An answer, for both of us

Photo by me
Photo by me

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.

Love doesn’t conquer all (or does it?)

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Today, I’m accompanying my husband to a depression evaluation session, one that I hope and pray will set him on a path toward healing.

I love him deeply, this man that I married. As I noted in a previous post, however, the man I’m living with now is so different, I hardly recognize him. It breaks my heart into pieces every single day and causes me tremendous pain. As our daughter says, he is “completely lost” somewhere inside an illness that she and I cannot cure, no matter how much we love him.

The past year, I thought that if I changed my behavior, I could change everything. If I became the wife he truly deserved, if I showed him my love in every way that I thought was meaningful to him, everything would be fine.

I was wrong.

If we weren’t dealing with an illness, depression, perhaps it would have worked. Maybe our relationship would be on more solid footing than it is now.

But depression can’t be conquered by love. It simply can’t.

I’m relieved and grateful that my dear husband has finally made the choice to get some serious help for himself. He tried in the past but was severely under-treated, and although I tried to tell him that at the time, the treatment actually did more harm than good.

What’s troubling to me is that in this marriage, I have continually asked myself what I could be doing, what I could change about myself, that would make everything better. That’s not a healthy way for me to approach my life. While it seems inwardly focused, it’s just the opposite: I’m trying to change myself in order to change another person’s behavior toward me.

I’ve picked up the slack, too, carrying the depression for my husband. Today, I’ve let it go, because it doesn’t help him or me. He has to pick it up himself and take care of his health, and today he begins that process. While he may not realize it, this journey is going to be arduous. I will do my best to support him — as I always have, even though the depression has blinded him to my efforts. But no longer will I subjugate my own self to an illness I don’t have.

While my love may not have conquered my husband’s depression, my love for myself has risen from the depths and taken control of my thoughts and my actions. And I’m proud of myself for being able to do that, finally.

No more pain, no more abuse

I’m reading a book right now called Depression Fallout, by Anne Sheffield. The book is written for people who are living with a depressed person, especially a spouse. While I’ve known for at least a year that, in fact, my husband’s emotional difficulties have been caused by depression, I was very confused before then. I now believe he has had depression for at least 5 years, maybe as long as 8 years.

I’ve learned a tremendous amount from reading this book, but I’ll share one thing with you in this post. Sheffield classifies the behavior by a depressed spouse toward their nondepressed partner as “emotional abuse.”

I agree 100 percent.

While the techniques, if you will, vary from person to person, someone with depression does inflict emotional abuse and pain on their partner, whether they intend to or not — and clearly, they do not. The illness has overtaken them, and it is causing them to hurt their spouse by certain behaviors.

What this book has pointed out to me is this: Although the circumstances between my two marriages are vastly different, one outcome has been the same. I’ve been abused.

Let me repeat that, for my own self: I have been abused. And every day I stay in this marriage, I am being abused. I never thought about it this way, but then again, I didn’t realize I was being abused in my first marriage, either, until I literally saw the writing on the wall in the form of a domestic violence chart in a counselor’s office.

This time, the writing on the wall has come in the form of this book. I can relate to every single thing in it, if not the exact anecdotal details, certainly the end result. I feel alone, as if I’m living with a stranger who has no understanding of me anymore, who doesn’t know me, doesn’t know how to express love to me, doesn’t know what I need on a consistent basis. I don’t recognize him, either. Most of his behavior is inconsistent with the man I married 15 years ago, and physically he has changed, as well. His facial expressions, his eyes and the way he looks at me, his body — everything is different.

It’s not my husband’s fault, per se. Even when I’ve pointed out behaviors that hurt me, he repeats them. I’ve mentioned certain things to him 50, 100 times, and he doesn’t remember. It’s as though the depression has destroyed much of his memory of me, of our relationship, and of the things that I like and don’t like.

Recently, I told him I often feel like “generic wife,” someone without specific needs, feelings, history, and so forth. He doesn’t even call me by name, even though I’ve repeatedly asked him lately to do so.

Tomorrow he goes in for a thorough psychiatric evaluation for depression. Last night, I metaphorically set down the burden of his illness, and a rush of emotion poured out of me. I couldn’t help it. I told him all the things I want for my life: peace, tranquility, a life without abuse and pain, a healthy sex life with someone who really loves me and wants to show that to me — everything. Even if I could have those things just for a year, I said, then I feel like I would know what it’s really like to LIVE.

I will give him some time to get treatment, and I told him I’ll support him as much as I can. But I also said that I need to isolate myself more from his illness. I need to do things on my own, with other people and alone. I may need to take vacations without him. I’m looking into selling our apartment and renting a two-bedroom place so I can have my own room. I need to feel safe, and I don’t feel safe at all right now (and haven’t for many years), and it’s causing me great difficulties. I don’t sleep. I don’t eat well. I’m losing ground that I’ve worked so hard to gain.

I deserve to know what it’s like to live without being abused, just once before I die. If I have to leave this marriage in order to have that — if treatment for him doesn’t work or doesn’t work well enough — then I will do it. I love the man I married, but I’m not married to that man anymore.

I can’t live with a stranger. And I can’t undo all the hard emotional work I’ve done in trauma therapy by staying in this situation if it’s clear that it won’t change.

I don’t want to battle someone else’s illness and continue to be hurt, day after day. I want more from my life now.

I WANT TO LIVE.

Video: Leslie Morgan Steiner tells her story

This video shows Leslie Morgan Steiner telling her story about domestic violence.

She’s a successful author and advocate against domestic violence. Although her story isn’t exactly like mine, she, too, became a victim at age 22. Like me, she’s well educated and had never had any exposure to violence before.

But unlike me, I never heard “I’m sorry” from my abuser. He never gave me flowers after being violent with me. And he never beat me, per se. My ex was a shover, a grabber, a strangler, a threatener and a rapist.

Or should I say, he IS these things.

Ms. Steiner answers the question of “why does she stay” very simply: She didn’t know he was abusing her.

That’s exactly right. I never, ever thought of myself as being in an abusive marriage. I thought my ex-husband would change if I changed, somehow.

And the most painful question, she says, is “why doesn’t she just leave?”

As she says, all of us who have been in this situation know the answer to that. It’s dangerous. We could be killed. We could be stalked. We could become a victim of the court system, manipulated by him.

If you’ve read my memoir, you’ll know how much he manipulated the courts against me and against our daughter.

At this point, I’ve been considering telling my story in person, as well, but I’m still afraid of my ex-husband. Not an unfounded fear, either.

But I do feel inspired to talk about what happened to me, because it happens to millions of other women every single day. Maybe I can make a difference.