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Depression and the extended family – part one

Recently a “Depression’s Collateral Damage” reader requested that we address the topic of talking to extended family about a spouse’s depression. It’s a topic Bern and I have addressed in our books but not, so far, on the blog. Thank you to Jennifer for the suggestion. It’s a big topic and I hate to write a post so long that it seems intimidating, so I’m going to give spread this one out over two or three days…

Every family in which depression plays a role has its own story about how the experience played out. Each family is different. Rarely are two cases of depression the same. Consequently, though there are likely to be some similar themes, every depression story is unique.

In my husband’s case, there were warning signs for a long time that something serious was going on. For a number of reasons, I didn’t pick up on those signs. I passed all the red flags off in my own mind, and in my conversation with extended family members, with excuses and extenuating circumstances.

Until, one day, I couldn’t.

He finally hit the point of what was once termed a “nervous breakdown.” I won’t describe what that looked like, but believe me – it was frightening. Having a two-year-old who I felt needed to retain as much normalcy as possible made it impossible to handle on my own. I had no choice but to reach out for help from both our parents.

I was met with some interesting reactions. Support, caring, tangible assistance certainly – especially in the initial “shock phase.” But then there were subsequent reactions that left me reeling at the time and still make me scratch my head today. Jumping to bizarre conclusions about causes of the breakdown. An (absolutely untrue and uninformed) assertion that “He always was selfish. He just has to pull himself together and think of others.” An ostensibly supportive piece of advice to remember that I could always just walk away from him and get a divorce. (I will stress here that I make absolutely no judgment against anyone who makes the decision to do just that. As I said before, every case is unique and I fully support anyone who feels that’s the best option. In my particular case, I did not feel walking away was an option.)

That was all at the beginning of our journey. But then severe depression dragged on and on. Literally for years. More than a decade. And that extended period required an entirely different kind of framework for conversation with our extended family.

More on this subject to come soon…

-Amy

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