I spent 25 years with a man who was clinically depressed, and suffered through at least four major depressive episodes with him. In the beginning, I thought he was brooding and introspective. I mistook his passive-aggressive personality as him being a deep thinker. Just wrapped up in his own thoughts. His sloppiness was simply the result of being a bachelor. He was a night-owl and his work hours threw off his internal clock — that’s why he was so tired all the time. Every one of these characteristics became worse as his depressive episodes deepened.
He abandoned activities he’d previously enjoyed and took up computer gaming. Gradually, he spent more time on the computer until he was online more hours a week than he was at work. He made online friends who became more important to him than his family. He became lost in the fantasy world he created.
No matter how many times or ways I expressed concern over the sheer number of hours he spent online, he didn’t see it as a problem. For years, whenever I wanted to talk to him, I spoke to the side of his face because he wouldn’t tear his gaze from the monitor. Even when I could get him to look at me, his game was still on the screen and his attention split. But being online didn’t seem to make him happy. Nothing did.
When he wasn’t on the computer, he was sleeping. There were weekends when he slept from mid-afternoon on Friday until Sunday night. The kids thought he was sick and worried that he was going to die.
He occasionally got prescriptions for anti-depressants from his regular physician, but never saw a therapist or psychiatrist. For a long time, his depressive behaviors weren’t clear or linear to me. They occurred in the midst of the rest of our lives: births, deaths, raising kids, moving, jobs. Now, of course, I can see how screwed up our lives were. But when I was hip-deep in it, I just knew something wasn’t right. His passive-aggressive manipulations only added to the horror show.
I questioned my own judgment. We would have discussions and later he would claim not to have said whatever I thought he said, or not to have made a particular promise, etc. I began to believe that I wasn’t paying enough attention or listening. I believed him over myself.
My feet didn’t touch the ground from walking on so many eggshells. He could go from no emotion to rage in a split second over what seemed like nothing to me. Everything revolved around his moods. My mental wellbeing, the kids’ mental wellbeing, our activities, everything. The last couple of years, there were instances when I wondered if he was going to hit me. He didn’t hit me, but he would pound the table or the countertop viciously. I’d never felt that fear with him before and I became even more distant and careful not to set him off. It was easier and safer to leave him alone.
His last depressive episode began sometime around the holidays last year. I was dealing with a serious kid situation and not paying very close attention to ES. Add that to the holiday stress and I just coasted with ES. The week after Christmas, he told me he was attending a daily gaming event in Orange County. He would disappear each day without a word and reappear each night. He didn’t seem to take any of his usual gaming gear, but I really wasn’t paying close attention. The last day, he called me around midnight (drunk) to say he wasn’t going to make it home. I’m not even sure what excuse he gave, he was whispering (and drunk, did I mention that?) and I realized he was doing something completely different than he’d led me to believe. Of course, I asked once he returned home. He said he’d had too much to drink (yeah, I got that). He wouldn’t say anything more.
A couple of weeks later, he came to me to talk. He was going through a midlife crisis, was unhappy, relationships were all that mattered, would I go to marriage counseling with him. I agreed, but also insisted he get individual therapy for his midlife crisis and depression. (By now I’d figured out that he was having another major depressive episode.) I told him he needed to do the legwork to find the therapist and make the appointments, my hands were full with the serious kid situation, which he refused to acknowledge or deal with. I made a point of saying I wouldn’t pull the trigger on divorce, and that I would commit to making an honest effort at marriage counseling for a year. Later that night, I had to show him how to search our insurance website to locate marriage counselors because he couldn’t figure it out.
I share these details to highlight the insanity of what happened next. Three weeks passed and he was even deeper into the worst depressive episode I’d ever seen. He came to me again and said it was because it “killed” him that I refused to go to marriage counseling. Huh? I pointed out that was untrue, that I’d even shown him how to locate a couples counselor. He didn’t believe me, kept saying that I refused to fix what was broken. He was crying and going on about how ashamed he was and that I could never forgive him. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I began to have some unpleasant ideas. What exactly had he been doing in Orange County? Where had he really been? He agreed to make an appointment for marriage counseling, which he did and emailed the details to me. Yeah, email. He never really spoke to me again.
We made it to two marriage counseling sessions and ES’s depression was the main focus of those sessions. It was obvious that he had no intention to sincerely pursue counseling, and I learned he’d only been to two individual sessions. His depression was so severe that the therapist recommended hospitalization. ES refused. I sat there trying to figure out if I was willing to have him committed against his will. He was obviously in distress, and despite his denials, I was worried about suicide. The therapist kept calmly talking about his depression and the need for immediate, supervised intervention, ES kept refusing to do more than get a prescription for stronger meds from his regular doctor. Then ES lashed out at me: I don’t love you anymore.
I realized there was no way I could force him to be hospitalized without seeming vengeful and turning a bad situation into a potentially homicidal one.
Shortly after that, I discovered empty tequila bottles hidden in a box in the trash, so he was drinking in secret and mixing the anti-depressants with booze. He didn’t want to get better, had probably slid so far into depression that his behavior seemed normal to him. I was at a complete loss as to how to protect the kids and myself, and I never left the kids alone with him. About a week later, he moved out.
I don’t know what his experience of depression was like. For me, I lost all confidence in my judgment; I doubted my five senses and even my own sanity. I felt worthless and helpless. I was exhausted from the constant vigilance of trying to protect the kids. I had changed so many things to accommodate him, I no longer knew my own preferences. I was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety that ES would do something truly horrific. I was completely depleted. I felt like a failure.
I couldn’t fix him.
It wasn’t until that final marriage counseling session that anyone acknowledged that depression has effects on a spouse and kids. Even then, those effects were swept aside. And the internet research I had done in the weeks prior was too little, too late.
I wish there was some magical insight to give to others living with a depressed adult that would make it all better, or at least manageable. Depression is insidious and destructive. It affects everyone around the depressed person. Clinical depression doesn’t get better if you ignore it. Not all anti-depression drugs work well for all people, so there’s a need to manage the medication that a depressed person may struggle with.
I’m focused now on healing the wounds our family suffered from living with ES’s depression. I’m working toward regaining my balance and faith in my judgment. I’m creating as stable an environment as I can for the kids. It’s really only now that I’m not living under his black cloud, that I can see how twisted our lives had become. How his depression (and passive-aggressiveness) impacted everyone and influenced all our choices. I feel lighter now. But his depression haunts our family. My kids don’t know what’s real about their dad and what’s a result of his depression. In the end, they felt unloved and abandoned by him. I don’t know how to fix that, either.
- 4 Tips for Caring for Yourself After a Depressive Episode (psychcentral.com)
- sunshine and possibilities (onbeingmindful.wordpress.com)