This Is How My Depression Affects My Marriage
Depression is a funny thing. I mean, it isn’t ha-ha funny or even remotely humorous, but it is unpredictable. And when you have depression, it doesn't just affect you. It affects everyone around you. I'm not implying that my friends and family are “depressed by association," nor am I trying to undermine the seriousness of the disease, but when you're living with depression, as I have been for the past 16 years, you realize that your diagnosis expands to more than just you. My depression has played a role each and every relationship I've ever had (and probably ever will). But the one relationship most affected by my depression has been my marriage.
When I was 15 years old, I knew something wasn’t right. (If I'm honest, I actually knew things were wrong long before that.) I was sleeping more and eating less than I ever had been. Things I once loved doing — like drawing and singing, writing, and flipping through the pages of Teen Beat magazine — became dull and mundane, and when I did write, all my stories and poems were dark. They were full of pain and angst, all conveying the same message: Life is hopeless, and so am I. When I did sing, the lyrics I found comfort in were desperate, gloomy, grim, and heavy. And when I did read, it was pieces from authors like Sylvia Plath, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Emily Dickinson, and Virginia Woolf — the words of distressed, troubled, and pained writers.
In so many ways, only in the darkness did I feel seen and understood. So I embraced it. I clung to every sound and every word with all the strength I could. Instead of crying, I sang. Instead of cutting, I screamed. And when I felt most desperate I wrote, intensely and feverishly, what I can best describe as suicidal poetry. Caring for myself like this helped, at least for a little while, but before long I was back where I'd started: feeling completely and utterly worthless. That's when the self-harm began. Then came the isolation. And then I tried to kill myself.
My depression strips me of my ability to tell him (and anyone) what I need, and it makes me feel incredibly vulnerable. When I feel vulnerable, I'm constantly frustrated and my temper is short, and nine times out of 10 my husband is the recipient of my rage. I become critical and demanding of every little thing he does. I lash out for no reason at all.
At the time, I knew my husband. We weren't dating — yet — but we were best friends. I remember confiding in him about "the cutting." I never told him about my suicide attempt, but I showed him my wounds. I showed him the scratch marks and scars. And even though we were just 17 at the time, it was him who helped me get help. He who dried my tears and listened, selflessly and tirelessly, to my struggles, my complaints, and my borderline irrational fears. He suggested therapy — and took me too and from my appointments — and he reminded me life was worth living. We weren't married at the time, and we had no clue what the future held for either of us, but he was there for me in all the ways I needed — and even the ones I didn't.
Depression is an insidious disease, complicated and confusing. It confuses my friends, my family, and even my husband. In fact, it still confuses me. Some days I am so "good" that you wouldn’t ever know I'm sick. On good days, my husband and I run together, we play games together, and we joke and we laugh. We genuinely enjoy our time together. Most of all, we look like a "normal" family: Target-shopping, movie-watching, ice cream-loving family. But other days — sometimes lasting weeks and months — blur together. In my mind they last forever, and they're dark, desolate days filled with anger and pain. Sometimes they're filled with nothingness, barren and void and empty.
Depression has made me question my husband’s love, his dedication, his devotion, and nearly every word that has ever — and I mean ever — come out of his mouth.
When my darkness creeps in, I push my husband away. I can't explain my own feelings because I don't know what I need or want, so I withdraw. I'm disinterested, aloof, and so angry. My depression strips me of my ability to tell him (and anyone) what I need, and it makes me feel incredibly vulnerable. When I feel vulnerable, I'm constantly frustrated and my temper is short, and nine times out of 10 my husband is the recipient of my rage. I become critical and demanding of every little thing he does. I lash out for no reason at all. My depression strips the joy from every-day living. It removes me from our routine. It whispers in my ear things I know will never be true. My husband doesn't push me to just "get over it." He helps in every way he can. Taking care of our daughter, shouldering more of the parenting responsibilities, being the anchor I need. He doesn't ask me when my "bad mood" will end, but he does help me fight it.
Depression has made me question my husband’s love, his dedication, his devotion, and nearly every word that has ever — and I mean ever — come out of his mouth. It zaps my energy and my libido, and because I go to bed to early and alone, my husband thinks it's because I don't love him. Because I pull away at his touch, my he thinks I don't care. But instead of being able to remind him of all the ways I love, adore, and appreciate him, my depression makes me defensive. When he moves closer to me, I pull away in earnest. When I'm at my lowest, I'm always ready for a fight.
My depression stretches far beyond just sadness. It works its way into every bone, muscle, and joint in my body. I ache — physically ache — from the weight of my disease. Everything feels like its all-or-nothing, do-or-die. It often feels completely impossible for me to enjoy anything or anyone ever again. But time and therapy have taught me that those thoughts are the thoughts of my disease. The feelings are real, but the emptiness, the loneliness, the loathing, and self-hate are symptoms of my sickness. They are signs I am not OK.
And when I'm not OK, I can tell my husband. He rarely asks why — he knows there isn't necessarily a reason — and he never tells me I should be happy because things could be so much worse, or that I have so much to be thankful for. Instead, he simply offers me his ear. He offers his heart, he offers himself, and he asks me what I need; what he can do. Because he knows he cannot stop it, or fix me, but he knows he can support me. He can be that "soft spot" when I am falling hard and fast. Some days, that's all I need.