I live with depression. It forms a part of every conversation, spoken or unspoken, in my home, and in my dealings with family, friends and strangers. It is a relentless pressure that I cannot escape.
And yet, I don’t have depression myself. I just live with it.
My husband is the person who is ill, because it is an illness, albeit invisible. He is the one who has turned from the outgoing, sociable, fun loving man I met almost 20 years ago into a tense, grumpy, miserable introvert. He’s the person who has spent three years or more being beaten down by stress and anxiety.
But his depression doesn’t just affect him.
My children are afraid of their father
My son is only six. That means that for over half of his life – and the half where he has been able to understand and interact more – his father has had depression. My daughter is nine – she picks up on stress and hears more than we realise.
Whenever the children are in the house I am on edge, waiting to run interference. Their father can no longer cope with the noise and mess that children automatically create. In this house we don’t cry over spilt milk, we rush to grab a cloth and remove the evidence before the otherwise inevitable explosion.
It’s awful to admit that our children are just a little afraid of their father’s trigger temper. It’s so utterly devastating to watch his face when he realises that he has once again shouted at two people he absolutely adores. And it’s tiring for me, to constantly be keeping the peace and monitoring everyone’s patience levels.
Our friends have all disappeared
Every invitation to dinner, or a night out with friends, becomes a potential minefield of lies. The truth is my partner finds socialising a hassle and making conversation a chore.
After a couple of years of turning down invitations, of course they stop coming. Every time I have to make an excuse, or tell another lie, I know I am cutting loose another friendship.
But I can’t tell them the truth, because he is struggling to admit there is a problem himself. And, of course, there is his pride. Men, more than women I think, feel ashamed and embarrassed. There is a stigma, in his eyes, in having a mental health issue.
To respect his feelings, I am limited in what I can say. Why is your husband off work? He’s tired. He’s stressed. He is taking time out for a while.
Family become foe
His family love him, and they mean well. But constantly telling me there is something wrong, and chasing me to do something – well, that doesn’t help. As we know with any illness, you cannot help someone get better until they accept there is a problem.
All of the well-intentioned advice just means I have to find more polite excuses. After they approach him themselves, I’m the one dealing with his irritation at their perceived interference at home.
I now dread every visit and leave feeling more ineffectual that ever.
And then, there is me. Why am I writing this now?
I have been living with this for over three years, and as my partner sunk lower, the impact on the rest of us increased.
By the end of last year, all I could tell you was that I was tired. Overwhelmingly, relentlessly tired. Mention his name and the tears would threaten to spill, and yet had I been asked, I could not name a single incident or cause. All I knew was that our home was no longer happy. The effort to pull myself through each day became harder and heavier.
Having been placed in the position of being the eternal optimist, the relentlessly positive cheerleader in our home, I was running out of happy. And the pressure was cresting – one of us was about to break.
Thankfully, one of us did. At the start of this year my husband finally hit the bottom. He broke down.
And yes, I am thankful for that. Now we can start to build him, and us, back up. I still live with depression, but at least now we are living with it together.
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