My husband knew about my depression early in our relationship. I remember talking about it in one of those epic late night phone calls in our dating days. Though he’d had a roommate with extreme bipolar disorder, he had never dated anyone suffering from mental illness. And when I finally told him about my history with cutting, he said, stone-faced, “if you ever do that again, we’re breaking up.”
It did happen again, but we didn’t break up. However, I quickly learned how very little he understood about depression. When I was lonely and didn’t want to abandon the comfort of the couch, he would tell me just to call someone and wonder why I wouldn’t. Or when I was overwhelmed by tasks that the healthy me wouldn’t bat an eye at, he would ask why I couldn’t just make a checklist and knock those tasks out. The worst of all was when he’d just say “chin up,” or “just stop thinking negatively.”
When I did harm myself again, instead of reaching out to me, he pushed away and wouldn’t talk about it. I can’t blame him—from his perspective, I’m hurting the person he loves the most, so of course he would be upset with me. I started doing my best to explain what depression feels like so he may have a better script for when an episode strikes.
I explained that making a simple phone call is a gargantuan task. Calling a friend is out of the question. And cheering myself up? That’s akin to giving myself bypass surgery. He slowly began to accept that this was how things really felt for me. But he still didn’t understand depression.
We’ve now been married for two and a half years and have a 14-month-old daughter. I experienced a year and a half symptom-free: from when I became pregnant to baby’s nine month mark, when I got my period back. I mistakenly thought that my depression was a thing of the past, that I had somehow defeated it by keeping busy. Now, I see that it was probably my pregnancy and breastfeeding hormones keeping me calm and happy.
I think it’s appropriate that what was once depression is now considered postpartum depression, because what I’m currently going through is a whole new beast. Physically, my symptoms are the same as they were as a teenager—bouts of aches, exhaustion and crying. But the repercussions are different. No longer can I hibernate; I have a toddler who wants to play. No longer can I self soothe with a long drive or a walk; my daughter won’t be happy for more than 10 minutes restrained in a five-point harness. And there’s this morbid irony that my old last-resort coping mechanisms, like getting drunk or hurting myself, are out of the question now that I’m caring for a baby. Which is for the better, of course, but that knowledge makes me feel more trapped than reassured.
Despite my husband’s attempt to understand me when I’m going through an episode, I feel like I really have no one. Rationally speaking, this is bullshit, because my parents live three miles away and I have a handful of friends who have offered help — an ear or a hug. Without getting too whiny about it, the fact of the matter is that depression draws a dividing line between me and the world.
We can’t afford healthcare, so I’m not seeing a psychologist. My husband has sort of become my only hope. But his old misconceptions about depression still creep in when he’s sleep deprived or frustrated with the intensity in our lives right now. When I want to just vent or cry, he’ll rattle off solutions in his tough love way. It nearly always turns into an argument. I hate it because I feel like I’m always forcing him to be the strong one and that I’m weighing him down with my problems.
But although he doesn’t understand my depression, my husband knows me better than anyone. He alone knows the unique struggles of parenting in our little family. He has done his best to help me while still maintaining his sanity: watching baby while I attempt to relax, playing with her in the mornings on his days off so I can sleep in. Furthermore, he’s given me permission to write about him in pieces like this because he knows it helps me make sense of things.
So while there will always be this ghost of depression sitting between us, I see us starting to communicate with a little more honesty and sympathy. Of course, when things are going well, I turn around and worry about what would happen if I lost him…but such is the beast of postpartum depression. Or perhaps that kind of worry is just standard when you love someone.