Last week was a really bad week for me. Although I am never really symptom free, I am able to manage. But last week the bottom fell out and I lapsed into a deeper depression. As I write this I am gaining strength and I can see the light getting nearer. Because I am somewhat drained mentally I asked my dear wife to give me a suggestion for what to post this week. She hesitated for a moment and then said, “Write me a letter about what you want me to do when you are [depressed].”
Charity and I have been married for less than 18 months and she had not personally witnessed me in that state. Oh, I told her everything long before we started talking marriage. Early in our renewed relationship (we were high school sweethearts) I was hospitalized twice and went through a year-long-ordeal as a result of my major depressive disorder. Her eyes were wide open when she agreed to be my wife. But, letters and phone calls, and dates and discussions are not the same as living with it and seeing it for the first time.
Therefore, the following is my response to her request. . .
Thank you for asking me what I want you to do for me when I am in a depressed state. Your desire to help and respond appropriately are refreshing. You truly are a gift from God.
I want you to . . .
- Reassure me.
You are well aware why I ask this of you. During the 19 years I have lived with depression, it has cost me a lot – significant damage to my connection with God, my previous marriage and many other precious relationships, careers, freedom, most everything I owned, and nearly my life. My marriage ended 14 years before it became official and depression was the direct cause. Charlene was not able to adapt to or live with a person with depression. Our marriage and I became the least of her priorities. Those 14 years have left an indelible scar of fear upon me.
Charity, my love, I know you are not her. Still I need you to tell me that you love and respect me. To tell me that you are committed to our marriage and the vows we shared before God. To tell me that you believe in me. Relieve my fears by telling me that you will not leave me either physically or emotionally. That you will give me your support through my dark hours and beyond.
I want you to reassure me that I have an important role in our family. Before, my place in the family was absconded and to this day it has never been returned. Therefore, I was and am unimportant, dishonored, disrespected, discarded, and destroyed. Queen of my heart, tell me that my role in our family as friend, husband, father, grandfather, and protector is valued.
- Let me isolate for two or three days.
It is when I am alone in the dark with the door closed that I can process my thoughts, assess the severity of my depression, and plan for the next step. It is the way I charge my batteries for the task ahead. You are welcome to come in and check on me, but ask me if I am able to see anyone else before you send them in. There are exceptions. If you see me sleeping all the time or wandering about the house aimlessly all night, unhygienic, and generally unable to function, it is time for an intervention.
- Act normal.
Please, sweetheart, act as normal as is reasonably possible. I am not mad at you and you have done nothing wrong. It is NOT your fault. Be patient with me, you did not cause my depression and you cannot cure it, if it can be cured at all. Neither hover over me nor withdraw from me. Do not be either angry with me or indifferent toward me. Show me compassion without condemnation. In other words, be balanced, be normal, be your own beautiful self.
- Encourage me.
Depression is not a way to avoid responsibilities. It is not a phase. I cannot “just get over it.” For me, honey, it is a serious disease of my brain. I apply the tools I have learned to try to manage it, take my medication as prescribed, attend individual and group counseling, and have gathered a support group around me, of which you are such an important part, to prevent free falls into utter darkness. I wish I could tell you that it works every time, but that is not true. Sometimes the severity of my depression overwhelms all personal and medical efforts to control it.
Encourage me to take my medicines and do spot checks to see that I do. Encourage me to keep my psychiatrist, counselor, and group appointments. Ask me what I have the strength and will to accomplish today and accept the answer I give you. You can challenge me to go beyond what I feel I can do, but please do not nag or ridicule me if I cannot do it or fail in the attempt. You are such a comfort and confidant and I need you to be my wife and friend, and leave the cajoling to my doctor and counselor.
- Ask me if I am having suicidal ideations.
Do not ask me by saying, “You’re not thinking of doing anything stupid, are you?” I may answer, “No,” not because I am not thinking about suicide, but because I do not think it is a “stupid” idea. Ask me in a straight forward manner, “Are you thinking about suicide or harming yourself in any way?” Ask me in such a way that you expect me to tell the truth and will not act shocked and upset by the answer. You do not want me to give you the answer you want to hear, you want me to tell you the truth. If I answer, “Yes,” then it may be time to take me to the hospital. Be strong, my precious princess, look me in the eye and ask the question.
- Educate yourself about my depression.
Do not rely on what you have heard from others or learned on television. Get recommendations for good books to read. Glean through the medical transcripts that I have stored at the house. Make an appointment to talk to my counselor. I will sign the necessary confidentiality waver to make it happen. I want you to be informed. I want you to know.
You are my hero in so many ways, Charity. You reached out to me in my darkest hours with encouragement and support, believed in me when all the evidence for doing so was negative, and loved me for who I was and not for who you wanted me to become. I thank God for you every day.
With all my love and gratitude,