DEPRESSION : A PARTNER'S PERSPECTIVE
Crying. That’s the first thing I remember about when Gary told me he thought he had Depression. It was August 2015 and he was driving home from work, pulled over and called me, crying from inside the car. When he got home, he told me that he often felt this way, unexplainably sad and angry and didn’t know why. I made him an appointment with the GP and within a few weeks, there it was, the diagnosis of “Severe Depression”. He was signed off work and given medication and referred to an online self help CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) course. That month that he was off was tough. We had an 18 month old baby, I was back at work full time and Gary felt like everything was falling apart. He was angry and sad and unmotivated, a completely different man from the one I had married 2.5 years previously.
I would drive home from work, having picked Lily up from nursery, and almost dread coming into the house, not knowing what I would find. More often than not, I would arrive home to the house in darkness, curtains closed and a husband that hadn’t eaten, washed or got dressed. My heart was broken for him and it killed me that I couldn’t do anything to help. But i was also annoyed that, from my opinion, he wasn’t trying to get better. Why should I have to look after the house, meals, children, washing…we were meant to be a team?
However, over time things did begin to get a bit better. He had several medication reviews and we started to set him small achievable targets to do whilst I was at work. Previously he would set himself huge tasks like paint the bedroom or clear the attic and so when he didn’t do these, that set off a negative series of events which left him feeling useless. If I’m being honest, it left me extremely frustrated because all the everyday tasks were ignored and then I was left to do it all. So like a said, we started setting small tasks like: have a shower, empty the dishwasher or hoover the living room. This gave us both realistic expectations of what to expect of the day, he felt good that he had achieved and I wasn’t dreading coming home to a shit tip, win win!
While Gary was off, we actually got a rescue puppy. I don’t think I'm exaggerating here when I say that I think Luna saved Gary from going down a very horrible path during that first episode of depression. In his eyes, she was his dog and she needed him. If he didn’t feed her and walk her she would die and so Luna became his focus. Now I’m not saying that if you have depression, go out and get a dog! What I am saying is find something that you have interest in and become passionate about it. Let it take your focus and become important in your life. This can be reading, exercising, origami, whatever you fancy. It really does help.
So things in our life got a better, and Gary started to reduce his medication and things were really getting back on track. However in April 2017, that evil depression monster decided that it hadn’t quite tortured Gary enough and came back to destroy him, and this time it was going to throw everything at him. By this point we had a second baby who was nearly 11 months old and I was preparing for my second maternity to end. Second time round, depression affected Gary very differently. He wasn’t the unmotivated, shell of a man he was first time round. By now he had learned to plaster a smile across his face and hide his true feelings, this was way more dangerous. He kept it hidden from me for a while until he snapped at me and the kids and eventually admitted he had been struggling again. I was angry. Angry that he had hidden in after knowing how it affected us last time. Angry that he thought he could just get through it by himself, that he didn’t need me. Of course I understand that he just didn’t want to bother me, but that’s my job right?
So, back to the GP and referred onto psychiatry, and medications reviewed again. He tried different medications, he wasn’t enjoying his job. It was stressful and causing more angst. Taking time off wasn’t an option as he didn’t get good sick leave so financially we couldn’t afford it. He just wasn’t able to switch off and let his brain heal. He just powered on and continued with his fake smile and sometimes, I forgot he even suffered. He would say he was struggling, and had negative thoughts but he acted so “normal” that I took it for granted and we would argue when he didn’t do the things I had asked him to do like when he forgot to pick up the milk or post that letter. We didn’t have good communication and we were both just getting on with the same life we shared, but in different ways. I wish I had read the signs more or had understood the pain he was going through as I maybe I could have prevented what happened next.
Gary had taken some time off work as annual leave to have some down time. I came home from work, he was distracted and a bit distant..nothing unusual. We got the girls to bed and he said he had done something stupid today, but wanted me to know that everything was ok and he needed more help to fight. I wasn’t happy, so pushed the issue until he broke down and said the words that broke my heart in two, “I tried to kill myself”
I just broke down, that things had got to this point without him speaking to me. Confused that he thought things would be better without him around. Angry at how selfish he was being and ultimately, devastated that I almost lost the love of my life and could easily be known as a widow, at age 28. The thought often goes round my head, what if? What if I had come home to an empty house? I would have wondered where he was, phoned him, left messages, phoned his family and friends, the police. Who would have found him? I imagine the police come to the door telling me they’ve found his body. These thoughts still plague me often and it terrifies me. At that moment, I just hugged him, held on so tight as we both cried and I promised him that we would get through this.
It seemed to be a bit of a light bulb moment, and Gary promised that that was never ever going to be an option again. However we still had a long way to go as the feeling he had pre-attempt were still there. I really struggled to trust Gary after that. I questioned him every time he went somewhere, every time he was a little late in from work I would be in full blown panic mode. I was nervous and snappy and I hated the way I was becoming. My snapping and constant harassment made Gary worse, he needed time and space and I wasn’t giving it to him. Gary wrote me a letter and asked me to read it. It was written in poem form, something he’s always been very good at. It described how he was feeling and how things made him feel.
I knew I needed to back off and just be there when he needed, but it was really hard. We attended a psychiatrist together and got the ball rolling with some new medication. We kept a mood diary and started to go back to our achievable goal setting. This time round it was much harder. I learnt to hold my tongue and just let the little things slide, avoiding unnecessary arguments. There were days where we seemed like the “normal family” that everyone thought we were, but these were often followed by evenings where Gary would just lie upstairs in the dark, unable to interact with me or the girls. Only my and Gary’s parents knew the truth about what happened and that in itself put masses of strain on us. I was desperately trying to hold this family together and at that time, I never felt so alone. Eventually I opened up to two of my good friends and it did help a little that someone knew the pressure that was going on, although they didn’t really get to understand the situation as I don’t get to see them as often as I want.
I think if it had just been the two of us, I may have been able to give Gary more but I had the girls and they needed me. Gary was a fully grown man and could look after himself, they couldn’t! Except he didn’t look after himself, or the house, or any of the things that come with a relationship. The strain between us was huge and although I loved him more than I could ever describe, he was becoming more and more a stranger and not the man I married. I began reaching out to other people. When he would go off on one of his reclusive episodes, I would text his dad and ask him to call him to distract him. When I saw a glimmer of the old Gary, I would insist that we left the house and go somewhere with the kids, like the park or the ice cream shop. When he showed interest in something, I would become enthusiastic about it and encourage his engagement.
Instagram has always been an outlet for me. Strangers I don’t know engaged in my journey through parenthood felt great. The more I talked to people, the more I realised how prevalent mental health conditions were and that lots of people suffered. What I also noticed was the support that people were getting and how wonderful instagram can be as a place to feel safe. I probably mentioned to Gary that I think he should start a blog at least 15 times, as I said before he’s always been really good with words. Unfortunately he always said that he hated social media and didn’t see the point.
However, on Valentine ’s Day this year, I received a text from Gary whilst I was at work, to say that he had joined instagram and had put up his first post. Well naturally I snuck off to the loo so I could go on instagram and have a read. I cried. Not only had he been listening to me badgering on about the insta community, but in his first post he opened up to having depression! And you what happened…..nothing! the world didn’t end, people didn’t think less of him. People didn’t think of him as weak or worthless. Nobody wished he hadn’t joined instagram. In fact, people cared that he had!
Since then, things have only got better for us. There isn’t that horrible dark secret hanging over us. He doesn’t have to plaster the smile across his face, because it’s real. I am getting messages of support, people reaching out and I feel better for it. Yes it is Gary’s diagnosis, but it is an illness that the whole family have suffered from. Of course some days are still hard, but I don’t hide away and cry silently to myself that I'm losing my husband. We have a quiet day, regroup and the next day it’s better again.
Even when things were at their worst, there’s a phrase I always said to Gary, “I’ll always be here to support you, as long as you don’t stop trying to get better” And thankfully, after that horrible event nearly a year ago, he hasn’t ever given up, and I didn’t either.
If you are reading this and are suffering in silence, please speak out. Tell your partner, speak with your GP, whoever you feel comfortable with. It’s too hard to go through alone.
If you are supporting someone with a mental illness, I know it’s a lonely place. Remember to take time to look out for yourself. Encourage communication and keep those gates open, things will get better.
Lots of love
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