I see you, the spouse of someone struggling with depression.
I know it’s hard for you, too.
Mental health issues don’t just impact the lives of those who personally have them. Their quicksand snarls husbands and wives, too—those nearest in proximity to the one struggling with depression.
You absorb the brunt of the sadness. The darkness. The illness.
Your capacity has to increase to cover not only your own responsibilities but also some of the responsibilities of your spouse. And depending on how open and comfortable your spouse is with sharing their struggle, you, too, may remain isolated in an oppressive darkness.
You, who have to stay home from work to take care of the kids. Drive them to school. Shuffle them to sporting events. To ballet. To karate. You cook the meals, pack the snacks, clean the spills.
And even if your spouse finds openness struggling with depression, your struggle isn’t seen. It’s not known.
You’re not the one with mental illness, after all. But you’re still thrashing in its choke hold, aren’t you?
My husband is one of you
You’re straining to understand. To empathize. And juggle all the balls. To explain to your kids that mommy still loves them, she just needs to sleep today.
You get frustrated, angry, annoyed. But are you allowed to show those emotions? Do they matter? Do you matter?
You see, my husband is one of you. I’m a wife struggling with depression.
There have been days I couldn’t get out of bed. A few weeks ago, I had a panic attack during church, and my husband had to take me home. He left our kids in the hands of good friends until he could pick them up.
At home, I went right to bed. My safe place. My comfort zone.
When I’m struggling with depression
That day he was dad and mom. He made our boys lunch and dinner. He took them to a friend’s house so they could play for a few hours. Later, he put a TV show on for them so he could come up and check on me.
And although this wasn’t the first time I was in the darkness of depression, this time was different.
No, my depression didn’t change. His reaction did.
If you are the spouse of someone struggling with depression and you’re wondering what to do, what to say, how to help? You’re not alone.
It’s taken us a long time and some stepped-on toes to figure out this clumsy “dance.” In the beginning, my husband didn’t understand. He’s a self-motivated go-getter. To him, a bed is for sleep, not for safety.
So he got irritated, pleading, furious. He begged me to get out of bed. To help him with our kids. To just get over it.
He didn’t lack love; he loves me deeply! It’s just that he didn’t understand.
Learning to understand
But he does now. This time, he gave me the space I needed. He took on the role of “mom” so I could heal. Rest. Sleep.
He came up after a few hours and laid in bed with me and listened. He asked how I was doing, and if I knew what triggered this episode. When I told him I didn’t, he didn’t push it. He knew I’d figure it out, and when I did, I’d tell him. He was just there with me, in my darkness, in my pit. And that was exactly what I needed.
About a year and a half ago, we began marriage counseling. This helped immensely. Our counselor was able to put my depression into words my husband understood. She was able to explain to him that depression is not a choice. It’s chemical. My brain doesn’t have certain ingredients it needs, leaving me overly sad and unable to get out of bed. Even for the things and people I love.
She advised him to be empathetic—meaning he was to enter into my pain with me. You see, he likes to fix things. And sometimes his gut instinct is to figure out how to “fix” me.
Not trying to fix it
He doesn’t do it on purpose. He just wants to help me get better—for both our sakes. And to do that, he wants to find a solution and do all he can to make it happen. But depression can’t be fixed. It can only be helped.
So he learned when I’m down in a pit of depression, he needs to climb down and sit next to me. He needs to hold me when I ask him to and give me space when I don’t. He invites me to join him and our kids, but if I’m not ready, he doesn’t push it.
Normally, it only takes a day or two to start feeling better. To have the desire to enter back into life. So my husband has learned how to judge when to encourage me to get out of bed a little more than the day before. He has learned how to balance empathy and motivation.
However, everyone’s depression can look different. My medication helps me to not remain in that intense pit for very long. And my husband and I can usually work together to overcome my desire to remain in bed.
I know my experience is not everyone’s. Depression can be all-consuming. It can be so overwhelming that nothing else seems to exist except the darkness.
But even in darkness, we (the depressed ones) need to remember we’re not struggling with depression alone. Our spouse is struggling, too, and we need to do our best to get healthy so our struggle doesn’t consume our lives and choke the life out of everyone around us.
Enter the struggle
If you are unsure how to enter into the struggle beside your spouse, here are five ways you can aid in the healing of your loved one with depression:
- Give them space. They’re struggling. If you don’t suffer from depression, you probably can’t fully understand it.
- Pray for them. When your spouse is deep in the pit of depression, the only person who can truly understand where they are and offer them perfect comfort is Jesus. Ask Jesus to give you His eyes of love, compassion, and patience. Ask for supernatural strength to handle the extra responsibilities that will be on your shoulders.
- Get help. Marriage counseling was life changing for my husband and me. It helped us see each other with new eyes. We still struggle with communication like most spouses, but we can usually work things out ourselves now. If your spouse isn’t ready for counseling, go yourself. This struggle is yours, too, so a counselor or pastor can help you figure out how to love and help your spouse without losing yourself.
- Involve your community. This doesn’t mean broadcast your spouse’s issues to everyone. But I’ve told my husband two friends we’ve agreed he should reach out to when I’m having a low day. I know those friends won’t judge me or think differently of me. They’ll enter into our struggle with prayer and help if we need it.
- Lovingly encourage your spouse to get the help they need. If this becomes something that happens more than once or is affecting your daily life, your spouse might need extra help.
I was embarrassed and did not want to begin antidepressants. But I knew this wasn’t something I could figure out on my own. My brain needed help creating serotonin. So I went on medication to allow me the capacity to work out the emotions behind my depression. And it’s helped so much that now I’m an open book when it comes to talking about it.
Depression is an illness hurting you too
This is a tough one, I know. Everyone’s experiences and levels are different. Some people aren’t ready for help. They think they can handle it on their own. They don’t realize the way their illness is hurting you.
Depression is an inward disease. It’s easy to put on a happy face for people who don’t know. But you know. And you hurt. Even though they can’t see your hurt. So encourage your spouse as much as you can. Love them and pray for them.
Look at it this way: if your spouse had cancer, you would see them with very different eyes. Depression is an illness, too. No, it’s not the same as cancer. But it’s still an illness. And in our marriage vows, we commit to love our spouse through sickness and health.
So pray and love your spouse through this sickness. You may not see the light at the end of the tunnel, but Jesus does. Trust in Him. Trust His arms to hold you and carry you through your side of this struggle.
Someday, your spouse will be thankful you didn’t give up on them when they felt like giving up on themselves.
Copyright © 2019 Jenn Grandlienard. All rights reserved.
Jenn Grandlienard grew up an East Coast Philly girl. But now loves calling the Midwest her home. She lives in Xenia, Ohio with her husband, Stuart, two sons, Knox and Zeke, and pup, Stella. Jenn and her husband work with Athletes in Action, a ministry of Cru that teaches college athletes what it means to have a relationship with Jesus. Check out her blog OurGrandLife.com. Find her on Instagram at @mrsjenngrand and on Facebook.