My husband was diagnosed earlier this week with a serious form of depression, called dysthymia. While it’s defined as “mild depression,” that is misleading. It means that someone has been consistently depressed every day for at least two years. TWO YEARS. They may have had some periods of “double depression” during that time, as well, meaning they’ve had dysthymia plus major depression. That’s definitely true for my husband.
What does this mean? For him, it answers the question of why he has lost interest in almost everything in his life, including me.
To me, it answers all of my questions. It explains why, for at least the past five years (maybe even as long as 10 years), I have seen my beautiful husband change from a caring, loving man to someone I no longer recognize. His appearance, behavior, interactions with me … everything is different, and it’s not good.
He is literally incapable of loving me because having this disease means can’t connect to anything or anyone — only superficially, at best. He can’t hear me or see me in the ways that allow people to connect with one another. And worse than that, he has lashed out at me in ways that have hurt me to my core: a common problem among depressives who live with a non-depressed spouse, because they know what your weak spots are.
I’ve been reading two books by Anne Sheffield about what it’s like to live with a depressed person: Depression Fallout and How to Survive When They’re Depressed. To be honest, I’ve read both of them in the past four days! They’ve helped me tremendously, providing insights into his behavior that make everything clear.
It’s been an emotional week for me so far. Coming to terms with the seriousness of this illness is difficult. Coming to terms with how it has affected me, and how it will affect me as long as he has it and I choose to stay with him, has also been difficult.
I don’t want to be married to depression. I want to be married to my husband.
And despite the title of Sheffield’s book, I don’t want to just survive. That’s all I’ve done my entire adult life, after the domestic violence and abuse I endured. I want to LIVE.
There’s an active discussion board for Depression Fallout. This morning, I read something that made a lot of sense to me: It may — may — be worth it to stay married to a depressive as long as you see that he is putting in the effort to heal himself and understand his disease that’s equal to, or greater than, yours.
That seems fair. However, speaking selfishly, I don’t want to spend this time in my life learning about depression. I want to spend it learning about myself, for the first time ever!
I know how much I have done to heal myself, too. Anyone reading my book or this blog would know that, too. My husband, however, does not. The depression has blocked his ability to feel true empathy. That hurts, folk, believe me. On a daily basis, it is devastating to live with. The feeling of rejection is enormous.
I believe my husband has the strength to get well. But I also know that I can’t wait forever for that to happen. I love myself too much now to live with an illness that isn’t my own, and especially one that is as damaging as depression is to the people who have to live alongside it.
How much time will I give it? As of today, I’m not completely sure. My husband hasn’t started treatment yet. My gauge, however, will not be how he is feeling as the weeks go on, but how I am feeling.