Spouses Need Support, Too!

My major depressive episode impacted my life and the life of my family anywhere from four to six months. It’s hard to say exactly when it began and when exactly it ended. However, I would say that, 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, continue working, and live as “normally” as I could.  However, after “holding it together” through the work day (an assistant principal in a public elementary school) managing the best I could to engage with my four children, I’d often breakdown crying to my wife in the evenings.  As my depression worsened, I took time off from work.  First nine days. As they say, “Hind sight is 20/20” and I would say that taking nine, unstructured days off from work was about the worst thing I could have done.  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 couldn’t sleep at all. I’d spend hours in my bed trying to nap, unable to sleep, yet find 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 to an actual plan of suicide, I decided I needed more help. I took three more weeks off of 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 three 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 in the house and 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 that 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 because of my children” 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 takes over.  It’s pervasive.  I remember saying to my wife one night, “You’ll be okay, right, you and the kids…if I kill myself.”  I cannot even believe, at this point, that I even said such a thing to my wife. I adore her and my four kids and 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 am sure that my wife’s body had not allowed herself to get sick throughout my depression and it all hit her at once.

I knew that what I had put my wife through must have been so incredibly difficult. I asked her to see a therapist so that she would have an outlet to share her thoughts, feelings, and experience. I knew that she must be experiencing PTSD on some level. I also told her (while I was attending the partial hospitalization program) that she could share her experience (and my experience) with any of her friends so that 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 that 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 another post on the Power of Support Groups, as well as The Importance of a Support Team.

As always, I encourage thoughts and comments to this (and all) of my Blog posts.  Thank you.

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8 thoughts on “Spouses Need Support, Too!

  1. mindbodythoughts

    Yeah, sometimes it is hard to imagine what our loved ones go through (even if they understand to some degree). I went through a very rough time for the first few months of this year and am just now feeling like I’m getting back on my feet. I’ve done well for years, but too many things hit me all at once and I just couldn’t recover. It was like the perfect storm.

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  2. Bob L

    Insightful and important aspect of major depression and its context. Part of me can more easily relate to the refuge of a bedroom or the outpouring of grief, frustration, despair on the couch after a day of holding it together, but the degree of suffering experienced by a loving, concerned, perhaps frightened spouse, I can only imagine. And when I imagine it, it is raw and painful. A person in that position must also feel ineffective and impotent as they watch their spouse (or other loved ones) go through the darkness of a deep depression. Thinking a little more deeply, I imagine there must be an anger too, which is probably confusing and perhaps mixed with guilt. In your article, it was reassuring and uplifting to see how, at some point, you were able to realize this and support your spouse in getting the help, whatever kind that might be, that she needed.

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    1. allevin18 Post author

      Thanks for your comments. I am guessing that you’re right on when you mentioned a spouse (or loved one) feeling ineffective and impotent while watching their significant other suffer. I’m certain my wife went through those feelings and much more. She didn’t know how to support me, and I certainly didn’t know (or wasn’t at all able to articulate) how to support her. Thanks again for your comments!

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  3. jennymarie4

    Wonderful post! Your wife sounds like an amazing, supportive woman. I follow you on twitter, and found this post. I used to suffer from panic attacks, and my daughter did as well. We’re now panic free. I’m a mental health advocate, and also have a blog on wordpress. I just attended a 12 week course given by NAMI, called Family to Family. I learned so much from it, and it gave family members a lot of advice and support. It’s great to connect with you! Take care, Jenny

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    1. allevin18 Post author

      Thanks for your comment! I’m glad that you and your daughter are doing well. I’ve heard great things about the Family to Family course. I know several people who have joined that course. Continue to stay healthy! Al

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  4. andrewgiddings72

    Hi Al,

    Excellent article and excellent insight. I just started following you and just recently read this. I am married, have four kids and have suffered from anxiety attacks and major depressive disorder on and off for years. Just last year I took a 3 month leave of absence from work because of anxiety attacks and depression.

    There’s no doubt that my anxiety and depression has taken its toll on my marriage as well as other relationships. Unfortunately, as far as familial support, my wife and mother-in-law hold stigmas against mental health and have voiced their stigma to me. It is difficult to deal with, and adds to the shame that I experience along with symptoms. But, along with therapist’s advice, I have started to write for blogs about my own experiences and feelings regarding my symptoms and small steps towards some form of recovery. Thank you for writing this article and helping to be a role model/peer.

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    1. allevin18 Post author

      Andrew,
      Thanks for sharing your story and comments. I’m sorry that it doesn’t sound like you’ve been supported by your wife and mother-in-law. Great advice by your therapist to blog (or journal, if you wanted to keep it more private at this point). Have you thought about inviting your wife to a therapy session? Maybe that’s one way that you could ask her to support you. If so, you could explain to your therapist, at a session prior to inviting her, you could make sure it was alright with your therapist and explain to your therapist how he/she might be helpful (i.e. explaining the debilitating nature of depression and anxiety, sharing ways a spouse may help, sharing some education on depression & anxiety, etc). Have you been able to share with her that you feel more shame with her when she says/acts the way she does? I think it’s important to be open with her. She may not even realize it. I would also recommend seeking out a support group for depression, particularly if you could find a support group for men with depression. I have found that to be an amazing source of support. Good luck…feel free to email me if you want to share more thoughts. Al

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