Living with Depression, Part II: Impact on Daily Life and Family Relationships

Welcome to the next installment of our conversation about clinical depression amongst nine BCC permas. Part I can be found here. If you haven’t already read the series overview, please do so before proceeding.

We begin and end today’s post with quotes from Andrew Solomon.
I returned, not long ago, to a wood in which I had played as a child and saw an oak, a hundred years dignified, in whose shade I used to play with my brother. In twenty years, a huge vine had attached itself to this confident tree and had nearly smothered it. It was hard to say where the tree left off and the vine began. The vine had twisted itself so entirely around the scaffolding of tree branches that its leaves seemed from a distance to be the leaves of the tree; only up close could you see how few living oak branches were left, and how a few desperate little budding sticks of oak stuck like a row of thumbs up the massive trunk, their leaves continuing to photosynthesize in the ignorant way of mechanical biology.

Fresh from a major depression in which I had hardly been able to take on board the idea of other people’s problems, I empathized with that three. My depression had grown on me as that vine had conquered the oak; it had been a sucking thing that had wrapped itself around me, ugly and more alive than I. It had had a life of its own that bit by bit asphyxiated all of my life out of me. At the worst stage of major depression, I had moods that I knew were not my moods: they belonged to the depression, as surely as the leaves on that tree’s high branches belonged to the vine. When I tried to think clearly abou tthis, I felt that my mind was immured, that it couldn’t expand in any direction. I knew that the sun was rising and setting, but little of its light reached me. I felt myself sagging under what was much stronger than I  . . . Its tendrils threatened to pulverize my mind and my courage and my stomach, and crack my bones and desiccate my body. It went on glutting itself on me when there seemed nothing left to feed it.
Beatrice: When I’m depressed, it is hard for me to live up to my basic family responsibilities–i.e., getting out of bed, feeding people, doing the laundry, etc.–much less all the nurturing I’m supposed to be doing–whether it’s playing with the kids or supporting them in their various activities or being affectionate in general.  I don’t want to nurture anyone–I want them to nurture me, or better yet, just leave me alone.  I’m very anti-social when I’m depressed, and I don’t want to be around other people, even the people I love.  (Sometimes the love is only theoretical, when I’m depressed enough.)  I resent their demands on me and I resent whatever I think I should be doing, if I were a good mother and wife, and I feel guilty, and then I resent feeling guilty.  In short, I am unpleasant to be around, and the household runs much less smoothly.  I’m perfectly aware of the negative effect my behavior and mood have on everyone around me, and up to a point that awareness can help me function or at least fake it, but there always comes a point where apathy takes over.  I know my behavior is destructive, but I just don’t care anymore.  I’m too tired.  And I feel guilty, but it doesn’t matter because nothing changes.  And eventually I don’t even feel guilty anymore.  I just know intellectually that I’m guilty.  But so what?

Currently I’m in the middle of a very bad depressive episode–so I don’t have the mental focus to contribute the way I could when I was feeling less crazy.  But I am right as of this minute simply marveling at how disengaged with reality I can be, knowing that I’m disengaged with reality and still not being able to re-engage reality.  As I get older I get more sympathy and even respect for my mother, who I resented so much when I was younger because of the instability–what a word–no, not instability–really, really bad and frightening spirits that were in our home because of her mental illness.  I watch myself doing the same exact thing to my own children and I’m so, so sorry about it but at the same time helpless because if I could stop it, I would.  My mother would come out of a horrible rage episode and apologize profusely and tearfully, and I would think to myself, “Well, it’s all well and good that you’re sorry, but why can’t you just be different?”  Seriously, if this is God’s twisted method of teaching me compassion, I TOTALLY GET IT NOW, THANK YOU.

Rosencrantz: When I was at my worst, I had difficulty even getting out of bed, and I didn’t even have the ability to feel guilty.  The only things I felt were apathy and pain.  Not a good thing when you are the provider for a wife and children.  I’ll just say it quickly and bluntly:  I lost my job and we had to sell our house and move because I couldn’t keep it together.  So it was a horrible experience for my wife and for our kids.  I’m still a little surprised she didn’t divorce me, and I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had.

Looking back, my wife and children were about as understanding and patient and kind as I could have possibly hoped, and that was a blessing.   The aftermath has been a challenge, because I still feel really guilty, and I still haven’t been able to metabolize the experience yet.  Sometimes I fear that this is just a temporary calm period and that I’ll repeat the whole damned process again.

Desdemona: This is the worst of the topics surrounding depression for me. I’m not sure how I will be able to add, because I can barely bring myself to even think about how this has affected my children. Worrying about that is a key feature of my depression and anxiety, so I just can’t say how much of my worry is justified and how much is insidious imagination. I know I can be a very bad mother when I am depressed or anxious. I neglect, I get angry and snap too easily, and above all I am inconsistent. Sometimes I want to just disappear so I won’t expose my children to me any more. Obviously losing a mother to suicide would be an enormous harm too, so it’s kind of an impasse. Objectively, they’re probably fine. Everyone tells me they are great, happy, smart, fun kids. But part of my anxiety is to worry that each little thing is the early sign of a problem (that I caused). One of the most tension-releasing moments of my life was when my therapist finally met my children for the first time. She happened to pass us while they were playing in a garden area near her office building (we were coming from a different appointment there). Of course we’d spent a lot of time talking about my mother guilt, so it could have been a vulnerable moment. But in that moment I could see my kids through her eyes and they were just normal, happy kids, not horribly emotionally disfigured. It was such a relief.

My deepest, darkest worry that I can’t believe I am about to write down is this: that having infertility meant that God was trying to prevent me from having children that I would then ruin, but I wouldn’t listen and kept wanting children anyway. That I am the Martin Harris lost the pages of Motherhood. The process of healing for me has been a process of repeating these steps over and over: identify a negative thought, identify that it is false, and then let it go. Through therapy, and a lesser extent bishops, family and friends, I have one by one vanquished many thoughts. But a few are more tenacious, and that’s one of them.

Portia: I have the mother guilt, too, and, like Beatrice’s, it’s compounded by the fact that I grew up with a depressed mom.  I know exactly the kind of damage I could be doing.  I spent so much of my childhood making plans to be very, very different from my mother, so while depression feels, all by itself, like failure and ruin, turning out to be my mother after all feels like utter catastrophe.  I want desperately to believe that I am doing better than she did.  I take my meds, I try to deal with as much crap in therapy as I can so that I don’t take it out on my children.  But sometimes I see it in their eyes anyway, know that they’re trying just as desperately to make me happy as I used to try to make my mother happy, and feeling like somehow they’re not enough because they can’t fix me.  One of the many half-baked novels that float around in my head is a long suicide letter to a daughter, trying to explain that there’s nothing wrong with her, that she had brought her mother all the joy that it was possible for her to feel, but that she (the mother) just wasn’t any good at joy.  I guess it’s good that I can’t seem to finish that one.

Beatrice: Initially, when I get depressed, it is the guilt that keeps me functional.  I like guilt because it spurs me to action.  Because I’m depressed, though, the guilt is always accompanied by resentment over all the things I have to do.  But I can function through the resentment.

During this time of guilt and resentment, I’m also very angry, but it is as Ophelia described, all brewing under the surface and ready to explode at the slightest provocation.  And then one day I wake up and look at the chaos surrounding me and think, “Eh.  Whatever.”  And then I am all done feeling guilty and also all done being functional.  What’s the point?  The anger and resentment stay, though.  I’m very good at holding on to that.

When I’m properly medicated, I have perspective.  Because I have perspective, I can prioritize tasks and not freak out over the littlest thing–or even relatively large things.  I get more accomplished because I have more energy.  I mostly feel only appropriate guilt. I think I’m also very unusual in that I’ve never suffered the sexual side effects of anti-depressants.  I find I enjoy sex much more when I’m not wishing I were dead.

Mistress Quickly: Ah, sex and depression. For me it’s a mixed bag. Being very depressed shoots my sex life to hell, in every way imaginable. Certain antidepressants also seriously dampen my interest and capacity for response. By contrast, one particular med has an aphrodisiac effect for me (too bad it doesn’t work for my depression). The impact of depression AND antidepressants on sexual desire and responsiveness is a really big deal because it can put serious strain on marriages that are already strained. So while I’d rather be super slow sexually than suicidal, it’s more complicated than that.

Rosencrantz: At the risk of oversharing, I can say quite confidently that if they ever want to discover an antidote for Viagra, Paxil can do the job very well with muscle to spare.  The prospect of smoothness in the afterlife doesn’t scare me at all because I already know what it feels like to be unsexed.

Beatrice: Everyone else I know that has been on a SSRI–Paxil, particularly–has experienced these sexual side effects, but it just hasn’t been my experience.  When I’m depressed, all four phases of sexual experience are affected, not just the libido.  When I’m not depressed–that is to say, when I’m taking drugs–all four are markedly improved.

Viola: I haven’t been on medication while being sexually active so I have no idea if it affects me. Though of course, I’m much more interested in sex when I feel normal than when I feel like I’m stuck in a deep, meaningless abyss and I don’t want to wake up because then I’ll have to think about how much I’d probably rather be dead.

Ophelia: My maternal grandmother tried to kill herself three times- and never succeeded. Again in retrospect, there is a strong family tendency there, and I wish she had had the benefit of therapy and/or modern pharmaceuticals, imperfect though they are.

Falstaff: A family relation just committed suicide this weekend. Out of work, mid-30s, angry with others, he just decided to give up and hung himself. The devastation he has wrought on his family is incalculable. If anyone is ever tempted to think that their family is better off without them then with them they are wrong. This would seem to be the ultimate lie. We are all imbedded in relationships that we cannot really grasp. Viola is right that depression feeds us the lie that we are not important to this web. You are. Watching his family try to make sense of this has made me realize how much damage can be done by giving into the lies that depression tells. Each of you do matter. Believe that.

Ophelia: So true. After my brother-in-law committed suicide last year, the devastation is unimaginable. It ripples out and out and out.

Mistress Quickly: If I were to leave my family one way or another, it would not be because I felt unimportant, but because I play such a major role in their lives and I’m failing so spectacularly that they’re much better off without me. I would consider myself doing them a favor by disappearing. Now, from where I’m standing I can see how ridiculous this is, but when I’m in the thick of deep depression it’s the most reasonable thing in the world, and it even seems like a noble thing to rid my family of such a blight.

Desdemona: Exactly. I can’t count the number of times I’ve planned to leave my husband so he could be free to marry someone who could be a decent wife and mother.  Even when I’m not feeling brave enough to commit suicide, I think, “Well, abandonment, that’s almost as good.”

Viola: Falstaff, I’m sorry to hear about your cousin’s son. So sad.

I think depression makes us both feel like we are not at all important at the same time that we are too, too important (meaning all the ruin in anyone’s life ever is our fault).  It feels impossible to me most days to feel the right amount of self-importance.

Mistress Quickly: I wonder if for LDS, depression has an extra twist. We know the significance of this life, the importance of family, the weightiness of keeping covenants, etc. We know all too well that everything matters–in fact, we’re taught that this life is the middle act in a 3-part play, and that everything that came before was preparation for what’s happening now, and that everything that’s happening how will determine what will happen forever after. So even when I’m verrrrrry depressed I don’t feel like nothing matters. I feel like everything matters, but that nothing I do can even come close to being enough, that I’m a stunning failure in every respect, and that the whole human race is a morass of pain and failed potential–my family in particular. In other words, when I’m in a healthy state of mind the ideal always outsizes the real, but the difference between the two, although often painful, is manageable. When I’m depressed, the difference between the ideal and the real is soul-crushing.

Ophelia: What you describe and soul-crushing despair over the chasm of expectation/reality, I experience as all-consuming anger. Anger that is so hot, when I was a kid I used to lay in bed fearful I would burst into flames. I don’t want to paint an inaccurate picture, so I want to clarify this anger is not a constant state. It sits in the back of my psyche like a little pilot light, but at any given frustration, it can blow up like a roman torch. Usually it gets self-directed, and as a teen I found myself pulling hanks of hair out when I was angry. My mother thought I was genuinely insane. She took me to a shrink who did absolutely nothing, and she felt better about her parenting.

This is my first foray drug-free in over three years, and I’m just trying to get through the day without killing anyone. While I would never actually kill anyone, I do understand the impulse to do harm- and usually it ends up self-directed.

Falstaff: I tend to focus on looking to myself and the conditions I find myself in for the cause of my depression. I withdraw even from myself. And like Viola I go through iteration after iteration of ‘if only X would occur or if only Y would happen’ then I would leap from this funk. Ironically I take fewer and fewer steps toward those very things that I think will bring me out of it.  When I’m depressed I also create long lists of things that I need to do to get out of it, I become over extended and promise too much to myself and others and soon find myself scattered over too many things. At some point it all becomes impossible to carry the load and I drop into doing things that are easy and don’t matter. It’s like I’m spinning in place. This worsens things because I realize that I’m not going to escape from these conditions. And I start to feel like everyone is disappointed in me. I’m letting everyone down. I’m a bad employee, bad husband, bad father, bad bad at things I once felt good at, bad colleague, bad person.

I don’t know if you’ve seen those third world dogs that slink around dumps with their tails between their legs suspicious of everyone and everything even their fellow dump dogs. They seem to see harm everywhere—maybe they’ve been kicked too many times, but they avoid all contact. That becomes me. It’s not an apathy exactly, because I want to get going on things that I know matter, but it becomes a practical apathy because I cannot move towards anything that matters. And as I get less done I feel worse about myself.

Mistress Quickly: That describes my experience exactly: a practical apathy. I’ll feel painfully aware of what I’m lacking spiritually, but have absolutely no wherewithal to pray or do anything else likely to close the gap even a little bit. I’ll feel giant waves of caring for my kids, but be incapable of interrelating with them, and I’ll hide somewhere, and then feel worse.

Actually, the caring is more like fear and sadness. This is something I’m just beginning to figure out. When I’m stable I’ll get uneasy sometimes because I feel so apathetic by comparison to how I used to feel… what I forget is that the unwell version of caring is pathological, largely self-centered and driven by negative emotion.

I’m not sure I know what normal, healthy caring feels like. Seems like I’m either overfunctioning or underfunctioning, continuously. Same goes for productivity, spiritual engagement, and a whole bunch of other things. When very depressed I get to the point that I give up on everything, and in that sense I don’t care anymore, but I’m still aware of how much I should care about things that matter.

Viola: The more depressed I get the more apathetic I am. The first depressive episode this really shocked me. I didn’t care about church or God or my missionaries at the MTC (the horror!), my family, my friends, school, books, writing, TV. My normal loves. I just didn’t care.

Both episodes were preceded by pretty intense times of expectation and I think that breaks me. This is why I believe that a great part of my depression is not hormonal or chemical or physiological (however you want to describe that) but psychological. That my depression is ignited by how I see myself and the world. The first time my expectations of how I should be in relation to God, the Church, BYU, the MTC, what was right and what was wrong were so impossibly high that it made me hate myself. I felt guilty for everything, never good enough, never satisfied with the choices I’d made or the Spirit I’d felt or whatever. The self-loathing got to be so much that it turns to not caring. During the depths of the depression, I don’t feel anything, happy or sad.

The second time (I am considerably less churchy now) was couched in different kinds of expectations.  My husband and I were moving for his job, away from friends and family. It was pretty rural but I had in my mind that I was going to love it. Make good use of my time, find a job and volunteer work that I was really interested in, that I was going to make this move as much about me as it was about him. I didn’t do those things very well and I really struggled. Early on though, we found out that we would, at some unnamed future time, move to another work hub in a much larger city. And then the expectations really began to build. I could make do in this little town because once we moved to the city I could friends and work and a happy interesting life. City living (and I do love big cities) became my land of magical thinking and fantasized about it all the time. Then we moved and nothing fell into place. Everything was much harder than I thought and several things didn’t work out at all and then the self-loathing began.  It was intense, full-blown, angry, sad self-hatred.  I kept on hating and that turned to apathy because feeling all the anger and disappointment and sadness was too big a burden to bear.  I went to bed because when I was awake I would think of jumping out our 6th story window.  All this to say, I think my trajectory is care too much–hate self–apathy–time for bed depression.

When I did feel things it was either a huge sadness and/or unmanageable anger directed at my husband for moving us in the first place, for not finding us friends, for not understanding me. I think that was mostly anger at myself and my dashed expectations of how a spouse should understand you (we’re still relatively new to marriage, I’m still trying to erase the expectations of marital relationships built in my head from Rom-Coms and Young Women’s).

Mistress Quickly: When I’m well, I can look back and realize that my depressive episodes are as difficult for my husband as they are for me. But when I’m in the midst of them, I can’t see that–and even if I could, I wouldn’t care. There’s no room in my psyche to consider anyone else’s pain. I can tell that he wants to help me, but I don’t know how to help him help me, and don’t have the wherewithal to try to figure it out.

During my most recent episode things were really strained between us, because he could tell I was worse off than I’d ever been before, and he was scared. He would plead with me to be candid with him about my state of mind, but then when I was honest about how I felt he was very distressed. Now I can imagine how helpless and even desperate he felt, and I can’t for one minute believe that he should’ve reacted in any other way. But at the time I was frustrated. I needed someone who could absorb what I was sending out and not be shaken by it. I understand now that a therapist is usually the only person who can play this role.

But even with this tension, my husband was a huge support. He used vacation hours to be home with me during my worst times. He took me for drives and talked to me even when I couldn’t respond. He filled in the gaps with housework and child care as much as he could. He kept careful tabs on my behavior and asked me frequently (several times a day) to describe where I was at, emotionally and mentally. Often I resented him keeping such a close eye on me, but that’s what I needed, and it’s what he needed too. I wasn’t always honest about how badly I was doing, because I didn’t want to freak him out. But he helped me be self-aware during a critical time.

Viola: My husband, while very remarkably, lovingly non-judgy about my depression, does not understand it and withdraws a little bit because it is so massive and so heavy. The withdrawal mixed with my own expectations of what a spouse should be able to do (which are wrong, but they’re there nonetheless) make this disease really difficult on us as a couple. I have a lot of hope for us, mostly because my husband is ridiculously good, but in times of anxiety and negative thinking, I fear it will break us.

Beatrice: My husband wants to be supportive, but he doesn’t want to indulge my moods.  He couldn’t tolerate me staying in bed all day just because I was depressed, and I’m not saying he should, but the very idea that we might someday have a conversation where he says, “I’m worried about you, Beatrice, because you didn’t get out of bed all day,” is just preposterous because I would never get away with staying in bed all day.  He wouldn’t put up with it.

Clearly, my husband doesn’t have unreasonable expectations.  “Get out of bed and be a contributing member of society” is not an unreasonable expectation, and I know that it’s not.  I’m fully aware of what I ought to be doing and what I ought to be able to do.  Like I said before, guilt works very well as a motivator for me, but sooner or later the guilt isn’t enough, and these perfectly reasonable expectations feel completely overwhelming.  At that point I don’t know what to do for myself, and I don’t know how anyone else can help me.  If I tell my husband it would be really helpful if he took over some particular responsibility because I can’t handle it right now, he’s going to wonder how long that’s going to go on and if it’s really wise to go down that path in the first place.  He wants to be supportive, but he wants to help me in ways that help me help myself.  He wants to do things that contribute to the long-term goal of me being self-sufficient.  He doesn’t want to be picking up the slack indefinitely, and I don’t blame him.  At the same time, when I’ve hit my limit and can no longer just keep pushing through the pain as I’ve been doing, I can’t explain what’s happened and I don’t know how people can help me.  By this time I’m so keenly aware of my inability to meet basic expectations that it seems pointless to ask for help with anything.  If I knew what would help, I could probably manage to do it myself.

People around depressives expect them to get themselves together: our society has little room in it for moping. Spouses, parents, children, and friends are all subject to being brought down themselves, and they do not want to be close to measureless pain. No one can do anything but beg for help (if he can do even that) at the lowest depths of a major depression, but once the help is provided, it must also be accepted. We would all like Prozac to do it for us, but in my experience, Prozac doesn’t do it unless you help it along. Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don’t believe it. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it’s good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason. These fortune-cookie admonitions sound pat, but the surest way out of depression is to dislike it and not let yourself grow accustomed to it. Block out the terrible thoughts that invade your mind. . . .

Every morning and every night, I look at the pills in my hand: white, pink, red, turquoise. Sometimes they seem like writing in my hand, hieroglyphics saying that the future may be all right and that I owe it to myself to live on and see. I feel sometimes as though I’m swallowing my own funeral twice a day, since without these pills, I’d be long gone. I go to see my therapist once a week . . . In part, from the things this man said, I rebuilt myself enough to be able to keep swallowing my funeral instead of enacting it. A lot of talking was involved: I believe that words are strong, that they can overwhelm what we fear when fear seems more awful than life is good. I have turned, with an increasingly fine attention, to love. Love is the other way forward. They need to go together: by themselves pills are a weak poison, love a blunt knife, insight a rope that snaps under too much strain. With the lot of them, if you are lucky, you can save the tree from the vine.

***

Next in the series: Part III: Depression and Spirituality


Comments

  1. Why the quick cut-off for comments? I was hoping to continue the discussion with a thread for those of us who don’t have husbands and wives to be our sounding boards and buffers — those of us who are divorced/single and dealing with our children/families while trying to survive on a daily basis. Or did I misunderstand — was it only for permas today?

  2. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    The OP is merely a jumping-off point. As a group of nine there are a limited number of situations we can speak about from experience. Here in the comment thread is where we can explore a wide variety of situations. I invite you (along with any other reader who’s interested) to write a paragraph or two describing your circumstances, challenges, and/or concerns, and we can discuss them as a larger group.

  3. So sorry — I knew the minute that my comment appeared that I had screwed up (I’m trying hard not to say “again” since I am trying to be kinder to myself lately) in thinking that the post was closed. I have only lately begun to be brave enough to actually respond online after years of being one of those ubiquitous cyberspace lurkers. LOL!!

    Did you catch my undertone of whining? I’m trying hard not to do that as well, but I’m not successful very often, to be candid. My jaw freezes shut and my eyes glass over every time I hear someone in sacrament meeting talk about the days or weeks that they took care of their children alone so now they really know what it is like to be a single parent. HA! I silently brand them a know-nothing and retreat further into my silent brooding. Now there’s a mindset that really helps my depression!! LOL!!

  4. Hopeful Dad says:

    This has been enlightening. My son’s depressive episodes are usually marked by withdrawal from friends and family, isolating himself in solitary activities, and a huge aversion to discussing how he feels. I’m learning to be less judgmental, but still concerned about how to help.

    There also seems to be a connection to clutter and disorder in his physical environment, and I fear that his inner perception of himself only gets reinforced by living in a huge mess most of the time in his room. Apart from an apathy about starting most activities (like household chores) has there been for some of you while depressed a sense of actually liking or taking comfort in messy surroundings?

  5. anonymous for this one says:

    This is very interesting. Thanks.

    I don’t have depression, but I’m hoping that perhaps the discussion can touch on what we “normals” can do to help depressed people close to us. What can I do?

  6. Hopeful Dad,

    That’s a really interesting issue. For me, a major symptom of depression is an inability to concentrate, even on simple tasks. So my housekeeping (never all that great) tends to deteriorate, because I can’t keep focused long enough to get all the dishes washed instead of just one. Another major symptom is sheer exhaustion that makes even just walking across the room to put the laundry in the hamper seem like hiking a mountain. The mess definitely makes me more depressed, but I can’t even imagine where to start fixing it. It’s not comforting to me at all, but it does, I suppose, serve as a signal to people around me that I’m a mess inside.

  7. When I am depressed, I tend to think that I am the only person on this earth who has these horrible thoughts about myself. I feel horrible for feeling that way, and the guilt and shame just makes it all worse. Reading this has been very eye opening to me. Finally there are people out there speaking my language. You GET it. It isn’t just book knowledge, you really get it. You are all describing these things that I have a hard time putting into words. I can hardly say the word “depression” let alone articulate to others what it does to my ability to think rationally. Last night I thought I was doing pretty well, and then a little episode at a church activity threw me off and I left early and cried in my car as I drove around. I felt completely useless and invisible. I love the part that talks about how you feel you don’t matter and at the same time, you feel you matter so much that anything you do will have cosmic repercussions – that totally nailed it on the head. I am terrified of screwing up my children, but that terror and guilt only perpetuates the cycle. Thank you thank you for being willing to share. I have wanted to badly to talk to someone about this (besides my psychologist, or my husband who, while very caring and supportive just can’t fully understand it) and this is the perfect venue because people are being honest.

  8. The one big thing that started the healing process for me was that I realized the love I felt from my wife and kids.

    And yes, my darling was frustrated, exasperated, when I was incapacitated. Despite the anxiety that brought her, she could demonstrate what love can do.

    Really, that was a small step on a long journey, but any journey begins with a step.

  9. On second thought, for me a big part of healing was to realize the power of the Atonement. He suffered according to flesh in order to be able to support his people in their afflictions. He knows what we’re going through.

  10. Antonio Parr says:

    It is a sad truth that great pain often produces great art. I am genuinely sorry for the weight of depression that Kathryn has carried, but am so deeply moved by the eloquence and wisdom that flows from her account of her journey. Kathryn has effectively turned her personal burden into a blessing to others.

    Many thanks.

  11. anonymous for this one says:

    Following up on my comment #5, I’m particularly interested in approaches to situations where the possibly depressed person won’t seek help.

  12. Hopeful Dad (#4) – My husband always knows when my mental condition is deteriorating because I just let the house go completely. I don’t get any comfort from disordered surroundings–in fact, it’s just the opposite. I see it as a symbol of my life, which I have also messed up, and a constant reminder of how I’ve failed at the most basic things. It shouldn’t be that hard to do the dishes or sweep the floor, but when I’m depressed and try to do things but can’t seem to focus long enough on any one task to accomplish anything, I eventually start to feel like it’s hopeless and there’s no point bothering. At that point it’s no longer about the housework specifically but about life in general. Of course not doing anything makes the situation worse, but there comes a time when you can’t dig yourself out of something. Keeping yourself from falling into that trap requires constant vigilance.

  13. anonymous for this one:

    Both my spouse and one of my children battle depression. It’s a tough situation when they don’t want help, and unless they get to the point where their safety is in question there isn’t anything you can really do aside from talking, encouraging, and pleading. It’s a fine line between being present and protecting them, and being overbearing.

    This series is an interesting window into depression. As one on the outside, I can sense what is going on, but I don’t really know. On the other side, the writers here express their sense of the impact the depression has on those around them, but I don’t think they really understand, either. The constant worry, the breakdown of normal relationships, the extended loneliness, the additional work and care with no idea what the next day or week or month holds, the sleepless nights, the inventory of medicines and sharp instruments, the hospitals, the efforts to try to keep normalcy for the rest of the family… it goes on, and on, and on.

    I’m weary. Depression is not an illness that impacts only the sufferer. As they recede into their darkness, the shadows loom large on the rest of us.

    That said, I’ll admit that this isn’t the life I expected, but I never wish for an escape or a change. Those suffering who find themselves thinking that we would be better off without you, dismiss those thoughts at completely false. Yes, it hurts us. Yes, it is difficult. But the only change we hope for is a brighter day tomorrow, and you with us.

  14. My wife is bipolar, so I’m one of those spouses some of the time.

    I’m really enjoying this series, and I’m deeply grateful for you all laying bare such personal feelings. But I think this post falls short of being a really useful post. If we want to understand how depression affects family and friends, we need to ask the family and friends not the depressed people.

    The insights into your feelings are important and powerful, but they don’t give us any answers. I know intellectually that when my wife is depressed she doesn’t want to open up, doesn’t feel herself, doesn’t and can’t care though she deeply wants to (if that makes any sense), etc. And I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place – how do I help, what do I do? During those times I constantly fight resentment, caring, etc. even though I’m not the one that’s depressed.

    I’ll stop there for now, because to go any further I’d have to think through it all and try to write something coherent. But could we consider some kind of “guest post” to parallel this one in which loved ones (maybe not necessarily the corresponding loved ones) discuss what it’s like, and (most importantly) what we can do to help and nourish the relationship that is, just like you, being strangled by the vine of depression.

  15. #5 & #11

    When my husband had a major episode that started a month after our wedding, I ended up in counseling. He wouldn’t go, but I was desperate, so I went. I found a FANTASTIC counselor, and she helped me calm down, better understand him, and talk about little things that we might be able to do. It was incredibly helpful to talk with a professional about his specific situation, actions, and progress or lack thereof. I would highly recommend going to a counselor yourself if the person struggling with depression refuses.

  16. As mentioned in a previous thread, depression and anxiety go hand in hand with me. I too try to organize my way out of depression which increases the anxiety levels and eventually lead to debilitating can’t do anything depression. But along the way I do things like stop taking the bus because it makes me to anxious to deal with “marginal” people even though I was fine on that bus line a few months earlier with the same people.

    I also become very irritable and lash out, particularly at those who are close to me. Of course this strains my marriage although I have to say that my husband is pretty good about picking up the slack when I’m at my worst. It is too bad though that often he doesn’t realize how bad it has become (and I might, but am in denial) until there is a big bad blow-up fight. Because I know this about myself, I also try to avoid interacting with other extended family members when I’m at my worst; the isolation is a negative but at least I won’t lash out and do something unrepairable.

    I’ve also done irrational things in a depressed fog – as in I know I should care, but I’m so apathetic and/or tired of crying or having panic attacks that I let it go. I allowed a master’s thesis to go unfinished because there was some BS going on with my committee and I was panicked /tiredt. When I started thinking similar things in my PhD program (6 years later after I had just killed myself to finish up coursework with a newborn), I knew it was another sign that I needed help.

    Many of the OP’s mentioned the effect on mothering. For me, this was what got me on and SSRI. As parents, we had rationally chosen a certain type/style of parenting but I was unable to do that because I was irritable at my 10 month old. In order to not be angry at the 10 month old, I would plan our day around minimal interaction, doing things like if I can set up this series of toys, maybe he will allow me to watch from the couch. Totally crazy for a 10 month old. During the midst of that I read a book which I can’t remember the title now where it described how depression can affect children. I remember crying because I identified with the child (both my parents have depressive tendencies even if they are both in denial). And I knew I couldn’t be that mom to my new son. I made the appointment to go in and talk about SSRI’s the next day.

    One thing in this thread that wasn’t mentioned is the physical toll depression can take. Because I have an autoimmune thyroid disease, depression and anxiety literally leads to a physical body hurting so bad that I struggle to physically role out of bed. I can’t begin to say how many times I’ve rationalized why I need to participate in a day only to sit up and feel like I had crashed my bicycle the day before or something.

    I’ll leave the sex thing to the discussion of challenges of treatment.

  17. But I think this post falls short of being a really useful post. If we want to understand how depression affects family and friends, we need to ask the family and friends not the depressed people.

    Bingo.

  18. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    You’re right, Aksel. This post is written from only one side of the fence, because that’s the only side we’re standing on. I hope it’s helpful to readers who are in our shoes, but I can see why it’s unsatisfying for others.

    A post that addresses the issue from the other side of the fence would be wonderful. I can’t provide one myself at this time, but I’d be happy to consider submissions from readers like yourself.

    In any case, my invitation to friends and family members of depressed individuals is the same as my invitation to East Coast survivor: please take this opportunity to describe your circumstances and challenges in this thread. We can’t address your concerns until you tell us what they are.

  19. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Moe Jito, consider yourself asked!

  20. re 13 & 14

    As someone who has been on both the giving and receiving side of an immediate family member’s depression, I cannot let these posts pass without comments.

    I understand how difficult it is for you to be worried about your loved ones and how frustrating it is when it seems nothing is helping (or worse yet, they won’t allow you to help). And perhaps the conversation is one sided. But there is some value to understanding how the depressed sees it impacting their daily life and relationships.

    For instance, when I am falling into a depression, I know rationally and even emotionally that I’m hurting and burdening others. But the disease is such that I can’t act upon that and fix it. In fact, that knowledge actually usually induced self-loathing and eventual apathy even more. It also means that I greatly censor until I’m in so much pain and there is so much tension that it comes out in huge fights with my spouse.

  21. There are calls for family and friend stories, and I’m procrastinating real work, so I’ll tell mine.

    I found out about K’s depression a couple weeks after we started dating. It worried me. He’d left his mission early because of it, but was on medications and supposedly stable. I had a former roommate who was bipolar, and her fiance broke off their wedding because his family was afraid of her condition. I never saw anything unusual about her, so when I found about K’s depression, I resolved to be open minded. We seriously dated and were engaged for a total of a year, long by BYU standards, because I wanted to be confident about what I was getting into. He had a couple bad days, but never more than about two days before he’d pull himself out.

    About a month after we got married, he crashed. He refused to go to work. He refused to go to school. This went on for a couple weeks, and I was freaking out. How would we pay our bills on just my income? He missed a midterm, what if he failed all his classes? (He had done one semester before we met). Then, things got a little better for a couple days. I relaxed. Then he crashed again, and I crashed. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I made an appointment with a counselor (as described in #15), and she helped me. K gradually became functional again, and went back to work and passed his classes.

    Those weeks have been the hardest weeks of my life. Four years later, they still strike fear into my heart. Every time he would get stressed at school or now at work, I am petrified that he will crash again. Sometimes I feel like I need to baby him, and I resent that. I know that depression is a disease, but I often want to quote my Marine father and tell him to “suck it up and deal with it”.

    There have been tough times, but also good times. When he finished his BS, he went off the meds. That was about three years ago. Knowing that he has the degree and isn’t relying on the meds makes him happier. After he earned his MS he was unemployed for a few months, and that was tough. I was worried about him. But he pulled through. Now he’s done with school and has his dream job, but we’ve been living apart for eight months while I finish grad school and that is really starting to wear on him. He’s really busy at work right now and I am worried about him. I am always worried about him when things aren’t perfect. Always.

  22. My heart is breaking as I read this. So many familiar thoughts. So many sentences I could have written myself. I live in almost-constant fear and guilt, certain I’m ruining my children and crushing my husband. This thread finally gave me the courage to call the doctor. I have an appointment next week. And, somehow, I hope to be able to get the words out when I’m there. Is it strange to worry that he (okay, I worry that my husband thinks this too) might not believe me? One of my greatest conflicts in all of this is knowing that from the outside it looks like I have a great life. And I do. Apparently, I am just so pathetic that I can’t be happy, even though I should be.

  23. Moniker Challenged says:

    Thank you for the courage to discuss a topic terrifying to some and utterly alien to others. Honesty. Good stuff, that.

  24. Thanks Kathryn, I do want to emphasize that I appreciate this post and I do think that it is helpful. It’s simply incomplete, and you can’t be to blame for that. Especially now that you’ve thrown down the gauntlet. :-)

    I would like to write or participate in a parallel post. I don’t know that I have a lot of answers, but maybe I can ask the right kinds of questions. Maybe you can round up a handful of us and compose a post in the same format (I imagine you carry on some kind of email thread with the shakespearian participants?).

  25. Congratulations on the appt, Numb!!

    For just about all of us who participated in this, the emails sharing these stories sat for hours or days in the Drafts folder before we could get the courage to send them. (Then it was, oh dear, I wish email had an “unsend” button!) It is a relief to hear that our stories could help someone.

    I’m sorry to those who would like to hear the other side. I would too. Please jump in!

  26. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Numb, good for you!

    kew, THANK YOU for sharing your perspective. I get frustrated with my husband sometimes because he’s always worried that I’m getting depressed, or that I might get depressed at some point in the future. He’s had to remind me over and over how devastating my major episodes are for him, and how he can’t just bounce back when I’m feeling well as if nothing happened.

    He says having a depressed spouse is like living with a time bomb that could go off at any moment, destroying life as he knows it, whether temporarily or permanently.

  27. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Sure thing, Aksel. I can’t track down participants at this time, but if enough people contact me and volunteer I’d be happy to create a forum for discussion, privately as well as publicly in due time. Today’s post, like the first, is only an excerpt from a much longer and even more personal conversation we had via email (we used google groups). Anyone interested can email me: kathrynsoper at gmail.

    And just so y’all know, this kind of self-disclosure comes naturally to me because I’ve been writing publicly about uber-personal experiences for a few years. But as Desdemona pointed out, the other participants are really going out on a limb here, even under pseudonyms. It’s not easy to talk about these issues, even with trusted friends. It requires revisiting very painful times and places within yourself, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable in confiding those experiences. Basically, ripping your mind and heart open for everyone to see. It’s a big, big deal, and I thank those readers who have acknowledged this and expressed their appreciation.

    Also, fyi, my other group blog is hosting a series similar to this one beginning on Monday. The posts will be weekly throughout March. One of them will be written from the perspective of spouses of depressed individuals (although it’s an all-female group, so it’s one-sided that way).

  28. Kathryn- that analogy hits it perfectly.

    “living with a time bomb that could go off at any moment”

  29. Have any of you gone to couple’s therapy with the explicit purpose of understanding how to work through depression as a couple?

  30. I’m thinking in my own mind that I would like some ground rules to try and protect the marriage from the awfulness of the disease. We have some for when it gets really bad (he can and should make an apt with my care provider, etc), but sometimes I feel we need more help navigating the downward spiral.

  31. I know it’s bad when my 3 year old comes in the room and says, “I’m so happy to see you! Are you happy to see me?” I think it is a double whammy for Mormons who are depressed, and maybe further Mormon women, because there is such an expectation to be serving, working hard, and LOVING every minute of it! I work harder as a sahm who serves in a few different capacities in the church than I ever did when I worked. I also find having grown up in highly dysfunctional and non Mormon household, it’s an extra twist of complication because I feel I can anticipate some pretty horrible things that my friends who didn’t, can’t. Feeling and thinking differently isolates me, and I feel more alone. I see how I am dealing with things, sometimes frighteningly similar to how my own mother dealt with things, and hope my kids don’t see it or notice when mom would rather stay in bed watching TV than participate in FHE because it’s just too happy in there. And I pray that they don’t take after me and fear that they will. Yesterday we were talking to our 4th grader about some homework he should look over again (he’s already got impossible expectations for himself in his gifted curriculum), and what we called ‘not his best work’ he called ‘pathetic’ and something seared red hot in my chest.

    I love my husband who reads this website more than I — he said, “There’s an interesting series on BCC. I’m excited to read it with you.” And I found the idea of reading it “with” him so monumentally too much for me to handle. Reading these posts to myself exhausts me. You all are so brutally honest, more honest than I have ever been with my husband. I almost don’t want him to read these things because they’re too personal… about me. Like standing in front of the mirror in a dressing room with the unflattering fluorescent lighting without clothes on. This is a strange way to say thank you — but I am grateful for saying what I can’t, and probably will never, say myself. Thanks for standing in front of the mirror for everyone to see so I don’t have to. I am with you.

  32. anon for this subject says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you a hundred times over for helping me see that my experience of living with a depressed spouse is not an isolated event.

    Just knowing there are other husbands out there who struggle and have no way of understanding what their spouses are going through but slog through the days anyway makes the burden that much lighter.

  33. I think I can see from both side of the fence to some extent. I have struggled with severe depression on occasion and my husband is currently on anti depressant medications.

    When I was young my mom was severely depressed and didn’t recognized it… pr didn’t seek help. I don’t know which honestly. I just new she slept. a lot. And whenever we would get in the car she would konk out almost immediately. I thought it was odd, but wasn’t forever scarred by it.

    When I suffered with depression I just let everything around me go to pot. My house was a disaster. My husband helping with this was a huge relief even though it also make me feel guilty at the same time. I would try to pretend things were okay but would subtly say things like “why does a mom have to be so ill she is hospitalized to get any kind of help?” etc etc. making the issue about someone else, but in a non direct route asking for help at the same time. This was as direct as I could be when asking for help as a mom. I remember asking my husband what a mental breakdown looked like and what would happen if I had one while I was home alone with the kids.

    When I was in high school and suffering from depression it just took my mom being available to talk that helped me to get the help I needed. She would hug me as much as I would let her, and tell me that she loved me no matter what etc. No matter how I reacted she would continue with it. In the end I was able to open up to her and she was able to make an appointment for me with someone who could help… who also saw just about everyone else in the family, so he knew the family dynamics and the history of depression etc.

    When my husband is suffering from depression he just doesn’t care about anything. He’s not angry, he just couldn’t give a shit about the things he is supposed to be doing. Even if that includes keeping his job. I can’t make enough to support our family even if I went back to work and it is a big stress, but I know it is not within his control. I always have to make the doctors appointment for him and take him. Sometimes talking to the doctor myself about the things I see in him. While I try not to “babysit” him I do try to keep tabs on his temperament (as he does mine) because there are always signs to look for when depression starts to set in. If you can catch it early enough it is easier to get out of…. at least with us.

  34. Hopeful Dad says:

    Since others have asked, I’ll share some of my perspective as a parent. But first, I can’t tell you how helpful this all has been to hear from those who are or have suffered from depression. Our son went for several years, never letting us know how he felt and what was going on. Even now, he is still very reluctant or unable to discuss his depression with us.

    We went for several years, wondering why this bright kid was not doing well at school, seemed unable to complete assignments, and started avoiding his friends. We had seen a few instances where we knew as an underage teen, he was experimenting with alcohol, and had tried to head that off, but it wasn’t until a policeman showed up at our door with our son in tow, falling down drunk, that the story started to come out. He was trying to numb his feelings, and felt that it was successful, but he had no restraint when it came to drinking. We’ve never been able to successfully figure out where he was getting the alcohol.

    He’s since, as far as we can tell, and he will admit to us, not done any more drinking, because even he could see that it was not solving any problems, and he had become an alcoholic overnight.

    For us as parents, it is a constant strain worrying about him. It’s a weight that never goes away, and there is always the guilt as parents that we somehow are responsible for his condition. To a certain extent, perhaps, we are culpable for for not recognizing it, and saying things that have turned out to be incredibly hurtful.

    He has been on and off some medications, done some individual and group counseling, but we never know when he will fall into the pit again, and isolate himself. We end up either tiptoeing around trying not to exacerbate the problem, or doing the wrong thing by saying something or pushing him to do something he is just not ready or capable of doing. I generally am a pretty upbeat person, but it is harder on my wife, who with work and church responsibilities is already pretty busy.

    Our best hope is that when he has been at his worst, and has been feeling suicidal, that has scared him enough to come and tell us. He has anxieties that are aggravated by the depression, which also doesn’t help. When he is bad, he just wants to be alone, and left alone, which is very hard for my wife and I to do.

    I think more than anything else, it is not knowing what to say, and how to say it, that is hardest for us, along with agonizing over the obvious pain and despair he feels. We are always glad when he spends time with his good friends, but often he just can’t bring himself to call or to respond to them.

    He also has avoided talking to our bishop, which I can only assume has to do with some extensive guilt and feeling of unworthiness, even though we feel it would be helpful.

    There are two useful things we have learned. One, he can’t be pushed when his is in one of his depressed moods. Two, we absolutely celebrate the times when he will participate in family activities with us and his siblings. We hang on the good times, and try to endure the bad times based on the hope of more good times down the road. We just have no idea how long this will be, or what the final outcome will be.

  35. travelin' companion says:

    My wife struggles with depression and I appreciate everyone’s honesty. It brings perspective to our life together.

    If I didn’t know better, I would think I was Beatrice’s husband. I want to be supportive, or THINK I want to be supportive, but when it comes right down to it I always assume she will stand on her feet even on her darkest days and I go about my business. Sometimes I think my attitude is inspired; maybe it helps/motivates her to do so much good. But that is just insulting because now I am claiming her good works for myself, which is complete crap. She is wildly capable and indispensible to our family as wife, mother, and friend. I always assume she sees that obvious fact, but she does not, and I am much less attentive than I should be and less complementary than she needs and deserves. I find it difficult to know the best way to act, let alone muster the power to do it. It is tiring to be the buoy.

    As I was reading the original post, at one point, despite myself, I thought “Good grief, sounds like this person just can’t be pleased”. Of course, I was immediately ashamed of the thought, because I know better; I know that it’s not a simplistic matter of willpower or positive thinking. If I can fall so easily back into stupid thinking, I understand why the unfair stigma remains. We want to think there must be a clear way out.

    Unfortunately, I sometimes I feel the same way about my wife, wondering why she can’t just be happy when she has done everything possible to DESERVE happiness. She has lived a good life, made great decisions, and to know her is to love her. I think that is the hardest part of living with and loving someone who struggles with depression. You want them to enjoy the happiness they deserve and to believe you when you tell them they are great, but are powerless to make it a reality. Sometimes that is frustrating; more often it is just very sad not to be able to help the one you love most.

  36. I’m really grateful for this series. I’ve never had a chance to talk about my experiences with my own mother with anyone, and while it may be difficult for those who worry about the effect it has on their children, maybe it will be helpful.

    I grew up in a mostly stable home with parents that were trying naively to be the model Mormon unit. But they were not in love, and they chose to hide their myriad problems from us children rather than let on that horrible things were happening.

    Over the years my mother suffered from debilitating depression that at one point led her to lock herself in a hotel room contemplating suicide. I was in high school at the time and was the only person that she confided in about anything, and therefore was the only one to intervene. Now, some may judge my mother for placing that burden on me, but I’m actually grateful that I could be there for her.

    In the years since that incident, she found medication and therapy helpful, but once she was in a better place and had left my father, she insisted that her depression had been “situational” – and that she would be fine now that they were divorced and she was on her own. But her life has in many ways become very unstable since then, and I still worry. I am the only one of my siblings to know what went on in my parents’ marriage and I have to say I’m glad that I know – whereas my siblings have willfully chosen ignorance. Maybe it’s just me and it would have been too difficult for them to know the details. But for me and anyone with a similar desire for understanding, not knowing would have been unbearable. I knew so much just by guessing, and to be kept intentionally in the dark about my mother would have been devastating. Each child I’m sure is different.

    I have to say, though, that my view of my mother and talking about it with her in the years since I’ve started my own family, has really colored my view of depression in general. She is still adamant in her insistence that if bad things hadn’t happened, she wouldn’t have become depressed. And I believe that, but I wonder if it is dangerous to believe that so willingly? I have had moments in my own life since having children that have left me baffled (Mistress Quickly’s description of “practical apathy” and her feelings toward her children describes a feeling that I have had but that I would never have related to depression of any kind). So I guess the “like mother like daughter” fear still haunts me, even when I don’t feel like I have any reason to ever be depressed. This whole discussion has been eye-opening for me – especially as I take a very *non-medical/ non-tradtional* approach to health related issues in my own life.

  37. I don’t know how interested I would be, or helpful, really, participating in a roundtable. As I said before, I’m weary, and being in the middle of it doesn’t provide for a lot of perspective.

    I echo the sense of walking on glass, of a time bomb that could explode at any time with unknown force. Even commenting on the impact in this forum I am cognizant that my words will be read by those suffering from depression, and that acknowledging the severity of that impact could enhance the guilt and self-loathing. The fact that I feel guarded on an anonymous forum with strangers for fear of adding to their suffering probably speaks volumes about what it is like to be a spouse of someone depressed.

    The suggestion to seek out a counselor sounds like a good one. I did not, and have not, and I probably would have benefited from it. My experience has been one of absorbing, internalizing, and trying my best not to exacerbate. Probably not the recommended course for a healthy life.

  38. OK, so I’ll admit it — I’m jealous of those of you who have spouses to lean on when the worst days and nights and weeks and months come. Even if it doesn’t seem to help — you have someone there in an emergency, at least. It has been horribly difficult to struggle through these past 20 years of major depression which developed with my divorce/gay issues/children’s dysfunctional behavior/financial ruin/two HIV false positives. The loneliness that I have felt from the depression has been exacerbated mightily be literally being alone. That has probably been my most difficult challenge — being alone in so many ways (especially being a single parent — single LDS parent to boot — while everyone else in my ward is living happily ever after!! LOL!!) when I really loved being married and being part of a normal family (I thought) after a difficult childhood. HA HA — but wasn’t I fooled, being married to a man who came out of the closet for his midlife crisis. And I was clueless, which only made me feel more worthless and abandoned. This loneliness has been my constant companion, as hard as I have tried over the years to branch out in other appropriate ways.

    I too worry about my girls and grandchildren. Several are on medication for depression as well now. And I have had several flare-outs, when the medication I was on for several years didn’t work any more. So I would crash for months while my doctor tried a new med or a cocktail of meds. As I mentioned previously, I am now on Cymbalta and have been for several years and feel like the worst symptoms are really under control at last. The glass is always half empty to me, but at least I can see the glass on the table.

    I don’t have any spouse stories to tell (just sayin’), but I do remember working with my amazing stake president several years ago (my bishops weren’t all that supportive, but I did have three amazing stake presidents over those years who really became my priesthood stand-ins) when I really needed regular and BASIC spiritual babysitting, and he met with me regularly (as did the other two) for years. He tried to be helpful, and when I would describe how I felt like I was at the bottom of the deep, dark,dank, horrible well with no ladder or rope, he would say things like, let me buy a new ladder, or let me throw the rope down for you. He really wanted to be a flashlight to shine down into the well until things got better for me so that I would know I was never alone. Sweet, but ineffective. Then I took more time and care in describing my hollow feelings to him — I told him that I felt like I was in a total snow blizzard, a true white-out, and no matter how much he shined his flashlight, I couldn’t see it. Could. never. see. it. This was really an AHA!! moment for him. I have tried ever since to be more succinct in my conversations with those who are willing to listen. My therapist at that time also had me memorize 30-second answers, 1-minute answers, 5-minutes answers, etc. according to the ability/interest of my listener, so that I could rattle off appropriate responses and not feel demented later.

    Thanks again for opening up this post!!

  39. Reed Soper says:

    Often when my wife experiences depression, the symptoms seem to begin and end rather abruptly. That may be bcause I don’t realize there are symptoms until they are quite pronounced. But often the episodes end like some invisible switch has been flipped. I know that the switch flip brings her great comfort and relief but for me, it is like the proverbial 800 lb gorilla has been in the room for a while. The gorilla came in with her, hung out with her primarily, but he was in our room. Then he leaves and she feels better. Even though he may have left, I am still a little freaked out about the gorilla being in our room. Plus there is a lot of gorilla crap that needs cleaning up.

  40. I’ve had some depression/anxiety issues. I remember taking my daughter to get her ears pierced and then we had a treat or something at the mall. Driving home I realized that I was incapable of enjoying an outing with my 10 year old daughter (that should be fun) because I was so worried that the piercings might not be 100% even so I was agonizing about whether I needed to do something about it because it was all up to me and what if she had uneven ears for the rest of her life because I hadn’t fixed it (like I said, anxiety). It took all I had to try to smile and act normal for my daughter’s sake and not let on that I was so worried. My baby #4 was 3 months at this time so after that I had to go ahead and go on medication because it just wasn’t fair to my kids.
    I’ve made peace with my mother guilt (mostly) because of the Atonement.
    I can’t help, however, sometimes thinking back to my post-partum time after baby #2 and wonder how much damage I did, especially because one has a learning disability.
    This post really is about how we feel about what we’ve done to our families or relationships.
    Kathryn, I just read your book and although none of my babies were in the NICU you captured perfectly the feeling I always thing of when I think of being a mom to an infant. Is it just PPD that you captured, or is in more generalized to the new motherhood experience I wonder. I can’t separate them from each other.

  41. I’ve had a thyroid disease for years. Besides anxiety, the list of symptoms includes “irritability.” My doctor periodically asks about symptoms and I laugh and wonder how do I answer? How am I supposed to know if I’m irritated because of my thyroid disease or if its just that my husband and kids are really irritating?

  42. StillConfused says:

    One of the things I notice when reading about people’s depressive episodes is how self-focused they are. Is that a symptom or a cause?

  43. That’s not really a question, is it, StillConfused? Go ahead and say what you want to imply. I think if you actually say it straight out, you’ll recognize that it’s obnoxious.

  44. When I began to come out of the fog of depression I realized how very much I needed people. To be around them, to hear them, to speak to them, to be touched, to be a part of the web. My assumption that I was an introvert was wrong, the depression was introverted. It took reaching out past it to find the real me in society.

    Something that contributed to my depression (the list is incalculable really) is not talking to my husband about the scary things in my head. I loved him so much I didn’t want to tell him the ugly things lurking there. At my 3rd or 4th therapy appointment my therapist made me promise that I would tell my husband how I felt, suicidal thoughts and all. The only way I could do it was to wake him up in the middle of the night, keep the room dark, turn my back to him and ramble on. I still don’t know what he thinks about that night.

    Later he accompanied me to a therapy session and with the therapist’s help I told him more, things that had come out during therapy. I felt so happy and free after that appointment, I wanted to go out to lunch. He was completely shut down. I couldn’t understand why, I was so clueless.

    Through it all he didn’t leave me – that is one of the best things he’s ever done for me. I’ll stand by his side forever because he stood by mine during that horrible dark time. It didn’t take many words from him, it was more of just being a constant, peaceful, strong presence and not adding to my guilt. I had enough guilt for the entire city.

  45. Nicole (20), There is absolutely value in hearing how the depressed sees it. In fact, one of the things we struggle with the most is that she is reluctant to share her perspective, I am reluctant to rock the boat and try to pry it out of her, and eventually we reach a moment of crisis and find ourselves at an impasse: she doesn’t feel understood and I feel utterly in the dark and powerless.

    If I could give any advice it would be to talk about your feelings and experience with your loved ones, at least your spouse. They may be dark, scary, horrible, ugly feelings, but they are real and hearing them is so much better for us than trying to guess at them. Probably better for you too, though I don’t really know.

    We’ve been working on trying to discuss things earlier. She is pretty good at hiding mild depression even from me, and I suspect most are. But that does nobody any good, because of the inevitable blowup as you mentioned. In the most recent and frightening case for me, it ended up in my wife going from normal-as-far-as-I-could-tell to fully psychotic within 24 hours, and me juggling her in the hospital, 3 kids including a newborn, and a new job with no accumulated time off. And I thought we were doing pretty good with communication.

    So much more to say, and I fear you’ll all be long gone by the time I get it said, but I’ll keep slowly chipping away at responding to comments and thoughts I have.

  46. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    I’ve been watching these amazing comments come in and feeling so grateful to each of you for sharing your experiences and insights and questions.

    Except for #42.

  47. #43 – Kristine. It may sound obnoxious to say depressed people are self-absorbed, but I think it’s one of the things that can seem true, at least from the outside looking in. Speaking as the spouse of someone with depression (fortunately in a lighter stage for the last few years b/c we moved for a slower pace of life and less stressful job), but depression seems like a very selfish disease. Not that anyone would wish it upon themselves or anyone else, but that while someone with depression is feeling incredible despair and hopelessness and worthlessness, the “healthy” spouse is left to carry much of the load and care for the spouse, house, children, etc. At times you want to say, “if you feel so worthless, do something about it. You hate being a sludge, but you don’t get up and do anything.”
    On the other hand, as the spouse, you have to figure out/learn that depression can be just as debilitating as any physical illness. For me, reading Solomon (Noonday Demon), helped me to realize that someone with depression can be just as physically imobilized as someone who is paralyzed. Acknowledging and accepting your spouse’s limitations can help depression seem not so selfish. I, for one, would much rather be the healthy spouse when dealing with depression.
    As for ways to deal, accept and invite, but never expect. Make plans to go to the park with your kids or wherever, invite your depressed spouse, but if they decline let them know that it’s okay and then go on the planned outing. If you put your life on hold waiting for them (especially if you have kids), then they feel guilt for ruining your day and you end up sitting at home resenting them for ruining your day.
    On the other hand, letting a depressed person “hole up in their cave” all day is not helpful either. They need some space, but I talk about my day, the kids run in for hugs and such. He’s never without physical and emotional contact for long periods of time.

  48. JES–Of course it looks that way from the outside, and the way you’ve just said it is honest and helpful. The way StillConfused said it was neither.

  49. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    JES, depression absolutely causes self-absorption. I doubt any one of us would argue that. Any human being in pronounced pain is going to have a hard time paying attention to anything else.

    Selfishness is not a word that sits well with me because it implies that the depressed person is unwell because she wants to be. I totally understand why depression seems selfish. That’s why conversations like these are so important. I hope it’s clear from the many testimonials shared here that nobody with serious depression is having a good time, and nobody in their right mind would purposefully cause or prolong such suffering.

    It sounds like you’re managing a difficult situation admirably. I respect the dismay you describe, and I appreciate the realizations you’ve shared. The pain suffered by depressives and their loved ones is equally real and unwanted.

  50. MikeInWeHo says:

    I agree with Kathryn. Describing depression as a “very selfish disease” implies moral judgment of the depressed individual. It also bespeaks a serious misunderstanding of what clinical depression is really about. By that token, why not say “Comas are a very selfish condition” or “Dying of cancer is a very selfish thing to do.” Same difference.

  51. This post brings to the surface the terror I feel at the thought of having a family. When people start getting nosy about how I need to get married (because I’m so in danger of becoming an old maid at the ripe old age of 21, you know), it’s easy to dismiss them with faux-feminist claims that I’m just fine.

    It’s not easy to admit that I’m actually horrified at the thought of expecting a man to commit to spending eternity with the mess that is me. Not to mention the seeming inevitability of screwing up my hypothetical future children.

    I admire the spouses/parents/children mentioned or posting here that are so supportive. I guess i just need to learn to accept the same possibility for myself.

  52. Milly, The understanding and love I’ve received from my husband that I mentioned earlier helps me comprehend the atonement better. He did something for me that I couldn’t do for myself but needed it to live. It is possible for you to find, don’t give up.

  53. StillConfused says:

    “depression absolutely causes self-absorption” I don’t really like self-absorbed because I think it has negative connotations. That is why I used the term self focused. It sounds like depression comes first and self focus comes second (much like hitting your finger with a hammer comes first and pain come second). I was curious as to whether being self focused exacerbates the condition, improves it, or is neutral.

  54. StillConfused-
    “Self-focus” is a symptom. Your question is like asking, “So, does a sore throat exacerbate strep throat? improve it? or is it neutral?”

  55. People in pain tend to focus on that pain. And yet, we don’t accuse people with broken legs of being “self-focused” or “self-absorbed” for discussing the nature and severity of their pain–we tend to treat that as useful information about their condition and respond sympathetically. Indeed, if we see someone with a cast on their leg, we’re likely to ask what happened, and how s/he’s doing, and whether it still hurts, etc. We _invite_ them to describe their injured state. The pain of depression need not be regarded differently. Of course, at some point we will tell the person with the broken leg that s/he needs to do some physical therapy to get completely better. But not in the acute phase of pain and disability.

  56. Also, StillConfused, it seems to me that most of the writers above are describing feeling sad/bad/guilty about the effect of their depression _on other people_. How exactly is that “self-focused?”

  57. People who experience “normal” periodic depressing feelings may have identified selfishness as a cause in their own cases. Therefore, they may wonder if selfishness is a cause or a symptom of clinical depression as well. It doesn’t necessarily imply judgment.

  58. That said, I think the question’s already been answered.

  59. anon in this case says:

    I’ve been married a long time to a man with recurrent severe depression (bipolar II), who has had very good treatment for about half that time.

    Sorry this is vague, but I don’t want to be identified, and I have the same feeling mentioned above, of being afraid to somehow offend the depressed posters above when I say the way that depression has effected the family.

    The biggest problem for our family during severe depressive episode is the fear that job loss or suicide is eminent. I spend time double-checking his insurance policy, the bank accounts, the help-wanted ads.

    The next biggest problem is having to pick up all the slack at home. To do twice the housework, twice the parenting, twice the responsibility all around because the 2nd parent is incapacitated.

    I understand it’s miserable to cry in bed all day. I wouldn’t want to be in that place. But no way do I want my children seeing it and forming memories of dad crying in bed all day. so our whole schedule must be shifted to hide it form them. i have to plan endless day trips and errands.

    There is also the serious issue of parenting during depression. Irritibility and anger and poor judgment can become rage at home. We have had too many troubling situations – yelling at kids who don’t deserve it, over-punishing or over-reacting, scaring them on purpose, getting rough or up in their faces, etc. So while I see and understand that this is “the depression talking” and “not what he’s really like” I also have drawn a line here, that I can leave if I see this again, and he knows it. I’d go so far as to say he supports that, because he is well-medicated and well-functioning now and he agrees that if he was acting that way again he’d want his kids safe from any scaring experiences.

    Lastly, it makes me question my own baggage of why I found a spouse who is troubled in the same way my mother had been.

  60. anon, I don’t think anyone would be offended by that–when they’re well, depressed people recognize the burden placed on their families by their illness. It seems to me that one honors the wisdom and capacity of the whole person by discussing those feelings with them when they’re not debilitated. It turns out, of course, that they’re probably beating themselves up far more harshly than you would want to even at your angriest moments, and it can be a relief to hear the honest expression of genuine anger instead of the carefully sanitized version that people think a sick person can handle.

    (And I’m saying “you” in the generic sense here, not specifically _you_, anon for this case)

  61. This was both helpful and frightening to read. Helpful because I identify exactly with some of the feelings expressed. Particularly that I didn’t realize the effect any of it was having on my family in the midst of it. It wasn’t until I started feeling better that I started considering my husband, and even more recent that I started considering my kids. I felt like I was just trying to survive. Reading this is frightening because I realize how “mild” my depression has been and how much worse it can get if I can’t get it under control.

    I knew a woman who has been suffering from extreme depression for a very long time. I met her family about 5 years ago. Her husband was a Saint. I could not believe all the things she put him through and how he patiently endured. But, they recently divorced, and her children are glad because life is too hard with her around. That scares the hell out of me.

  62. #59

    You touched on some of the more stressful aspects of parenting during these times. The over-reactions, the irrational punishments, shielding the children. Fortunately I have not had to protect them from rage or physical harm, but I do spend a lot of time placing myself between them and their mother, trying to gently referee and keep some semblance of consistency and reliability.

    There’s another medication that is both a blessing and a curse – ambien. A blessing that it helps the sufferer, but it’s such a powerful medicine that it becomes almost embarrassing when someone is on it just before bed time. It’s as if we live with an alcoholic, and the kids see it. To compound the issue, such medications have side effects that can, in some cases, cause sleep walking. So, while this particular medication helps to break the depression/insomnia link, it is yet another reason for the spouse to spend sleepless nights.

  63. #60

    I hear you (read you?). I wish I could internalize it.

  64. Rick in Depressionville says:

    I don’t know if these will work for anyone else, but two things helped me. When generalized anxiety struck, the mantra “I have experienced this feeling before, I survived it and will again”.
    After I read accounts of those who attempted it and were given a second chance, I realized that suicide is THE big lie. It is a completely futile act, does NOT relieve the pain and instead magnifies and multiplies it. One escapes from nothing, except the ability to solve the problems that drive and deceive one to do it. More importantly, as previously described by others, the ramifications reverberate throughout one’s sphere of influence to inflict uncalculable pain on innocents, which one then has to witness in perfect detail. If one understands that suicide is not the answer or a pain relieving option, they realize that some kind of coping strategy is the only real answer to depression.

  65. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    jks, thanks for reading. The depression episode I wrote about in the memoir was the worst I’d had at that point–I’m not sure whether to call it PPD, since I’ve also had episodes unconnected to childbirth, but it was frightening. Unfortunately I had a worse episode last year, and sometimes I can’t help but wonder what will happen the next time around, since it’s typical for episodes to increase in severity and frequency over time. A time bomb, indeed.

    btw, it was kinda weird reading your comment this afternoon because I’d just walked in the door from taking my 11-year-old to get her ears pierced.

  66. I feel like I’m a little late to the comments here, but as a depressed gal who worries and worries over the effect it will have on my kids and husband, I’ve found that being honest with them about what’s going on helps.

    I tell my kids that there are days that my feelings get out of control or that my mind is hurting and I need a break. They know mommy has a “feelings doctor” who helps out when “the feelings get stuck.” They also know I have another doctor who is in charge of the special feelings medicine that I have to take sometimes. I hope that I am being honest with them and that my willingness to answer their questions in an age appropriate way will help them deal with my bad days a little better.

    I also make a huge effort to make clear to them that it is my problem and I am responsible for it. Not them. I apologize for things that have hurt them and make honest efforts to listen when they want to complain about it. Then, if I need to, I go vent to my therapist about it.

    I’m hoping that being open with them about it will not only increase their understanding but help guard them against similar troubles in their lives. I also hope I’m paving the way for them to ask for help if/when they need it.

    I don’t talk about what my depression does to my spouse because, well, he’s a private person and might not appreciate it. And because I’m not really sure. I know the ups and downs scare him. I know they frustrate him. But, over time and through a great deal of trial and error, we are teaching each other what is and isn’t helpful. There’s never a clear path . . .

    Depression is hard on the depressed person and on the people who surround them. But (and this a point I really had to work hard to understand) just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just means that it’s hard. And sometimes that’s okay.

  67. A friendly acquaintance of mine had been missing for a week and his body was just discovered hours ago. He was killed by depression, suicide was the symptom.

    Please everyone take care of yourselves.

  68. The imagery of a vine choking a mighty oak rings true for me. I am a mighty oak, but I have the great fortune to have married an excellent gardener. Without Marty, I too would long ago have suffocated from the tendrils of life.

    I am good at solving acute problems, going on crash diets, pulling all nighters, rescuing Timmy from that well. I am terrible at chronic debilitations, maintaining a healthy weight, willing myself to sleep when stress nags at me (as the constant threat of layoff is doing to me right now!), and yes, doing the daily maintenance keeping that well covered so Timmy doesn’t fall in in the first place.

    I am not hardwired for the long haul. I think that is the payment for being self-aware, of needing a purpose (which I not blessed with the continuing gift of faith must constantly reinvent for myself). Spiders have no trouble remaking a web over and over, yet sometimes I cannot bring myself to make the bed one more time. Marty takes refuge in my strength and delight in my caprice, and I take respite in his steadfastness and comfort in his arms.

    Depression is a cause, not an effect. My strategy in minimizing bouts of depression is to have as partner someone with complementary strengths and weaknesses. For Marty I will move heaven and earth, yet it is he who does my chores without complaint when I can’t seem to face them. When depression looms like a storm cloud, I remember how lucky I am to have married someone with a resilient and wide umbrella. So long as he is there, I stay dry. So long as I am there, lightning dare not strike.

    What God or the Supreme Court of California hath wrought, let no man set asunder. Or there’ll be hell to pay from me.

  69. Nicole @29,

    About couple therapy: The best thing, as far as treatments go, that happened to me. It was the best that the medical community had to offer. There, again, thanks to my wife, who was willing to be patient with me. We both had opportunity to let go of some stuff.

    Sometimes something you’ve felt strongly about seems silly when you try to explain it to someone, and then you start really thinking, and that can change your attitude. And in recovery from depression, every little thing helps.

  70. According to many studies, the immediate family of a depressed person tend to fall victim to it, too. They’re apparently trying to figure out if it’s a genetic tendency or a relationship thing.

    I’d vote for the relationship thing. When I’m depressed, my relationship skills are pretty much zero.

  71. oh reese..I’m so sorry

  72. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    As am I, Reese. What a tragedy.

    Dan, that was a beautiful tribute to your partner. God bless you both.

  73. “Self-focus” is a symptom. Your question is like asking, “So, does a sore throat exacerbate strep throat? improve it? or is it neutral?”

    Amen.

    The biggest problem for our family during severe depressive episode is the fear that job loss or suicide is eminent. I spend time double-checking his insurance policy, the bank accounts, the help-wanted ads.

    One might also consider the inclination of many affected single individuals to avoid marriage out of the very desire to avoid putting someone else through stuff like this. Although if I were to guess the real risk of suicide is a footnote compared to all the other problems associated with severe depressive disorders – at least ones that are being treated.

    Job loss or under-employment is probably the big one, closely followed by the strains caused by emotional withdrawal, the inability to have “fun” and the like. Some affected individuals make extraordinarily bad financial decisions as well.

  74. Depression is a cause, not an effect

    I don’t think that is entirely accurate. Depressive disorders have causes. They just tend to be mistaken, unknown, or not well understood.

  75. MikeInWeHo says:

    I agree with Mark D. “depression is a cause, not an effect” greatly oversimplifies the situation and misses half the point.

    Our thoughts, feelings, and actions are reciprocal. In fact, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is based on the idea of depression as effect AND cause. (Stay tuned….more from me on that later!)

    I’m glad your marriage helps you so much, Dan, but have to admit it always concerns me to see someone base their mental health so completely on another person. What if, God forbid, something happened to Marty?

  76. MikeInWeHo, I know what would happen, because it happened before. My partner of 8 1/2 years died in 1998. Part of me died with him. The rest moved on and found Marty several two years later.

    The promise of rebirth does not save us from the agony of death. But we rise again.

  77. I am just reading through all of this and getting caught up. It’s GREAT to hear the different perspectives. Kew, Hopeful Dad, etc. Reed’s analogy of the Gorilla is perfect.

    I know my wife worrys about me. I worry about her worrying about me. She’s been so patient and loving and forgiving, it’s great. But I am sad when I think about the fact that she has to live with this trouble too. She didn’t know what she was getting in to when she married me. I didn’t know either. Would she have married me if she knew? I don’t want to know the answer to that.

    I am not so afraid of the depression getting bad again for me. I dread it because of what it would mean for my wife and kids – and even my parents. I started taking Bupropion again because Spring/Summer is a bad time for me and I just want to have my bases covered.

    Again, I am thankful for the participation by everyone.

  78. Peter Kramer (Talking Back to Prozac) wrote a really interesting little book called _Should You Leave_ in which he forthrightly and (I think) very wisely talks about the difficulties and satisfactions of being in a relationship with a person with depression. Worth a read in this context.

  79. “Would she have married me if she knew? I don’t want to know the answer to that.”

    Brother Matsby, while I can’t speak for your wife, I can speak for me.

    My wife’s depression first reared its ugly head while we were dating. It was undiagnosed at the time, but it definitely had a toll on our relationship. We were on-again off-again for a year, sometimes engaged, sometimes completely separated. Because things didn’t “feel right” or other nebulous reasons. It was a very difficult time for us, especially not knowing that it was some external cause.

    In retrospect, if I had known it was mental illness when it first started yanking our chains, I would have walked away. I was tempted to anyway (during one of our “time apart” periods). Nobody would have blamed me, not even me. But, I was so miserable and colloquially depressed not to be around her, that I kept coming back for more.

    Eventually she swung from depression to mania, and in the calm before the manic storm we got back together again and got engaged again. By now I loved her so much that when she went psychotic and was diagnosed with bipolar I didn’t think twice about sticking by her side. It was actually a relief to realize that the depressive period was caused by the disorder. That realization strengthened my love and resolve, even though logically it might ought to have rung warning bells.

    So the answer to that question for me is, yes I would marry her again even knowing what I know now about how it would affect her, me, and us (which is quite a bit more than I knew when we actually got married). But, being honest, I probably wouldn’t date her and fall in love with her in the first place if I could know what it would mean without actually knowing how much I love her—if that makes any sense.

    If you had asked me before we started dating or shortly after we started, would you like to marry this girl with bipolar or some other girl without it, and either way you’ll have a wonderful loving relationship, then duh. But once you love someone that’s no longer the question.

    So if you’re single and have depression (or bipolar or whatever), should you tell your boyfriend/girlfriend about it? I think obviously the answer is yes, at least sometime before you get married, just as you would tell someone about cancer in remission, diabetes, or chronic knee problems. The question is when? Not at the beginning, I don’t think. Give them a chance to love you. You’re worth loving, in spite of the depression. That’s doubly true if you’re already loved by a husband or wife.

  80. I appreciate hearing all the comments from people who are spouses, family members, etc of someone who struggles with depression. It gives me insight to how my family may be feeling – especially my husband. He is very supportive, but there are times when I can tell he is feeling tentative. He has the look of “do I say _____, or not? Do I need to be careful” I don’t want him walking on eggshells around me – I don’t want to be scary to him or my children. In reading this, it has helped me to open up some dialogue between the two of us and I feel like I have a better understanding of where he is coming from too. I should know – I grew up with a depressed father, but being a kid vs being a spouse have different effects. I know it has been said many times already, but I can’t thank you all enough for sharing. It has really been a blessing to me.

  81. “Give them a chance to love you. You’re worth loving, in spite of the depression”
    Thank you Aksel, for those words too. I think we tend to forget that they want to (and do) love us too.

  82. travelin' companion says:

    “Would she have married me if she knew? I don’t want to know the answer to that.”

    My resounding, no-brainer answer is yes. Our dating period could get volatile sometimes. I’m not sure I understood why at the time, but figured it had something to do with her generally dysfunctional familiy background (I have grown up since then; some of it had to do with mine!). As I watched her struggle, one of the things I was (and am) most impressed with was that she was always doggedly determined to make her life a success in the face of it all, and she has.

    Life might get rocky sometimes, but life would not be life without her. Although I don’t suffer from depression, I give her fits for plenty of other reasons. Perhaps we are all “justified” in walking away for this reason or that, but it seems that those suffering from depression feel that what they put their spouse through is worse. People who suffer from other physical ailments, workaholism, bad breath, etc. are probably less likely to wonder if their spouse should stick with them. I don’t know how to fix that; just trust your spouse when they say they love you!

  83. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    When Reed and I got engaged I was smack in the middle of my first breakdown. In fact, the minute I said yes I started crying (not the happy kind) and didn’t stop for the rest of the evening. We were up most of the night after the bridal shower, with me pacing and weeping in my parents’ basement.

    I’m still not sure why he opted to marry a psycho chick. But he knew what I was when he picked me up, in a potentially permanent sense. Maybe by that time I’d thoroughly ensnared him with my feminine wiles.

  84. I enjoy the series on depression but am hoping to see a follow-up on feminine wiles.

  85. Maybe this question is totally inappropriate, but I have to ask – Reese, are you talking about Andrew Koenig? Such a sad story, and one that perfectly matches what you wrote…

  86. I was actually, anon. It’s so heartbreaking. I met him in November through the podcast he worked on. It goes to show how insidious this disease is. He was a man who had such a strong support network around him, and the disease was able to blind him to that fact.

    His parents are heroes for using this time to speak out about depression and urge others to get help.

  87. Hopeful Dad says:

    BTW, did anyone see the January Ensign? Under the heading of “Conference Classics” or something like that, was an edited version of a talk given by Pres. Packer about emotional self reliance. Here are a couple of quotes:

    “We seem to be developing an epidemic of “counselitis” which drains spiritual strength from the Church much like the common cold drains more strength out of humanity than any other disease. …

    Speaking figuratively, many a bishop keeps on the corner of his desk a large stack of order forms for emotional relief.
    When someone comes with a problem, the bishop, unfortunately, without a question, passes them out, without stopping to think what he is doing to his people. …

    … Fathers are responsible to preside over their families.
    Sometimes, with all good intentions, we require so much of both the children and the father that he is not able to do so.

    If my boy needs counseling, bishop, it should be my responsibility first, and yours second. If my boy needs recreation, bishop, I should provide it first, and you second. If my boy needs correction, that should be my responsibility first, and yours second. If I am failing as a father, help me first, and my children second.”

    And then this one:

    “It was meant to be that life would be a challenge. To suffer some anxiety, some depression, some disappointment, even some failure is normal. Teach our members that if they have a good, miserable day once in a while, or several in a row, to stand steady and face them. Things will straighten out.”

    Needless to say, my wife and I were very upset upon reading this. I went back to Pres. Packer’s original conference address from 1978, and discovered, while it is vintage Packer, it is not nearly as harsh as the January Ensign excerpt. In fact, it is one of the worst editing jobs I have ever read, and I felt seriously misrepresented what President Packer was trying to say in his original talk. I fear that this article only accentuates the feeling of some in the church that depression just needs to be shrugged off, and that counseling and therapy should be avoided at all costs.

    My point in bringing this up is not to hold up Pres. Packer as a lightning rod; that has happened all too often. I do, however, take issue with taking many of his comments out of context, and portraying a very negative and unhelpful message regarding depression and other emotional problems, from a talk that is now over 30 years old. We have not shown this article to our son. I’ve been too upset to respond rationally to the Ensign editors, but perhaps can do it now that I have participated here, and heard so many of your stories.

  88. Hopeful Dad says:

    I should have included the date of the original conference address as being in 1978. Emotion trumped clarity. sorry.

  89. Mommie Dearest says:

    I’ve been trying to read this all and felt resistant. I don’t know why am I not able to stay focused. I would type notes as I read, and I have the longest rambling mess. Lemme edit.

    Self absorption may be a symptom of depression, I promise it is NOT a cause of, and I think perhaps it’s just a result of being depressed. It’s one of the myriad burdens that we’d all like to go away. I am not by nature a very selfish person. Well, no more than ordinary. I enjoy learning about other people and figuring out how to help them if I can, but when I am depressed I just can’t muster the energy to do that very much.

    I have never (so far) had really strong suicidal thoughts, I have made do with your garden variety self-loathing and some of the milder self-harm behaviors. I’ve never been a cutter, but boy did I identify with that mindset when I first heard of it. Good thing I was old enough to resist that. When I would think about how much I wanted the misery to be over and the temptation of suicide would appear, I always reacted against it strongly because I would never ever put that burden on my children and family. And I realized, #64, that it was The Big Lie that wouldn’t save me and would hurt my family unimaginably, which is something that is so very repellent to me.

    When my children were living at home, I was in the position that I knew absolutely that no one would pick up the slack if I totally quit functioning as the SAHM, and so I “managed” my depression enough so that I didn’t have to lean on the DH. I knew, for instance, that I could sleep and veg-out while the kids were sleeping or at school, but I better be there when they got home and I would be the one to feed them and manage them or they would go hungry and run wild, and if I didn’t keep it together enough to run the household up to a basic level, there would eventually be some sort of hell to pay. I was also blessed that I wasn’t severely disabled by depression, most of the time. It was more like an unpredictable, weighty burden that I could never get rid of. (Still can’t.) I would from time to time act out the stress, and it wasn’t pretty. Not the way I acted out nor the way it was received.

    Eventually though, I adapted to the realities of our family and quit expressing any anger and frustration at all, except to the occasional therapist. That was hard. It still is hard, but it’s been kind of a growth thing for me. Around that time I had a friend who was so severely depressed that she couldn’t function at all, couldn’t hide her illness at all, was hospitalized more than once. I visited her in the locked ward where she was heavily medicated, and I saw how you could lose what little clarity you had (due to enthusiastic prescribing of meds) and literally your freedom, if you were unable to keep it together enough to appear functional to those around you. She was a delightful person when she wasn’t over-medicated. (Still is. Delightful.) And even when she was in that fog of multiple meds they had her on, she was still present and honest with me, struggling to keep herself on the endless get-well track that other people had set up for her and would modify at random. It was heart-breaking to witness, but also instructive. I managed to muster enough energy to keep myself from ever indulging in a meltdown, because I could see that the consequences would not be more and better care from people around me which would in turn lead to a healthier me, but instead a stigma that would become a weighty addition to the burdens which were already threatening to incapacitate me. And perhaps worse. I could find myself in the hands of a gang of docs who would happily “treat” me with the latest drug or three that they wanted to experiment with.

    I feel healthier now because I am not in stress mode like I was when the kids were so dependent on me. I don’t really have a lot of guilt over being a depressed mom when they were younger, because I did my level best to meet all my children’s needs that I could, and even though their dad wasn’t terribly sympathetic or attentive, he was consistent at supporting our family, and he didn’t leave me. Which was enough, since I was incapable of holding a job, much less pursuing a career.

    But sometimes when I’m feeling negative, usually when I’m sleep deprived, I look at some of the golden families around that have a healthy happy mom and dad with a for-real temple marriage and loads of that gentle spirit that’s so elusive when you have a household of kids to raise, and I indulge myself in wondering why my children couldn’t have more of what they have.

    But the next day I get up and I know there’s no utility in that kind of wishing.

    And I fear this disease showing up in their lives.

  90. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Mommie Dearest, thanks for taking the time and effort to share your experience. I especially appreciate your thoughts about letting go of depressed-mom guilt.

    Hopeful Dad, I cried in rage and sorrow all afternoon after reading that Ensign article. My husband encouraged me to write a letter, and after hearing from all of you in these comments I feel even more motivated.

  91. I think that, if anything, the root of my depression lies in selflessness. I’ve got bad genes (every woman in my family has a thyroid disorder), but I was fine until the stress of taking care of my mom and brother while they lived with me, being YW Pres, and being pregnant with my fourth all came together to put me over the edge. I was already feeling down when DH got called into the Bishopric, but that is the point when things went from bad to worse. I guess that maybe I’m just bad at handling stress, but it’s been hard to recover from that. Part of trying to recover is structuring my time so I can try to fit in both exercise and scripture reading in the same day. I have got to be more self-interested and fill my own well because letting all this service (right now mostly to just my own family and children) suck me dry is not helping my mental health.

    I have a question. I don’t know if you will get to it in later posts. Once you have depression, how do you tell the difference between feelings that are caused by the depressions and feelings that are caused by just hard things happening? I feel like I am overly sensitive to every bad feeling now. I start to feel discouraged and I think, “Oh no! It’s coming back!” But then I think, “Well, I have been taking care of kids for 15 hours straight now and am tired. Could it just be that I am tired and cranky?” Everything always seems worse to me late at night. I’m just having a hard time telling what feelings are “normal” and which are not.

  92. Mommie Dearest says:

    Stephanie, I remember my first psychiatrist years ago telling me about someone he knew who did a study of women at home raising children, and found that depression was epidemic among that group due to the workload and isolation. I hope you put some effort into filling your own well somehow. That is one thing I would have done differently–I personally would have tried to combine some regeneration of my own spirit with some sort of career development. Although when you have babies-preschoolers in your charge, regeneration alone would be enough. It adds to your workload just to cram that into your schedule.

  93. That Ensign article about did me in. It certainly made me more eager to close myself off, hide the guilt and the sorrow, and feel even less a part of the church. And that, of course, started another cycle of self-loathing and wondering why everyone else seems to get answers and help and happiness from scripture study and prayer.

    I wish I had gone to the effort to look up the original talk, as you did, Hopeful Dad. Thank you for sharing what you found.

    And thank you, all, for contributing to this thread. I have been a lurker here at BCC for several years and have many times felt relief that there are others in the church who think as I do. These threads on depression have likewise been a godsend.

  94. fwiw, Elder Packer has also opined that selfishness is the cause of homosexuality, so it may be that that’s just his go-to explanation for anything that’s hard to account for in Sunday School.

  95. I’m still not sure why he opted to marry a psycho chick.

    At the time I was getting married, I had been on meds and well for at least five years, and I would have resented the implication that someone should be wary of marrying me because of my mood-disorder history. I felt fine and had matured and learned all these mechanisms for coping with life, and I was confident that I would therefore continue to feel fine. Therefore, I think, my husband was confident, too. After all, he’d only seen me healthy. I didn’t anticipate that various life events–new stressors, hormonal changes that came with pregnancy and childbearing, etc.–would cause things to change and would result in relapse upon relapse, worse than it had ever been when I was single and miserable.

    I don’t think my husband would have married me if he’d known then that depression would be a recurring challenge for me. (That’s not the same as saying that if he had it to do over again, he’d choose differently. I don’t believe that at all.) From my perspective, I can’t blame people for being leery of getting involved with people who have (or have had) major depressive episodes. Then again, there are no guarantees in life. A person who has never suffered depression before can still experience it over the course of a lifetime (after you’ve married him/her and it’s too late to turn back!), just as a person’s beliefs can change over time, or something else can happen that challenges the relationship. None of us ever knows what we’re getting into. Part of marriage is being willing to work through those challenges, whatever they may be. But just as important is to remember that your spouse didn’t sign up for this any more than you did.

  96. “He’s had to remind me over and over how devastating my major episodes are for him, and how he can’t just bounce back when I’m feeling well as if nothing happened.” (26)

    Amen. This is a big struggle for us—I soldier on during episodes and then she’s surprised that I can’t just bounce back. I need to decompress, process, and talk about things with her. I realize it’s painful and it would be so much more comfortable to sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen, but there’s no better time to nurture the relationship, express gratitude, and take your turn at healing than in between episodes. I can put up with a lot when I know that she wouldn’t choose to be that way, and when she chooses to face it openly and frankly together with me when she is able, it really strengthens my ability to face it “alone” when necessary. (I say “alone” because though we are obviously both facing it—her more than I since it is her mind and body obviously—our ability to face it together is severely crippled during an episode. We have to face it more or less alone in our own way.)

  97. While depressed and pre-meds, I saw my relationships with family members deteriorate, but the then-most recent advent of depression arose with the death of my sister, so my immediate family (my wife and three sons, all 10 and under) took it in stride as situational. Shortly thereafter, my job responsibilities increased, and I was spending long hours at work. So for a couple of more years, that became the explanation for why I was increasingly withdrawn, short-tempered, and uninvolved in family life.

    Though I’ll defer the discussion of the spiritual and religious aspects of my experience with depression for a more appropriate thread, as I’ve already noted, it never occurred to me that I was depressed. Instead, I simply thought — feeling as rational as I had ever felt — that lots of aspects of life just sucked, and my experience wasn’t different than anyone else who chose to look into things and discover what there was to discover. That same attitude shaded my family relationships. I thought that having a wife and children was sometimes happy, usually hard, sometimes disappointing, seldom joyful, occasionally wretched. You work hard and then you die.

    Needless to say, I didn’t have an award-winning personality, but in my line of work (I’m a litigator), no one really expected cheer or sunshine. But my darkness infected my family, as well. My wife would sometimes take the kids off to do something just to give me some space at home, as she knew that work had become stressful and it was increasinly evident that I wasn’t getting a lot of joy and relief out of home life. I was relieved when she’d take road trips with the kids to visit relatives, and I’d have only work and an empty house to deal with.

    Like jenndoop (#44), my increasing disillusionment with my spiritual and religious tradition was something that I didn’t share with anyone at home or at Church, largely out of fear that it would lead my loved ones into the same unhappiness that I felt it had led me to. So I became one of those annoyingly withdrawn, depressed spouses. Not all the time. Not in all ways. But not supportive, creative, or loving, either.

    My untreated condition almost ended my marriage, as my wife and I became increasingly alienated from one another, all the while each of us really just wanted the other to find whatever happiness they could.

    I’m largely well today, though, because of my wife. When work became so stressful one day in deep winter, that I opted to take a day off for no good reason. That day, she got the kids off to school and convinced me to drive to a nearby park and we just wandered along the frozen and icy riverbank, seeing what nature had to offer in mid-winter in Denver. For me, nature has always been among the strongest healing influences. I still remember the patterning of the river ice, the water flowing beneath it, the bare willows, crunching ice covering puddles.

    I said in response to the prior post that I wasn’t sure exactly why I agreed to start taking anti-depressants when it was very clear to me that I wasn’t depressed at all. But on reflection, perhaps some part of my memory of my wife’s kindness that day was one of the reasons that I agreed to do so. And perhaps the companion fact was my own realization that I had become increasinly rough and unkind in the ways I was dealing with my sons.

    At any rate, depressed, I was no one’s preferred companion, either spousal or parental. I knew it, and I often preferred solitude myself.

  98. I knew a man who watched his wife battle cancer for 5 years. The toll it took on him and their children was very hard. He had to take over all household duties on top of caring for a dying wife. They had multiple trips to the doctor, the hospital, physical therapy, etc. Sure, they both would have loved to have a “normal” happy pretty clean life, but they didn’t. He had no idea what was coming when he got married. But, he stuck by her because they loved each other. I see depression the same way. My husband didn’t know I struggled with this. I didn’t even understand it. But, because we love each other, we try to work it out. I don’t in any way mean to diminish the trial this is to both parties – I am just saying we need to stop having guilt over the part of this thing we cannot control. We can get therapy, take meds, exercise, etc in the same way someone would have surgery, get chemo, change their diet if they had cancer. But, we can’t go inside our head and rip out the parasite that is depression. I sure wish we could, but there comes a point where we accept what is, and say, “well, what CAN I do about it?”

  99. A Mostly Lurker says:

    Mommie Dearest said, “Around that time I had a friend who was so severely depressed that she couldn’t function at all, couldn’t hide her illness at all, was hospitalized more than once. I visited her in the locked ward where she was heavily medicated, and I saw how you could lose what little clarity you had (due to enthusiastic prescribing of meds) and literally your freedom, if you were unable to keep it together enough to appear functional to those around you.”

    In my early 20s, my YSA group spent Valentine’s Day at the state mental hospital as a service project, helping the patients cut out construction paper hearts and whatnot. The experience was eye opening. Horrifying, really. I lost any delusions that depression could be some tragic/romantic fairy tale from which I’d be rescued by a handsome and emotionally attentive prince. More likely it would mean the cold spare ugliness of an underfunded institution; self-protective restraints; a constant fog of medication; being surrounded by other patients even less tethered to reality than I was who frightened me. Although already on the verge of emotional collapse, I promised myself I’d never go *noticeably* crazy because I didn’t want to end up in that place.

    A couple months later I tried unsuccessfully to kill myself by overdose. Having failed at that, I simply cleaned up the mess myself (I lived alone) and continued the heavy job of … existing. I’m sure people who knew me could tell I wasn’t feeling great, but nobody ever knew the extent of it.

    I’ve gotten really good at hiding the condition. Luckily my recurrences have been few and less severe; I still fantasize about annihilation when I’m in the middle of a bad stretch, but I’ve never again been at the point where I’d act on those fantasies.

    I wish I weren’t so good at hiding. My mad deception skillz might keep me from being institutionalized (though really I don’t think I’d require hospitalization) and I like to think they protect my family from knowing the real deep, dark me. But who am I kidding? The darkness seeps out anyway; they just don’t get the benefit of being able to name the random rages, the frazzled nerves, the exhaustion, the aversion to touch (I can’t stand for my own children to hug me sometimes! That’s terrible!). My unwillingness to discuss my emotional state keeps me from getting any help — more to the point, helping my family by giving them a more complete mother / wife.

    I wish I could be different, but I can’t.

  100. I know I’m late to this post, but it’s taken me a while to get through these two parts of the series. This is one of those things that is incredibly hard to read, but in a good way… thank you so much to everyone who is sharing so openly and sincerely their experiences. It is especially difficult to read about the pain that family members feel. I wish there was something in advice I can offer, but I haven’t figured it out myself. Nothing seems to help in the midst of a bad spell, but once on the outside, knowing that you were loved the whole time is incredibly affirming.

    Stephanie, you asked how you tell the difference between feelings that come from bad things going on and feelings that come from depression. For me, it’s not a matter of the feelings being different. I think they are the exact same types of feelings. But at the point where the feelings move over me, envelope me, and I give up control to them, that’s the point where it moves from a bad day (or three) into depression.

    I think the feelings are exactly the same, but depression (at least in my experience) is when I submit myself to them. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any type of early detection system, to know when I’m heading towards an episode or if I’m just having a bad day. The main thing that helps me is to try my best to keep perspective. I am constantly reminding myself, it will get better, tomorrow won’t feel the same, I just need a good night’s sleep, etc. When I forget that, or when I am too beaten down to try to remember, I find the depression creeping back in.

    A Mostly Lurker (99), I just want to say that I know how hard it is to ask for help. I find that I have to fall so far before I will go, feeling like a total failure, again, for being unable to buck up. I hope that you find your self in a place that you will let yourself do it. You can be different. Maybe not entirely, but you can feel good sometimes, too. I had never heard anyone else have the same aversion to touch I do… it’s always a big warning flag for me that I’m slipping.

    Dan, your comment, “I am not hardwired for the long haul. I think that is the payment for being self-aware, of needing a purpose (which I not blessed with the continuing gift of faith must constantly reinvent for myself). Spiders have no trouble remaking a web over and over, yet sometimes I cannot bring myself to make the bed one more time.” nearly slapped me in the head. You just described things about me I’ve never really been able to articulate. Thank you for that insight.

    anon in 59, my heart is breaking for you and your spouse.

    Oh, how I hate, hate this disease! And yet I cling to it, even when I know it’s choking me…

  101. “I wish I weren’t so good at hiding”

    And yet it feels necessary. You want to protect them but at the same time you just want someone to be perceptive enough to realize that SOMETHING’S WRONG, but you know how unrealistic that is when all you show them is empty smiles.

  102. Enna, I need to choose my words carefully here. I don’t want to suggest that someone with depression cannot possibly be held accountable any of her choices. I don’t believe that. But remember that the illness itself affects your capacity to fight it off. People talk about how with strength and determination you can “beat cancer” in a mind-over-matter way. I don’t doubt the ability of the mind to purposefully influence the body. But depression is like a cancer that affects the very source of such strength and determination. It’s incredibly difficult to fend off a mind-attacking enemy with the very mind that’s being attacked.

    As for hiding–I wrote a post about this last spring when I was processing my latest depressive episode. I tried to frame it as a protective measure for my husband, but I knew that wasn’t the whole truth. The discussion in the comment thread helped me understand that ultimately I was protecting myself. I didn’t want my husband to take away my option of hurting myself. It was my only escape hatch within reach, and I knew if I was fully honest about my thoughts and feelings I’d no longer have the freedom to pursue it. I wasn’t ready to end my life at that point but I wanted the possibility to remain.

    Solomon writes about this–I’ll have to dig up the quote.

    There was a candid article in the NYT last spring about one woman’s experience at a psychiatric hospital. #99, you’re right–nothing romantic about it at all.

    And the author has this to say about candor during major depression:

    It was because of my daughter, after all, that I had given voice to my “suicidal ideation,” as it’s called, in the first place, worrying how she would get along without me. At the same time, I recognized that, for a person who was really set on ending it all, speaking your intention aloud was an act of self-betrayal. After all, in the process of articulating your death wish you were alerting other people, ensuring that they would try to stop you.

  103. I second Kathryn; regardless of what actually causes a major clinical depression, your brain is really affected. And your brain affects your capacity to think just like your body sets certain limits to how you move about (any of you don’t leap over tall buildings, I assume?).

    The “fog” is one of the most terrible things. I lost my mind, in a terrifying way. I couldn’t remember things, I couldn’t keep things in my mind (still have trouble with that), and I couldn’t deduce the way I normally should be able. I had an IQ test when I was 39, and I scored over 140 (twenty years before I would have been accepted to Mensa).

    Then a shrink did an IQ test with me, when I had sunk into depression four years later, and I couldn’t score a hundred. (i.e. my IQ dropped in the neighborhood of 40%).

    I don’t know if it was the lack of concentration, the lack of deductive abilities, or what. I guess that’s why they call it a fog; I have experience on marine navigation, and when you’re out to sea and the fog sets in, you’re really “out to sea”. ;)

    So no, I don’t want to excuse the things I did when I was in the fog, but I also know in my heart, that at that time I was truly unable to function on the level that is the real me.

  104. MikeInWeHo says:

    Horribly sad news today that Marie Osmond’s son committed suicide. Apparently he’d had a long struggle with depression. So awful to hear this.

    http://wonderwall.msn.com/tv/marie-osmonds-son-commits-suicide-1540395.story?GT1=28135

  105. One of the things I ponder is the idea of choice and accountability and the idea of how much you can help yourself vs. it being a disease and you are only a victim.
    You can’t just “snap out of it,” that is why it is clinical depression.
    However, you should get credit for the decisions and the effort you make to handle things. While the results may not be apparent to others, a depressed person may be doing many, many things to help themselves and to function as an employee, spouse, parent, friend, daughter, etc.
    I worked very hard during PPD. I want credit for all my efforts! I couldn’t snap out of it but I tried my best every day to make good decisions and be a good person and I see many positive results from that.

  106. Excellent post again!

    I was also one of those people that never wanted to be like my mother and she also never wanted to be like her mother, but the pattern continued. While I was a kid my mother never wanted us around, yelled at us, punished us when she could and threatened us with suicide. I remember twice being pulled out of school because she was in the hospital due to attempted suicide. It definitely weighs on you. And then all but me and one of my sisters has attempted suicide at some time their lives.

    And now that I have my own family, a hubby and a child it’s even more difficult to fight through it. I’m the stay at home parent and have been struggling with anxiety and now PPD. It’s tough on my hubby because he’s trying to pull me out of it and take the load off after a long day at work when he gets home and I’m hysterical cuz I can’t take my kid anymore…then that goes to feeling so guilty about being a bad mom since I don’t play with him all day and I try to do things to cope with the depression like reading and blogging while he’s playing and then the housework doesn’t get done or dinner get cooked and not to mention the spiritual side…it’s really hard to care about the spiritual side when you don’t even feel like God loves you.

    It’s a constant battle with self-talk trying to think positive and keep the negative ones away. I’m so grateful for everyone’s stories of struggles with depression and support.

  107. I’m so glad for these posts because I don’t think I really realized how much it has affected my family relationships. I know that it has been part of why I never married, mainly that I never thought I deserved love or happiness for many years.

    Thank goodness for the fact that I’m better now! I don’t think I’ll ever again fall into depression. I feel about 99% sure I have it beat.

    I know this series has moved on and I’m very late posting, but this has been a difficult thing for me to read. I’ve had to read a few comments then take a long break.

    One thing I’ve learned that took me SO long to realize, that I want to share. Depression isn’t about what happens to you in your life emotionally so much as it’s just a physical illness. The things that make it better for me are all physical. For years and years I thought it was because of things that happened to me. And maybe it started with the abuse. That’s possible. But I finally realized that the difference is that depression makes me more volatile that I should be. Other people have some sad thing happen to them and it burns them then goes out, like a match struck and placed under damp wood. When I’m depressed some sad thing happens to me and it sets me aflame to crash and burn, like a match struck and placed into gasoline fumes in the tank of an airplane. That’s depression. A sad event can set it off, but only because I’m already too volatile to be healthy.

    So the actual true causes for me are physical things like poor quality sleep or sleep deprivation, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, not enough sunlight, simple illness like flu or another virus that can knock me back terribly, hormones. I think part of the reason I’m cured now is simply my age. It started with the onset of puberty, just like my migraines, and ended when my childbearing years were over. I haven’t had really bad migraines in a few years either. So part of it is simply that, I think.

    Another part, though, is that I can gauge how I feel now by various means. Like it’s sort of a sliding scale and if I find myself crying more than once a day that’s some points off. If I find that I can’t bother to brush my teeth or put on makeup, it’s more points off. Not wanting to even bathe is more points off. Being too exhausted to do the dishes is more, etc. At my very worst I would go several days in a row without ever getting out of bed except to go to the bathroom and feed the cats. I think having cats helped me because I knew I had to get up and feed them every day. Although I have a dry food feeder in place just in case I can’t manage for a little while, so they’ll always have food and water available even if it isn’t the canned stuff.

    My vet who is a wonderful healer and part of our family, told me that at his low points he has to crawl to the bathroom. So far I’ve always been able to stand up and walk to the bathroom when I needed to go, so I feel like I’ve always been still doing okay, doing better than he did at his worst and he’s a great person. I guess the worst of all would be just peeing on yourself like Robert Pirsig did in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

    But based on my scale of how I’m doing, I will take steps to intervene. If it’s very bad I can start the medicine again. If it’s only a small dip I can take Pregnenolone, an over the counter hormone that helps me right away, the very next day. Another over the counter thing is 5-HTP, though I don’t know how quickly it works. That’s something I can take if I feel bad. Another one is St. John’s Wart. Another is SAM-E. All these are over the counter medicines but they can help depression. The thing that helps me the most of all, though, is simply being very faithful and dedicated at upholding the 5 pillars of mental health. I call them my 5 pillars. They are healthy diet, daily exercise, plenty of good sleep, sunlight (being outside during daylight hours for at least an hour a day), and the fifth is prayer.

    Through prayer I learned that I have worth. I learned that my well-being matters, something I was raised not to believe. I learned also to stop indulging my mind in useless patterns of thought. I used to beat myself up over and over mentally over things that I’d done wrong, mistakes I made. I didn’t know how not to do that. I learned through prayer and the gospel that I should only take thoughts like that so far. Far enough to learn whatever lessons there are to be learned from my mistakes, and to feel truly repentant to motivate me not to repeat them. After that, though, I finally learned to drop it and move on. If my mind keeps returning again and again to those feelings, then I learned to pray with all the energy of my soul to rechannel my thoughts into better paths.

    I’m not saying this would work for everyone, but it has worked for me. I learned various tricks of how to deal with misery nights. One is to simply put on soothing music and meditate relaxing every thought in my mind, every section of my brain until the thoughts melt into sleep. Another is to pray to the Lord that my suffering should be put to some good use by him. I said one night, “Lord, let my suffering spare someone else. I’m not good at much but one thing I know how to do is to suffer. So please I accept this suffering but make it useful somehow. Please spare someone else somewhere in the world, maybe a child who is hungry or in pain, and let me suffer their pain instead.” Paradoxically, this had the effect of turning my pain to joy. By willingly suffering for some meaningful reason, I was liberated from my suffering altogether. I don’t really know why that happened. It’s like most of the deepest truths in life, very paradoxical. It has some kinship, though, with the atonement. Maybe it’s just that by willingly suffering and wishing to spare others, I was able to accept the atonement and it became fully active in my heart and I was finally healed forever. I think that was probably it.

    Anyway, I’m so sad for everyone who has posted here. I hope you may find healing as I have. I know there’s nothing easy about it and there’s no way anyone can just extend healing to someone else, even if they found it for themselves. I hope somehow through whatever process be it physical, mental, or spiritual, you each are able to turn the key to your own illness and unlock the healing potential that I know exists somewhere in the universe. Depression is like being dead. Each time I’ve come out of it it’s like coming back to life from the dead, and too many years of our lives have been given over to this darkness and nothingness. Too much pain has seeped into the fabric of our families from this terrible affliction that disguises itself and sneaks up on us and we don’t even realize we have it. My fervent prayer is that we will find the answers and finally cure this terrible disease.

  108. Stephanie says:

    Tatiana, thanks so much for that comment. I think one of the frustrating things for me has been realizing that I have to put effort into feeling good. For the first 30 years of my life, I never even thought about my emotions because they were appropriate to the situation. To be thinking about them all the time is wearisome. Your comment is really helpful to me in identifying when things are getting out of control. Also, I was just thinking yesterday that being cooped up inside with an infant all winter (a long, cold winter) is probably not helping. I think I need sunlight, and you confirmed that. I really appreciate your five pillars of good health. They sound like good prevention, and then medication is used when you get sick – just like every other disease.

  109. Stephanie says:

    Last night I told my husband, “I am really starting to feel better!” I expected a different response. Happiness? Relief? Instead, his shoulders kind of slumped. But, since I read this post and comments beforehand, his reaction made sense. Poor man!!! Thanks again for this series.

  110. (I continue to be way behind, hopefully some of you are still getting email notifications)

    Hopeful Dad:
    “I think more than anything else, it is not knowing what to say, and how to say it, that is hardest for us, along with agonizing over the obvious pain and despair he feels.”

    I feel exactly the same way about my wife when she is in the grasp of depression or mania. It is a real feeling of helplessness.

    “He also has avoided talking to our bishop, which I can only assume has to do with some extensive guilt and feeling of unworthiness, even though we feel it would be helpful.”

    I have to say, that unless your bishop is a mental health professional it most likely would *not* be helpful. At best, it would be a neutral experience. Maybe I’m jaded, faithless, or pessimistic. But having served close to bishops, and knowing how wonderful they are as people, I don’t think they are equipped to deal with more than the spiritual effects of depression (if that). This is a problem not caused by lack of, nor solved by a little spiritual guidance or insight. At worst, he could walk away with some serious feelings of guilt to exacerbate the problem, even if the bishop is (naturally) very well-intentioned. (See one of the later posts in this series for examples of this difficulty.) If he feels an accompanying crisis of faith or real desire to counsel with the bishop I wouldn’t discourage it, but I wouldn’t push him to go. You wouldn’t send someone with cancer to go see the bishop unless there were spiritual concerns, nor with depression.

  111. travelin’ companion: “You want them to enjoy the happiness they deserve and to believe you when you tell them they are great, but are powerless to make it a reality. Sometimes that is frustrating; more often it is just very sad not to be able to help the one you love most.”

    Amen to that. It can be difficult to remember in the moment that they’re not just being lazy or taking advantage. Especially as it wears on day after day. It’s a burden of patience and love and though I know my wife is deeply grateful she’s unable to express it in the depth of depression, at least not in any way that’s meaningful to either of us. We must continue to be there, to love, selflessly. Those with depression: it’s so helpful when you can truly convey how much your loved ones have helped you, even if you can’t do it until much later. It’s not just gratitude, but knowing that we’ve been helpful and knowing next time that it’s really helpful even though it doesn’t seem to be.

  112. Reed Soper: re the gorilla in the room. This is exactly how I feel too. If I may be so bold I would suggest that if you have someone who loves you by your side and helps you through a depressive episode, showing love, patience, picking up slack, wondering if he’s any help at all, ignoring his own emotional needs for the time being – you have an obligation to help him decompress by talking about it after it’s all over, no matter how tempting it is to just sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen because it’s so painful to think of it.

  113. jendoop: “Later he accompanied me to a therapy session and with the therapist’s help I told him more, things that had come out during therapy. I felt so happy and free after that appointment, I wanted to go out to lunch. He was completely shut down. I couldn’t understand why, I was so clueless.”

    This is so funny, because it’s so true. We have had similar experiences. I just want to let you know, in case you had any doubt, that it’s probably a good thing to open up even if it seems to ruin his day (or week!). I know it is for me anyway – it’s so much better to talk about it than to have to guess at it.

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