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Resolutions for depression recovery

It often surprises people when Bern and I talk or write about how hard it can be when a seriously depressed person finds health and recovery. Getting better should be all sunshine and roses, right? What could be hard about that?

Here’s the thing: When one half of a couple has spent literally years in a dark, dysfunctional place, coping patterns inevitably emerge. The well spouse over-functions. The unwell spouse under-functions. The well spouse begins to take the role of a parent, while the depressed spouse takes the role of a child needing care and direction. These patterns may be the only way to keep the family going when depression is present.

With a return to health, these old patterns no longer fit. The caregiver is worn out from all that over-functioning, and the recovering spouse wants very much to step up to the plate. But letting go of the roles taken on during years of depression doesn’t happen overnight.

I’ve been through this cycle more than once. Most recently, my husband has experienced the fullest depression recovery I’ve ever witnessed in our 28 years together. Things are changing so rapidly (for the better, thank goodness) that I can hardly keep up.

Since we’re just about to say good-bye to one year and move on to another, here’s a list of New Year’s resolutions that this caregiving spouse will attempt. I can’t promise I’ll succeed, but just making the list may keep me on the right track:

+Don’t panic when a bad day pops up. Everyone, including non-depressed people, has a downer, negative day sometimes.

+Let go of the responsibilities your spouse is willing to take up. You need the break, and you don’t have to be in charge of everything.

+Don’t overreact when symptoms / behavior you see in your spouse echo his depression symptoms / behavior. It’s been so long since you’ve seen him not depressed, it’s quite possible these behaviors are simply part of his personality. Take the time to learn the difference.

+Make time to have fun together. Get to know each other again on these new terms. Remember why you came together in the first place.

Hoping for the best. Happy New Year!



Echoes of the past

When you’ve lived for a long time with depression in someone you love, moving past the illness can be a real challenge.

Even once recovery and good health becomes a reality, those who walked alongside the depressed person in the worst of times carry scars that can come to the surface pretty easily.

I was reminded of this fact yesterday. Though my husband is currently, in almost every aspect, living a “normal,” healthy life, he’s having a rough week. He’s fighting a low-grade virus (illness has always triggered anxiety and intensified his depression). He’s had some minor, temporary setbacks in his new career area. He’s frustrated with a do-it-yourself auto repair project that’s going nowhere.

And yesterday I saw some echoes of depression in his behavior. I had to remind myself several times throughout the day NOT to overreact. I offered a bit of gentle nudging in the right direction, along the lines of “you might feel better if you get out of the chair and do something to keep busy.” Later in the day, I witnessed him self-correcting his behavior when small depression-related actions/reactions appeared – without any nudging from me.

The fact that he kept himself moving and relatively positive in the face of stress is a definite sign that things are much better for him now. The fact that I’m still on high alert for any depression-type symptoms (though I work very hard not to be an alarmist) is a side effect of caring for a person who’s struggled with depression for a very long time.

It takes a lot of effort and teamwork to navigate these echoes from the past, even when health returns.


We’re both recovering.

After nearly 18 months of a downhill slide, my husband’s depression is lifting, in a big way. This recovery has everything to do with a new career path he’s chosen, for which he’ll begin training in just under a week.

I’m noticing the changes daily. Singing around the house. Tackling tasks he hates with good humor. Enthusiastically digging into a project he’s put off for months. Handling business details, career change details, and financial details with energy and efficiency. Honestly, it’s like he’s someone I haven’t seen for years.

It’s good timing. Between the wrench of moving our oldest and youngest away for school and the rapidly descending SAD season, I don’t have a lot of emotional reserves. I’m finding that the relief due to his major change in mood has allowed me some much-needed emotional down time. For at least a while I’ve been able to stop being the tough one, the together one, the responsible one.

In the past I’ve had a hard time trusting this type of turnaround. A giant dip in the depression roller coaster is so often just around the corner. But I’m taking it differently this time. I don’t know if it’s because of how thoroughly he’s improved, or if it’s a sign of how completely exhausted I was.

Either way, I’m enjoying the change.


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.


Anger, Irritability, and Depression

From the “welcome to my world” department:

An article this week from Health Day News reports that people with major depressive episodes tend to experience anger and irritability. This correlation is more pronounced in patients with chronic and long-term depression. To this news I say, “Duh.”

My husband has lived with depression since he was in high school. The illness wasn’t diagnosed until it hit the crisis point when he was in his early 30’s. For more than 20 years since then, he’s had good times that sometimes lasted years, and indescribable down times that also can last years.

One of the signs that a bad time is on its way (or that it’s settled in to stay for awhile) is intense irritability. Any little normal, everyday thing is cause for an argument, harsh words, or an accusation that the world is ganging up on him. The connection between his irritability and anger and a (more) depressive time is so strong that I’ve learned to say, “I know what this is about for you, and it’s not the fact that the kids are playing music and two people are talking to each other in the same room as you. It’s depression taking control again. Let’s talk about what we’re going to do about it.”

Calling depression what it is doesn’t necessarily create a miraculous recovery. But naming it does help me separate the mean and grumpy person my husband suddenly becomes due to depression from the kind, generous person he is when he’s healthy.

It doesn’t make everything better, but it can help me hang on one more time.


How do I talk to my spouse about the possibility of depression?



Getting your spouse to discuss the possible presence of depression is no small feat. Many times when Bern and I have led groups or offered presentations, the most difficult question to tackle is “How do I get my husband to even hear me?” And yes, it is almost always a woman asking about her husband, rather than the other way around.

This past week when we met with the support group we lead, a new friend joined us. And she asked the big question. She was considering the fact that her husband was self-medicating with alcohol, that fact that he has a family history of bipolar disorder, the fact that his sleep regimen is a complete wreck…over all, she was adding two and two and coming up with a “four” that made her feel very concerned. Combine all this with the fact that her husband refuses to see any kind of doctor for any reason at all, and she was at a loss.

There’s only so much a concerned spouse can do. And yet our lives are profoundly affected by our spouse’s behaviors. It is simply a fact that no matter how much we care, no matter how much we want to make things better, the ill person himself must take some responsibility for seeking help.

Our advice in this situation tends to fall back on our mantra of “Take care of yourself.” Whether the husband hears or not, it’s important that we state very clearly exactly how his actions and moods affect us. Speaking the truth might make a difference. It might not. But we have the right to say how we feel. It’s part of recognizing the worth of our own feelings and needs.

Speaking the truth is an important aspect of taking care of ourselves.

Keep on the sunny side.

It’s the day before The Big Leave, Part I. A day of frenzied packing, loading, and looking for Youngest’s essential dorm items that have been misplaced. At least I hope that’s how the day pans out; after already having one weepy moment this morning, I know it would help to be busy. And then comes the reprise on Sunday, as we head into The Big Leave, Part II for Oldest.

As I mentioned earlier this week, the husband has stepped up to the plate in order to take some of the burden off my shoulders. He’s maintaining his healthy place, and it couldn’t come at a better time. As close as my emotions are to the surface just now, I’m in no shape to handle his depression personna. I seriously hope that guy is out of the picture for the near future. I caught a disturbing glimpse last night of Mr. Depression’s hypersensitive, hypercritical, argumentative self, but thank goodness it was brief. A couple of hours later we were laughing together around a board game, and all was well.



That “Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde” thing that has long been characteristic of his depression. And I really need the lightheareted, kind, and supportive guy to be present right now. Keeping my fingers crossed.