Thoughts as a Depressed Husband (How My Wife Helped Me Face Depression)

tim chan —  November 15, 2012 — 33 Comments

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.

Thoughts as a Depressed Husband (And How My Wife Helped)

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.

Befriending Depression 

Let Your Life Speak - Parker PalmerA 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.

  • Hi Tim, thanks so much for writing this wonderful post and being honest. As I’ve grown older (and have gone through my own periods of depression every few years), and it can be hard to understand for some, but I’ve talked to my friends and it seems that quite a few of them have gone through periods of darkness as well. Because depression is different for every person, I’ve started to be able to catch the signs sooner. A sense of helplessness, not going back to exercise, and not seeing people, it slowly creeps up and then it just exponentiates one day.

    I’m glad that I have people who listened and cared. Best of luck at your talk.

    • Thanks Vince. It’s a blessing to have people in your life who will listen and care, especially in the hard times.

  • sally

    Thank you for writing about “the blues” in such an accepting manner. How comforting to know other Christian’s will walk through the same valley without being isolated!

  • Tanya

    Thanks for posting – very encouraging.

    • You’re welcome Tanya. I’m glad you were encouraged.

  • Cam

    Thanks for sharing, Tim.

  • Rina

    Tim, please don’t be afraid to share this to university students. This post has blessed me tonight. It reminded me of how my boyfriend is always there for me. Depression, anxiety, or stress is not easy for me to mention either because I know some people can’t handle my problems. Even as a girl, sometimes, my pride gets in the way too. I don’t want people to think I’m weak. I have been facing slight episodes of depression since high school, when I didn’t have much friends, also in university when I became really anxious about getting good grades, and now when I am still looking for a job.

    • Rina, thanks for sharing part of your story with us. I can relate to not wanting people to think I’m weak. One thing going through depression has taught me is to be kind to myself, which in turn allows me to be kinder to others.

  • Joshua Chin

    much appreciated this post, tim! thanks for sharing your experience so generously here. may his joy and strength be with you next thursday, and beyond.

    • you’re welcome Joshua, and thank you for your words, they are much appreciated

  • sandykhoo

    Tim, your sharing is a great encouragement to help people who are suffering in depression. God who loves you and He knows what his is doing in your life. I pray that
    your family stay close to God and filled with joy every single day.

    • thank you Sandy – my hope that is somehow my story might be an encouragement to others.

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  • Brian

    Hi Tim. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve quoted you in a coaching group about Clean Language which often deals with metaphors and you used a few. Just something we like to notice.

    • You’re welcome Brian. I’ve never heard of Clean Language before. I did a bit of reading about this, and it seems helpful. Al the best as you do more coaching using this method.

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  • Jason

    It’s hard not to be depressed watching Canucks during playoffs.

  • KnowDuh

    Mine calls me a miserable S.O.B. and blames me for everything.

  • KnowDuh

    Then I get accused of not taking my pills.

  • KnowDuh

    Sounds like your wife loves you. I get threatened with divorce, I wish I had someone like your wife. Tries to help your rather than coerce you.

  • AngryWife

    The burden on a wife can be intolerable. Stop and think the extent to which a depressed partner spoils her enjoyment of life. Depression is contagious.

    • You may be interested in reading my wife’s perspective during my seasons of depression (if you haven’t already). It’s titled “What’s It’s Like to Live With a Depressed Husband.

      • icantlookathim

        im struggling myself as a wife of a deoressed spouse.

    • LA9691

      Well said. Going through the same thing however quietness and depression turned to anger and depression. This is what I won’t tolerate and is the deal breaker for me.

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  • Guest

    Thanks for sharing this! It’s incredibly encouraging to see that love and consistent companionship can truly help someone with their difficulties. The name Tim holds a special place in my heart

    • You’re welcome – I’m glad our story can be of encouragement to you.

  • g

    Thank you for posting this. My husband is going through a rather dark and dangerous seeming time right now. I am looking for some encouragement as I help him through. Not sure how long this will last or what he will be like after this passes but I am staying hopeful

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  • Angela

    Thank you Tim! You have made me realize that I have not been handling my husband’s depression as well as I should be….even when following scripture. I want to encourage him, not hurt him. My words and actions will change so he can see me as a comfort to him.