I’m not a gambler. In fact, I would be the first one to tell you that I would never last on the game show “Deal or No Deal.” As soon as the first offer was given, I would hit the red button and be done.
Yet, every day around 5:00 p.m. I find myself having an inner battle and betting the odds in terms of what I will find walking into my home.
You see, my husband has depression. Not the occasional, “I’m having a bad day” depression but the full-blown “I can barely function” depression, or as his psychologist and psychiatrist label it, “severe depression and high anxiety.” It didn’t start this way, and truthfully I’m not sure how we got here. I say “we” because while he may the one with the disease, I feel like I am the one suffering through it.
On paper he should be happy. We have been married for 12 years, have a beautiful house, two healthy girls, and a job working as a paramedic that he loves. But, inside is another story. Doctors have told us that the cause of his depression most likely stems from all of the steroids he was prescribed while we went through infertility treatments to conceive our second child. And, while I would love to be able to pinpoint an exact cause, it doesn’t matter how he got it, he has it. Or WE have it.
Most weekdays after work, you can find me in my car, parked in the garage and wondering what version of my husband is inside. On his good days, you can barely tell the depression is there. In fact, after several good days I almost let myself start to believe it is over, like a case of the stomach flu. The truth is depression doesn’t just go away for some people. It is always there, patiently lurking.
One morning while scrolling through Facebook I came across a post. I don’t remember the exact wording, but to sum it up a man went to his doctor and he said he felt depressed. His doc, being oh so wise, told the man to eat three square meals a day, exercise, take long walks, do something he enjoys, and sleep eight hours every night. He promised the man that by doing those few things everyday he would feel better. Well I am not a doctor, but I can guarantee you that for my husband none of that would make a difference. His depression is a chemical imbalance that is closely monitored and controlled with three (sometimes more) medications. He can’t simply wish himself better.
On his bad days, or “off” days as we call them, his depression affects the whole family. Suddenly, I am a solo parent being thrust into caring for not just our children but him as well. He will sit on the couch and play on his phone for hours… completely oblivious to all that needs to be done around him. Or, if that requires too much concentration or effort, he will go to sleep. I, on the other hand, am left with the task of figuring out what is for supper, making supper, cleaning up the kitchen, bath time, laundry, cuddles, bedtime, bills. It can feel never ending. In those moments, I have to step away or lock myself in the bathroom and remind myself that this too shall pass. That surely there must be a good day around the corner. Those are the moments when I feel alone and that no one understands what I am going through. The moments when I have to remind myself that he is in there somewhere and I have to help him fight this.
Depression affects not only the person, but everyone that he or she loves. Support groups exist for individuals who are depressed, but I feel like little thought is given to the ones who surround them. No neighbors are dropping off casseroles and no “Get Well” cards are in the mail. Everyone asks how he is doing, but they never ask how I am doing. In all honesty, I’m not sure that I want them to ask. I have gotten very good at presenting a brave façade. But, I always worry that if someone asks and is truly concerned that my wall will break and come crashing down around me. Privately I fall apart about once a week; always when the kids are tucked in bed and usually when he is at work. In those moments I remember what our life was like before all of this, and I worry we will never make it back. The bathroom has become my favorite hiding place. Behind that locked door I don’t have to put on a brave face for the kids and I can give myself five minutes to fall apart before I wipe away the tears and go back outside.
I’m not sharing this for sympathy or pity. I’m telling my story, because maybe you know someone going through the same thing. Take a minute and imagine what it must be like for the loved ones every day. Bring them a meal, send a card, mow their lawn or invite them to coffee to see how they are coping as well.