take it regularly, because there have been periods where you haven’t. I consciously didn’t get involved with that as much, it just seems invasive to be asking you. Eat regularly, try to get out more, definitely exercise. Keep regular routines- maybe we could have more of a structure for specific days of the week. Get out of the house more- it’s too easy to get stuck in our safe little bubbles.
I feel when you are in those low places, you’re not your own best friend, you’re the person you beat up on. If there’s some way of maintaining a more positive attitude, just realizing it’s the time of year when you get depressed and try not to get lost in the negativity. I’m not saying ‘Be happy!’…but don’t go totally adrift. Sometimes you feel so far away.
Me: What’s the best thing you can do to take care of yourself when I’m in a depressive episode?
A: Well, it seems like it would be a luxury to go away for a few days [something I suggested to him recently]. I could probably get outside more, be a bit more physically active. Having some sort of routine would be good because the days tend to blend together. I suppose I could talk to someone- one good thing is we both should make closer friends locally, rather than relying on our long-distance friendships. But it doesn’t come totally easy for me either, making new friends, unless you’re forced into proximity at a job, or at Omega.
Part of me feels like it doesn’t seem particlarly fair for me to go out and have a good time when you’re holed up here, feeling sad. So it is a strange little dance.
Me: I’ve often wondered in those low moments how you could possibly think you got a good deal in marrying me. What makes living with a depressed spouse worth it for you?
A: You see yourself as being all consumed with this- I see you as someone who suffers from depression. It’s a part of you, it’s part of what makes up your character. This is just part of the everyday to and fro of married life. Yes, it can be frustrating and test one’s patience, but people do that anyway all the time. To me it’s just part of the package. You’re Wifey! We love one another and want to spend time with each other- I guess I hope I can help you in your depression and not add to it.
…Part of the fun of sharing your life with someone is just the small everyday habits we share, the figures of speech, the funny moments, someone to snuggle in bed with. We have this commitment to each other. With a marriage, you have to work on these things.
Me: One last question. How would you describe summer-non-depressed Christy?
A: Outgoing, fun activities. Engaging, tender interactions. Spontaneity. Anything’s possible.
Thank you, Andy. I love you, I love us, so much.