He turns to me in the night, sobbing, asking to be held.
He sits in our living room chair and hunches over, cradling his head in his hands while I rub his knee.
He looks at me, panicky and red-eyed, and asks what’s wrong with him.
He holds my hand on a walk and his is clammy, shaking.
My husband has seen my depression through a magnifying glass—he knows all the nooks and crannies. His caregiving is impeccable with careful, spot-on consideration for whether I need to be invited under a fluffy blanket or on a brisk run, into a mindless drama series or an inspirational podcast. He has my number, down to which robe I like left on the bed when I need to retire to the bedroom earlier than the kids are down. And one look at me can lead him straight back out the door when he’s just returned home from work, blazing a path to Chipotle for a dinner I couldn’t muster the energy to plan.
I lean on and into his strength during these times.
But now, I am watching him fade. Thankfully, I’m smack-dab in the middle of a season of emotional solidity. So, I’m thrilled and thankful to be strong enough to support a bit of his leaning. It’s just that I’ve never seen him in this light, the view unfamiliar, and I’m left feeling a tad ill-equipped.
Depression looks different on different people. It looks like a muumuu on me, ugly but passable. It looks like a Halloween costume on my husband, out of place, itchy, and unexpected for everybody. I’m left wondering if depression in men has a whole different twist to it than depression in women as it seems to with the two of us.
I’ve learned quite a bit on this fast and furious journey of loving on a depressed husband. Here are the areas depression most affects the man I’m married to:
Wanting To Fix Everything
Somewhere along the way, I learned this about depression: dedicating enormous amounts of spirally energy to trying to get out of your depression only gets you further stuck in emotional quicksand. There is value in creating distance between the problem and problem-solving, and sometimes depression gets fed by mental attempts to flee it.
My husband, very comfortable in the driver’s seat of life, is perplexed that there is no escape ladder out his apartment window. He wants solutions, and he wants them now. His dismay over not being able to heal himself morphs into hopelessness, depression’s bedmate, when what really soothes depression’s flame is comfort with the heat. My husband wants to fix, and depression doesn’t always respond to a toolbox. This is why my husband struggles so.
The Bag-Lady Syndrome
Whenever our mental states are not stellar, fears come out of the woodwork. Mine is that I will tip to completely crazy and someone will come and take my children away. The one that rises to the top as the most convincing and all-consuming for my husband, since among us he is the one and only breadwinner, is that he will somehow screw up his ability to fiscally support our family and we will all end up street-ridden, begging for dinner.
The mortgage, normally a benign number, becomes a monster. The health insurance, a reliable deduction on his monthly pay stub, feels flimsy. And every bill that comes across our path, usually expected expenses, is experienced as prison bars. His depression stokes his largest insecurity: that he will somehow lose his livelihood, the roof over his head, and his dignity as a man. This is why my husband struggles so.
Not Wanting To Share
Depression is not as common in men as it is in women. According to verywellmind.com, 8.7% of women have depression as compared to 5.3% of men. We will never know how much of that variation has to do with failure to report it, but based on my husband and my differences, openly sharing about mental health feels predominantly feminine. I remember during my bottoming-out, the designation of four confidants, in addition to my husband, who knew my depression status in any given week, day, and even hour. They were my lifelines, my counselors, my lighthouses while I was lost at sea.
My husband, rather, had to be coaxed to let his best friend know. Thankfully, the friend was exceptionally supportive, but in general, I wonder how much the world likes its males going down. I also wonder if he’ll continue opening up or suddenly recede; I predict his masculinity bucking from a vulnerability hangover. This is why my husband struggles so.
I Can’t Carry His Load
I’m a SAHM, so when my ship starts sinking, there are specific ways, other than being emotionally supportive, my husband knows to kick it into high gear: extra help with household tasks, serving as the lead parent for a time, and, as I said before, Chipotle. In other words, he takes stuff off my full-time job checklist and plunks it onto his own. Nearly every bit of my contribution to the family pie chart is shareable.
When my husband is ailing, I can be uber sweet about taking over his portion of the household and parenting responsibilities. But what I want to do and simply cannot is carry any portion of his professional load. I can’t lead any of his meetings for him or write up his proposals or patch myself into his work calls. There are certain parts of his contributions to the family pie chart that aren’t shareable. Pressing on while suffering from depression with the things that are un-off-loadable is exhausting. This is why my husband struggles so.
Depression sucks, no matter whether you’re in one or caring for one in one. If you are a woman who finds yourself slogging through the depression of your husband, know you’re not alone and that he’s not either.