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.