Hi, my name is Tim and I struggle with depression. It’s hard to admit this and I haven’t always been able to write about my experiences with depression openly. But ever since becoming a husband, my relationship with my depression has changed for the better. These are some of my thoughts and reflections on being a husband and having depression.
My experiences with depression started when I was 21. I had just graduated from university and was without a job. I had no idea what was going on. I had little energy or motivation. I felt sluggish and lazy. I slept lots. I avoided seeing people. I stopped enjoying the things I always enjoyed. I doubted myself. I worried about the future. I felt sad all the time. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get myself out of the rut. It lasted for months and finally lifted.
My depression returned multiple times over the course of my twenties. Every time the experience would be similar. When I was 27 years old, I got married. Shortly after I got married my depression returned.
Sharing Depression with My Wife
At first I tried to hide my depression from Olive, but I discovered how impossible it would be. Since I lived with my wife, she quickly noticed changes in my behaviour and started asking me about it. Having depression was tiring enough. Trying to hide it from someone I lived with took too much energy. Plus, it made me feel like a fraud. Finally I mustered up enough courage to tell her. It was difficult to explain. I felt embarrassed, weak, and vulnerable telling her.
I worried how she would respond. Would she run away? Would she avoid the topic? Could she handle this? Would she see me as being weak for the rest of my life? Then there was my deepest, darkest fear: would she stop loving me?
How My Wife Walked with Me
My wife surprised me. Her response was one of kindness and an attempt to understand. She was shocked, because it was unexpected, but she felt loved that I would be this vulnerable with her and include her in my struggle. The most important thing for me was that in the midst of my depression, she still respected me and loved me.
There was a sense of relief when I opened up to Olive. Throughout my experiences of depression I had always wished for a companion: someone to walk with me and understand me. Having my wife journey with me during these dark times changed my relationship with depression.
Olive’s love and acceptance toward me helped me to slowly accept myself and my condition. She provided an example that I could follow. That acceptance, coupled with her encouragement, gave me the courage I needed to see a counselor for the first time. My counselor helped me uncover some of the roots of my depression and taught me to be kind to myself during this time.
I appreciated that my wife did not try to “fix” me. She did encourage me to do things that would help me: seeing the counselor, journalling, and exercising. But she did not mother me or suffocate me in the process. My wife gave me the space I needed and brought me little surprises to distract me from over-thinking and worrying too much. She was patient with me, especially when I felt impatient with my lack of progress.
A mentor of mine recommended that I read Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak (affiliate link). In the book he spoke about treating his depression less like an enemy seeking to destroy him and more like a friend bringing him gifts. This way of thinking was unexpected to me. Out of desperation I gave it a try. Instead of avoiding and fighting my depression, I slowly started to acknowledge it and introduce it to people in my life. I recently wrote a guest post about the experience of befriending depression for The Good Men Project. It is part of a special series they featured on Men and Depression.
Slowly, over time, with each episode of depression, I started to learn how to embrace it. What I discovered were the gifts that depression brought – life lessons that I would not have learned otherwise. Depression taught me to accept myself in my weakness, and extend that acceptance to others in their weakness. Depression taught me to be vulnerable, which deepened my relationships with others. With time, I about able to write about my depression and share my experiences with others. To my amazement, others found it helpful (read about Elora’s experience with depression, and how she was impacted by reading my blog post). What began as darkness for myself somehow ended up being a small gift to others – for this I am humbly grateful. (Here are more thoughts about my journey to embrace my depression.)
The Burden of Depression
As my wife walked with me through depression, I did not realize the weight and burden this journey would be for her. Her accompaniment lightened my load, because she was helping me to carry it. Practically she did more of the housework when I lacked the motivation to do anything. Emotionally she had her own worries and fears about my depression, but put on a strong, patient face for my sake. This was not an easy journey for her.
When I realized how much my depression was weighing on her, I knew I had to do something. That was when I started opening up about my depression with two other people: my mentor and my close friend. Both of them listened to me and encouraged me. This lifted the burden my wife felt, as she was no longer the only person to support me. My wife wrote more about her experience of having a depressed husband in chapter 6 of our new (and free) ebook, “Fight With Me: How We Learned to be Married.”
Living with depression has been a slow and difficult journey. I am extremely grateful for my wife’s companionship in this journey – it has made it bearable. She has given me courage to face the darkness, and waited patiently with me for the sun to rise.