I always took pride in the fact that my husband and I were a team. We were partners in life and awesome parents to our five children. We loved each other and always thought about what things we could do to make our spouse’s life a bit easier. Things were good. Then, something sneaky crept its way into my husband’s life and started changing the man I love. This leech called depression slowly drained my husband’s joy and enveloped him in a dark fog … dramatic, I know.
I really wished I’d recognized the signs sooner and got Mark the help he needed when it started manifesting itself as stress. We own a small business and have a houseful of children, so stress is part of our everyday life. Two years ago, Mark was hit with a bout of stress that gave him sleepless nights for a few months, and he lost almost 30 pounds. Things got better, and I fattened him back up. Things were good again.
What I didn’t know was this stress that he had was really depression.
Our guys were taught to be strong and to provide for their family. They carry such a huge weight on their shoulders already, and that, along with the stress of running a business, can be overwhelming. Mark is also his number one enemy. He is extremely hard on himself and a worry-wart. We often hear about the wife experiencing postpartum depression, and we know what to look out for and how to help them. Depression in men is not talked about enough though, and I think our guys avoid talking about it because it’s embarrassing to tell your buddy that you are feeling blue.
Every time Mark goes through his “dark days,” I’m super supportive. I make sure that the kids don’t annoy their father. I take care of work and school stuff, and I handle as much as I can without telling him about little things that can stress him out further. I make sure that I listen to him and give him lots of hugs. I offer positivity and repeatedly assure him that things will work out. I try to put a lot of stuff into perspective for him, and I tell him that his family loves him.
In my head, I thought that this would pass soon and things would be good again. After months of this, his gloom started to wear me down. I would avoid talking to him and busy myself with other chores when I got home from work. He often did this heavy sigh aloud, and it would begin to stress me out. His sadness was so heavy that you could feel it in the air when he was in the room. These are the signs in our story, but I know that each story looks a bit different and has it’s own manifestations. Regardless of how it might look for you, I hope that sharing my story helps you feel like you’re not alone and gives you strength to help your husband.
Here are a few things I noticed with Mark…
- WEIRD SLEEP HABITS :: Mark started waking up very early in the morning because he couldn’t sleep. He would sleep during the day when the kids were home from school, and that drove me bananas. There was homework to be done, dinner to be cooked, and he was missing out on hearing about the kids’ day.
- LACK OF ENERGY :: At first I thought he was being lazy. He had zero energy to do anything and found excuses to not leave the house. Projects that he started were left unfinished for months, and he would often tell me that he was working from home that day. I’d come home from work to find him in his pajamas and/or asleep on the couch. Sure, he did some work on the computer, but the rest of the workday was wasted away. I would survey the house and see that dishes were still in the sink from breakfast, and I couldn’t help thinking, “When I’m home from work, this house is spotless!”
- WITHDRAWAL :: He started to withdraw from the activities that he loved and found joy in. Mark stopped praying and going to church. This is something that is extremely important to our family. He told me that he couldn’t feel God’s presence anymore. I didn’t understand – it seemed so logical to me that this would be the time that he should be turning to God.
- LACK OF INTEREST :: He would show lack of interest in family activities that I had planned for the kids and tried to find excuses as to why we shouldn’t do them. Our sex life was practically non-existent, but I was too tired from keeping the family together; I really didn’t want to have “sad” sex anyway.
Slowly, my compassion turned into resentment, and I felt alone. I was alone making decisions and taking care of the family. One day I reached my breaking point, and I told him through tears that I couldn’t help him anymore. He needed medical help. Mark took my advice and went to see his family doctor. He prescribed an anti-depressant, but it really wasn’t working. Mark said the medication was making him feel jittery, and I really didn’t see any improvement. Gosh, can I live like this for the rest of my life?
Another couple of months passed, and I had another emotional breakdown and told him that I needed my partner and husband back. That I can’t do this on my own … and he needed to get better. I may have come off pretty harsh, but I felt like he was floating off into space – and I needed to snap him back into reality because things were falling apart. I remember Mark telling me in despair that he didn’t want to feel this way and that he didn’t know how to turn it off. I consider us lucky because we wouldn’t be able to start heading in the right direction if he didn’t want to try to get better.
I made plans for the family to go see Christmas lights, and I told him that he was going whether he liked it or not. I remember feeling really anxious as I sat there watching his every move, making sure that he was feeling okay. At first he looked miserable, but when the kids started asking their dad for help, he jumped back into that super dad role. We had such a good time, and things felt normal again for those few hours. Mark talked about how happy the kids looked and that he was glad I pushed for him to go.
Then, I got him to attend church for the first time in months because I didn’t like the message that we were sending to our kids. I really wanted him to just set foot into church and remind him that he was part of a community. I’m so glad that we did. I prayed hard that day in church for him and us. All of the kids have been praying for their dad to feel better. We were enveloping him in prayers that day.
A few days later, it was one of the coldest days in Houston, in the low 30s ,and Mark walked out of the bedroom in jogging gear. Hmmm…. this is interesting. He told me that he was going to go for a quick run. I was so thrilled to hear this. It’s been weeks, and he is still running. Running equals endorphins, so I’ve been encouraging him to keep it up!
I’ve also been encouraging him to grow his relationships. Mark has a few friends that he confides in, but he seldom goes out for beers or calls them to hangout. He and I are both alike in this aspect. We rarely have time for ourselves, so we make little effort to be connected with others. This is something that I strived to be better at this year, and it has been so emotionally uplifting for me to find my own tribe. I knew that Mark needed to find his own tribe to get better. A friend from church personally reached out to him and told him that the men’s group at church has been thinking about him. He invited Mark to the next meeting and offered to come pick him up so that he wouldn’t have to drive. This was such a generous act of love and compassion because it got him to go. Mark also has a friend that’s kind of like a mentor to him that visits every other weekend to have breakfast with us and talk about anything and everything.
And as for me? I’ve gotten into this habit about asking him how he is feeling that day. He is usually very honest with me. There are days when he feels good, days when he wakes up anxiety-filled, and days when he would rather just get back into bed. This helps me gauge how the rest of the day will be for him and what things I can do to make the day better. Regardless of the way he is feeling that day, not a day goes by that I don’t tell him that I love him and that I’m here for him.
My next goal is to get him to see a real therapist. I have no idea what I’m doing really and whether or not I’m causing more emotional scars. A real therapist will be able to assess his needs and prescribe proper medication. I know that with depression you can’t rush healing. I feel like we are beginning to move in the right direction though.
Since starting this post, the holidays came and went. And through it all I’ve learned a valuable lesson… As women, we can’t give up on our men when they need it the most.