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Depression and Mildew

photosOur thanks to a mother who has and is weathering depression in her son and graciously let us post this.  Those who support those with depression have to grapple with many things others don’t see.  

It all started with cleaning out the room that had become the junk room in the basement.  Just as we began we discovered mildew, ugh!  At first it was only on a few old coats so those went in the trash.  Then suddenly it was on the covers of scrapbooks, yearbooks…precious memories.  Memories I had not thought about that much since depression entered our lives.

As the clean-up continued, I began to realize that depression has become the mildew in my life.  Silently creeping along and filling me with its grey haze.  Since then I just feel lost.   I look at those old photos and I don’t remember who I was before depression.  And I know that I cannot go back there anyway because depression has changed me.   While we were able to wipe away most of the mildew, the impact of depression cannot be wiped away.

Now the room is empty and the contents chaotically cover other rooms.  But I cannot bring myself to continue sifting through items.  What to keep, what to discard, what to donate?  It should be an easy process but it is agonizing, like I’m discarding parts of myself.  Yet, are those parts still real?  And I cannot bring myself to put anything back into that room.  As if the  mildew may be gone from that room, but depression still fills our house.

All this is happening as my son seems to be improving and learning to live with and within his depression.  Am I afraid that if he gets better then I might not have a purpose and that I might actually have to figure out who I am now.  And as I wipe away the mildew of depression and look at what is left of myself, what if I don’t like what I find?

Parenting a Depressed Spouse

I’ve got three children, and being a mom is my favorite thing in the whole world. There have been times over the years, though, when I’ve been forced to act like a parent to someone I never wanted to be a mom to: my depressed husband.

Things are much better now, for both of us. But a situation I became involved in this week brought back some pretty bad memories that I’d just as soon have kept buried.

In response to a situation that took place last weekend, I had to make a phone call to someone who is in the position of parenting her seriously depressed husband. The husband had done something that showed incredibly poor judgment, and I needed her help resolving the issue and keeping an eye on him in the future. It could have been an unpleasant, uncomfortable conversation. Thankfully, she and I had had a long conversation some time ago about our struggles with living with a depressed spouse. She knew I’d been in her shoes, and I was able to let her know I have great empathy for where she is right now. It turned out to be a positive encounter, and I feel confident we can handle any future situations together.

But it was a rough couple of days for me. I ended up re-living in my mind the time so many years ago when my husband was at his lowest point, when I had to keep tabs on him every hour of every day. Scars like that may get shoved back into the far recesses of our minds, but I discovered that they’re still capable of resurfacing and causing pain.

Thankfully, my husband is in a very good place right now. After more than a year of a downhill slide, things have turned around again for him. Life is good. And on the whole, I’m not sorry to have been reminded that others are still struggling, and that my experiences can potentially help someone else. That’s what happens when we’re willing to break through the stigma of depression.

-Amy

Enduring Depression in a Relationship

How does depression affect a relationship?  How can someone else’s depression affect me? How do you survive when someone you love is depressed?

These are questions Bernadette and I deal with all the time.  We discuss it with each other, as our own two-person support group.  We discuss it with others, in workshops, presentations, and support groups.  And most of the time the response we get is along the lines of “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe someone else is having the same experiences and feelings I’m dealing with.  I thought I was the only one.”

As with most issues involving mental illness, fear and stigma tend to rule the day.  No one wants to talk about what’s going on at home when what’s going on at home involves a loved one collapsing into tears at the drop of a hat, sleeping all day or never, growling constantly, hyperventilating due to panic or anxiety. We’re still burdened by the archaic belief that such symptoms are due to character flaws, that people should just “buck up,” “put on a positive face,” “look on the bright side.” So we keep quiet, and we continue to believe we’re the only ones suffering.

So Bern and I have made it one of our goals in life to talk about this stuff as much as possible.  Often that’s in groups of people who have been there themselves.  But often it’s with people who might be shocked to hear mental illness brought up in the course of regular conversation.  We encourage others to do the same – every time we speak the truth in public, we chip away at that hurtful, stifling stigma.

So when I read a blog post yesterday in which a wife interviewed her husband about his depression, I sat up and took note.  Here was someone else who had the guts to speak the truth.  She begins with: “I have many friends who have a spouse who struggles with depression. We share that story. I asked my husband, if I could interview him, with the hope that we could be of some support to those couples who are in the midst of “the black dog.”  Visit this blog and read the whole post at http://creatingsacredcommunities.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/talking-to-your-spouse-about-depression/

It focuses on what it’s like to be depressed and how a person can support a depressed spouse.  Important stuff, and we applaud the effort to get the word out there in public that this is a real illness for real consequences for many people – more people than we know.

A big part of surviving depression in a relationship is supporting the depressed person through the process of treatment and healing.  We want them to get better because A) we love them and care about how they feel and B) depression can be contagious, and we want to get it out of our household and lives. But just as important as helping the depressed person is the survival of the caregiver.  We have to take the time to focus on self-care, or we won’t make it ourselves.

If you have depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses in your home/relationship, be assured that there are, indeed, others out there dealing with this stuff.  Know that there is help available (check out NAMI, which offers support groups for loved ones of people with  mental illnesses, link to the right). And know that you have the right (as well as the need) to take care of yourself through this time – you deserve health and wholeness.

-Amy