Dear Captain Awkward:
I need some advice on being a decent human being.
My wife and I have been together for 8 years, married for 5. She has severe depression and anxiety. She’s been in therapy since before I met her, but her illnesses still hit her pretty hard. I do as much as I can for her — earning an income, taking care of the chores and cooking, always giving upbeat feedback.
She hasn’t had a full time job in a few years, but she takes on a smattering of freelance projects because she says her career is the only thing that makes her life meaningful. Unfortunately, it’s a huge struggle for her to complete these projects — generally she’ll start them the day they’re due, and I’ll have to sit with her for moral support and try to take care of as many aspects of it (printing, mailing, etc) as I can without any professional training.
Most days she sleeps in late, spends the day messing around on the internet, and then tells me about how stupid and worthless she thinks she is. I can usually get her to a point of resolving that tomorrow she’ll wake up on time and I’ll help her make a plan to get some work done, but that generally doesn’t happen. Getting out of the house helps, but the process of getting her to get up the nerve to go can be exhausting.
She is also convinced that none of her friends care about her — though she has more and better friends than I do. She’s very intelligent, so she has an exceptional ability to rationalize and explain away any evidence I present to counter her thesis that “I am a horrible stupid person who nobody likes and who is probably just faking my problems because I’m stupid.”
The reason I’m writing is that this should not be a big deal for me — she’s not hurting me, I’m not the one who’s depressed, I do get out of the house for work and to see friends. But I find that as much as I love her, and as much as I love spending time with her, there are times I start to feel frustrated, start to wish her depression wasn’t a shadow hanging over everything I do. I know that’s not OK, and most of the time I can keep my focus on her rather than on me. But it seeps through sometimes, and I worry that it will affect her or that I’ll slip and say something like “let’s not make plans — tomorrow you’ll probably just sleep all day anyway.”
Do I just need a kick in the pants?
Overwhelmed Husband (#429)
This one is a different song set to a similar tune:
Dear Captain Awkward:
I need a better way to interact with my husband. He has a whole long list of flaws in spite of which I love him, but these flaws seriously increase my workload and stress load, and I am sure I could learn to enable him less and get more out of my life, if I knew how.
Briefly, he has rarely made any money in our 16-year marriage. While unemployed he has not been a particularly good homemaker (he cooks brilliantly, but can’t stay organized, can’t pay bills on time, can’t keep the house tidy, had to have our child in full-time daycare from age one since he couldn’t handle the stress and boredom of child-minding, he can’t get around to getting his driver’s license, can’t stay on top of serious paperwork like his right to live in the country, etc.).
I think he might have ADD or depression, but he won’t seek a diagnosis or take it seriously that his contributions to our household are so small.On the plus side he’s lovely with our child when he does spend time with him, and he’s funny and loving and smart and I don’t love many people so my love for him is pretty important to me. He also loves me deeply.
I feel like if I were a single parent, though, I’d have an easier life. I think it’s partly because I like planning things and using my time efficiently, but for some reason he saps my initiative. I don’t like staying up when he’s gone to bed, I rarely feel good about planning some me-time leaving him alone with the child (and he does make me feel guilty about it), I can’t even insist on taking some time to get (job-related) work done when we would otherwise both be home with the child (partly because I am a big procrastinator about my work, but also because I can’t seem to act independently when he’s around).
I know there’s a lot wrong with him, but I can’t make him fix those things. But I think I am also handling things badly, and don’t know how to fix me. I don’t have many friends, and no close ones where I now live. I feel like I’m wasting my life.
Helpless Enabler (#430)
Dear Husband and Enabler:
I am going to ask you both the question that beloved poster Sheelzebub always asks people:
- If your marriages continued exactly as they are now for the next year, would you stay?
- Would you stay for another five years? Ten?
- Would you spend the rest of your life going on as you are now?
There are more questions here. I recommend these in particular:
- What goals and dreams do you have for yourself that you are ignoring or putting off “until someday, when partner gets better”? Is there any way you can get started on them now?
- Have you thought about seeking therapy for yourself? Not to “fix” your partner, but to nurture yourself in handling all of this?
Whether or not either of you technically have depression, it is ruling your lives just as surely as if you did have it.
I’m sure your partners are lovely people. I’m sure they deserve love. I’m sure they would give anything to not suffer from depression. I’m sure they have major guilt about the possibility that they are dragging you down.
Truths, some of them sad:
- You can’t make them feel better.
- You can’t control or change their behavior.
- Even if some of the stuff that is affecting you badly is not all the way their fault, it is still hurting you.
- You can’t fix the relationship by yourself.
- Loving someone isn’t always enough to build a happy, functional life with them.
- Your needs are real and SUPER FUCKING IMPORTANT.
What you can control is:
- Your own level of self-care, whether that be seeing mental health treatment for yourself, making sure you get exercise and time to pursue hobbies you like, looking for friends and activities outside the house and doing them because they make you happy.
- Asking directly for things you need from your partner and drawing bright boundaries with them. They may not be able to immediately meet those needs, and they may not immediately respect those boundaries, but by starting this work you are giving your relationships their best possible chance for survival.
Husband, you get to say:
“Wife, I need you to start your freelance assignments earlier and budget enough time to get everything done. I have my own work to do, and I am not going to scramble to help you anymore at the last minute.”
And if she ends up in a huge crisis at the last minute, you get to take yourself to the movies. There will be professional and emotional consequences if she fails to get it done, and she will likely try to make those your fault and your problem, and it will be very hard to hear the things she has to say both about you and about herself. But you are allowed to draw a line about what you are reasonably willing to do, and working full time + doing all the household chores + doing her work, too is not reasonable.
When she gets into a cycle of talking about how awful she is and no one loves her, you get to say “It’s really hard for me to hear you insult yourself that way, so I’d like us to stop talking about that now.” Or “That is your Depression talking, and Depression is a big fat jerk liar. Let’s change the subject and give Depression a chance to chill the fuck out.” You don’t have to hang in there with her through the entire cycle and listen to all of it. Negative self-talk is self-reinforcing. Cut it off at the source if you can.
You get to schedule regular time out of the house.
You get to ask her for a joint plan for handling household chores differently, and if she can’t do that with you, you get to just straight up ask her to handle some things when it will take a load off of you. Start small. “Wife, can you make sure to take the garbage out tomorrow? I’d sure appreciate it,” or “I would like you to cook dinner one night/week from now on.” If she hears that as “Wife, I think you are a horrible person and I don’t love you” that’s her Depression talking, not you, and not your fault. If she tells you all about how she can’t take the garbage out because she’s horrible, you get to say “It really sucks that you feel like that, and I wish I could take that away from you, but I still need you to take the garbage out tomorrow even if it’s hard.”
You get to ask her to go to couple’s counseling with you specifically to work on finding a better division of labor at home. You also get to ask her to work on that with her own therapist. “Wife, I need us to figure out a better division of labor around the house. Can you please ask your therapist to suggest some specific strategies that might help with that specific area of life?” What she says and does in therapy is her own business, obviously, but you’re not a dick for suggesting it.
And Husband, I know this thought fills you with guilt and dread and you are not ready to even think about it, but if you end up separating from your wife because you are unhappy and do not see the situation getting better, you will not be a bad person. Whether or not any of this is her fault, the situations IS harming you. It is harming you. The way you talk about yourself, as a potentially not-decent human being, makes me so very sad. You are good and you are doing your best.
I think you probably would be happier as a single parent. I think you are trying to parent two people right now, and it is unfair, and it sucks.
If you’re not ready to make that decision, that is understandable. It takes time and putting some support resources in place. But I think that it’s good that you admitted the possibility to us here.
In the meantime, you get to say to your husband, “Please take care of your drivers’ license paperwork by the end of the week, thank you.” If that starts a shame-spiral, so be it. That’s HIS shame. If he responds with an excusedump you can say “I’d still like you to take care of that this week.” Because you DO actually NEED him to be able to drive & live legally in the country. You need this even if he is depressed or has a hard time with executive function.
You get to say “Husband, please take Child to the park for a few hours, I need to focus on work right now.” Even if it weren’t work-related, you get to say “Husband, I need a few hours at home to myself. Please take Child somewhere that is Else, thanks.” You also get to say “I’m going to the office for a few hours to knock out some work. Have fun!” and get the hell out of there.
You get to pursue friendships, work, and activities outside the house without a guilt trip or a negotiation. “I’ll be going to the gym on Tuesday nights from now on. Thanks for looking after kid! Can I bring you anything back from the store?”
Both of you, you get to make reasonable requests about things that affect your quality of life. Like “I would like you to look for a part-time job or volunteer gig that gets you out of the house for at least 10 hours/week.” On the surface, that sounds patronizing as fuck, right? How can you say that to a fellow adult? But, you guys, you need your partners to do something that gets them regularly out of the house. To bring in some income. To bring them in contact with others. You need them to do it, and they’re not doing it on their own, so you need to gently ask them to do it.
I think the key to doing this in the least patronizing possible way is to not get too far into what they need or suggest that whatever you’re suggesting will be better for them. Make it about your needs, and make the requests small and specific. “I will be happier if I know I have a few regular hours with the house to myself. Can you go work at the library or a coffee shop one night a week?” “If I give you a list, can you do the grocery shopping today? Thanks.” Depressed people are depressed, they’re not stupid – they don’t need the lecture about how some fresh air will do them good. “You would feel better if you washed some dishes” is a true, they probably would feel better! But the whole problem is that the question of whether the dishes get washed is being ruled by their feelings, instead of your need to not to have to do the dishes after every single meal. “It’s your turn to wash the dishes tonight” or “I really need the kitchen to be clean, can you take care of it?” is a better, more direct, more true request.
It’s so hard to be involved with a depressed person. I say this as a depressed person who has not been managing it so well lately (Roughly: meds stopped working, need new meds, getting meds requires effort, which would be a lot easier if I had better meds, ergo I need new meds. I will solve this conundrum at some point, just, not today). I am worthy of love, like your wife and your husband are worthy of love, but if you lived with me you would still be within your rights to say “Jennifer, it is your turn to do x household chore now,” and you would not be being mean to me. If I heard your request and used it as an excuse to be really mean to myself, that was STILL not you being mean to me. That was me being mean to myself, which I am an expert at doing, and would have done anyway, and at least by you speaking up there is maybe a chance that something will get better.
Whatever you both decide, please, please, please find some people who can support you and give you some breathing space from these relationships. I think your own health depends on having some outlet away from the guilt and the sadness.
306 thoughts on “#429 & #430: When depression is contagious.”
I really needed to hear this today; thank you Captain, life is overwhelming sometimes. /truism
Dear Helpless Enabler:
I hadn’t realized my ex-husband had remarried.
No, I think it’s my ex-husband.
If he brought a really great gaming system with him, but no furniture, it’s definitely my ex-husband.
Wow! I had no idea my uncle is polygamous! Seriously, that is my uncle completely, down to the illegal citizenship status. He is thankfully not a blood relative. My cousin’s longterm girlfriend is more family than this guy.
LWs, depressed people are often very, very selfish. And having a mental illness (like depression, or ADHD) does not obliterate the rest of someone’s personality. You can be depressed and still be an asshole. Depressed assholes can rely on their depression to make sure the relationship revolves around them, to control their SO’s behavior; for example, turning any criticism into a litany of what terrible people they are so that you have to immediately switch to reassuring them that isn’t true.
I’m not saying that your SOs are evil manipulators. Only that being depressed doesn’t block them from being selfish, or pulling the same kind of emotional games that mentally healthy people are capable of pulling on their SOs, and that there is a huge difference between being a supportive partner and enabling. (“I think you’re a wonderful person and it’s your Depression saying that you’re awful, but we still need to talk about your doing the dishes tomorrow.”)
You are not bad people if you leave. Depression or other mental illness are not special interrupt cards that destroy your right to leave a relationship.
Yes! Your second paragraph is kind of what I was saying (below; we were writing at the same time) – and I think the Captain’s advice is spot on in terms of “how to be supportive without becoming enabling.”
It can be so, so tough to figure out if someone going through depression is–acting in good faith? I don’t know how else to put it. Like, are they really too depressed to do XYZ, or are they using it as an excuse? (I deal with cyclical depression, so I’m including myself here.) And even if they ARE acting in good faith, depression talks you out of things and makes you THINK you can’t do them. My big one is OMG I CAN’T DEAL WITH PEOPLE RIGHT NOW NOOOOO and then there’s some event/occasion I can’t avoid and… it’s not half as bad as I thought it would be. I’ll be mentally exhausted afterwards, but I’m able to do something I didn’t think I could. Getting up and getting started is what depression makes you physically and emotionally too tired (or afraid) to do, I find. But… you can’t tell someone they’re doing depression wrong. You mostly can’t “make” depressed people do things, *nor should you have to.* I guess a lot of what I look for is whether someone is participating in their own treatment. Are you working with it and doing your best (and still sometimes not being able to deal anyway, because: depression), or are you just wallowing because you can and people around you pick up the slack? And I have to ask myself this question almost every day. Which goes with “you can be depressed and still be an asshole,” is what I’m saying.
I find I always worry about whether I’m using it as an excuse or not. Which ties into how mental illness is seen and dismissed by a lot of people too, but yeah, it’s rough. My sister and I both have major depression but want to live together, and we’re housesitting together at the moment, which means one of us HAS to get a chore done or we’ll be living in filth with no food.
One thing on division of labour – most people have some things they can tolerate less than others, eg they can be fine with piled up laundry but hate dirty food dishes, or something like that. It might be worth figuring out which things with your partners which things are most annoying to them and making that their responsibility, because I find it easier to do a chore if it’s something that’s going to piss me off if it’s left undone.
First LW, do you think your wife would be up for a journal? If she’s not “allowed” to diss herself to you it might feel stifling so she could possibly write down what she’s feeling instead. It’s not for everyone but it’s a thought – it’s easier to pull out a book than to get yourself to a therapy session.
Especially the bit about dividing chores according to personal likes/dislikes. It took six years together for us to figure out that Mr. Posh really hates unloading the dishwasher – which I don’t mind at all – and I really hate hand washing dishes, which he’s totally fine with.
Sometimes, just knowing which chores fill you with dread and which ones you’re ok with can help you work out a division of labor.
Yes! I second the chores thing? Maybe it would be helpful for both couples to draw up a list of chores that need doing and then divide them according to what works best? Even when so depressed I can’t move I CAN (and quite like) loading and starting the dishwasher or doing a load of laundry. Ask me to wash dishes and the Shame Spiral is a billion times worse.
This is totally true. I think it can be hard for the depressed person to differentiate which things they can’t do and which things they’re “just” really overwhelmed at the thought of… and if they can’t tell, how is their partner supposed to tell?
Loyal partners are doomed to play the guessing game to some extent, trying to figure out what is supporting, what is enabling dysfunction. But at some point, the partner has to decide “whether it’s can’t or won’t, is what this person is contributing to our joint enterprise enough for me?”
It really is tough (my immediate first flip response notwithstanding). When it was my husband, I really did honestly believe in all that in-sickness-and-in-health stuff and that it *was* my duty as a supportive spouse to help him through this. We had therapy (which I paid for) and meds (which I paid for) and so on.
And yes, after swearing to me that he would take care of our child while I worked at home, within a month, he was literally bringing in people off the street and telling me I should hire them to be a nanny. Once she was weaned (the baby, not the potential nanny), she did indeed go to daycare because *somebody* had to work and support us and I couldn’t do it and take care of my child, too, even if I did work at home.
He was a musician and one of his constant refrains (no pun intended) was that I was trying to get him to quit being a musician and take a job, because that’s what all his friends’ partners did. I told him, in therapy, that no, I was fine with him being a musician (I had invested thousands of dollars building a recording studio for him), and that I wasn’t trying to get him to take a job. All I wanted him to do was take responsibility for *something*.
And the therapist and I went round and round for the rest of the session trying to find something he would actually commit to doing. Taking out the trash? Well, he said, he’d do it if I reminded him. No, I said, then it would still be my responsibility because I’d have to remind him. Finally the therapist, recalling that my husband criticized the way I mowed the lawn, suggested that he be responsible for mowing the lawn (very small yard), and he got a grudging sort of non-rejection. And then the lawn didn’t get mowed for the entire rest of the time he lived in the house.
What finally ended the relationship is that he did things that put our daughter at risk, I gave him an ultimatum about that, he did them again, so I filed for divorce the next day. And he moved in with his mom, and lived with her for the next ten years til she died, getting her to take care of him. Now that she’s passed away, he’s depending on other people to help him, though he’s also doing more himself.
He legitimately has medical problems. I acknowledge that. And I still feel guilty about the in-sickness-and-in-health thing and that there’s things I should have done differently. But ultimately our daughter’s safety trumped that.
I think we agree — no? In your case, what it came down to is that it really didn’t matter whether your husband couldn’t prioritize your daughter’s safety or just wouldn’t… she wasn’t safe in his care, and that was that. You made the only choice you could. (It actually goes with what I was saying on the child care issue, that if the depressive person can’t be trusted to take care of himself/herself, maybe having them be responsible for their child isn”t the best idea. Why would being neglected by your parent face-to-face be better than being in quality child care?)
I did not post my story either in the context of “agreeing” or “disagreeing” with your views, simply that the discussion had gotten to an area where I felt like I could make a contribution by telling my story. I don’t want to say anything that makes it sound like LW, or anyone else, is a bad person for wanting the potentially depressed person to lend a hand on child care.
This is something I deal with even though my anxiety problems are well-controlled by my meds right now. I always feel like I could be doing more to save the world/keep my house clean/be a better person, but I also know that I have limited time and energy. I still haven’t truly figured out when something is a real need in order for me to be happy and when it’s a strong desire but something I can do without.
*jedi hugs* I am working on this, too! It’s a process definitely.
Yes, this. My therapist is always saying to me “Good job! See, isn’t it good to know that if you have to do x thing you can make it through it?” As good as it is to know, I still spiral back to “Don’t want to do x thing” the next time, but it is slowly getting better. I totally agree with having to ask this question every day. Then when the answer comes back “Oh, I am being a wallowing jerk” I try to give myself a break for that, too, and then think “You know what would make me feel better about myself? Doing the thing I need to do!” Now if only it were that simple always… but sometimes it works!
“You know what would make me feel better about myself? Doing the thing I need to do!” – This is so useful, thank you! (Agreed that it won’t always work, but definitely worth a try for the times it will.)
“You know what would make me feel better about myself? Doing the thing I need to do!”
So, so true! When I get into a depressive rut, I usually just force myself to do SOMETHING useful, even if it’s fairly mindless. The way I see it, I’m going to feel depressed whether I’m curled up in my bed or washing the dishes. But with the latter, I get “depressed + clean dishes,” while with the former I just get “depressed.”
“Depression or other mental illness are not special interrupt cards that destroy your right to leave a relationship.”
I used to play Magic – I love this!
Agreed! Can we add this to the list of phrases that Need to Be Cross-Stitched, please?
While I agree with the last sentence, I really don’t like the first. Like, a majority of people, who are depressed, are also selfish? If you mean “can act in a very selfish manner (because they do not feel able to do x, y, z/refute everything you propose), then I agree. But it sounds to me like “people with depression often have a character deficite and … nope. They (we) are just on the same character bellcurve like everyone else.
Depression is something that triggers selfish behavior. It doesn’t mean that depressed people are, in their deepest personality cores, any more inherently selfish or less selfish than anyone else.
I think it also depends on the definition of ‘selfish.’ I think a lot of depressed people are incredibly self-sacrificing and consistently put their own needs last, but they can also be totally self-oriented in the sense that they’re focused on their own inadequacies all the time. In addition to thinking, “I am a terrible person,” when I’m depressed I also think “and my inadequacies are the only thing in the world that matter.” Which is pretty egotistical in its own way.
Yeah I’m with you. Depressed people can be selfish. We can also be consumed with guilt for pulling our partner down, doing all the housework because we feel we are good for nothing else, crying every night in bed and still helping our partner in their studies and work… It’s really unfair to say depressed people are very very selfish. I have acted in very selfish manners in the past, and I think some of it was due to depression, but I really have tried not to be an asshole and be fair and supportive with my partner in all I can, despite my depression. Not all depressed people are like the two in the LWs’ stories…
Yeah, tbh, that bothered me as well.
Reading Anxiety Disorders and Phobias A Cognitive Perspective. Difficult read, but pretty much sums up what I’ve read in this blog. Nice reply.
argleblargle. These sorts of situations are so HARD, especially if you know your partner is not doing terrible things on purpose to make your life miserable. However, their behavior is still hurting you. You both have a right to a partner who is actively working towards building a life together where both partners are contributing in the best way that they can. It sounds to me like the reason you are both so despairing is not because your partner has mental health related challenges, but rather because your partners aren’t doing the hard work they need to do to meet some of your needs as well. And that’s what partnership is, putting in an honest effort towards meeting each other’s needs.
I recently ended a relationship that was just like these. It was so hard for me to accept that my love, care, and support (as well as their meds and therapy) was not enough. With so many plans and promises that things would change over 4 years with nothing ever happening I just couldn’t handle it going on another year or five or more. To my ex change was always supposedly around the corner, but the illness prevented them from seeing that no progress was being made. When getting out of bed is still a major accomplishment after many years and you’re paying all the bills, doing all the cleaning, it’s just too much. LWs your needs are important and you can not effectively care for yourself and another adult who is not reciprocating in care and actively causing stress. You love them and they love you, but these are not healthy relationships and I really hope you get out of them. I started therapy around the time of the relationship ending and it helped me see that I really did all that I could have. It is because you love them that you end the relationship. If it’s not healthy for you then it’s not healthy for them either. Good luck and best wishes.
Cap’n and commenters, do you find it to be productive to also request/insist that partner see a doctor to address/rule out any health concerns that are contributing to the household Culture of Woe? Or is that an overstep?
I know conditions like thyroid function, some diseases, hormones, and anaemia can cause depression, and there’s also been studies linking depression to environmental factors like mould infestations in the home. Doctors can do blood tests and stuff to check for any physical conditions that may be causing depression, although of course there are a lot of people who just seem to get depressed.
And then, of course, there’s medication for severe depression: there can be some unpleasant side-effects from long-term use, but for some people even just short-term use of a few months can be very helpful. A combination of medication and therapy can also help, because therapy can help with things like entrenched negative thought patterns and strategies to deal with things like anxiety, or help with motivation or effective self-organisation, at the same time as the medication eases the depression.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to make the suggestion, as long as you do it calmly and and at a non-stressful time and all of that (so you know, nothing like ‘I think you have a problem and should see a doctor’ because that immediately puts people on the defensive). Hey, any of you guys have a good script for bringing that up?
Feeling depressed while physically healthy is a whole different ballgame from feeling depressed while ill, at least it was for me. And the knowledge that my inability to get up and do lots of things wasn’t a character flaw (or ‘this is how the world is going to be from now on’) but something that could be tackled and changed, it was a lot easier to deal with.
Something along the lines of ‘partner, I worry that you sleep so much and seem to have no energy – [suggestion to see a doctor] – and maybe you could chat to them about the depression/anxiety’ might work.
Depressed while ill is such an awful cycle. Remembering to take meds, eat properly or exercise is so much harder! I have to manage my physical condition mostly through diet, exercise, and stress management, which are of course the first things that suffer when I’m depressed. Then when I get sick, I blame myself and spiral into self-hatred. If I self-medicate my moods with so much as a half glass of wine* or a piece of chocolate, I’ll be sick for a full day and hate myself for it. And of course it’s hard to convince people (most of all myself) that my physical condition is real because it’s often triggered by stress/depression. Fuck that doctor who said, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with your adrenal glands, so it’s probably just anxiety. Take some deep breaths when you have hypoglycemic symptoms.” You wouldn’t tell someone with a cold, “Well, your immune function is weaker because of stress. Just take some deep breaths and that’ll clear up your cough.”
*I initially typed ‘whine’ by accident. How appropriate.
Howdy there, doppleganger!
No, really tho, everything you’ve just described fits my experience to a T, right down to the wine/chocolate -> blarghle -> I Am The Worstest! bit.
I always attributed my feeling horrible/ill all the time TO my depression (and slight anemia, but I often remember my iron! Mostly.); it’s occasionally occurred to me I might have a legit proper physical condition complicating the mess, but I didn’t know where to start in getting my doctor to look into that.
(It does not help that my doctor is terrible, and it is a giant clusterfuck hassle to do anything medical at all, including changing from said doctor. Which is why I have no actual proper diagnosis/meds for my depression but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.)
And of course it’s hard to convince people (most of all myself) that my physical condition is real because it’s often triggered by stress/depression.
Right through high school and some of uni, every time I approached an assessment due date, without fail, I would get sick. Sometimes it was flu. Sometimes it was a cold. Sometimes it was whatever infectious condition that was going around. But I would just get so stressed out that boom, my immune system would throw in the towel and I would be sick. It was totally genuine, but it was triggered by stress and anxiety and feelings of ‘I cannot do this.’ Before I was studying at uni, I lost a job because they always rostered me on for more hours than I could handle, and literally every second week I was off sick.
It’s finally stopped happening – I used to get so stressed partly because whenever I had a problem I didn’t know how to deal with it, whether it was approaching teachers/lecturers for help or not understanding the assignment etc, whereas I have now learnt to deal appropriately with that kind of problem and not to get stuck in ‘oh no I can’t do this’ mode – but it was completely real, and even now, sometimes stress or anxiety or depression still triggers that reaction of immune system collapse.
My favourite is when I suddenly realise I’ve run out of meds but don’t have time to get more or need a new prescription entirely. The main one has a super short half life, so if I miss two doses in a row (I take two doses a day) I begin to feel VERY ill, which makes it that much harder to get more meds. Or alternatively, if I have a bug causing stomach distress and I’m vomiting everything up the meds don’t really stay down long enough to work, and then I get the withdrawal symptoms as well.
I’m likely to be on meds for the rest of my life so planned withdrawal itself shouldn’t be too much of an issue, unless I need to change meds again. The 4 weeks switchover to get onto this one was bad enough. In that situation though, I’d know it was going to happen and be able to plan around it and make arrangements.
My sympathies. I was in this position once and it was so painful. 😦 When I was in the relationship I felt comfortable suggesting seeing a doctor/therapist/printing out relevant literature, but not with full on insisting – as someone who has had to seek that sort of help myself I felt it had to be my partner’s choice and something they chose when they were ready.
That said, thanks in part to this blog, when things started getting bad, I also felt comfortable saying ‘I acknowledge how hard this is for you and of course it is your choice if/when you get help, but I don’t think I can be in a relationship with someone who won’t even try to deal with their problems (especially as these problems directly affect me).’ When we broke up, partner did finally go and seek some professional help. It’s sad for me that that’s what it took, but I’m glad zie is starting to work hir stuff out.
Maybe ‘insisting’ in a way that is more about your own boundaries than telling another person what to do might help get your point across without overstepping. Although of course, it is only really effective if you are prepared to enforce that boundary, which could be really fucking horrible to have to do.
Jedi hugs if you want them.
Definitely agreeing with this. You can’t make them go, but you can decide that it’s a non-negotiable for you and that you can’t be in a relationship with someone who isn’t at least putting in a good-faith effort to take care of their own problems so that they can be the kind of partner you deserve.
Seconded. No matter what a partner is struggling with, they can make an effort to process/work through it, and if they are that makes it much easier. The language about “insisting” v. “explaining boundaries” that’s super important.
Also, and I think this is a foundation for what both LWs are dealing with (and well explained by Cap’n), when you love someone you do NOT own their problems. Partner/lover/friend saying “hey, I’m having a rough time, can you do a,b,c to help support me and in return I’ll work on x,y,z” is awesome. Partner/lover/friend saying “I can’t deal with this please take care of everything because I’m sick” is not awesome.
And, as some of the great commenters here have pointed out in various posts, when you take on that role you basically cut out someone’s ability to grow and better themselves anyway. On that note, I would actually recommend that both LWs be careful about setting the agenda (although some suggestions already made on this post are great). I would stick to “I am frustrated and would like to find ways for both of us to improve the situation, can we talk about things that might help?” and be cautious about being responsible for all of the suggestions.
My partner struggles with depression, and a few years ago, I did tell them I needed them to get therapy, at least for a while. It didn’t cure their depression, but it did help some and gave them more insights for dealing with it – and took the edge off the angry side of the depression, which was what I had the hardest time dealing with.
I’m lucky in that they do understand that their depression isn’t my fault or my responsibility – of course I try to make things easier on them, but depriving myself of enjoyment/neglecting my own interests in order to be depressed with them wouldn’t actually cure their depression, and they don’t ask it of me.
In our case, being poly has also made things easier, in that we both have secondary partners that provide different outlets for us. My partner has someone else who loves them deeply and provides another perspective on the depression, and I have someone who is very nurturing to me when my partner is going through a tough patch. Of course, close friends can also play this role – and poly can be challenging enough to manage that I don’t recommend it as a way to fix problems in your relationship!
As well, one of the side effects of Depression is becoming fixated on something. Like, I’ll get better once ‘x’ thing is done and you can’t TELL that this is really unhealthy until someone points it out to you. I had Post-Partum depression with my second child but no one noticed I was acting really odd until 6 months had passed. Once I had someone say “Go to the Dr. Don’t argue just do it because I love you and something is wrong” I did go and it was like light came into my life like NEVER before. It took time. Nothing good comes easy but the lightening of the dark in my life made things easier to put in perspective.
YES. As in yes, I think that’s completely reasonable and not an overstep. In fact, I think that it’s appallingly negligent that every single therapist in the land does not strongly recommend, if not insist on, a full medical workup before treating a potential patient for depression, because there is no shortage of conditions that can mimic clinical depression in some of their symptoms.
Yes that, and also a decent differential psychiatric diagnosis.
Wrong diagnosis = wrong treatment = sometimes Really Bad Things happen…
I agree wholeheartedly! However, many doctors just want to throw antidepressants at you at the first mention of depression. I had to break down crying in my doctor’s office before he took my thyroid issues seriously. Thyroid medication made ALL the difference! (When I needed to adjust my prescription, he insisted I didn’t need to, and that I was exhausted and depressed and cold all the time because I’m “a working mom.” I now have a new doctor.)
I don’t think doctors should be handing out antidepressants like candy without doing a full physical workup first, and when they do prescribe them they should do a better job of monitoring their use (or refer you to a psychiatrist). I’ve had several docs prescribe them to me but none of them discussed possible side effects or how to go off them if I decided to stop taking them.
I’m so happy with my current doctor after going through quite a few as they kept retiring, dying or changing practices. She’s pretty young so hopefully she’ll stay for ages, because she makes me go in every three months so she can check on how I’m going and whether I’m having any issues, and every time I’ve had any med or dosage change we’ve discussed how it will probably play out and she makes it clear to come back after two weeks if there are problems (earlier if they’re really bad ones obviously). I don’t need a psych specialist to prescribe the drugs, she can handle the monitoring etc, but I’ve definitely had other doctors who were not so onto it. It’s incredibly inconsistent.
Amen. I went to a doctor to ask to be referred to a counsellor (yay for the UK’s free National Health Service!) and she got me to fill in a test about how depressed I was. Only I didn’t know it was a test, I thought it was just the beginning of assessing my mental health, and I didn’t want to ‘come on too strong’ so I erred on the mentally healthy side wherever I was unsure which box to tick, which was most of them.
The result? Doctor says I am not sick enough to be provided with a counsellor, but I she’ll prescribe me some anti-depressants if I want. Just, casually, just like that. What the fuckke is that shitte?
This is, “It takes me five minutes to prescribe, but it takes a counsellor six to ten client contact hours (and even more administrative hours) to achieve as much as the pill can, so the NHS is limiting demand on counsellors much more than pills.”
…I should really write up my “how to document and explain your mental symptoms so doctors will take you seriously” speech one of these days.
Staranise, I’d pay to read that speech . My main problem was that my jerkbrain told me my symptoms weren’t that bad, and I was just whining
so I took a long time to go to the Drs. And flatly refused to take meds. So they had to send me to a counsellor.
Not that I would recommend that way of doing things, but I do agree that they throw around meds faaar to easily. Even though I now take them
bewhatyoudream, I wish I had done that. I did, however, start becoming A Problem Patient after a doctor asked me if I’d be willing to take a lower dose (a dose that was well below the effective dose!) of the meds that were causing me to be suicidal. Yeah, I became pissy pretty quickly. But that did get me a referral to a specialist and working medication!
So, I wrote that thing up. I hope somebody finds it useful.
Currently, my psych is the one pushing me (and my GP) to please please track down the problems I am having (second round of tests: waiting on results), because he’s pretty sure that the increase I’m seeing in psych symptoms has a physical cause. His willingness to look at physical causes and to not just throw SSRIs at all problems is one of the reasons I really like him.
Now if only some of my test results would come back abnormal. 😀
It is absolutely essential that the person with depression, anxiety, and other mental illness find supportive and compassionate healthcare providers for their Team Me. It is also essential said person/partner be committed to work with their treatment team to manage symptoms, whether that is through talk therapy, CBT/DBT, other psychotherapies, and medications.
As someone who has clinical major depression, PTSD, a variety of anxiety disorders, and other chronic conditions (secondary hypothyroidism, anemia, chronic pain, and pituitary shenanigans) it is rough when the depressive-anxious-jerkbrain is making me see my reality through a warped lens. I also know that when it is getting away from me, it can seem like I’m being selfish from the outside, when I am consumed by thoughts of guilt, being burdensome, and generally self-absorbed as my jerkbrain takes me down a depression and anxiety spiral.
Getting properly diagnosed is key. If medication is required, finding the right cocktail is important and identifying which side-effects are tolerable (and which are not) is also crucial (Heads up LWs: sexual side effects are common on SSRIs in terms of erectile function and libido for any gender). Finding a psychotherapy and a psychotherapist who is safe and comfortable is really, really important. Coordinating all that care, writing down what is being experienced and completing any assigned therapeutic tasks is also really, really important.
Symptom management and proper treatment is can be a daily challenge sometimes (at least it is for me when there is a flare up). It can also be a capricious beast because so much is placed on the sufferer when the mind is already playing tricks. I know, as a sufferer, it can make communication that much more difficult. I also know, I absolutely need to communicate with my Team Me when I’m in a better space about what I need regardless of being in a spiral or not.
With all this said, the Captain is spot on. As the supportive friend/partner it is crucial to set boundaries and time limits on tasks: As a “brain cootie” sufferer, I know I appreciate it when my roommate/friend/family member straight up tell me “I need you to do X by Y time”. It helps me to know how to assign my spoons and yes, it does give me a sense of accomplishment when I complete the task on time. More often than not, completing small tasks helps me through and it also helps my Team Me.
As the supportive friend/partner, self-care is just as important. If the brain cootie sufferer pulls a guilt trip or other manipulative behavior (intentional or not), let them, and go about your business anyway. In a strange way, seeing my friends/partners take care of themselves is inspiring (to me at least) and through example, show me that I can take care of myself and attend to my own self-care versus wallowing.
For the LWs: Check out the National Alliance for Mental Illness (www.nami.org) for therpists, support groups, events, and discussion groups in your area. The brain cootie sufferers can know they (me included) are not alone in their internal battle and can discuss symptoms, therapies, and medications with others going through the same thing; the supporters can also find solace among others in the same boat.
Lastly–and this is going to sound weird–don’t take the brain cootie sufferers symptoms and strange acts personally. They are not being depressed AT you. By the same token, it is just as important to negotiate for your (the LWs and supporters’) own happiness and ask for what they need. And if the negotiations don’t go well and if the sufferer can’t commit to symptom management and treatment, it is perfectly within your right to walk away.
As someone who has and the effects of Depression as a Contagion (and from from depression itself, for that matter), I would just like to reinforce the idea that getting out of the house on a regular basis and doing something fun and unrelated to everything going on at home is a very helpful thing to do. Me, sometimes I head out and spend several hours recreational shopping, or having lunch somewhere, or meeting up with friends. Something that isn’t a responsibility, where you don’t have to worry about anyone else’s feelings but your own. It gets you away from the Cloud of Angst that sometimes can somehow end up enveloping the whole house.
Also: it is not your responsibility to fix your partner. It is not your fault if you cannot magically make them better. I know you wish you could, but sadly things don’t work that way. And it is normal to feel emotionally fatigued when you’re living with someone with depression, because you’re taking up the emotional/motivational slack, as it were.
Depprression is contagious. It also self-reinforcing, especially when you have it as hard as the LWs’ partners do. You feel like a hopeles pathetic lump who can’t accomplish anything. So you don’t. Which reinforces the conclusion that you are a hopeless, pathetic lump who can’t accomplish anything.
Which means depressives in committed relationships (and the people in those relationships with them) face a horrible conundrum. On the one hand, the depressed person needs to hear, “Depression is real, it is not a character flaw, I understand that when you say you ‘can’t’ do whatever, you mean it honestly and are miserable about it and the last thing you need is for me or anyone else to pile on contempt, because you’re generating quite enough on your own. And exhortations to cheer up or buck up or, god forbid, to smile!! are offensive because they’re acting like you aren’t smart enough to have tried that, and as if your depression is a choice.”
On the other hand, saying, “yes, I know, you genuinely can’t” reinforces the message that the person can’t do stuff, almost certainly including things that they can do at least some of the time — because depression is rarely a fixed, stable condition. It fluctuates, so some days you can do a thing, some days you can’t. But if your partner has been trained to give you a pass all the time, then it sends the message to your jerkbrain that it is not even worth trying.
And yes! Depressives are just as prone to (and entitled to) moments of malingering and manipulation as anyone else… when “I can’t” is an at least somewhat conscious cover for “I probably could, but I don’t feel like it, and I know so-and-so will do it for me.” But depressives can also abuse that right (and I have some sense that LW 429’s partner in particular may be doing that… though of course from my way distant perspective how the fuck do I know?) Or the depressive can convince himself/herself (even with some truth, because people are complicated!) that “Partner needs to be needed, so this relationship in which I lean on him/her so much is actually kind of symbiotic.”
That’s why I think the Capatin’s advice is so good: the LWs should not give their partners a get-out-of-trying-free card. Without layering on criticism or contempt, or any other emotional content, and keeping their requests within reach of their partners’ comfort zones, they need to distinguish between things they think their partners really truly could not do if everything they cared about depended on it, and things that will “just” be really hard, and to not do things for their partners (or the household) that their partners actually can do, just because it’s hard.
Absolutely, therapy for all! Because when you’re in this stuff it is soooo hard to tell where the hard-and-fast limits are, and where there’s give. For yourself, much less for your partner. And you may need a coach to know where you are entitled to stand up for yourself
And yeah, you are entitled at any point to say “I just can’t do this anymore.”
But if your partner has been trained to give you a pass all the time, then it sends the message to your jerkbrain that it is not even worth trying.
Huge yes to this, and I say that as someone who has been on both sides. Having no expectations at all can feel like it’s a kindness, but it usually is not –for either of you.
This is how we’ve learned to deal with the “I know you can’t” conundrum over the many years, given the combination of brain glitch and physical issues that we’re susceptible to:
Either it is That Bad, or it is Not That Bad. No middle ground.
This is similar to, but not quite the same as, “Are you safe?”
If it is That Bad, that person gets all of the consideration and waiting-on and extra reassurance, but is also expected to actually call in sick etc., and if the That Bad continues for more than a reasonable time for its type, to make an appointment with appropriate medical professional(s) to get it dealt with.
One of the ways in which my jerkbrain manifests is that I’m usually convinced I’m malingering and surprised when I discover I’m not. Which is why I probably walked on a dislocated bone in my big toe for about a YEAR, no lie, and then found out there was an actual reason it felt like I was stepping on a nail every time I walked much distance at all. My spouse dragged me to the doctor, who told me he was not going to just give me more naproxen until I got to a podiatrist. Podiatrist was awesome and fixed the dislocation and gave me proper orthotics to deal with the less severe foot issues that I’ve had for many years but thought were just something I’d have to suffer with Because I Am Fat.
Not suffering is awesome. 🙂
I feel badly for you both. I imagine that you both feel helpless in the face of this monstrous disease that is taking your loved one from you. I imagine that the first instinct you have is to rush in and kiss-make-better because you love this person and that’s what you would want/need if you were hurting this badly. And here’s the really awful part– all those little things you do day to day to make your partner’s life a little easier, in the long run, they aren’t really helping. And that really sucks.
I’m saying this as the person in my relationship who suffers from depression and anxiety. I worked with my therapist for a long while and one of the things we had to work on was how to ask my husband to stop doing things for me that I am perfectly able to do for myself and reserve his help for 1. when I ask for it and 2. for the things I really, really can’t do for myself. Now, I’m not saying your partner’s situations are mirrors of my own, but some of my experiences might help.
You may want to try couples counseling or meeting with your partner’s therapist with them a few times. Because you really do need to re-negotiate some of the terms of your marriage. Both so that you won’t be stuck doing everything and so that they won’t be the baby who can’t be trusted to do anything by themselves. Of course, if they refuse, then you should go see someone who specializes in depression on your own. But what my therapist was able to do with my husband and I was to add to my general self-care list a second list of things that he could do with me or could ask me to do for myself when I’m down. He gets to ask me not to spiral at him and we’re back in the position where, if I’ve had a bad day and didn’t get anything done, he can just be sympathetic and tell me that tomorrow will be better. But it took time and work and structure to get us here.
You aren’t a bad person if you don’t want to or don’t feel able to do the heavy lifting anymore. You aren’t a bad person if you’re just done with things. It really sucks to be in a relationship with someone who has this thing, this disease, that eats up all their time and attention and energy. It’s exasperating and frustrating and you get to implement your own self-care. It’s not your job to take care of your partner. Even though they’re sick. You have the right to take time for yourself, to ask for things to get done around the house, to ask them to see a doctor. I hope things get better for you. But don’t put yourself on hold waiting for them to change.
I had the same experience–I had a therapist tell me, pretty firmly, that I was not to have my partner take care of all my stuff and tasks for me unless I was actually literally not able to do them (vs. being capable but feeling overwhelmed and pathetic). It was so, so hard at first, and I HATED it… and it was critical for my recovery because it helped me see that I actually was not helpless and incapable.
“I worked with my therapist for a long while and one of the things we had to work on was how to ask my husband to stop doing things for me that I am perfectly able to do for myself and reserve his help for 1. when I ask for it and 2. for the things I really, really can’t do for myself.”
So much this! I suffer from depression (and medication has made a world of difference in being able to start myself moving every morning) and there was a time when my boyfriend was trying to do everything for me. And burning himself out. At least he had the courage to tell me he was feeling overwhelmed. And I looked at him, and I said “please stop doing everything for me then. It makes me feel even more helpless. I will bitch and moan, and then do the dishes. If I need you, really NEED you, I will explicitly ask.”
Made a world of difference.
I love this comment. One thing my partner and I have found helpful is doing chores together. For instance, when I’m too depressed to take the initiative, my partner will say “Hey, I’m cleaning the living room. Want to pitch in?” and I do. It helps him do less work and I feel helpful so I like it too. YMMV.
I get to Whine and Complain. I don’t abuse it but my partner can stand there and be like “yep I hear you, it’s still your job to do the thing.” And I did negotiate to accept the job and I agreed on it and all that, and it’s not going to be that bad, and all that, but sometimes….
So I get to WHIIIIIIIIINE and then I do it. Being allowed (in my relationship, and in myself) to be grumpy and complainy about doing allocated tasks has made it easier to do them.
I just recently went through something like this with my partner, and it was hard and awful and scary and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. My bf is a very conscientious man — compulsively so, which is all kinds of other issues happening, but anyway — so even when he’s drowning his face in a bucket of depression, he’ll still get up and take out the trash and do the dishes; it’s just he goes right back to the bucket after. So I didn’t have the option to tackle the depression problems from an angle of, “Hey, it’s time for you to get out of the house now, or do some chores now, thanks.” I just had to go straight for “You are too sad to be my boyfriend,” which is a phrase I heard here that I mulled for months and months convincing myself it was okay for me to feel that way. It was HARD. It was AWFUL. I had to gear myself up for that talk for a long, long time because I knew it was possible that conversation would end with us being broken up. I spent about six months being an absolute MESS because, I don’t know, I thought maybe if I just got depressed and self-hating enough, that would solve it? Like, I could talk myself into this being “good enough” no matter what the cost? I was the least like myself during those months, I felt like I was living in a nightmare version of myself, like an emotional golem or something.
When I finally felt like the possibility of us breaking up was no more apocalyptic than what I was doing to myself, I sat him down and had the “You are too sad to be my boyfriend” talk, told him the specific ways I was not happy, and told him I needed him to do something concrete and tangible to work on these things, and I didn’t know what that was but I needed it to happen. He decided therapy was the thing, asked for my help in finding one and setting up an appointment, and we made a weekly date to check in about the small stuff, and a quarterly date to check in about the big “is this still working” stuff, so we didn’t have to go through the months and months of “WHEN SHOULD I SCHEDULE THE BREAK-UP TALK” insecurity. It is scheduled, it is on our calendars. We also talked about, if we were to break up, what that would look like and how we would make it work for each other as easily as possible.
This may not be how your talks go. I feel like I lucked out in all the universe to have my talk go so well. But I am sharing just to say that 1) doing something to save your sanity is worth it, because I cannot tell you how much I had dragged myself into a deep dark hole without realizing it, and how much of my life had been focused on my depressed boyfriend and nothing else ever, and 2) it may feel like you are preparing for the apocalyptic end of your ENTIRE LIFE, but after the very seriously emotionally difficult leap you make to get this ball rolling, this will likely be a lot easier than you are imagining. There is some wailing and gnashing of teeth, okay, but I swear it’s not a CONSTANT wail/gnash. Bringing problems to the surface allows some break in the cycle of “problems problems oh god problems MY LIFE is PROBLEMS,” enough of a break to remember what you like about your partner, or what you like about yourself.
My heart goes out to both of you, this is super hard, and all of you deserve better than what you’re giving yourselves.
just wanted to say that you and your BF sound like mensches. glad it’s working out for you. and thank you for showing us an example of what it’s like to have a depressed partner who *is* taking steps to work on it.
This is really and truly excellent.
I remember when we first got serious about my spouse getting help – it was while I was pregnant with First Kid, and about seven months into the pregnancy after a long-ass cycle of, “I’ll be fine once this One Stressful Thing eases up!” I finally said, “You’ve said that about so many different Stressful Things that I don’t believe you, and I cannot parent you AND a newborn, nor should I. Therapist now please, and also medical doctor to rule out physical issues.”
He grumbled LOTS, but he went. And when they tried to wait-list him till infinity, I plopped my very-pregnant self down beside him and said, “No, really, HE NEEDS A THERAPIST NOW!” Thankfully, this was effective in getting a therapist, and getting him started on the Medication-go-round. And it didn’t mean that everything was magically perfect – we’re more Katniss and Peeta than Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley in terms of how Over Past Trauma we are – but it meant we could still live together and have our kids and be mostly happy most of the time. And that’s OK.
And then after Second Kid was born, he had to sit ME down and say, “You know how you think you have ADHD maybe? Please actually tell the doctor this and maybe get some meds.” And he held my hand at the doctor’s and attested to the entire Inattentive criteria list and most of the other list, and I got my meds and I’m not all the way better but I’m a lot better. 🙂
Yes!!! I too have a compulsively conscientious bf, and have been walking the fine line as of late between supporting and nurturing him when he’s down vs. feeding the Insecurity Monster with my knee-jerk reassurances. He is open to the idea of seeing a therapist, and already thought it was a good idea before I very gently suggested, but there are some insurance issues. That said, I really do not want to be his therapist and I do not want to make him my project — I have these horrible fix-it tendencies which boil down to megalomania at their worst so I’m really trying to avoid that kind of infantilizing enabling relationship.
But thank you so much for this comment, it was the exact right thing for me to hear right now! 🙂
Reading these letters made me so sad. I can’t even begin to write about my own feelings or experiences in any sort of helpful way, but I just wanted to post to offer love, respect, and solidarity to the LWs. You guys are awesome and kind people, and it is totally ok that you are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, upset by the situations you find yourselves in.
Also, thank you so much to the Captain for her advice here. I am going through a similar situation with a family member and really needed to read this today.
…maybe I’m seeing different things in the two letters because of my own experiences, but I didn’t think the two cases outlined were that similar at all. I do think both partners are depressed, absolutely, but it sounded, to me, as if Overwhelmed’s wife is in a rather different place than Enabler’s husband, for the following reasons:
1) Overwhelmed’s wife: trying to consistently bring income into the household; invested in contributing. She’s not doing well because she’s hobbled by the inertia, but there’s consistent effort. Enabler’s husband: No consistent effort towards employment.
2) OW: In therapy, has been since before she met her husband, making a consistent effort to better her health even if it isn’t working. EH: 16 years without seeking therapy or getting a diagnosis, even.
3) Overwhelmed: has a social network, has non-spousal activities that he is able to indulge without direct negative consequences imposed by her. Enabler: is isolated, is deliberately made to feel guilty if she breaks her isolation in any way. No longer has close friends.
Another thing that really, really bothered me is that I’m in a similar logistical situation to EH, so I know how off some of his behaviours are. I’m staying with my spouse in a different country from my country of origin. I also can’t drive, because my anxiety goes through the roof and I’d probably wind up in a pileup six feet from my house, and I feel constantly hobbled by this now – I didn’t earlier because I lived in a country with a fantastic public transportation system. I cannot emphasise what a huge red flag it is that EH is refusing to get a driver’s license after 16 YEARS. If Enabler lives in North America, it is tantamount to forcing her to accept dependance (unless there’s driving-related issues like the ones I have, and I STILL suck it up and take public transportation to get places if I have to, ffs). Also, that he won’t keep on top of immigration paperwork (ogods I cannot tell you what a bad sign this is), and, perhaps most tellingly, put their child in daycare rather than care for him while being unemployed. How much more did Enabler have to work to support full-time daycare? How much stress did that child go through? These are objectively douchey behaviours, and mental illness does not excuse being a giant assbag and saddling your child with abandonment issues – and if the knowledge that your stay-at-home-parent sent you off to daycare so he could dick around on the internet or whatever doesn’t give you abandonment issues you’re a nobler soul than I would be.
tl;dr Overwhelmed’s wife and Enabler’s husband are clearly both depressed. Enabler’s husband is ALSO an asshole. I in no way am denying his depression, but it sounds like he’s gotten really used to having someone clean, take care of his child and pay his bills and can’t be arsed to change because hey, sweet meal ticket. (I repeat, 16 YEARS.)
Wow. I was humming along, thinking there was maybe merit in what you said, though comparisons aren’t necessarily fair or as enlightening as you seemed to think because (aside from the fact that we only have tiny snapshots of either couple’s situation) people start from different circumstances (e.g., their depression plays out differently, they have different coping skills to go with their depression, they have different access to mental health care, etc.)
But you are waaay, waaaay over the line declaring that putting a child in daycare constitutes abandonment, and assuming that everything the husband has done is because he’s a douchebag who just wants to dick around on the internet. Putting your kid in daycare when you have severe depression may well be the kindest, most nurturing thing you can do for that child. If, say, you question whether you will have what it takes to get up and change a diaper or make a snack, or have the patience to deal with his/her fussing without screaming or hitting or shaking, or to get down on the floor and play with the kid, or read stories, handing your child over to professionals who you can count on to do all those things and do them with a grace you cannot muster is absolutely the act of a loving parent.
I didn’t say that it constituted abandonment; I was in fact very careful to say that it could cause abandonment ISSUES in the CHILD. Things that are not objectively X may cause people to respond as if they were X because X is how it felt at the time/in retrospect. My parents have behaved in ways that have caused me to feel abandoned; I have never been abandoned by my parents. These are not mutually exclusive statements, for fuck’s sake. I speak from experience here.
Also, daycare constitutes abandonment? I never made that connection. My stepkid’s been in daycare, and she’s not actually any the worse for it. However, daycare because a person cannot handle a child that they chose to have, while they are not employed or otherwise occupied, is a bit of a dick move, really. That said, your comment is making me rethink that idea.
From my perspective, at least, you came/come across as very judgmental of someone putting their kid in child care “just” because they could barely take care of themselves and pull their weight around the house. When I think that may indeed be an act of great kindness toward the child, a lot less likely to result in long term psychological damage than being at home with a parent who won’t get up to deal with your soggy diaper, feed you, or play with you.
WHICH ABSOLUTELY HAPPENS TO KIDS ALL THE FUCKING TIME, and the kid has no more insight into “oh, it’s because my parent is battling depression” when they’re home alone with the parent than when they’ve been dropped at childcare. And at least at childcare they have SOMEONE treating them like they and their needs are important.
I have to chime in and agree that daycare was absolutely the responsible choice here. My own experience in daycare was fabulous (it was a lab school for the local university, so we were exposed to a lot of really cool literacy acquisition techniques and socialization games) and it was actually really good for my relationships with my parents, especially my mother.
Because she wasn’t a baby person, at all really. She loved me a lot, but I think it would’ve driven her crazy to deal with me 24/7 when I was pre-verbal. People shine as parents at different stages. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for a parent to be reflective about hir strengths/weaknesses and respond accordingly. For my mom, that was acknowledging that she found baby duties gross/boring/soul sapping and daycare was a great way to help her through that phase (so she didn’t have to be disgusted/checked out/resentful by the time we got to the ‘good’ stuff, which was [for her] toddler parenting onward). We’re really close and have a wonderful relationship.
I think people tend to get a lot of pressure to be ‘perfect’ parents at every stage, but that’s not realistic (from what I’ve seen) because we all have different personalities.
“I think people tend to get a lot of pressure to be ‘perfect’ parents at every stage, but that’s not realistic (from what I’ve seen) because we all have different personalities.”
So, so true. My dad is a great father to his adult daughters. He is someone I can count on who helps me with all sorts of adult things I find odious (like doing my taxes, for example). But he is not great with kids and really wasn’t an equal partner for my mom in terms of childcare. Realizing this has helped me forgive him for not being the greatest dad when I was young. And if he had acknowledged that I wonder if he would have been able to compensate for it somehow. Sorry this is a bit OT. It just struck me!
People shine as parents at different stages.
So. True. My knitting group were discussing this once, talking about our favorite ages of kids to deal with. I adore the tiny, pre-verbal ones. Someone else adores the teenagers. Etc. Between all of us, we’d’ve made a good parent for a child… I think this is the real source of “it takes a village”.
From personal experience:
Daycare when it would have been theoretically possible to be home with the kid but might have caused failure to complete a college degree many years in the making = very GOOD idea.
So was daycare when Guaranteed Kid-Free Time was needed for non-working spouse because of a sudden and unexpected escalation of PTSD-related symptoms related to First Kid attaining the age spouse was when the really horrific abuse started and engaging in some of the behaviors that spouse got abused for engaging in. He didn’t expect this to be a thing, but it was, and it was not fun or easy to work through.
To an outsider, it probably DOES look like “paying for daycare so someone can be Home Doing Nothing” but I know it was very VERY much not the case.
Um, actually, I think you suggesting that depression being a thing that someone can just ~get over~ before they have any business having kids is downright insulting. Same with the implication that a depressed person will be totally able to take care of someone when they are having trouble taking care of themself.
You don’t plan to get depression — it just happens. Having depression doesn’t stop you trying any harder to be a good parent. It doesn’t make you an asshole if you can’t be the best parent — it just makes you DEPRESSED.
Also, both my parents were turbo depressed when I was a wee bairn (3-4?), and they didn’t put me in daycare, and HEY I HAD ABANDONMENT ISSUES ANYWAY YEAAAAH~!! I’ve long since forgiven them for being imperfect, because I understand that they were just really sick for a while, and I see how hard they tried in later years to make it up to me. I ended up with my own set of problems because of how they raised me in that time, but that’s okay! I can deal! I won’t hate them forever and I’m not irrevocably damaged because of it. But, hey, you know what might have distracted me from Mommy crying on the phone and staring listlessly at the TV all day when I was little? Or Daddy getting really mad and upset at home? And me thinking that this was somehow my fault?
Daycare is gonna give that kid some time to get out of a household with a depressed parent, because as much as the wife is feeling it? You bet your ass that kid knows SOMETHING is up, even if they can’t totally grasp it. They may go the self blame route. They may think they’re just unloveable. Going to somewhere that is Elsewhere is just what that kid needs, because their dad has to focus on getting himself better now.
Daycare is gonna give that kid some time to get out of a household with a depressed parent, because as much as the wife is feeling it? You bet your ass that kid knows SOMETHING is up, even if they can’t totally grasp it. They may go the self blame route. They may think they’re just unloveable. Going to somewhere that is Elsewhere is just what that kid needs, because their dad has to focus on getting himself better now.
And the kid can focus on being a kid and doing kid things. ALSO IMPORTANT.
In our house, First Kid is innately nurturing and super-responsible, AND she is an epic Daddy’s Girl. No matter how much she is told to go and play, if she’s in the house with a depressed Daddy, she will try to cuddle him better or something (or try to “take care of” Second Kid in a really bossy manner, which isn’t good for either of them). She NEEDS that time away to have it enforced that she is seven years old and should be doing seven year old things.
Yes. I second this. Abandonment comes largely from feelings of being neglected. If having the kids in daycare means the parents can be more present when they are home then that is probably a much better situation for the kids.
While I agree with alphakitty that handing over your child to daycare seems to be a good solution in this case, I do think macavitykitsune has a point.
A friend of mine is in a very similar situation to Enabler and her husband: Her roommate/friend may well be depressed, but that doesn’t make him any less of an asshole in the way he treats her and takes advantage of her, especially since she is depressed too.
At some point, it is hard to really separate “I don’t want to” from “I really can’t”, but not trying at all, ever, seems to be a major red flag to me too.
I don’t think daycare is the worst possible thing to happen to a child. 2 of my 3 children were either in daycare, or at least a good preschool program – both have better social skills than my 3rd child, whom we did not send to either because of other issues.
That being said – I think the question of money is a valid one. And, to Lydia’s point “may well be depressed, but that doesn’t make him any less of an asshole in the way he treats her and takes advantage of her, especially since she is depressed too” resonate with me.
I have a very good friend who has some physical issues, and is married to man who has barely worked in the 10 years they’ve been married. He does have some serious physical problems (Tarlov cysts), and I really get that he’s in pain, and is probably depressed along with it. Being on painkillers doesn’t help, as I know from personal experience.
But…. he is a class one, Grade A, asshole. He makes absolutely no attempt to help out in anyway, financially or emotionally. He claims he can’t sit for long periods of time, yet he can sit at his computer (or on the couch with his laptop) for hours on end, playing video games, or pontificating on Facebook. Or, sit in a car for more than 2 hours to go see a wrestling event. Or whatever it is he wants to do. However – if she wants to go somewhere with him – movies, bookstores, etc… he (literally) whines and bitches the entire time. He does not clean up after himself. He does not do dishes, laundry, make the beds, make dinner, grocery shop, etc… He, quite literally, sits around their apartment bitching about her lack of ability to provide.
She – works her ass off. Regardless of how she feels, or what she needs, she goes to work. She drives a long way (and he bitches when she doesn’t get home when he thinks she should be home). Her paycheck is garnished because of all his medical bills. Did I mention he doesn’t work? He does get SSI; however, he will not put the money into their joint account, and tends to spend it all on himself. He does not help pay bills. They live in low-income housing, and he bitches at her constantly because it’s not good enough for him.
He has serious medical problems. But, he’s still an asshole.
sorry – that got really long. The situation gets me riled up on her behalf. She’s no doormat – she goes places and does stuff, and I think she’s pretty strong for putting up with his bitching and whining about it, but still….
For your friend, might I suggest personal bankruptcy + divorce? She could get the creditors off her back, and if husband’s not contributing funds to the household anyway, it’s not like she would be any worse off financially from divorce than she is now.
Agreed! I was actually coming to say that putting that kid in daycare sounds like it was the best response to the situation to me? Like, I’m disabled with executive dysfunction issues that make me see myself in both the spouses here (and, yeah, that comment about dicking around on the internet…) and one of the things that was really hard for me to learn but simultaneously really important for me to live remotely well is that outsourcing things I cannot manage on my own is an option. To me it seems much, *much* crueler to both parent and child to keep the kid at home when the parent doesn’t feel they can cope because they “ought to” be able to.
Also, I was a daycare-raised child myself, and haven’t developed any abandonment issues because of it.
“Outsourcing things I cannot manage on my own is an option.”
THIS X INFINITY, PLZ.
I feel like First World Problems Whiner whenever I do this, and I’ve really had to learn to let up on myself there. (I never judge anyone *else* that way, just me, which makes it more annoying.)
I completely agree that daycare can be the best option. Because, lets face it, if Enabler’s husband can’t do anything when she’s home its not going to get better, most likely worse, when she’s gone and the child should be somewhere where they can be socialized, have good healthy food, fun and games and stuff like that. I was a stay-at-home Mom and I almost lost my mind. As far as I was concerned it was the most soul-sucking time of my life. And I love my children. And my children do not suffer from abandonment issues either despite the fact that I would send them to the daycare a couple of times a week so I could recouperate.
” I didn’t think the two cases outlined were that similar at all.”
That was my reaction too. Or rather, they’re similar in type but very different in degree (with caveats that we only know a few hundred words about each of their situations etc). #429 sounds like he has a decent marriage with some frustrating aspects that he’s not sure how to handle (note he’s worried that it’s not OK to feel any frustration at all, which is not the kind of thing you worry about if your marriage is an endless pit of misery). #430 sounds like she’s at the end of her rope. So the advice to consider breaking up strikes me as absolutely apropos for #430, but a outsized escalation for #429. (Which is not to say that contemplating nuclear options can’t be a useful device for putting things in perspective.)
I agree with this completely.
There is a fundamental difference between a person who is trying really hard to get on top of their depression and go about a normal life and a person who refuses to even try. Those include things like trying to contribute to the household income and going to therapy.
The only thing about 429 that I agree with the captain about is that the husband should seek therapy for himself. I would also recommend that the two of them see a marriage counselor together so that they can 1) get the support that they need separately and 2) have someone who is understanding to help assist them in living with her depression as a couple. Does the husband get the decide to leav
Helpless Enabler here (the 2nd letter-writer).
I agree that my husband can be a bit of an asshole, and doesn’t do enough to compensate for his incapacities. But he does in fact do quite a bit. He is currently employed (for how long, I don’t know) and he is handling the stress of this job surprisingly well.
He’s the one with the social skills in our marriage, for what it’s worth (I have few friends because I am truly AWKWARD and don’t even like people until I know them very well, though I do try to overcome this).
And we are in a socialist country where excellent daycare is practically free. I wouldn’t have put Child in daycare if Husband had seemed to be coping well as a SAHD (I didn’t go to daycare, so my default was to assume home child-care is normal), and it was I, naturally, who had to do the actual work of finding a daycare spot (which are hard to get). BUT the daycare is excellent, and I am so happy Child is getting quality care from someone besides the two of us, who are far from perfect parents (though we love him to bits and try our best). I would worry about him, as a single child, not having the social experience of daycare. As a major added bonus, he’s now perfectly bilingual (English and the local language) which will mean he’s less isolated than I am here.
Sorry, I’m tearing up a little at the concept of actually affordable day care that allows parents to make the best choices for themselves and their careers. Here in the U.S., it’s easy to forget that this is a possibility that many, many countries make happen for their citizens.
It’s great, but the countries that have this often pay crazy taxes for this benefit (I pay 15% sales tax, etc.), so it’s not as cheap as it seems! For what it’s worth, daycare is often a great choice for kids to stimulate their development, help w/social skills, prepare for school, etc. So no reason for anyone to feel bad about choosing daycare as an option.
Ha, in Chicago we pay over 9% sales tax and don’t get anything like free day care.
Yeah, and look for what we do have to start fading away this coming year….
What Jen said, and also: childcare here is so expensive that it sometimes makes financial sense for one half of the parent-couple to quit their job to stay home with the child. I think that works out to a lot more than fifteen percent, and this is in a system where most providers are underpaid and vulnerable. I understand that comprehensive social programs cost money, but there’s no comparison between those costs and the costs of an individualized private alternative, even before you tote up the emotional and logistical expense of arranging stuff like child care–or hospice care.
Anyhow, end derail–although it’s worth pointing out that depression in the US looks different than in Europe precisely because we have no…system. I know a few people with assorted mental-health issues who have been damaged, as much as by anything else, by the patchy, localized, temporary “care”available to them.
I love taxes actually. I would pay higher taxes if it meant an actually decent social welfare system and an economy that wasn’t crippled with soaring living costs and high unemployment. But then, I’m a policy student. 🙂
(We have 15% sales tax too, up from 12.5% a couple years ago.)
Times are very tough in the US for a lot of people, and I see how hard it is for so many Americans. We also have many flaws here to our system causing great suffering for people, but perhaps different ones than in the US. I want to be careful not to diminish their struggles with “the system.” That said, we could use more awesome in Canada, so come visit or move here, anytime! We’d love to have you all (and your tax contributions).
Bring your snow boots.
HE/LW2 – do you see what you did there? Your first response was to jump up and say, oh hey guys, he’s not THAT bad, he does do stuff, he’s better than me at being social and anyway we have great daycare here…..
I get it, you love him and it’s a completely natural thing to want to defend him when other people are saying “Christ, what an asshole” about him. But that’s how enabling happens – you put up with his selfishness and make it easier for him to be selfish, because you love him and deep down you feel that he’s a good guy.
Maybe it would help to append his behavior to those happy thoughts. My husband is a wonderful guy who can’t be bothered to get a driver’s license. My husband is a funny, sensitive, sweet person who leaves the majority of parenting to me. My husband is a fantastic cook who expects me to do most of the other household chores, even though I work full-time. My husband has attention deficit issues and he refuses to do anything to make them better, or minimize their impact on me.
You can love somebody and appreciate their good qualities without allowing them to use that love against you to justify their selfish, taking behavior.
This, right here, is a pretty good way to think about things. Gets closer to reality, and then you can figure out where the truth of things lies!
I think both letters exist along a continuum. #429 is what it’s like when everyone is still at least trying. #430 is 8 years further in, when one partner is pretty much not trying anymore and the other partner is ready to be done. I don’t think it’s nuts to look at them together, or that putting them together we are saying that anyone is a bad person.
Thank you for posting these. I’m no longer in a relationship like the ones here, but I have been in the past and hearing advice similar to this really helped at the time.
Thank you so much for this awesome post. I actually asked my husband if he was the first LW. (No.) Thank you, thank you.
Squee, after a long time of lurking, my first official comment:
“Roughly: meds stopped working, need new meds, getting meds requires effort, which would be a lot easier if I had better meds, ergo I need new meds. I will solve this conundrum at some point, just, not today.”
This, so much this. I especially have this problem with going to therapy regularily, and I’m really happy I’m not the only one.
Also I’ve been physically ill on and off for about three months now, which does not help, let me tell you. Asthma + recurring sinus infections & colds + the side effects of large doses of steroid inhalers (wicked dry mouth, joint pain) are making life not so fun right now. Thank god it’s school break I can get a lot of rest.
With me, it’s been crippling, constant fatigue for the last five years.
Thank you for updating the blog so much, even though you’re going through all those awful things! *Jedi hugs if you want them*
I’m going on vacation for a week starting on Tuesday (which will include an internet break), so trying to knock out a bunch of questions while I’m still on school break and have time. Easier to balance when I’m not mentoring 32 students making 3 short films apiece. I return your hugs in the Jedi fashion!
Lydia, me too on the fatigue. And I’m the one in the household with the full-time job while my spouse finishes her degree / internship / finds a job. It is Not a Pleasant Combination.
Sorry to hear you’re still feeling like crap!
Slight derail, Jen P… But have you tried a neti pot? I KNOW they seem gross and scary, but they are nothing short of amazing for sinuses. I need to keep my mouth wide open and quite deliberately mouth breathe in order to feel secure it won’t go into my lungs or ears. But it’s made my frequent sinus and ear infections a thing of the past. There are additives with goldenseal and immune boosters that are great too.
I’d be a mess without it right now, my home / city is still pretty moldy from Sandy.
Hope this will help and have a lovely break!
I’m a fan, too. During one particularly nasty head cold I’d been fantasizing incessantly about being able to wash out my sinuses/nose on the inside… imagine my joy at learning I actually COULD! I add zinc (formulated for use with the neti pot).
whoa whoa whoa – ZINC? For NETI?
I just googled and dear lord – all this cool helpful stuff to boost my regular Neti wash when I’m sick! I had no idea!
(Sorry for the surplus exclamation points – this is all very exciting!)
Oh yes. I neti. SOOOOOOO gross and satisfying.
Also, I don’t know if I’m the only one this had never occurred to or not, so I’ve been sharing it around: expectorant actually helps a lot with sinus problems too. Since guaifenesin works by thinning mucus, and it doesn’t differentiate between mucus in lungs and mucus in sinuses, I have found it super super useful.
What Other Becky said. MUCINEX CURES EVERYTHING.
And makes your pee smell like a flea & tick collar!
Oh! So glad it’s not just me who notices weird pee smells after taking Mucinex! Beloved thought I was nuts!
3rd-ing OtherBecky’s comment!
My voice teacher (and fellow students) SWEAR by guaifinasen – they recommend the liquid form as opposed to the pill since it works faster.
I had a little bit of “whoa, Jennifer’s got all that going on and still keeps her blog going? And what have I done with my life?”
And then I stopped and thought of a bunch of awesome things in my life and felt better, because your awesome doesn’t make my awesome any less awesome. But still, I was all impressed.
So, you know, go you.
For both me and my husband, steroids = depression flare-up. I’ve only noticed it with oral steroids, but he has been doing a ton of inhaled steroids for asthmatic bronchitis lately, and it’s really done a number on his mood.
Maybe that’s contributing to your depression?
Quite possible. I went off them for a while because I don’t like the side effects, but I HAVE to be on them right now so I can breathe. Do not like.
You know, every time I read about (or think about) depression I come back to the question of – WHY isn’t there some sort of simple, one-stop assistance center you can call to get help setting up a therapy appointments, getting to the therapist, dealing with insurance, and so forth? A 911 ambulance for the mind, to break that vicious cycle of “too depressed to get treatment/need treatment to stop being depressed.” Our current system is like placing a treatment center for broken limbs at the top of six flights of stairs.
and you have to pass through a hedge maze to find the front door
I love this idea. Maybe some of my research should be figuring out what to do to Make It So. 🙂
This is a wonderful idea!
I would literally have gotten years more out of the past few… er, years if I didn’t have to fight tooth-and-nail with stupid bloody tricare for every scrap of help. Going by this thread, I am so obviously not alone in this.
Why is this not a thing?! It should be a thing.
So true! It took me nearly 10 years to get my (super obvious) ADHD diagnosed and treated, with many stops and starts, despite the (many, many) people I encountered along the way being nothing but helpful. My psychiatrist joked with me that the real test for ADHD is whether or not you can actually make and show up for the appointment, and it’s clear that I don’t* have ADHD since I managed to get there eventually.
Glad your psychiatrist was joking. My ex-therapist (Dr. Unethical from the other thread) said that about me, in all seriousness, but told me it was totally OK to take Strattera because he used to do all kinds of illegal drugs. *headwall*
Whaaaaaaat! What an irresponsible juicebox. >:[
Whaaat. Strattera is the MOST BORING DRUG EVER. It’s not even a stimulant! He should’ve given you Dexedrine. Good on you for reporting him.
I know someone who actually had to be frog-marched down to the pharmacy once by an only slightly less ADHD friend, so he could explain to the pharmacist that he had lost his Rx. He couldn’t find his medication without taking his medication, and of course he couldn’t take any of it because he couldn’t find it. The fun went on for quite a while — he was taking proper amphetamines, which ramps everything up to eleven here in the US — before the doctor fixed it by faxing back something that basically said FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GIVE HIM HIS PILLS.
They actually have literally applied that test to people here when the national accident compensation organisation decided it should be operating like a for-profit business and get rid of the “low-hanging fruit” (yes, that’s actually the term they used).
Man, I hear you. I have Asperger’s (with fun executive dysfunction problems giving me a lot of ADD-like symptoms) and although I was really optimally situated for diagnosis (had a free adult assessment center located in the city I lived in) I only managed to get diagnosed with a *lot* of hand-holding and intervention from the uni disability service and counselling service. I am quite certain I wouldn’t have a diagnosis now if it weren’t for them, because I could not tackle the steps involved in getting an appointment set up on my own.
House of Brain Glitch representing here.
The form mine takes is chronic low-to-moderate level procrastination, overwhelmed, feeling like a horrible person and coming back and needing to beg for support and forgetting to do really obvious basic functional tasks (like take my meds, which makes the rest of this worse, yay). The form my spouse’s takes is that on a good day he’s miles more functional than I am but occasionally things get Bad Enough that hospitalization (inpatient or intensive outpatient) becomes necessary.
Looking at the “would you stay?” questions, yeah, I totally would, because overall I think that our relationship is one of the few things that both of us consistently do at least close to right no matter how mean our brains are being to us (and parenting our kids is another). It IS hard to avoid getting sucked into each other’s stuff, though, and that’s a pain. I can’t speak entirely for spouse because I’m not quite sure how he DOES manage to deal with me, but I know how I’ve learned over the years to deal with a partner who occasionally goes depressed.as.fuck:
#1: The “Are You Safe?” Protocol.
This protocol is what we do with everyone from each other to strangers on the street if and when we think it’s warranted. “Are you safe?” is much better than asking, “Are you OK?” (which is kind of a useless question when severe depressive symptoms are the issue). That question simply means, “Can you reassure me that you have no immediate plans regarding or risk of hurting yourself or someone else?”
Anything other than unequivocal and immediate “Yes” is grounds for some kind of action. This action can be anything from, “Here are your take-as-needed meds, please take them now and get some rest,” to, “Get in the car, I’m taking you to the hospital RIGHT NOW!” to calling 911 or mobile crisis (which has never happened with spouse but has with other folks who no longer speak to us).
#2: I Will Not Argue With Depressed Logic
“Depressed Logic” is a concept born out of us snarking at an annoying therapist who was on about illogical thinking leading to depression. To spouse, it’s perfectly logical, just starting from the faulty premise that the depressed person is the piece of shit that the world revolves around (pretty much what LW 429 described his wife doing). If one of us starts using Depressed Logic, the other can say, “Sorry, I love you, but I cannot argue with your depression!” and exit the conversation or change the subject.
#3: Someone always knows what is going on, other than us and medical personnel.
As soon as I feel like I can’t talk to people about it, that’s the sign that I NEED to talk to someone about it. Even just in general terms of, “Spouse’s mental health is acting up again and it’s stressing me out” or, “Spouse is trying to get through a med change that triggered a two-month-long migraine, so I’m putting kids to bed and then heading out for time to self while he sleeps it off in a dark quiet room.”
#4: Eat, sleep, shower, take meds, go to work, and love the kids. Everything else can wait if it has to.
Pretty much exactly that. I’m learning not to pressure myself to take care of things the way a “REAL ADULT”(tm) should when things aren’t going well. It’s how we manage to get through this.
This is all so sensible and great, especially the refusal to engage with depressed logic. Thanks for sharing.
Points 2 and 3 resonated with me.
2): ‘That’s depression talking’ was the single most helpful sentence for me; a help to distinguish me (my wishes/dreams/abilities) from depressed thought. Stopping to evaluate whether something has a basis in reality or whether it’s the brainweasels writing the script was absolutely vital for me.
3): Not wanting to talk about things is a sign that I *should* be talking about it. I’ve tried to go the silent, ‘don’t want to bother anybody’ route, and it made matters much worse. Reaching out is hard, but rewarding.
It sounds as if, for all the hardship you are going through, you have a good handle on what you need and how to tackle those needs. Thank you for sharing.
There is hardship, yeah, but we wouldn’t even TRY to do half of the awesome we do if we didn’t have each other. We’re both grad students, with similar-but-not-identical research interests, and I also have a fairly responsible social services-related job that has its incredibly stressful moments. We have to do a lot of patching each other up to face the stuff that comes up “in the field”.
The hardest part, because of the nature of what we do, is to not get caught up in the “but other people have Dead Pets! and Tumors!” thing a la Hyperbole and a Half. A lot of what we do for each other is tell each other to stop doing that, really.
Oh, man, the Dead Pets! and Tumors! argument.
I think my jerkbrain has given me about every iteration of that argument that exists. I think Mr. Posh and I need to start calling each other on that one.
(Of course, the REAL purpose of this comment is to say “Yay! Hyperbole and a Half!”)
You know what? I survived one of the worst natural disasters and one of the worst manmade disasters in recorded history piled up on top of each other. I am one of the Dead Pets and Tumors people (except without a tumor). And I give you ALL PERMISSION TO BE SAD. It is okay if your reason is smaller than mine. It is okay if your reason is bigger than mIne! Sometimes I think back on the disaster and think ‘but at least I wasn’t in (worse affected place), at least I got out after a few days, why am I finding this so hard?’ There’s always someone Dead-Pettier and Tumorier than you are I guess.
But yeah. You don’t need permission from anyone or a reason that passes muster in order to feel bad, but if it helps anyone beat down those particular brain weasels, I totally give you permission. And I give myself permission too, because, you know, there are people, lots of people who do have it worse than me, and/or are handling it better than me. But that’s okay. I’m doing my best.
Yes, I second this. I have gone through some tough stuff myself and I still do this “Other people have it worse!” thing. When I hear friends do it, especially when they use me as an example, “I’ve never been through anything like what you’ve been through…” it makes me really upset and frustrated! This is partially because my stepmom, who had had a really rough and abusive childhood, tried to make me feel like I should just suck it up and I didn’t really have it that bad. That made me really sensitive to that and whenever a friend says something like that I say, “NO, you have been through stuff. Just because you haven’t been through what I have doesn’t mean your problems aren’t hard and your pain doesn’t hurt!” I am in the process of working on doing that for myself also, but it is always a little harder. Telling yourself your problems aren’t that bad doesn’t make them go away, it just makes them that much worse when you are still in pain and feeling guilty about it.
@Pelusa – I work in post-disaster recovery and I hear the “other people have it worse” thing SO much. I’ve taken to pointing out that by that logic, only one person in the entire world is allowed to complain about their problems and it would almost certainly be in a language I don’t know so I wouldn’t have a clue what they needed. Person I’m talking to, on the other hand, I know heaps of ways to help.
‘Reaching out is hard but rewarding’ – yes it is, but be very careful to choose the right person. The very first person I told that I wasn’t coping well mentally was a bad choice. Her reaction was basically to throw it back in my face a few days later, saying ‘you’re using your mental state as an excuse to be a lazy housekeeper, and you’re clearly an unfit parent’ which devastated me. I cut her out of my life but that set me back a long way. I shook for months afterwards at the thought of telling anyone else how I was feeling, let alone actually going to a doctor or therapist to get meds or help. In bad moments I still get tearful when I think about needing help because her reaction reinforced my negative self-talk.
I am so sorry. That’s horrible. 😦
Thanks. In many ways it’s really not bad. I got to lose a toxic person from my life (unfortunately she’s a close enough family member that she’s still in my husband and children’s lives, but so long as I get to stay away it’s not a bad thing), and my reaction to her reaction gave me the motivation to move from the house that was causing a lot of my depression/anxiety. It was just a sucky way to do it, and if I could have chosen I would have managed the same outcomes in a way that was less stressful to me.
Yikes! No no no no no, that person is Doing It Wrong.
I’m sorry you had to go through that. *many Jedi hugs*
Thanks. After I got over it (mostly over it; like I said it does still creep up on me at vulnerable times), I chose to make it a learning experience. I am now super careful about who I tell these things to since she showed me that even people I like and trust aren’t always the best for my needs. I also learned that I can stand up, cut people out of my life and say no to taking them back in and the world won’t end, and while it may inconvenience other people their worlds won’t end either. Holidays are really awkward for my husband, and even some of my friends, but I have learned to if not not-give-a-damn, then at least to do what I want anyway 🙂
And if you’re a person of color, that’s an added glitch in terms of figuring out whom you can trust, even if they wear the moniker(s) “professional” and / or “doctor” and / or “therapist”.
(If this sounds like an overreaction to anyone, googling “Tuskegee” and “Experiments” may be helpful in terms of insight.)
This is a very good point, and one that gets lost a lot. Thank you for bringing it up.
Oooh – no no no!
I had a “friend” do that to me once – I was gutted over something I was dealing with and literally broke down weeping in the street while I was telling her about it. She hugged me and pulled back to look me in the eye and proclaim, “You know you’re not really upset over XYZ, but that you miss your parents right?” Which had utterly, totally NOTHING to do with the issue. The shock of her not getting it and her terrible awful analysis broke my heart but also shocked me into the next place where I started phasing her out of my life.
I’m sorry you had to deal with that. Many many Jedi hugs to you.
I needed this post so bad it made me cry.
“I’m learning not to pressure myself to take care of things the way a “REAL ADULT”(tm) should when things aren’t going well.”
This is a pretty trivial example, but one of the ways my depression manifests is that I criticise myself a lot for “wasting time”, especially when I’ve stayed up too late. Then, instead of going the fuck to sleep, I lie in bed kicking myself for not going to bed earlier, telling myself how tired I’ll be at work tomorrow, how useless and irresponsible I am, and not fit to be called an adult. Then I realised that instead of putting myself through all that, I can just… not look at what time it is. At that point it doesn’t matter whether it’s 1:30 or 4. I can just go to sleep and do something different tomorrow.
ADHD + a few specific and inconvenient phobias regarding certain Real Adult things = where oh where does the time go…? And then I do the exact same kicking-myself. Except not as bad as I used to.
That is a wonderful list. I’m going to c&p it into a text file and save it for future need. Thank you!
This is such a good and useful post, and I’m going to try and implement some of these strategies, as me and spouse have a similar unfortunate depression cycle.
Happily, some of it I’d already recently (very recently!) taken in for myself: namely the Shunning of the Real Adult! shame cycle. To hell with that nonsense.
#2 is especially lovely. I actually really, really hate listening to my friends talk about themselves in negative ways. It’s a thing. It’s my job to listen to people talk and keep an ear out for depressive logic, and it’s hard to turn that off when I go home at 4pm. (If a friend does start using depressive logic, I have a bad habit of going after the brainweasels like a rat terrier, and shaking the thoughts by the neck until they’re dead. Which is not actually pleasant for the depressed person, because I keep randomly jumping on them and going “YOU’RE WRONG LET ME LOGIC YOU.” But I’m working on it.)
I have a friend who sometimes voices her depressive logic to explain why she’s freaking out (“But don’t you see? That would mean I am imperfect, which is TERRIBLE”) but does it with exactly the same manner and tone of voice as everything else she says. So terrier!me goes on point and then all my counter-reactions start a pileup of “She’s a grownup and can think on her own” and “Maybe she’s joking” and “This is not the time” and it’s super stressful
So now when she knows what she’s saying is depressive logic, she makes an agreed-upon inconspicuous hand signal. I ❤ the hand signal.
On the REAL ADULT thing – turning 30 was an amazing and unexpected benefit for me. My brain suddenly went “Hey, I’m an adult now by every cultural milestone and then some. If I haven’t changed in some of these ways by now, maybe that’s just who I am.” And I became much more comfortable with my lackluster housekeeping and my belief that the world would be better off if dress codes didn’t exist.
Ooh you just made me look forward to turning 30! Thank you. Normally my logic is the opposite: what if I don’t change these things by the time I’m 30? That will be who I am foreverrrr. I guess it’s not so bad after all. I’m trying to start accepting some of this stuff now and get a head start!
From the other side of the next milestone: No, you won’t change. Hopefully, you’ll be wiser and have more coping strategies, but there’s no such thing as a personality transplant when you get to the next round birthday.
Embracing your individuality becomes, if anything, more awesome.
Yes, this! And also having more self-knowledge and awareness of what your strengths are and how to use those to build a good life. I spend less time trying to perfect myself (or ineffectively worry about not being perfect) and more time capitalizing on my strengths and working around my weaknesses.
There’s no personality transplant, but there’s also no magic “you have passed this milestone, your personality is frozen forever.” You will keep having new experiences, meeting people and learning stuff, and change in response to them, and maybe just in response to time.
Really, REALLY wish I’d been aware of the concept of Depressed Logic when I was in my teens. There was much arguing about how I CAN’T! (BECAUSE X!)* do things I needed to do and would have been able to do if I’d been able to let go of the NO I CAN’T. Arguing with me in that state never helped, of course, because I always kept arguing back, and agreeing would obviously not have helped either. Someone simply pointing out “that’s Depressed Logic” and refusing to argue might have. (Then again, someone – including me – figuring out I was depressed, rather than just having a really strange kind of social phobia, might definitely have helped.)
*Where X usually = “I don’t know how to do it well enough (i.e., perfectly) and I need to know that before I even try”.
*Where X usually = “I don’t know how to do it well enough (i.e., perfectly) and I need to know that before I even try”.
Holy shit, are you me?
Most of my life I had to live with undiagnosed Clinical Depression and let me tell you, NOTHING, is more frustrating than hearing “Clean the house” but not knowing where or how to start or how you could possibly do it. Small things “Take out the garbage, fold the laundry, make spaghetti for supper” make it possible to do that small concrete thing. I could never get my ex-husband to understand that I needed concrete things to do. I couldn’t do them on my own. Instead of seeing a series of small jobs all I saw was the overwhelming pit of “the house” on top of taking care of my children.
Thank you so much for the awesomeness of this website. It makes me feel so connected and un-alone. Jedi hugs for everyone!!
Have you stumbled across Unfuck your habitat? It’s a website that gives great tips for tiny steps in cleaning, e.g. wash dishes, do a single load of laundry. I think you can sign up to have them tweeted at you as reminders. I’m a messy person, so I also really appreciate the small, manageable goals approach.
Thank you for Unfuck Your Habitat (http://unfuckyourhabitat.tumblr.com/). It reminds me of a slightly edgier, less twee and Christian Flylady (http://www.flylady.net/), which also works well for some.
I kind of hate Flylady for her attitude that one can’t expect the menfolk to be concerned with this stuff, but it works for some people.
I used to read Flylady. Had to unsub due to the constant, CONSTANT ableism and fat-shaming.
I was JUST going to link that!
I credit UfYH with really giving me the first solid tools I ever had to beat the crap out of my depression rather than my self.
The lady who runs it is super-supportive and informed about the specific challenges depression presents, too. It’s a judgment-free, uber-affirming space.
UfYH = WIN. In a very very accessible way, which is extra awesome.
I find it so much more useful than Flylady because of its accessibility.
I think it’s really interesting that so many posters here have had a good experience with UFYH. I took one look at the website and promptly had an anxiety attack and haven’t been back since. So I guess just caveat emptor, since I found the tone harmful to me.
I found the tone harmful to me, too, so it’s not just you. >.>
yeah, I get stressed out at all those tools too. UfyH, flylady, an app I have called UnStuck which was great until it started coaching me through finding solutions but it hadn’t led to make the problem extremely small in the first place so I was like WAIT I HAVE TO SOLVE MY WHOLE MESSY HOUSE NOW ACK?!? even though it was all about figuring out a plan for doing it over like the next year or whatever.
I dunno. These services seem to really trigger my anxiety so hard.
The big thing for me was to break “house” down into a list of individual tasks that I get a gold star for completing. I also stashed cleaning supplies in every room. That way, “find and haul about cleaning supplies” was not on my list. Things get cleaned because they are dirty and the sponge is right there so why not?
…seriously I love you guys. I did find “Unfuck your habitat” but I got an awesome job and decided instead to hire a maid once a week. NOW I don’t have to worry about cleaning. I just do the dishwasher. LOL. It really is amazing how much shame and condemnation surround a messy house for women. Its like, if my house is messy I’m a horrible, disgusting failure of a human. Especially when your talents do not lend themselves to gender assignments. Fun!!
Some wonderful day I will have a maid. That day I will celebrate with all the glee of a person who doesn’t have to clean for the foreseeable future.
Maids FTW. The absolute minute I can afford it I will hire a maid (at a fair wage, of course). I have zero shame in feeling totally done with cleaning the bathroom
I have a similar strategy. I try not to leave things I’m done with not put away. If I need to wash a dish to use it (dishes are an issue in my house), I try to wash five or something. My goal is never “clean all the things” it’s “make one thing slightly more livable.” If that means there’s papers piled all over the dining room table but the throws on the couch are folded, so be it.
In my last house I would wash dishes while cooking. That meant that there were always last dinner’s dishes in the sink, which isn’t ideal, but at least it was only ever a couple of things. Making ‘washing dishes’ part of my routine (particularly when there wasn’t anything else to do in the kitchen) worked, not in the least because the goal changed from ‘wash all the dishes’ (which only has one winning condition and plenty of ways of beating yourself up for forgetting this one or needing to soak that or running out of hot water or…) to one that had only one losing condition (not washing anything at all). If I have permission to stop after a couple of items, picking up those items is much easier than if it’s all or nothing.
Currently, I am sharing a house, so I feel obliged to wash my dishes ASAP, either the same evening or occasional first thing in the morning while fixing breakfast. Much to my suprise, it’s not as hard for me as I thought it would be.
My strategy of the moment is that before I cook, I unload the dishwasher, and after I cook/eat, I load and run it. This keeps me more sane also because I live with two other people and a very low-key division of housekeeping tasks, so at least the dishes get done on some regular basis, and I have a direct reminder of when I need to do them.
A strategy I borrowed from a friend is “If I see it, I have to deal with it.”
Which sounds like it would trigger a maddening flurry of “Clean all the things!” … but in reality, is more like “Clean most of the things… then pretend I can’t see the rest.”
I guess when you lay it out like that, it doesn’t necessarily sound healthy. But it helps me – it means I deal with however much I have energy to, and give myself permission to not let the rest stress me out. Because I don’t see it! So it doesn’t exist until I say it does! :p
Ha! My husband is like that. Now he says, “What did you want to get accomplished today?” and I name one or two things that are high priorities. And sometimes he says, “I really want to get X dealt with tonight because it’s driving me nuts.” and does that instead.
It cuts down on his stress level enormously, which means he does more, which cuts down on my stress level.
LW #429, is there any way for you to outsource some of the things you currently do for your wife? Like, I totally understand it may not be viable for a number of reasons (including financial!), but being able to hire someone who comes round, say, once a week to sit down with your wife and help her with getting her projects sorted seems like it’d be a weight off your back but also possibly helpful for her in giving her more structure and making it such that someone else doing stuff for her job isn’t her failing but sort of planned in from the start. Or hiring a cleaner on a regular basis if the chores are getting to you.
Speaking of which: of course I totally agree with the Captain that you are totally within your rights to go “no, I am not going to be helping you with your work anymore.” However, if you don’t want to go to the extreme of withdrawing all assistance, an alternative would be to sit down with her and go “okay, the past $n times you’ve had a project we ended up working together to make sure it got done. Let’s try and plan this out better so it doesn’t catch us by surprise next time,” and maybe agree beforehand to take over certain aspects of the job that she finds especially difficult but make clear that other things will be her responsibility, period. This gives you another way of drawing boundaries without refusing all assistance, might mean you can set deadlines as well and might be helpful for her if she can unload certain things she finds very difficult and that block her from getting things done. I mean, obviously I don’t know what she’s like, but I know there are often relatively simple things I find extremely difficult to manage (mailing things is among them, actually) and that if I try and do a large task involving a thing like that I might not be able to start at all. Having it agreed upon in advance that you will take over X, Y but not Z of her work might make things easier for you *and* her.
I also totally agree that you shouldn’t get drawn into depression-logic-y discussions about what an awful person she is – it won’t help and will only drag you down.
[Where I’m coming from here: I’m disabled with some serious executive function difficulties, and I also have problems e.g. getting out of bed, leaving the house, getting work done, cooking, doing chores, the whole shebang. I live on my own, and I currently have a support worker who comes round every morning to make sure I manage to leave the flat as well as someone else who comes round every two weeks to help me with tidying, cleaning, dishes and various other chores – both of these have been honestly life-changing and have improved my life on so many levels.]
Another getting-work-done thought: could she do her work at a coffee shop someplace? Sort of a working from not-home situation? I have a few friends who work from home for whom this is how they get most of their work done.
This is something that really helped me when I was deep in depression earlier this year. I wasn’t home, so the housework wasn’t staring at me and making me feel guilty for doing something as petty and selfish as “just” my writing, and the act of buying a $4 latte made me feel like I had to get at least $4 of work done on the outing to make it feel worthwhile.
Haha, this is actually EXACTLY what I do! Thank god for coffee shops, especially ones with no internet connection. And it’s like, even if I don’t manage to get that much done I’ll at least have managed to get out for a bit.
Besides the coffeeshops, I’d also recommend hunting out some coworking spaces. They’re like a gym in that you pay a daily or monthly rate for access, but it’s an office! They’ve got desks and internet and usually also printers and other things you would expect in an office environment (whiteboards, coffeemakers, conference rooms, etc.). Sometimes they have receptionists or mail pickup. There are a number of websites out there where you can search for coworking spaces near you (or in other places, if you’re travelling).
Sometimes being in a professional environment helps one *be* professional and get the work done.
Oh, mailing things is THE ABSOLUTE WORST!
I have not been in this situation but as an outsider looking in both descriptions of the LWs’ lives make me sad. Because your lives do not sound happy. They do not sound fulfilling. They sound like you are living your life around your partner and giving up huge chunks of yourself to do so. I know you want to help your partners but you shouldn’t have to hurt yourself so much to do it.
If your partner were in a burning building and you were trying to get them out, but they kept telling you “no, I can’t move. It is too hard”. You would not be obligated to stay in there with them and die in the fire as well. Firefighters (aka therapists) are specially trained to save people from fires. And if for whatever reason the firefighters can’t save them, it isn’t your fault. You tried. You just can’t save them all on your own without them trying. And you don’t have to get stuck in the fire with them.
Emotional hurt isn’t as obvious or clear, and depression is awful and unfair, but you do not have to let your own lives go up in flames. If you give your partners concrete things to try (like starting to crawl towards the door of the burning house) and they still do nothing, you need to think about leaving. And that will suck, because you will not have saved them and they will still be in that burning house, but you will be saving YOU. And that doesn’t make you a terrible person.
This is an amazing analogy. ❤
God I relate to these so much and I really, desperately wish I had read this probably five years ago. Without repeating what everyone else has said, I just wanted to point out that LWs, you are ENTIRELY IN THE RIGHT to request specific tasks be completed. Even people plagued by depressive inertia AND a total inability to notice when things are dirty should be able to handle being given specific tasks like “do a load of laundry” or “do the dishes.” It may take some reminders at first, there may be some pushback, and it’s really going to require you to stick to your guns and NOT do whatever it is yourself if it doesn’t get done the first time. After awhile you’ll either see that things start to improve and that you can at least leave your spouse a daily check list (I say daily because in my experience a weekly list just means everything gets pushed off to the end of the week and then not done, executive function difficulties don’t make it easy to plot out tasks over that long a timeframe), or you’ll see that despite specific requests and you making your needs known, nothing is getting done. If, after a little while, you’re in the situation of nothing getting done? Be prepared to walk away. I know it sounds awful because this person clearly needs you and how can you leave them high and dry (I went through this argument with myself for a very, very long time), but you owe it to yourself. In my experience, it’s worth even potentially offering some sort of (TIME LIMITED) financial support after you split, because some money out of your bank account gone but a house that you at least have control over how clean or dirty it is (for example) can be so worth it.
It’s a hard road, and I wish you both the best. Jedi hugs if you want them.
I’m guessing there will be some pushback on this comment but I have to say it anyway – I’m a bit concerned about how unconcerned LW2 is about her child. I get that it must be draining but she at least chose her husband and has some understanding of what is going on. Her child is completely a victim here and the LW2 is kidding herself if she thinks this is or will not emotionally damage her child in the future. But LW2 only writes in about how it affects HER and makes HER life harder. Adults can take on certain burdens that children cannot. Those behaviors when directed toward children become abusive.
Except for the fact that the wife would never admit to it, I would think that I know LW2’s family. However, I’d warn LW2 that as your child grows up, things may get worse. Either your child will accept it all (and model the unhealthy relationship in their own lives) or will see the imbalance of work in the home, and likely resent it on your behalf, and resent having the entire household revolve around your husband’s emotional state. In the family I know, when the kids were young, the husband was “lovely” and “fun” with the kids and it was fine, despite ups and downs. The crazy thing is that this guy is/was a lovely person. He was a family friend and I could write pages about all of the things that he has done for me and my siblings. When I was 16 and worked at a restaurant, he would come to pick me up from work when it was cold so I didn’t have to wait for the bus. I never asked, he just saw it was cold and worried about me. I have a MILLION examples. He’s always been the most open hearted generous person and I believe that if he could manage his depression, he would be a wonderful father and husband.
But I had to cut contact with the family about a year ago because it’s just gotten so bad. Now the children are teenagers, it’s chaos. The entire house revolves around the dad’s emotional state. Just like your husband, he uses guilt to control people. The father has not worked in 20 years, while the mother has worked 3 jobs in order to keep the family afloat. Like in both letters, the depressed parent doesn’t do any housework or cleaning. Instead the kids have to do all of the chores and clean up around him. He of course feels terrible and this results in horribly emotionally manipulative behaviors toward the children. He will put himself down and say “you all hate me. I’m a terrible dad. I’m a terrible person. You think I’m disgusting”. It’s then the children’s job to continuously say “no, you are not etc etc.” This goes on for hours. He is also very bad tempered and nasty (also the depression). The kids are so angry because they see their mom worn out but they are being taught to repress that anger and sense of injustice because of “family obligation”. They have also learned to be ashamed and what it means to have “family secrets”. Also, teenagers and kids will push boundaries and be mean and be cruel and have the RIGHT to be mean and cruel and have parents who can take it. I don’t mean they have the right to be evil, but kids should be able to lose their temper without seeing their families implode. In this home, everyone has to walk on eggshells because of “dad’s depression”. There’s a difference between empathy and self denial and I think having parents with severe untreated depression creates the latter not the former. All the kids self medicate somehow (bed wetting, food, self harm etc). They’ve completely closed ranks. There’s been physical abuse etc etc.
I’m not saying that it will be this bad in every home but I am saying that I think the LW is concerned about the wrong thing. For herself, it doesn’t really matter if she leaves her husband now or in 10 years except that she may be more frustrated. But her child only have a short period of time in which to receive the most important familial template she will ever have. She needs to put her child’s needs first. And not fake needs like the “need” to live with two parents no matter what. Real needs like the need to feel safe, the need to feel like you are valuable and that you can trust the adults around you not to harm you, the need to be able to express yourself. If you love your husband, make him move out and date him. But yeah, protect your kids first.
Elle, the LW had a 450 word limit, where she gets to be concerned about herself and her own limits in dealing with the stress of parenting both a child and adult man. I don’t think anything you say is untrue about how this could turn out for the child (who will eventually figure out who does the work in the family, for sure), but she’s not selfish, or a bad mom, or “concerned with the wrong things” if she writes about how this is affecting HER. Taking good care of herself is the first step in being able to take the best care of the child.
You know, a few years ago, I’d have said the same. Put on your own oxygen mask and all that. But the truth is that in the family above, the mother is actually not that unhappy. Parents can have a dysfunctional dynamic which works well for both of them so they shouldn’t set a benchmark by how unhappy they are because it is likely too permissive a standard.
I am totally with you concerning the kids. But what you are doing re: wife is victim blaming. This is really not okay. You are denying a person to define how a situation affects them. Stop.
Elle, if you’re aware that the children are suffering physical abuse, have you contacted social services/ child protection? Because it is their job to work with parents to make sure children are safe, and this household doesn’t sound like a safe environment from what you have said.
Don’t worry – I’m very pro calling child services. The school intervened first (thank goodness) and the dad had to move out when the youngest kid (the scapegoat child) had bruises. Counseling + parenting classes and he moved back in again. The dad no longer hits him. The problem is that nothing else has changed. They both blame the child for the intervention. I don’t fault child services. The problem is that family systems become crazily dysfunctional. The parents have closed ranks to the point of refusing to allow therapy for the only non minor teenager (and thus has no court ordered therapy). They also tried to stop the younger kids from speaking to their therapists (telling them that they would try to take them out of the home). They have a lot invested in “being good parents”.
Like I said, I don’t actually think that the mother is that unhappy in her lot. Their marriage is fairly happy. It’s just the kids who are being destroyed.
That…really doesn’t sound like the LW. In the family you know about, Mom is not unhappy or concerned that her husband is abusive or that the kids will tell people; she’s perfectly happy with the abusive dynamic. Not every family with a depressed parent turns into Mom abusing the kids by proxy.
I’m not unconcerned about my child, though I do see how awful the situation you’re describing must be for the children in that household. I would do anything in my power to help my child be happy and successful in life.
My husband doesn’t even have a diagnosis (one of my concerns is that he won’t pursue this) but I would have guessed he is more ADD than depressed. And he doesn’t manipulate me and the child into telling him he’s not a fuck-up, though I do worry about the child growing up thinking he can either expect to be looked after by his partner, or have to do the looking after. That’s why I want to change my habits, so I stop modeling behavior that I don’t want to child to learn. I’m feeling too passive and affected by his moods, and I want to be more independent and better at setting boundaries.
I didn’t make it clear in my original letter, but my husband does do a lot of housework and cooking. Just not his full share (he only did a little more than half, when I was working and he wasn’t – and now that he’s working full time he does about a quarter), and he can’t seem to organize things, or pay bills on time, or handle anything out of the daily grind without it being a huge stress.
I don’t mean to just be knee-jerk defensive about someone I love. I know he has problems. But I don’t think our situation is anywhere near bad as the one your friends are living through.
Letter writer #430 here (Helpless Enabler).
Thanks so much for all the sympathy and advice. I guess my problem is that I don’t like having to be so on-the-ball in order to set boundaries and remind Husband to complete paperwork or clean the house, etc., and as a result I’m also not very good at staying on-the-ball in this way. I think I need to learn to act like I am a single parent, and be less dragged down by Husband’s messiness/disorganization/stress. When he was away for a week, and I was a single parent, I managed beautifully – using time efficiently, and feeling productive. Of course, it was only for a week, but I thought I might be able to keep acting efficiently even when he got back, but his leaving the dishes undone when it’s his turn, or just going to bed at 8:30 ’cause he’s tired – it just saps my initiative and makes me feel lonely and depressed too, and so I end up going to bed too, even though I don’t sleep well if I go to bed too early.
I should clarify that the week of being a single parent actually also involved a complete crisis where I forgot I had no one to look after Child during an evening work event, so had to bring him (he’s a toddler). So if I am completely honest, I’m much better off pretending to be a single parent but getting to take advantage of Husband’s presence when it’s really useful.
Maybe therapy would help me, though I live in a country where I don’t speak the local language well and finding an English-speaking therapist is difficult, and I have no private place where I could do phone therapy. I’m somewhat distrustful of email therapy sessions, since I wouldn’t want a written record of what we discussed to exist.
Hello, Helpless Enabler, making the lists & setting the priorities and boundaries is WORK, no question about it. If you are with someone who won’t ever make dinner, you have to decide what you want for dinner, shop for the food, prepare the dinner, and clean up after it. That’s work.
It comes up over and over again in discussions of feminism and division of household labor. It’s not an equal division of labor if one person has to notice everything that needs to be done, give the other person assignments, check to see if the assignments are done, potentially nag them about the assignments, etc. That is also work. “I would totally hold up my end if only you would completely define it for me and remind me about it” doesn’t actually equal holding up one’s end.
I can see why you don’t want to do that. And if you want to be done, 16 years is a long enough time to give something a try and have it not work for you. Everything you said in your letter sounded like really good reasons to leave this person if that’s what you want to do. In the meantime, see if breaking things down into “Can you do this one or two things for me? Thanks” takes at least a little stress off you.
Thanks so much for answering my letter, and giving me such kind advice. I think my marriage would have been on a much better footing from the start if, when I married, I’d been a) a feminist, and especially b) a regular reader of your column (not that it existed back then, I guess). I find your advice to be wise and useful, and I’m all the more grateful that you answered my letter while dealing with your own horrible depression. You are doing very valuable work here, giving out the best advice on the Internet! I hope you feel better soon.
Yeah, we even have a name for people who do that for a living: “managers.”
So much this. It was kind of a lightbulb moment for Mr. Jaunty when I pointed out to him that if he is doing [task], but I am reminding him to do it and making sure we have the tools/supplies for it and following up on making sure it is done, then I AM DOING THE TASK.
HE/LW2, I have a couple of anecdotes for you about ‘single parenting’. In one couple I knew, the wife left her husband when their three kids were very little. The husband made it sound as though he was the angelic innocent party and he couldn’t figure out what went wrong. The wife later told me that she had left because Husband spent all his free time out of the house socializing and flirting, and that “the only difference now that A isn’t here is that I don’t have to do his laundry”.
The other was a friend of mine whose husband had a job that involved a lot of traveling, not all of which was voluntary; that is, Husband loved to travel, loved the adrenaline rush of being the guy who swooped in and saved the day, so if the company suddenly needed to fly somebody to Singapore or the other coast on short notice he’d volunteer for it. On the Nth occasion when Friend had to drop everything and rearrange her schedule to accommodate him, she was driving him to the airport and he was apologizing for dumping everything on her at the last minute. She turned to him and said “You know, that’s okay, because every time you rush off we manage to do without you a little better, and pretty soon we won’t need you around at all.”
He changed his job situation shortly after that. That’s because he valued his family and thought of his wife as something other than a support system.
Damn, woman #2 knew how to use her words!
A friend of mine once told her husband that at that point, based on the role he was playing in the family, if he died the only thing she would miss would be his paycheck. Sounds really harsh, but her point (which she did spell out) was that she would really like her husband to be more than a paycheck to her; she wanted there to be more to miss.
“It’s not an equal division of labor if one person has to notice everything that needs to be done, give the other person assignments, check to see if the assignments are done, potentially nag them about the assignments, etc. That is also work.”
It is work–and in the paid workforce it’s known as management. And managers get paid more than the people who actually do the tasks. Why? Because it’s hard!
With my partner I’ve recently started referring to the entire process of chores as “household management” rather than “housework”, because he really didn’t seem to get that there was more of an issue than just who spent X hours doing Y chores. It seems to be helping!
Ooh, good one. I’m totally swiping that term, thank you, Natalie.
It’s not an equal division of labor if one person has to notice everything that needs to be done, give the other person assignments, check to see if the assignments are done, potentially nag them about the assignments, etc. That is also work. “I would totally hold up my end if only you would completely define it for me and remind me about it” doesn’t actually equal holding up one’s end.
Holy Light-Bulb Moment, Batman!
These letters, I hope, don’t show my future. Boyfriend and I are planning on moving in together in a few months, and I know we will have issues with division of labor. Mainly he has depression and anxiety (of which he is diligently working on with a great therapist + medications) but whenever he has a depressive episode his apartment becomes a MESS. Now he doesn’t exactly keep his apartment super-clean anyways, but this MESS warps into GROSS MESS where I have to tell him to clean before I can come over to visit.
We’ve had many discussions about this and I told him moving in together greatly hinges on his ability to clean and maintain his own damn apartment. He agrees and both of us recognize he has tendency and will work together to un-jerky brain this tendency…but I still have this nagging fear. Yes we’ve agreed to and recognized the necessity of boundaries and compromises on our different levels of cleanliness, but I think this quote really hits the main reason why I am still reluctant. Sure he can agree to clean, but I’m worried it will still fall on me to DEFINE and LIST what needs to get done and when.
Damn. Looks like Boyfriend and I have more to discuss. Maybe it’s time to discuss specific labor divisions? He’s worried it’ll couch me as an indentured servant since he will be bringing in most of the income, but I think it’ll at least be helpful to figure out which chores either of us really really dislike doing, versus meh.
Start now for other techniques for cleaning? Like, I always got OVERWHELMED by CLEANING ALL THE THINGS. Now, I still get overwhelmed, but I am a little better about cleaning ten minutes of things.
When I am depressed, sometimes I literally get a gold star for taking my plate into the kitchen. Tiny little bits really do help. It’s how most people actually do keep their spaces clean, they do tiny bits so routinely they hardly even notice! It seems simple and obvious for them to carry a thing with them in the direction it needs to go, and to wipe something down when it is easy, and it’s just a part of the routine.
It’s super hard to develop that from scratch, and I am so not there, but I am also so much better than before I cannot even tell you. You can help him if he wants to learn. Division of labor based on what you hate most, practicing gratitude for what the other does do, and positive reinforcement of the successes (even when small, especially at the beginning when they’ll be smaller and more sporadic) can help.
Briznecko, you may want to do some house maintenance with the boyfriend starting now, as a semi-fun togetherness activity that gives your hands and your immediate attention a thing to focus on while you’re spending time together talking to each other or whatever. That way you guys can assess each other’s level of pickiness and he can practice doing specific tasks to your standards.
Then if cleaning and chores become a thing you approach together, they can be part of your repertoire of kind things to do for each other to show how much you care. My bf knows that I don’t like making my bed, so he makes it up nice and tight for me while I start making our breakfast, and when I see it made it’s like a little valentine.
We’re both sort of obsessively clean and scatterbrained at the same time so ymmv. I know it has helped me immensely to use a clean-as-you-cook mentality throughout my life so I try to put everything in its place the first time I set it down. If I wait for a mess to accumulate before putting things away then I get frazzled and overwhelmed. If I keep everything tidy then it’s easy to look and see the few things that are not where they belong, and to just put them away. ADHD meds help, as do friends who like to stop by on short notice for whom I want to look presentable.
If you do consider separation, legal advice would probably be worthwhile. It’s my understanding that in some states, the default is now for joint physical custody, and if you don’t think he’s pulling his weight as a parent when you’re around, I expect that you’re probably pretty skeptical of the quality your children would receive from him if you’re not around for a week or more at a time. Since you’re in a different country, the laws might be even more tricky.
I feel for you LW! It was interesting reading your letter, because I related so much to your feelings about it (more than your actual experiences). I also find it difficult to do the things I need to do when my partner is around and feel my initiative sapped as you say. Through finally getting into therapy and working with some of this stuff I have realized that a lot of these feelings come from our co-dependent relationship. I can’t focus on what I’m doing, because what if he wants or needs my attention? The co-dependency is definitely a two-way street, but I’ve realized in therapy that a lot of it in this particular situation is me just volunteering to suppress my needs and be on call when he is not asking for it. It sounds like your situation is definitely more complicated, but I think it’s always good to examine your own reasons for your actions. Therapy is great for this and has definitely helped me.
I also live in a country where English is not the primary language, but actually I was able to find an English-speaking therapist fairly easily. Here there are therapists who are expats themselves and many who are locals but speak English well. Is there an expat community where you are that could help you out? You could even check online forums if you don’t want to ask people you know. I just searched for it on google and some stuff came up immediately. Well, to be honest first it took me weeks/months of working myself up to it, but finally what got me to do it was a couple people in my support network holding me to it and committing to it, i.e. This week I will contact at least one therapist and set up an appointment. It’s always scary to take that step, but once you find the right therapist it is great. If you can’t find someone in your area, I know a lot of therapists are doing skype therapy now. Could you take CA’s advice to say “Husband, I need a few hours at home to myself. Please take Child somewhere that is Else, thanks” and make it a weekly thing? I.e. make it “I need 7-8:30pm to myself at home on Wednesday nights.” As you get into a rhythm with your therapy you may need to adjust the times a little bit, maybe you’ll realize you need a half hour beforehand to write down thoughts and reflect on what you want to talk about or an hour after to be by yourself and consider what you talked about.
The extra-bonus of taking this step for yourself is that it can also serve as your me time that will be all about you and your feelings and there will be a professional there to hold you to this and guide you through it. I know sometimes it’s hard to even think about your own needs, especially when you are so focused on someone else’s needs, but you need your attention, too! Sometimes you have to figure out where you need your boundaries to be before you can start setting them and a therapist can help you do this!
Also, living in a country that isn’t your country of origin (especially if you don’t speak the language as a first language) can be very difficult and lonely! Be sure to give yourself a break and also make sure you have some people and support network outside of your husband. Trust me, I know how difficult this can be! But taking some time for yourself is the first step. When your partner meets most of your needs for social interaction, that can definitely lead to feelings of isolation and dependency. I’ve been there. Meanwhile a therapist can also help you with those feelings of “I have no close friends here who know my day-to-day life who I can talk to about this!” while you work on making some of those friends.
It sounds like you are already doing an amazing job with everything on your plate, so good job! Now just don’t forget to take care of you, too! You need your care, too and you are worth caring for, and I promise you will be grateful when you give it to yourself.
Thanks – that’s all really good advice. I sometimes wonder if we are a bit codependent, and that we’d both be better for me creating some independence. Thanks so much for your kind and supportive remarks.
You are so welcome! I’m glad you found what I said helpful. I think therapy is a great idea if you are having those thoughts but not sure how to proceed. I remember thinking “Yeah, we’re a little codependent” but it wasn’t until I got into therapy and picked it apart that I was able to see what behaviors/dynamics were codependent and how they were affecting my happiness and ability to live my life and to get tools to change that. And that was after being together for less than two years (in which we moved to a new country together). If you’ve been together for 16 years any dynamics are probably such a part of your life that they’d be even harder to identify alone. If therapy’s an option, I would say go for it. The worst that can happen is you’ll decide it’s not helping and quit later down the line.
I’m living outside of my country of origin with my (now ex) partner. One of the problems we had/are having is that feeling of codependency that I kind of suspect is hard to avoid when one or both partners are not native to the place where they live. For an initial period you know literally no one else, and it sets up some bad habits that feel almost impossible to break.
Finding some independence, separately or REALLY separately, is a terrifying but great feeling.
Definitely seconding the advice related to being an expat! That can really contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially if you’re cut off from friends and family back home. Often, expats will ignore their own legitimate unhappiness because it’s ‘just first world problems,’ especially if they’re in a developing country, but it’s important to give yourself credit for how challenging moving to/settling in a new country can be. A therapist who’s well-versed in cross-cultural or third culture kid issues will likely have suggestions for how to find local resources, feel more connected to your multiple communities, and help your kids deal with cultural issues. I know people who recommend internationaltherapistdirectory.com, but I don’t have any personal experience finding a counselor through that site. There’s tons of other online resources for expats, and many of them discuss depression. In particular, depression among trailing spouses is a common topic, and while that may or may not be your situation, I bet there are more than a few people on these sites with similar relationship dynamics.
“Often, expats will ignore their own legitimate unhappiness because it’s ‘just first world problems,’ especially if they’re in a developing country, but it’s important to give yourself credit for how challenging moving to/settling in a new country can be.”
Yes, this. So often I think we think to ourselves “Oh, I’ve been here long enough that I should be *used* to this new place and stop whining” (or at least I do). But this is really negative self-talk that stops us from recognizing what’s going on and doing something about it.
I wish Cliff had answered this question or weighed in. I don’t know everything about the Captain, so forgive me if I am not crediting her for any time she might have spent being depressed. I think this is the first time I have really disagreed with the Captain’s advice.
I can’t speak to every person’s experience with depression, and I certainly can’t speak to the experience of people I am hearing about 2nd hand over the internet. However, I find it unlikely that the LWs will find if helpful to set goals for their depressed partners. Like this:
“Wife, I need you to start your freelance assignments earlier and budget enough time to get everything done. I have my own work to do, and I am not going to scramble to help you anymore at the last minute.”
It would be better to remove the parts asking the wife to do anything and stick to the parts where he states his own needs and feelings:
“Wife, Helping you with your assignments at the last minute interferes with my own work. I am not going to scramble to help you anymore at the last minute. If you can get things started earlier so that I can set priorities for my own stuff, I will be able to help you then.”
The difference is in presenting starting earlier as an option vs. directing her to start earlier. You see, even if the depressed person is an asshole, depression comes with a lack of energy and low assessment of your own ability to go anything. Getting a list of directives isn’t going to suddenly change that. It’s just one more set of things that you will probably fail at anyway, so why bother trying (in the words of depression).
Also, LW1’s wife needs a new therapist. Or needs to change the way she approaches therapy so her current therapist can help her. Even reading 2nd hand in an email, I can spot the cognitive fallacies she is engaging in. These fallacies are both a symptom of depression and ensure that she stays depressed, and might have led her into depression in the first place. By this time, her therapist should have pointed out these fallacies and given her tools to counter them. If this isn’t happening, either the therapist is not a good fit, and the wife is not using her therapy sessions well. Btw,
“there are times I start to feel frustrated, start to wish her depression wasn’t a shadow hanging over everything I do. I know that’s not OK”.
That is ok. It’s completely natural, and it’s not realistic to think you can live unaffected by a partner’s depression. Feelings are valid, the question is what you do with those feelings and how you address them. Take the Captain’s advice re: self-care, and see how much it helps.
Wow, this was a book.
+100000000 to wife getting a new therapist. If there has been so little progress in such a long time, trying someone new couldn’t hurt.
She discloses in the second last paragraph of this post, including talking about how she would advise/needs people to deal with her.
Good point about focusing on your own needs, rather than telling your partner what to do. I was kind of aware that a small change along those lines might improve the Captain’s (rather good) advice, but I couldn’t think how to pin it down. Thanks for bringing it up.
CBT is not a viable approach for everyone. I agree that the cognitive biases were apparent from the letter, but we don’t know how much progress she’s made already, or where she started out. And I am REALLY not in favour of LW429 becoming the arbiter of how his wife and her therapist are doing in therapy sessions he’s not even present for.
A solution to this could be to have a talk with the wife how she thinks about her therapy. If she says, it already helped her a lot and she’s much better off and they are a good fit, LW should take her at her word.
But LW can also make clear (if they feel they have the energy, LW, you are allowed to not be able to take on even more) that they would be willing to help the wife find a different therapist if she isn’t satisfied with the current one, but overwhelmed by finding someone new.
I think, regardless of the script, the important bit about Wife’s freelance job is… it’s Wife’s job. Not the LW’s.
LW is not responsible for keeping Wife from crashing and burning. Whether LW states that as “You need to manage your job better,” or “I need to stop helping you manage your job better,” the relevant message is “You are responsible for your success, not me.”
It’s a hard thing to hear when you’re depressed. And it’s a hard thing to say to a spouse, especially when your financial health is tied to their success or failure at their job. (I have been in both positions in my marriage.) But it absolutely has to happen.
Ah, remind me to read this every so often. I think it will help remind me that I do need to do stuff because when I don’t other people get hurt and it will hopefully make me feel better when I do.
I might feel worthless, but hell, if I can do the dishes that’s worth something. (Something I will tell myself forever)
I also need to apply this to my studies.
Person with depression here. (Although mine is somewhat better managed than that of the people discussed by the LWs (I do the dishes without being asked. Most of the time)).
I loathe the idea of a partner limiting zirself by staying with me primarily because zie feels sorry for me or feel I can’t manage on my own. If zie feels burdened by the relationship then I want zir to leave.
I haven’t ended my relationships over this, because my policy is to believe my partners are capable of making their own decisions about our relationship. And because “I should dump my partner because I’m bad for them” has the suspicious resonance of depression. But it’s not depression talking when I say I truly want my partners to be with me only because they want to be.
I wonder whether the LWs’ partners think that way at all.
I needed to read these today–I’ve actually composed a letter to the Captain. The Spouse has been struggling with anxiety and depression for awhile, and sometimes I do feel resentful and angry. Especially when his Jerkbrain is at its worst, and I feel like I’m the only one who’s doing stuff around the house and earning money (TS is a full-time student).
It’s been up and down, but the most important thing to me is that he is doing therapy and he is taking meds and he is trying. And I do see a therapist myself, which really helps me both vent and remember that I cannot fix TS, that I cannot possibly be responsible *for* TS’s mental health. (Which isn’t to say that I don’t have responsibilities *to* TS)
I don’t have much useful advice, just that the LW’s are not alone.
This is such great advice. Thanks for being so straightforward about it. It needs to be said.
A wise woman once told me, “A marriage is not 50/50. A successful partnership is one in which both people give 100%.” She kind of blew my mind, because I figured that if I vacuumed, then the other person had better be doing dishes. But what she meant was that in an ideal relationship, where both people were striving for harmony, both partners were serving one another. Sure, it’s not my job to take out the trash, but if I’m up and dressed and have my shoes on and I’m headed out the door and it’s trash day, I take out the trash. I know both partners can’t always be giving 100%–there will be sick days and mental health days and forgetful days–but if both people are consistently trying, then it evens out, right?
I’m just thinking about HOW NICE it is when someone in my family spontaneously does one of my chores for me, without being asked. And how happy that makes me and how I then want to do something for them. And then we just start this whole escalating cycle of niceness and it’s positively Rockwellian. I once lived with my grandfather, and on cold days he would go start my car and scrape off all the frost while I got ready. I never asked him to do it; he just showed his love that way. So when I had to haul him to the doctor for a bone density test, it wasn’t a hardship. This morning, my car was covered in frost. My grandfather has been dead 10 years. I used the scraper he bought me and thought of all those cold mornings he took care of me. The love is still there, you know? It doesn’t die.
Doing things for people I love makes me feel better. All those little favors and tasks and care-taking add up to strong relationships. I think the spouses in these letters are so focused on themselves that they can’t see the damage they are inflicting. I hope they recover sufficiently so that they can participate in their own marriages.
LW#430 wrote in a follow-up comment that when her husband was gone for a week, her life was easier. When you are more functional in the absence of a person–could that be an indicator that you would be better off without that person?
I love your “wise woman” quote. Thank you for that. I am not either of the LWs, but I am living with someone I love who’s enough more depressed and anxious than I am that both LWs’ posts were uncomfortably familiar. (And we’re in couples therapy and we’re working on things and making slow progress; on the good days, I can actually see how there might be happiness and functionality at the end of the tunnel. I totally second all the suggestions of couples therapy above, preferably before things get super-awful and you’ve convinced yourself you’re breaking up now or else, because it’s harder to step back from that cliff once you’ve edged all the way there.) And I think that remembering that relationships are about everyone giving what they can, and letting it be enough, and not beating oneself up about how it will never me enough, so much that it means you stop even giving that much, so that everything freezes and stagnates and falls apart — I think that’s really, really important. (And maybe a Thing we could Work On around here.)
I think that sometimes being more functional in someone’s absence is an indicator that you’d be better off without them, but sometimes it’s just an indicator that you need to disentangle from them without separating all the way (I’m awful at getting work done when other people are around, finding it easier to try to fix their lives than deal with my own, and it has a lot less to do with them than I’ll tell you at the time). Or an indicator that things are broken and need to get fixed, but if both people are actually willing to slog through fixing them, that could be better than just giving up and throwing it all out. Life is frustratingly not black-and-white.
I think mostly I’m just grateful to all the commenters here for reminding me how not-alone I am. Regardless of how my own thing turns out. Thank you, guys.
I really like your comment- thanks for sharing the touching story about your grandfather.
Not It, you brought tears to my eyes, the love does not die
I love the example you gave of your grandfather; it’s really beautiful. Growing up, sometimes my mother and sister would make my bed for me. It made me feel really loved and cared for, and when I’m at home, I try to do things for my family (especially since I love cleaning the bathroom, it’s a win-win!).
http://www.amazon.com/How-Survive-When-Theyre-Depressed/dp/0609804154/ref=pd_sim_b_1 helped me.
http://www.amazon.com/Depression-Fallout-Impact-Couples-Preserve/dp/0060009349 is newer, by same author.
LW #429 here. I just wanted to say thank you to the Captain and commenters for your input. There’s so much good in my marriage outside of the 450 words above that I can’t even consider the possibility of leaving. But it is good to hear that setting boundaries might be helpful to her.
(Incidentally, I did try therapy once in the past, and the therapist basically said “there’s nothing I can do and no real point in you coming, but if you want to talk at me or whatever and then take your insurance company’s money I can do that.”)
Ugh, that therapist was useless and clueless. Being the spouse of someone with serious mental health issues, and thus the most likely primary support person, is often in and of itself a reason to be getting some kind of therapy for yourself. Probably nothing as intensive but definitely *something* if only to maintain an objective reality tester when everything is getting swallowed up in the land of Someone-switched-my-spouse-with-a-zombie.
Because one problem I’ve had with my beloved is that his therapist tends to see the *best* of him, believe it or not, and the few times I’ve come in as collateral I’ve had to explain that, say, sometimes the only shower he takes all week is the one right before his weekly therapy appointment (to give an example of something that was once A Thing). So sometimes being able to go to someone who isn’t otherwise involved and go, “This is a think that is happening – am I overreacting, or underreacting, or what?”
I sure hope that therapist meant, “There is nothing I can do for your spouse.” Because as this post makes clear, there’s a whole lot that you and Team You can do for you. (And hey, sometimes just having a listening ear helps, even if you don’t make Great Therapeutic Gains.)
Try therapy again. If that therapist said “I can’t do a thing for you” (as opposed to, “I can’t fix your spouse via you,” which is true) then s/he was a stupid doucheloaf. There are plenty of good therapists out there and one may really be able to help you cope with this.
Our third couples therapist has been awesome. The first was great, but got another job after a few weeks. The second was terrible. Not all therapists are created equal, and not every “good” therapist is the right fit. It’s a pain persevering until you find the right person, but it can be worth it.
I’m glad you checked back in, LW. One of the things that really jumped out at me in your letter was your apparent belief that having negative feelings about the way your wife’s depression affects your life is not okay. A world of NO.
Seriously, you are allowed to be frustrated. You are allowed to wish none of this were happening. You are allowed to wish that she were well. (I’m speaking here as the depressed one in my marriage. If Mr. Other Becky were never frustrated about the ways my depression limits my, and therefore his, life, I’d be kinda worried.)
I really am wondering, though, if your wife needs different treatment. It sounds like the current slump has been going on for a few years, and if so, whatever treatment she’s getting is clearly not working. I’m not going to advocate for anything specific as far as types of therapy or types of meds (although I am a big fan of both therapy and meds).
Analogy time: I have joint pain issues. I started doing physical therapy. Things started improving, but then plateaued at a “still in constant pain” point and stayed there for a while. Physical therapy regimen got changed; improvement resumed. It sounds to me like maybe your wife has leveled out at a “still in constant pain” point. Offering to help her explore other treatment options might be a good thing.
A therapist can totally help you. I mean, I guess it depends on what you ask of them. They can’t fix your partner, or wave a magic wand over your marriage. But there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve picked up a lot of psychological shrapnel from this relationship, and a therapist can help with that.
A therapist can help you devise specific techniques and tools for handling problems in your marriage and with your partner.
A therapist can sit there while you scream at them from frustration and heartbreak.
A therapist’s office will be a space where it is ALL ABOUT YOU and YOUR NEEDS. Nobody else. You’ll come first!
When you’re dealing with a sick partner (and not just mental illness, it can be other things), you might curl up and put up armor and sort of postpone your own feelings, so you can Get Things Done and Get Through The Day. This is a normal response to stress. It’s fine when it’s a short-term thing, like a broken leg or something. It’s not so hot when it’s a long-term thing, when you can’t see the other end. That’s a kind of stress that seriously wears on a person. It can be traumatic.
A therapist can help you deal with your own totally legit suffering and disappointment.
You don’t have to find a pro if you don’t want to, but you totally deserve to have someone taking care of you. You are valuable and important in your own right.
Therapists can suck at their jobs, just like anyone else!
Does a support group appeal to you at all? They’re usually free and drop-in, so if you hate it you’re only out the hour or whatever you spent at the group. If you’re in the US, NAMI is a good resource to find support, including online support or their 800 hotline.
This could not have been better-timed, seriously. Coming from the person who feels like everyone’s therapist. I’m honestly pursuing public health with an emphasis on mental health issues because there is no way I could be an actual practitioner because of my personal life.
Seriously, CA… keep doing what you do.
Ugh, been there. It was was a roommate, not a partner in my case. I figured out that things needed to drastically change when I discovered a lump in my breast and found myself hoping it was cancer, because then she wouldn’t take it personally if I had to stop being her 24-7 carer and just look after my own health.
It wasn’t cancer, but I still moved out and am living on my own now. I had to get a whole lot of financial support from my parents to do that (and my parents and I have a difficult relationship and there are strings attached to that too) but even so it’s less destructive to my sanity.
Since I’ve been out, I discovered that she only wanted to talk to me to be depressed at me: my subtle subject changes didn’t stick. So I took a leaf from CA and sent her an email saying “I still want to be your friend, but I can’t be your therapist any more, so I’m only going to engage you on subjects other from that.” She didn’t reply, and defriended me on a social media site we’re on, and I heard from a mutual friend that she posted a cryptic flocked post about people rejecting her and not wanting to be her friend any more. It’s amazing how much less sympathy I had for her after that.
Holy fuck. Yes, if you are at the point to wish for serious illness to be allowed to leave a very bad dynamic, it’s a baaad sign.
Great you got out (even though it sucks that you have to deal with your parents, now).
Also, if she interprets “please do not unload all your problems on me all the time” as ending the friendship, you know what kind of “friendship” she wanted from you. It’s the kind professionals get payed for…
Nod. I had a job that I hated but didn’t realize how badly it was affecting my existence until I realized I was spending my drives to the office each day fantasizing about getting into a car accident so I had a “good” excuse not to go. UGH.
Oh my god, I do this every day. I did not realize I was doing it until reading these responses. I am going to start sending my CV out to new jobs right now. =/
Whoah, that sounds like a very bad situation, good on you for getting out and good for you on talking to her directly about your boundaries.
I had a very needy roommate – not as bad as yours from the sound of it though! – years back who would leave her diary open in places where I would have to pick it up to move it (like she would leave it on top of the stove, on my bed (!), on the closed toilet seat (!!)) and she would write in big bold letters on the open page how she wanted to kill herself, how she was depressed, how she hated her job and her life.
I didn’t have a clue what to do, we were not close and I didn’t know any of her friends.
She would not talk to me directly about it AT ALL… it was like she wanted me to care for her but did not specify how.
I moved out pretty fast… I still worry sometimes that I should have called someone for her but who? Now, in a similar situation I think I would just ask her about it directly or set boundaries like you did.
Thought I would offer some insight for those wondering about marital therapy.
Cue the rambling preface…I will preface by saying that I have been with my soulmate since college and we are in our 30s. Although we are hoplessly and shamelessly in love, hubby fubared something in our relationship regarding children. I wanted them and he wouldn’t say he didn’t but avoided the topic and did this daily reasongiving avoidant crap that made me want to kill him and cost me HUGE. All of this was spawned by/related to his denial re his medical condition and his subsequent procrastination/avoidance of everything else in his life. This landed me in therapy saying “I love my husband, and I want a divorce.” After two therapists and a year and a half of therapy, we began to put back the pieces. We are going strong now 3 years later. To his credit, during what he calls “the dark time,” he took so much crap off of me. I was crazy, scary nuts – full fledged PTSD with my normal mix of crazy.
Point…after taking a full background history from both of us individually, Therapy Diva (my therapist should be cloned!) asked us two things that helped so much. First, she asked how committed we each were to working through the issues we were on scale of 1 to 10 being ultra committed. She encouraged us to rate it for her and emphasized the importance of honesty in the rating. We were asked to write it down. For kicks, she also asked us to write down where we thought the other person was at on that scale.
During this session, she then asked us about how we met and how we felt about each other in the beginning. I could have spit nails at him when entering the office, so she was good at just helping me start storytelling more objectively. There we were having all of these lovely memories. Because she’s awesome, she has a slight watering in the rims of her eyes at just the right moments, not sappy, but emotionally in the zone and brilliant. Direct gaze and looking at us with this “you guys have been through so much together. you poor honeys.” Then, she asks us to get out the paper. What are your numbers? His was a 10, and mine was a 3. He thought mine would be a 7, and I thought his would be a 10. He started crying and had a hard time stopping. I sat there cold, which is what I was at that time. I was done. It finally clicked. He asked me “how is this not affecting you,” and his eyes just relaxed. He realized that was what all of the years of crying and deafening depression had been about. After all that havoc caused by his avoidance/fear/procrastination and my not “using my words,” he finally got it.
This number exercise got him to see and she highlighted to him that he wasn’t seeing things clearly and he couldn’t fix it by just keeping his head down.
Several weekly sessions down the road when he explained exactly what he had done and why and owned his shit in session. That was the beginning of hope for me. However, to get the intimacy and trust back because of said issue, it felt like I was going to have to walk on the moon. I was so inside myself and locked away. He had become an enemy outside of the business of running our daily lives. I was also able to see that although I had been in the right on the original point, I had been emotionally abusing the man like a savage after I had our second child, and all of it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Moral of this story: Find an awesome therapist (I know – just keep looking, just keep looking!). Determine where your spouse is and how committed they are. Keep pushing for therapy, but if they are skipping sessions and not committed then you are getting an answer there that you have to hear as well. Make sure you know your commitment level and that you make it clear to your spouse if its waning and you are scared. It’s amazing how many people who love each other get a divorce because they keep “oh, it’s ok” and “it’ll get better”-ing things until they implode. My husband just couldn’t get that I was fully prepared to leave him rather than live with my inability to forgive him which was being fueled by his avoidance behaviors. I did not hear my pain until years of silencing my own wants gave way to rage. Ironically, because I had been in so in love with him for so long was the reason that I couldn’t live in that shadow any longer.
“That is your Depression talking, and Depression is a big fat jerk liar. Let’s change the subject and give Depression a chance to chill the fuck out.”
I’m just gonna say, not as a person with depression (I don’t think), but as someone prone to a lot of negative self-talk and self-hatred spiraling (seriously, if I’m alone and get in a mood, it sounds like Gollum and Smeagol are having it out), I’d rather hear this one than the “I don’t like what you’re saying, let’s stop it now” one. Because the “stop it now” one is what I’m already saying to myself when I get like that, and it still feels like “because this is also what’s wrong with you.” Whereas characterizing Depression as a dickish entity makes it something that seems moderately easier to deal wtih.
One of my most typical thoughts about Depression is generally construed as insulting. Indeed, when I gave it to one of my best friends, he told me, “fuck you!” and went back to the miserable process of killing himself slowly. And maybe, deep down, it’s just my truth, and I’m the only one who needed it. But I don’t think so.
So, full disclosure, I’m a survivor. I’m living with Depression right now, and I pay my rent, go to my full-time job, and put food on my table, and care for my cat. These are not things I thought I could do 14 years ago. These are not things anyone thought I could do 7 years ago. But I do them.
And my response is “8 years!? 16 years!? People thought my parents were batshit for taking care of me for thirteen, and they were genetically responsible for me (and my Depression). When they give you the pamphlet on Depression when you’re diagnosed, they miss a really vital line. It should read like this, “Depression makes you lazy. If you don’t like how this makes you feel, you have to tell it to go get bent, and get up and do the things it makes you not want to do. Do the things you need to do to get your life together for long enough, and you will continue to enjoy the benefits of telling it to get bent. You will be a goddamn survivor and you can paint your nails green or something in October. Other people might help you and encourage you, and taking the time (decades?) to find the right medicine will help, but in the end, you are the one who has to decide not to let Depression win. It will not be fun. Depression will make it hard. It is a right bastard. Choose not to let it win.”
And it’s not to say that some days I don’t fall down, or that I don’t fall into the trap of sobbing late at night about the inevitable death of myself, everything I love, and the fact that I lost a pencil case my grandma brought me from Scotland when I was ten. But I am done letting my Depression hold me down, and I wish that I could give that gift to more people.
Back to the topic at hand, my therapist used to tell me that in a way, Depression was cyclical – sometimes you’re depressed because of your biochemistry, and sometimes a series of awful shit would drag you down. It does sound like Husband and Enabler are being dragged down, and that’s not okay. Agree 100% that they need to set some boundaries and expectations for their own health.
Gotta be honest, I’m leaning a little more toward your friend’s side. The idea that the symptoms of depression are about character weakness is not just insulting, but in many cases actually damaging.
Seriously and non-sarcastically, it’s great that you’re able to be self-sufficient despite depression via application of raw willpower and attitude, but the implication that people who can’t pull that off are lazy is not cool. It also affirms many people’s Depressed!Logic — I am miserable because I am stupid/lazy/selfish/a bad person. That’s not just unhelpful, that’s actively harmful.
I do think that depression increases inertia. It takes much more energy to start doing things when I’m depressed. When I’m in a depression flare-up, I expend more effort and get less done. That’s not the same as laziness.
I also went WTF NO reading that comment, but wasn’t sure how much might be because my problems are more executive-dysfunction-thanks-to-AS, possibly crossed with some depression and anxiety, and although they do seem very similar at times I’m not always sure I’m not missing differences.
Although from the description of #430 it’s just as likely Enabler’s Husband has my brand of issues, so what the hell.
For me, the great epiphany that allowed me to have a much better life than before was actually the exact opposite: it’s not that I *won’t* do those things, it’s not that I’m too lazy, it’s that I CAN’T. As a result, it is past time that I stop beating myself up in the hopes that this will lead to magical improvement, and start working around my limitations instead of trying to bash through them. Like, okay, so I have real problems with cooking and regular meals, and disparaging myself about how I totally *ought* to be able to cook pasta without it sapping almost all my energy didn’t lead to me skipping any less meals or eating any less frozen pizza. What did help was treating the fact that cooking pasta is generally not within my capabilities seriously and looking into quick and easy recipes that I *could* manage on a semi-regular basis. Changing my approach this way has made my life soo much better and my mind a much happier place. Apparently the opposite approach does work for some people, and I’m happy their life is doing better as well, but I am… highly skeptical about it being recommended to others.
Another life-changing realisation, for me, was this: laziness is a choice. Laziness is when you go “well I *could* do X, but I don’t think I will because [having too much fun here, etc.]”. If you feel as if you have no choice – if you would really like to be doing X but honestly *can’t*, if you start crying because you really truly honestly want to get up from the couch and go shopping but it’s all too much and your body just. Won’t. Move – that’s not laziness. Calling it such is, IMO, stretching the term into absolute absurdity.
Thank you for the ‘laziness is a choice’ thing. I have spent my life thinking I am lazy when it’s more that everything hurts and I’m shattered. I will keep repeating your words like a mantra to lessen the guilt!
Agreed. The “just pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” narrative is really damaging.
I never tried to do everything all at once. I did what I could, one day at a time, until I could look around and say, “Well, this shit could be and has been a lot worse.” And it’s entirely possible the day will come again when I have to move back in with mom and dad, because I can’t do it anymore.
But there were a lot of well-meaning people along the way who told me, oh, just forget about the other stuff and take care of you. Do what you need to make yourself feel better.
In the end, that I had to pull myself the hell out of it is *my* truth. Your mileage can and will very, but it’s a perspective that damn well needs to be spoken. You see, my friend is dead, from not taking care of himself, from not doing the things that would have made him better. How would I live with myself if I hadn’t at least given him my truth?
Not well. I barely live with it now. Has it made me bitter and frustrated with the line of modern medicine that says, “Here, take this pill until you get better?” You betcha. And it may be that I have much less compassion and patience than I used to.
This is really making me wonder about cultural context, both time and place. The message of having to pull oneself out of it is one that I was overexposed to, rather than the other way around. (For the record, I live in the southeastern US and was diagnosed in the mid-90s.)
My experience has been that the self-reliance narrative is much too common and has a distressingly high body count. I have seen it lead to unwillingness to seek treatment because that would be “weak”. The “you can pull yourself out of this if you try hard enough” message makes things worse for a great many people, and it comes from everywhere, whether or not an intimate says it explicitly. I have seen it exacerbate rather than alleviate feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair.
I respect that it’s your truth. It’s possible that your cultural context is one where the self-reliance narrative isn’t so damnably pervasive. But I’d like you to at least consider the possibility that sharing your truth as THE truth (which is how your original comment framed it) has the potential to be unbelievably harmful to the people you care about. And that’s my truth.
I’m a Chicagoan, born in 1978 and diagnosed in 1997.
In my clearly not that humble opinion, there’s a difference between taking care of your shit and self-reliance. I mean, I’m pretty sure I confessed up there to living with my parents’ support until I was 33.
“Doing the things you need to do to get your life together,” doesn’t really mean “pretend you are okay.” It means going to the doctor, it means taking your meds, it means doing therapy when appropriate, and sometimes it just means making it as far as the kitchen that day.
To be fair, if a norm told me to get my shit together and pull myself up by my bootstraps, I’d be defensive. I have been defensive. Because a norm doesn’t have the faintest idea of what it’s like and that would be condescending.
But I’m not a norm. I have been there. I know exactly how hard it is some days to even take a shower. If we are lucky, we have people who will make us do that, who will make sure we have a place to stay and food to eat. But that just feeds another cycle, doesn’t it? The I’m worthless what kind of 33/43/xx year old needs their parents/spouse/roommate to do this stuff for them guilt cycle is also a stone bitch.
One of the things we say in education is that “success breeds success.” We break things down for our students into small victories, we start in their comfort zone and we move forward. Living with depression is the same way, and while I won’t apologize for my original sentiment, I’m sorry that I wasn’t more specific about what I meant.
Tselmorrah, this is a response to your most recent post but that has gotten too nested.
That term “norm” is upsetting to me. Besides the fact that nobody is actually normal, using disparaging language like that makes me feel bad.
I think you use it to mean people who have not had depression, or maybe people who have not had any kind of mental illness (or disability?).
Why do you use this word in a thread that is all about (presumably non-depressed, thus, norms) people trying to live with depressed people?
I realized that when I posted, my opinion was unlikely to be popular or accepted. But this seems a little nit-picky, and doesn’t really address the point that I was trying to get to in the long way, which was that OH and HE are mensches, and that they have done plenty, and they should not feel guilty at all for meeting their own needs.
I considered using the word neurotypical and discarded it because it was, in fact, neutral. Norm is the word in the back of my brain for the people who don’t have your problem, who might have their own problems, and who still think they know how you should do things. Example: the professor with Dyslexia who made me type all my assignments in Arial so she could read it, but who couldn’t understand how sitting through a 3 hour lecture with Powerpoint slides was impossible for someone with ADHD. So norm was meant to be slightly contemptuous.
The people here are probably more along the lines of mensches, as a norm would not give two cents for what anyone else thought about how they handled their partners, children, or friends.
I’m a special ed teacher, and we talk about person-first language, but the reality is that you can use all the polite terminology you want and still not think of the person rather than the disability. (Wait for it, someone is about to comment about how they feel sorry for my students, without actually knowing the first thing about my classroom or how passionately committed I am to their success).
Doesn’t that mean you’re being a ‘norm’, tselmorrah? Because no one ever has exactly your problem, even if they share the same diagnosis-label… we may be able to empathize with others’ suffering, but we never quite know. Because depression happens to people, and just because you know someone is depressed doesn’t mean you know anything else about their lives and the totality of their circumstances.
Which is why the “I bulled my way out of it, you can too!” rubs people the wrong way. Yeah, some people use depression as an excuse not to try. But other people are trying with everything they’ve got and they can’t break free, any more than they could will their way past gravity. And yeah — they hope like hell that some day they’ll get the right combination of circumstances, and meds, and therapy, and support, and the alignment of the fucking stars, and they will get to a better place. They know there are depression-fighting success stories, and they want to be one of them. But acting like it’s all about “telliing depression to get bent” is offensively glib.
I think the way to forgive yourself for your friend’s death is to acknowledge that there was no magic thing you or anyone else could have said that would have made him all better. It’s like you were watching someone drown and you had no way to get to him. And that sucks. I’m sorry you had to go through that.
Still, it’s not a reason to inflict “just do it” type advice on other people!
It came out as nitpicky because I was trying to keep it polite…. Using a slur for people without your specific problem is something that gets me very angry in every context, not just this. Neurotypical is another word that gets to me but at least that is not so clearly an insult.
I was keeping it civil but here at home I was waving tiny little fists of rage.
Your professor was not an asshole because she doesn’t share your particular problem (and if she needs everything in Arial, can you imagine the difficulty she had in school?), she was just an asshole.
The thing about your posting that I am noticing is that the details of what you talk about actually doing are well within the range of what most people talk about doing to handle depression. The language you have used is combative, and I react poorly to that, but the content is totally there. (So is your pain. I am so sorry about your friend.)
I hear your passion for helping others and I think your students are in excellent hands.
I am glad I asked nicely (if nitpickily) instead of yelling
There is a certain kind of truth here. I mean, I had the experience where “Well, if I’m going to be hysterically crying, I might as well be hysterically crying while washing the goddamn dishes” became a Thing.
But when I pushed through depression and anxiety with stubbornness and grit, I ended up strong, but brittle.
I needed more before I could be resilient, but I was so stuck in my Strength that it took a truly shattering event before I was willing to try some other way of recovering.
It’s a mixed bag. People need all kinds of different things at different moments to heal.
My husband is chronically depressed, which can make things a hard slog at times. Plus it’s depressing to be around someone who is depressed all the time, which makes self-care even more important.
Our relationship works despite his depression because we have some agreements about taking care of his mental health by being responsible for seeking medical care and therapy, and maintaining his ability to get out and around and contributing to our household financially and in terms of housework. In turn, if there are periods where he can’t do these things, I fill in financially and around the house and help him to get care. I also keep an eye on his health and functioning in general and help him to change his medical regimen when he needs to. But the point is that those periods where he can’t hold up his end of the bargain are temporary (and I help during those), and maintaining his health and contributing to the household are his responsibility. So long as he is making the attempt at self-care, we can deal with the periods when he is very depressed until things are back under control.
These are clear agreements, and they are part of the foundation of our relationship. They get us through when times are rough. I think if either of us decided not to abide by them, we’d have to reconsider the future of our relationship.
Oh man, I have been the depressed and useless spouse, somewhere between the two LW’s spouses in terms of functionality. I don’t know if this is or will be applicable to y’all’s situation, but I want to throw this out there: when I started to want to get better, my husband went from the primary force keeping me alive to the primary force holding me back from recovery.
When things were at there worst I could do nothing for myself and would have been homeless if I didn’t have him supporting me. But as has been mentioned already, depression isn’t always the same at all times and at some point I regained my desire to pull myself together, even though I had no idea how to do that and I felt like such a failure and the thought of taking on any more responsibilities triggered a panic attack. But there was no flexibility in our routine for me to try anything out and it had been so long since I was functional I didn’t remember how to do a bunch of basic things that adults do. There was also a weird dynamic where since I was relying on my husband for everything I didn’t feel like I could ask for anything else from him or assert myself. I was already taking more than my fair share in the relationship, so if he wanted to put the toilet roll facing in and I like it out or whatever then I felt that I should let him have it. It’s fine to treat small things like that, but the self abnegation I put myself through as an attempt to try and even the balance sheet of our relationship a little bit (and of course it was never “enough”, it just constituted a token effort on my part) left me in a worse emotional state and even less able to deal with life. The final prong of this toxic situation is that my husband has his own mood issues and he was resentful and angry with me after a while. I was already being crushed under enormous guilt, so if he expressed any of this anger it triggered me and there would be crying and we’d both feel awful about everything and so, so trapped. We were sandbagging each other and every day was a struggle and I went to bed every night feeling I had failed.
It turned out that I needed some time alone. Job-related circumstances took him to another state and I got the chance to live alone and I learned that I could still drive myself around and feed myself and take care of the cats. I wasn’t totally useless! And we missed each other and our relationship was better than it had been in years. But when I joined him in the new state we feel into old habits and my depressioned worsened. This is when I started to figure out how the rules in our relationship had become my biggest obstacle. I was wasting all my energies trying to keep the relationship more equal (through self denial) instead of focusing on myself and dealing with my deeper problems. It was counterintuitive because I felt like the most selfish person ever just by having depression and staying on the couch all day, but I needed to be a lot more selfish to get better. Also even though i was trying to keep the relationship together over my own needs, we were spiraling towards a breakup.
I needed to be able to take control things in my life, not exist as a sad piece of furniture in someone else’s.. I needed to not have my spouse glower at me, even if I deserved it, because that glower–even if it was earned–was going to throw me off my game for three days. I needed forward momentum, not to be, um, held accountable for past bullshit and not being better already. These might not have been “fair” requests, but it was what I needed to find myself. So I moved In with my mom in our original state. We were not breaking up then exactly, but it allowed me to finally focus on me and not on the relationship. After a few months I was well enough and lucky enough to get a job and that was a huge, huge turning point for our marriage and we worked things out and moved back together after 5 months. We still have a couple of mundane relationship issues, but they seem quaint compared to where we’ve been.
So yes, it’s possible for the depressed spouse to have a big turn around, but they have to be willing to make steps forward and it might require some structural changes–maybe big ones. Sometimes caring for someone too much teaches helplessness and robs them of their individual agency. You can’t fix someone by loving them hard enough. And sometimes you have to protect yourself and leave.
These letters really hit on something that romantic society promotes that really, really breaks my heart: the Heroic Relationship. You know, the Heroic Relationship, where sacrificing your happiness for the sake of someone else is considered noble and good and something that kind, decent folk do. In the Hero Relationship, you are supposed to fix the other person, or die trying (after spending 30 unhappy years suffering through a situation that makes you deeply unhappy). In reality, kind, decent folk deserve to be happy, even if that means leaving other people who are beyond help to find their own way. Letter Writers: you are good folks. You have made a good faith effort to build a life with people who are, by choice or by brain chemistry, at best not helping you build, and at worse repeatedly Godzillaing your efforts. You really can only do this for so long, and the fact that you’re unhappy enough to write in to and advice column is pretty solid proof that the cracks are getting big enough that you can’t ignore them anymore. And perhaps consider this, especially LW #1: maybe your spouse doesn’t really need you? Maybe if you left, maybe s/he could, in time, learn to take care of him/herself? It will probably be a painful shock, but if what the Captain recommends about putting reasonable expectations in place doesn’t work out (and I feel like with the kind of self-manipulation that happens with depression, the odds of these goals being reached is unfortunately not super high), at least consider the possibility that you caring for this person is not actually making their life better? And that right now the evidence points to this life as being one that is maintaining a bad situation? And that is NOT your fault, and not anyone’s fault. But it is very possible that these people need time to work through their issues without a relationship dynamic to worry about. It is very possible that if you decide that separating is what is best for you, there is a very good chance that it is also what is best for them.
Either way, please get in therapy. None of us know you and your relationship well enough to truly advise you without passing along our own perspectives, with the weight of all of our experiences (which, in case it didn’t show, my personal thoughts on this based on my experience would be LEAVE IMMEDIATELY, but I know that is hugely unhelpful). Whatever you decide to do, your #1 most important holy-god-you-need-this-immediately step is to get a therapist, to help you take care of your emotional self, and to help you figure out the course that is best for you (and your partner, but mostly you, because you are also in need of and deserving of help right now).
Good luck, remember that you being a good person who loves the fuck out of your partner is not something that is necessarily dependent on you tying yourself to this situation right now. I really hope the best for all of you, however you decide to proceed (with the help of a therapist [seriously] !!)
Thank you so much for this. I am considering leaving a relationship with an unhealthy dynamic where I am trying to “fix” the other person’s issues while trying to work on myself and it is making me unhappy. Reading this blog has been a huge factor in making me realize that I can leave and that is okay. But after reading all the self-sacrificing stories that ended well here, it is making me start to think that maybe I should stick it out and keep working on it. After all my situation is not anywhere near as difficult as many of these. But it is making me unhappy now and I think leaving might be the best option for both of us. Thank you for reminding me that this is okay.
True story: My former partner was extremely depressed, unemployed for 2+ years, and our last year of being together and living together devolved to a place where we were not happy and not being the best partners to each other that we could be. We could not encourage, support, or love each other into a happy, functional ife together. Then we broke up. It was super-sad and super-hard. Almost 2 years later, he is happily employed in a business he will work with probably for the rest of his life, we are both in good relationships with awesome people, we are very good friends, and we are so much happier apart.
My current partner and I both have mental health issues. Mine are more chronic and his are more acute when they manifest (once a decade or so). We do our best to take care of ourselves, and really great care of each other. I really don’t see them being an issue in us building a happy, functional life together. We’re just a better fit. As former partner is just a better fit with his awesome partner.
It’s okay to leave because you are unhappy. It’s okay to leave because that while you like and love your current partner, you’d like to find someone who is a better fit for you. Or spend time being single. Wanting to leave is reason enough to leave. It’s painful and sad and hard, but sometimes it just makes your life so much better in the long run.
Those stories have not “ended well”. Those stories are ongoing. Some of those relationships will ultimately end. Some will improve. Some will get worse. Some got better, but would have resulted in more happiness all around if they’d ended.
Like CA said, you don’t have to stay on the off-chance that it MIGHT get better.
You can’t fix your partner. The two of you, together, could work on the relationship, but it has to be both people working. If you’ll excuse the animal comparison – if you hitch two horses up to a cart and only one of them pulls, the cart isn’t going anywhere.
Remember that the realisation that you can leave can actually improve the odds of being able to stay. If you believe that leaving would be worse than staying there isn’t any real incentive for things to improve. It’s only when you believe and can convey to your partner that things need to change for you to stay that you have serious power to shock them into gear.
(Speaking as the depressed one.)
But is the point really “to shock them into gear”? I thought we all agreed here that controlling the depressed spouse’s actions was not possible nor desirable. I wouldn’t want to use the threat of abandonment to motivate someone I loved who was already kicking himself down into misery and inertia. But I do get to choose if I spend the rest of my future tied to a sinking ship.
Oh, LWs. Do you mind if I give you massive Jedi Hugs? Are you okay with me sending you imaginary baskets of goodies and kisses right now? Because HOLY SHIT I want to do those things for you so badly.
Neither of you are bad people. The Cap already said it, and the other commenters will say it, but I’m going to add my voice to the chorus.
You are both very good partners. You are both very good PEOPLE, full stop. You are both so giving and supportive and wonderful.
I am a depressed person who made my partner do way more than her fair share for a while. I was unruly and unfair and awful for reasons that were beyond my control, and I accept and forgive myself for that. However, it wasn’t okay for me to treat my sweet, patient, wonderful partner like that. She had needs that I didn’t fill. She had wants and desires that I was totally unsupportive of, that I made her put on the back burner because I was just trying to survive.
And, hey, for a short period of time? That’s kind of reasonable. Depression is a thing that happens, after all! But, eventually, you are allowed to say “okay, you need to put more effort in again because I am tired and have my own life and problems to worry about.”
You are not bad people for feeling tired. You are not bad people for being fed up with this. It is time for you to stop comforting, and to deal out the tough love.
When I was first depressed, my mom and dad let me come home and cuddled me. They made me food and they paid for my meds. My partner let me be hours late for things, forgave me when I didn’t return her calls because I was too anxious, and gave me the space I needed to chill the fuck out.
But after a while, they stopped letting me get away with things. They stopped letting me sleep until 6 pm, and stay up all night, and be late, and not feed myself. They let me know it was unhealthy. They didn’t say “HEY IT’S COOL YOU ARE DEPRESSED”. They said “hey understandable you are depressed but I still need you to show up to our dates on time/eat regularly so you don’t die/show up to classes or drop out before X date so I get my money back”.
See, the world can’t stop for you when you’re depressed. It’s reasonable to cocoon up for a bit, but then you have to keep on trucking, even though it’s really hard. And it’s so reasonable to ask that of someone — you are affected by their life when they are the father of your child, or your partner, or whatever. You need them to pull their weight again, since the world does not freeze when you get sick. It sucks. It’s not fair. But that’s the way it is.
You both can do it. This is so hard and unfair, and my heart goes out to you. I wish I could do something to help you. Best of luck, LWs, and everyone else in this position.
You know, one thing I’m really liking about this thread is all the people chiming in with tips and hints about how to treat a depressed partner respectfully. It’s even really great to hear the stories about how people made mistakes and things just didn’t work out. It’s a really great template not only for people who have a depressed partner, but just for seeing what appropriate treatment looks like.
When I was in an abusive relationship, that was part of our narrative: he has to treat me this way because I am Depressed and Not Right and need his perfect guidance, obviously. I’ve been out of that relationship for a long time, so I’m not exactly having any revelations about him being abusive, but this is sort of a mini-revelation about just one more way he treated me abusively that I didn’t notice at the time. Even if I had been Depressed and Not Right (instead of, you know, in a relationship with an abusive creep who made me miserable — amazing how my depression lifted when I left him!), none of the ways he treated me fall even within the same universe of the things you guys are bringing up here, even for those of you who are talking about relationships that just didn’t work out.
So, anyway, Past Me wants to say thank you, ’cause it’s really easy to believe you deserve badness when you’re depressed, and ending up with a partner who also thinks you deserve badness, eesh, what a perfect storm. It’s really helpful to hear about all the ways non-abusive, loving partners can treat their depressed partners, from Happy Endings to Not So Much, because they’re so far away from what I was experiencing and thought was normal.
When a partner is going full Sad Underpants Couch Man, and you feel like you’re in an unwilling and unsexy parental place where you are seriously strategizing how you can nicely ask them to do some dishes so that you don’t come home from work to a destroyed kitchen (so that you won’t be hit with your own waves of depression), it can totally destroy a relationship. Because little by little, if you’re not careful, a contemptuous, parental tone creeps into all of your interactions with each other. The partners don’t feel capable of anything because they’re depressed, and you don’t feel that they’re capable because they’re not doing their stuff, and that way extreme badness lies, with everyone giving into the narrative that Depressed People Can’t.
It is hard to avoid that dynamic even in a nice relationship where everyone is nice to each other and actively trying to avoid going to that place. I was guilty of Bitchy Condescending Exasperated Tone and Feeling Unfairly (and Inaccurately) That God, I Had To Be In Charge of EVERYTHING, WHY, GOD, WHY? in my dealings with former partner, and as un-fun as it was for me to come home to Sad Underpants Man Who Is Terrified I Will Leave it was unfun for him to see What Fresh Hell Will This Be Today? Condescending Lady come through the door and confirm his terrible opinion about himself. I swear to god, sometimes I came in the back door of our place so I could give myself a few extra minutes of not having to see the sadness on his face right when I came home. A terrible tone crept into my voice sometimes, and sometimes I heard it and recognized it but didn’t know how to stop myself from doing it, and it was easy to blame a lot of our problems on my partner’s depression when really it was a) both of our depression and b) some areas where we just did not fit each other well. I never want to talk to someone like that again in my life, and I definitely never want someone to talk to me the way I sometimes talked to him.
(Good news: We broke up and got better! So much better! And apologized for everything and worked it out and are good friends!)
I can’t even imagine what it’s like when your abuser teams up with your Depressed Brain to be a jerk to you on purpose, and use that position of slightly better brain chemistry and moods as a reason to enjoy behaving like the Supreme Authority of Everything. Holy Fucking Hell, that sounds like a bad, bad scene.
We’ve definitely had that dynamic, and one thing we’ve done is call it out — “Hey, I’m feeling like the parent, and that is not at all okay.” “Hey, I’m feeling like the chastised kid.” And we apologize and try to get to the root of things.
But it’s taken us a very long time to get to this point. A very long time.
My boyfriend and I slip into this sometimes, with me in your role. We dig ourselves out of it again by playing some Mario/Rockband and me letting him cook me dinner. I turn off my patronising tone and we talk about how things are and we go back to being very happy again (as we are 90% of the time). But yeah, ultimatley he really needs a job and if that doesn’t happen within the next year (he has been unemplyed for just over a year now) I can see how easy it would be for us to be exactly where you were.
Yeah, the Disapproving Mother/Delinquent Basement Teenager dynamic is not fun. (And worse in our case because spouse’s primary diagnosis is PTSD thanks to his biological parents having parental rights terminated and his adoptive mother being abusive in the name of beating the Devil out of him. So if he starts seeing his mother’s attitude with my face on it, that’s a good sign that whatever I’m doing I need to back right off kthnx.)
It can take a long time for a depressed person to get a job. With us, he knew what job he wanted, but believed he could never get it. It took a lot of factors for him to sign up to the course that took him into his current awesome job, but it took years of tiny boosts to his confidence to get him to that point. Good luck.
Having a Depressed and Anxious brain coupled with someone who uses gaslighting to keep you in your own spiral, just so that they can continue to play Hero and “I know what is best for you” is truly horrific.
Been There. Done That. And when it became clear that if I didn’t leave, I would die, I ran to go get help. I even told my ex-partner, “You can’t help me this time. You can’t rescue me this time. I have to save myself!”. He then proceeded to argue with me and belittle me, trying to play my guilt against me in order to force me to stay.
It is one thing when both parties are acting in good faith and are truly working together to help each other out and/or manage the brain cooties. It is quite another when one of the partners uses this as an excuse to gain more control over you via feeding into the isolative thoughts Depression often brings and using emotional blackmail to force you to stay or to make decisions out of a place of Anxious Fear.
I’m so glad I’m gone. I’m so glad my ex-partner is out of my life… And will continue to forever remain that way.
My parents’ marriage of 33 years broke up primarily due to my father’s depression, and how my mother handled it–not nearly as kindly and respectfully as the commenters here are suggesting. I know that sounds depressing, my talking about divorce when you desperately want to stay with your partner, but…
my parents are happier now, and much nicer to be around. My mother is doing work she loves, and is dating. My father loves my mother very much, and her leaving was the kick in the pants he needed to get on meds. He’s now living with a woman that I like very much and who is a better fit for him than my mother was, and is very happy.
It sounds weird to say it, but on at least one level I’m very happy that they divorced. Divorce is not a uniformly terrible thing. Sometimes people truly are better off apart.
If you deeply love someone who is in a long term depression – you’re f*cked.
Well, not always. Antidepressants decrease libido, y’know.
(Also known as, use an “I” statement, or avoid generalizing. If you speak from YOUR experience, nobody can take that away from you. But as soon as you tell “me” what “my” experiences are? Out comes the snark.)
Well, not always. Antidepressants decrease libido, y’know.
*giggle* Perfect response. Thank you! ❤
Sorry about the ‘I’ thing – you’re right, it’s your experience that matters.
BUT I still stand by that statement and the key words are ‘deeply love’ and ‘long term depression’. You may try a million things to overcome the situation (and I’ve tried most) but in the end I was dragged into the messy swamp of a depressives world. From an honest point of view, I should just have left the relationship but I’m so in love with the person and I’ve bonded so deeply that I can never leave. I’m f*cked (or not as the case actually is).
Thanks for the reply and I’ll pick my words more carefully – especially on Captain Awkward’s Blog.
Mostly my issue with your comment was: I have long-term depression. It’s treated and I don’t show symptoms most of the time, but if I miss a week of meds I’m right back there. I have friends whose depression doesn’t respond to treatment at all.
And they, and I, are worth being friends with or loving. But we’re all really sensitive to the implication that, especially because of this disease, we are actually horrible burdens on everyone around us.
Like firecatstef said: I would never want someone to feel like they couldn’t leave me, when being around me made them desperately unhappy. That would be so awful. And mostly I live with that fear by knowing that I have no dependents; the people around me CHOOSE to be around me. If I make them unhappy and they don’t leave, that is their choice to make, not mine.
Thank you for saying what I wanted to, but was too hurt to actually say. I have long term depression too. Please, please don’t imply that people like me aren’t worth loving. And yes, if those people feel that being with us is making them unhappy, then leaving is their choice. Don’t put the responsibility for your unhappiness on someone else.
I’m right there with you, staranise. I’ve been depressive most of my life; it went over the edge into clinical depression in 1995. I’ve had remissions and relapses, but I’ve been actively in treatment for 18 years now. I will probably never not be in treatment. Absent the discovery of some miracle cure, I’ve got decades of anti-depressant use ahead of me. And I’m pretty sure that this hasn’t ruined my husband’s life or doomed him to misery.
These posts are hitting a little too close to home. The scripts are great, but what do you do when you ask your partner to make a change and they just don’t do it? Is there a step between these scripted conversations and leaving your relationship? If a partner doesn’t make changes, do you basically choose between leaving and sticking it out as long as you can stand it?
My biggest issue with my partner is the fact that he hasn’t had a steady source of income in seven years. A few years after our kids were born we had a big emergency summit where I asked him to help more around the house, we restructured who does what, and he pitched in a lot more – and still does. But the years have gone by and I am SO SICK of being the breadwinner. Every January he starts talking about how “I really need to start making money this year” and every December he is still unemployed and we are still barely getting by and I get more resentful and burnt out every year.
How does one handle this? Do I tell him, “You have 12 months to start earning an income or I’m outta here”? Is the next step couples therapy? I’ve never been to therapy and I am really uncomfortable with the thought of opening up privately to someone I don’t know (except on the Internet, ha ha). But I’m beginning to wonder if the benefits might outweigh my fears.
Given that I’m the 2nd letter writer here, with the unsolved problem, I am clearly not the best person to reply to you. Except that you sound like you’re in exactly my situation, only mine has gone on for 16 years. I do not think I can ever bear to leave my husband, but I do think I ought to be prepared to leave him if things get worse. Right now, my husband has an actual job, and his not earning money for so long combined with him not being able to be the homemaker that I think the unemployed partner should be, were major symbols of our relationship not working. So with his current employment, one of those symbols is temporarily gone.
But even though I know his current job could end at any time, I feel like I am now not going to be able to go back to him being unemployed again.
What I think I am going to do, before this job ends, is to tell him this very directly. That if he becomes unemployed again, he needs to apply for a job a week, that he needs to be willing to take less than perfect jobs, and that he needs to volunteer outside the home while he is looking for the next job. And if he has a stress attack about my telling him this, I will tell him he needs to realize that our relationship can’t go back to being as one-sided as it was. That if he is too stressed to find work, he needs to pursue medical care.
And then, if all this is accomplished, and he becomes unemployed and doesn’t stick to his end of the bargain, I am going to plan to leave.
I’m nearly in tears just writing that. I love him so much. But I need to stop this care-taking role, and I’m going to. I *sincerely* hope our relationship will survive this, though.
Thank you, and (((Jedi hugs))). I can feel your sadness and anxiety coming through in what you wrote, and can relate. I think that the needs you stated are totally reasonable and also fair to you. I hope it doesn’t come to that. In my case, when I really needed my partner to buck up in other ways (and made that clear to him) he did do more to help. But I guess with a new year starting…and me having to pay off all of the holiday bills…I am just so tired of feeling like my needs are always last. I am not at the end of my rope yet, but when I think about spending the rest of our lives together, sometimes I feel hopeful and sometimes I feel exhausted.
Good luck to you, LW, I hope things work out for the best.
Probably will cause a big stress-attack! This is maybe the kind of thing that would go better with a couples therapist in the room if you can manage it!
Not that it’s an unreasonable boundary, it’s totally reasonable, I can just hear my own depressed brain going “nothing i do will ever be good enough etc…”
Or maybe you keep the resolution in your heart for later? I don’t know. I would be worried about derailing while the employment is new. But you are in your relationship, not me!
I really, really hope that things continue to get better for you and him. *Jedi hugs*
It might also be good to put it positively now–“I’m so glad to see you employed and out of the house. I love you and have always supported you, but it’s a lot easier like this. I hope that if you leave this job, you’ll look for a new one and do other things like volunteering until you get another. It makes life so much easier and more pleasant.”
I’ve never been to couples’ therapy, so I can’t vouch for or against it, but it sounds like a good idea? Just make sure the therapist is a good fit, I guess (see other post). And/or non-couples therapy just for you, so you have someone to talk to who you can say absolutely anything to and they won’t judge you for it.
As for ultimatums … I’m not a fan of them. But at the same time, he probably needs to understand just how frustrating this is for you. If he already does understand, then either (1) he’s pretty assholish for still not getting a job, or (2) he’s actually unable to get a job, because of his depression or because jobs are hard to come by. In any case, *you* still need for him to have a job where he makes money. So it’s better to make it about what you need from the relationship, how you want to be with him, but the way things are now your needs are not being met.
(Why I’m saying this: When I broke up with my ex-partner, it was partly because of mental health-related behaviors of his. He’d realized I felt they were a problem – I’d told him, sometimes in a much less patient way than I wish I had – but he hadn’t realized it might be a dealbreaker for me (and I hadn’t realized he didn’t realize). Hearing him say this really broke my heart, because while we’d probably broken up sooner or later anyway (there were other reasons), hearing something like “I love you, but if we can’t have normal conversations about things we care about then I can’t be your partner” might actually have been very helpful – for him, for me and for the two of us.)
I agree, I’m not a fan of ultimatums either. I just have no idea what to do! I have calmly stated my need for him to look for work so often that he doesn’t listen anymore, and I am beyond frustrated. The rest of our issues are dealable except for that. I think you’re right, maybe I have been too calm and he doesn’t understand that this is really becoming a dealbreaker for me.
If this is a conversation you’ve had with him on several occasions that he’s chosen to dismiss, I’m not sure how many approaches are left but ultimatums. The problem with an ultimatum, of course, is that it loses all effectiveness if you don’t follow through, which you may or may not want/be able to do. Just please don’t tone police yourself too much, by taking blame for being “too calm,” ok? If you’ve told him you need this more than once, you’ve told him more than once.
When he says every January that he needs to find a job, but by December hasn’t found one, is it for lack of jobs available full stop, or lack of putting the effort into finding positions/submitting applications? (As in, is he making this promise in January to placate you, without a solid commitment to back it up).
All the Jedi hugs, if you want them. It sounds like a hard position to be in.
I feel like ultimatums are only bad at all when used irresponsibly (which, yes, they often are). Whether you call them ultimatums or not, it is completely fair to set expectations with partners, and being honest about the fact that failure to meet those expectations will end the relationship.
I mean, definitely if your expectations are manipulative (if you’re asking for something you KNOW the other person does not want, like if your partner was philosophically against work or something [in which case you’d pretty much need to just dump and run, ASAP]), and/or unreasonable, or you’re constantly giving an ultimatum and then failing to follow through, then they get pretty ridiculous. But whether you state them outright as ultimatums or not, certain choices people make WILL result in the end of a relationship. If the rest of the relationship is worth salvaging and you want to make it work, making it explicitly clear that, one way or another, they will be making the choice between [behavior] and you is a pretty good idea. The ultimatum of “my needs need to be met, or I leave” is absolutely fair to make, as long as you know that your needs and their needs aren’t completely incompatible (in which case, there is no “if,” you just need to leave).
Anyway, I would go with something like “X, I love you and I want to make our relationship work, but the stress of being the sole breadwinner is just too much for me. I simply can’t continue in this relationship if I am the only one working. I understand that the job market isn’t great right now, but in order for me to stay in this relationship, I need to at LEAST know that you are making a good, consistent effort to find employment. We need to sit down and work out some goals that would help you find a job, and help me feel secure about Us.” Goals might include, as others have mentioned: at least X number of positions applied to per week; a plan, up front, to go over it every week, what positions he applied to, didn’t apply to and why, what applications he called to follow-up on; that he apply to and not refuse offers on positions “beneath him,” etc. And definitely bring up that you’ve noticed he loses steam as the year goes on, so that you can talk about how you are going to handle that. It is better to be honest about it up-front and make a game plan for how to handle it, than to try to avoid it and have to deal with it later, when tensions will probably start to run high.
If he consistently puts in a good effort, good chance he will find a job within the year (even if it isn’t his dream job: going to a less-than-ideal job can be an even greater incentive to look hard for a new job). And if he puts in the effort, and doesn’t find a job, it will (hopefully) be a lot easier to have faith in the relationship when you have a justified hope of brighter days. And if he doesn’t make the effort, or refuses job offers, follow through on your position and leave. Just leave. He will have been giving you permission (if not outright urging) to leave him by refusing to put forth the effort.
I wonder if you’ve figured out what it is about him not working that is really most important to you? Is it the money? (it could be the money.)
It could also be something about the role men should have, something you’ve internalized. It could be that you feel like he’s not actually doing enough work to support the household (do you feel like you’re still primary parent? Or do you feel like the Household IS Taken Care Of, like if you had a housewife?)
Sometimes, Get A Job is a combination of “money is good” and some other unexamined value. If it is, you might have more success addressing the latter bit.
If not…. well, I dunno. I mean, I understand your need. I wonder if you can make a more do-able requirement, though, and come to terms with that in your heart. Like, getting a job is not entirely within his control; jobs are not lying around for people to pick up off the floor. So you might be able to accept certain kinds of legitimate action towards getting employed.
OTOH, it might be the money, and who could blame you. What would he do if you up and left? He likes to eat, too.
Getting it through to him probably involves talking about it in a totally different way. Something More Serious. With a schedule on a piece of paper or something.
From what she wrote about volunteering outside the house I am getting the sense that it is just him getting out of the house during the day and her not feeling like she has to emotionally care for him as much when she comes home. In any case, I second this, figuring out what that reason is and then making it clear to him, i.e. “I need you to have a job or at least get out of the house every day and to have some regular, fulfilling activity that does not involve me” so he understands your reasons and needs in the situation, too.
I can’t answer for LW2, but for me, #1, it’s the money, big time. #2 is that he doesn’t do as much as I do around the house, so I feel like the lion’s share of running our household still falls to me, and I’m often in the role of having to ask him to do things that, to me, are just basic things that you do for your partner without asking (like asking them if they want you to make them a sandwich if you are making one for yourself).
#3 is that, because he has more time, he gets to enjoy the vacations we’re going on or take up the fun invitations that I can’t attend because I’m chained to my job. Which inevitably causes resentment, because I have to work to support us and our money is woefully tight, so once I pay the bills there’s not enough left for me to spend on a girls’ weekend or more than an afternoon of “me” time once in a while. So it ends up coming back to the money, though there are other things bound up in that. I think him earning some money – it doesn’t have to be a lot – would go a long way toward greasing those wheels and making things easier for both of us.
Ack, Letter #429 hit home. I was on the other side of that. Well, kind of. It was a long distance relationship, so many things were different. But that endless cycle where I would get really upset with what a failure I was and talk to her and persuade myself that the next day things would be different, and the next day things were not different… that was the same.
Anyway, I ended that relationship after I was well on the road to recovery. But retroactively, I got really angry about that cycle, OW. And I was furious with my ex about the role she played in enabling my denial. Utterly enraged. (I had other reasons to be angry too; I think my ex actually was in denial about how terrible my situation was– which is easier at a distance of course, and yet… I was telling her! Those other reasons don’t apply to you. You seem pretty clear eyed about your wife’s situation.)
But I’d like you to maybe consider that some of the things you’re afraid of saying to her might even be exactly what she needs to hear. She won’t be suddenly better tomorrow, and you’re not helping her by going along with the pretence that she will.
Also the way you’re swallowing your feelings… based on my experience as the depressed one, that lack of genuineness in others makes it harder to navigate reality. When your own feelings are utterly lost in the fog, an honest expression of feelings from someone else is a signpost of sorts, helping you find yourself a little bit. But if nobody out there is communicating what they actually feel and what they need, you stay lost.
Also, for me , feeling like someone actually needed me to do stuff was ultimately the only thing that made me better. Feeling useless and feeling like I had nothing to contribute made it worse. If I hadn’t lucked into a (vaguely emotionally unhealthy but perfect for where I was at) work situation that gave me that feeling of being needed, I’m not sure I ever would have recovered.
So I guess I just wanted to say that you really really shouldn’t be afraid that you are selfish for having needs and feelings in this situation. Not only are you just as entitled as any other person to have needs and feelings, but you CAN’T EVER help a depressed person by burying your own needs and feelings for their sake. Because depressed people have lost touch with THEIR needs and feelings; that’s kind of what depression is. And if you really want to help you have to lead by example! Also of course you’re going to do the “putting yourself first” thing for your sake, not for hers. Maybe it won’t have the slightest positive effect on her. But I know you’ll never, ever be able to help her by putting yourself last, because when you do that you’re just being a role model for “how to lose yourself even deeper.”
Best of luck… you seem like a really good, loving person. Please don’t be hard on yourself and please look after yourself. It matters.
I want to print this out and staple it to my wall. Luckily my partner and I both really do need help from each other a lot of the time, and helping each other – or someone else – is often the only thing that gets us out from our fog. It’s so easy to think of yourself as not a person when depressed, and the less you do the less of a person you become.
Going to throw this out there in case it’s helpful to anyone. One of the ongoing issues between me and my husband has been that he constantly says, “I’m going to do X” or “I should do X” and then never puts any effort toward doing that. Sometimes it’s because he decides it’s not that important, sometimes it’s because his anxiety takes over, sometimes he just keeps on planning to do it eventually. I end up feeling the disappointment of what I see as “promises” never manifesting, even if the original statement really had nothing to do with me.
What has worked for us is the complete opposite of what most people tell you to do (commit to things out loud, tell someone else so you’re held accountable, etc.). I told him I did NOT want to hear about things he was planning on doing, or wanted to do, or needed to do, unless they directed impacted me or our finances. I told him he was welcome to tell me about things he has DONE, or to ask me to do something, but that is it. We’re still working on it, but it’s made a big difference. Before, I think he felt like just the act of announcing he was going to do something meant he was “trying” to do it, and if it didn’t get done, at least he “tried.” Now that he doesn’t get to announce it ahead of time, the only way he can feel any accomplishment is by actually doing things.
It’s also freed me from feeling like I have to hold him accountable to things he wants to do. If I want him to do something, then I have to phrase it as a specific request, “Can you please unload the dishwasher before you go to bed?” That way there is no “try,” only a clear done/not done outcome. If it doesn’t get done, then we can discuss why without all of the fuzzy “I’m working on it” language.
Another phrase I’m working on eliminating (for both of us) is “We should…” When my husband says that now, I say, “If you would like to do that, go ahead. If you are asking me to do it, then ask me to do it.” I’ve discovered that in a lot of cases, when he says “we should” he means, “What do you think about this idea?” or “Can we afford to do this?” So I ask him to say those specific things instead. It’s made me much more aware of my own language and assumptions as well.
I really, really like this, and will be filing it away for possible future reference.
“We should…” and generally “announcing things to the room” is something my spouse and I used to do that was WAY less problematic pre-kids.
“We should eat!”
“Yeah, we should…”
*return to poking at computers*
20 minutes later:
“You know, we really should eat…”
“Yeah, we should have some dinner.”
And so forth until the likely outcome was going out to eat at 9:30 PM (pre-kids) or getting some kind of takeout at 7:45 or so (after kids).
I’ve gone on a possibly unnecessary crusade to eliminate the word “should” from my personal lexicon. It’s hard! But it’s made how I think about things much clearer.
I love this comment with extreme love. I think this is just so, so smart.
What you’re doing is asking your husband to stop Hamlet-ing everything to death. Obviously thinking out loud about things was making him “lose the name of action” and driving you nuts. Asking him to be clear, specific, and explicit is such a good way to go.
My partner does exactly this same thing and it’s been bothering me too, exactly the way you outlined. I’ve started ignoring the things he has declared outloud he will do, for my own mental health, but that’s been promoting a tendency to be dismissive that I’m not a huge fan of. And it doesn’t address his feeling that he’s “trying” by making declarations.
We’ll have to give this “no declarations” thing a shot.
As a person who is constantly saying “I should do XYZ” and publicly setting deadlines for doing it that don’t get met for whatever reason, but still getting to feel warm and fuzzy for trying, thank you for saying this. I needed to hear it.
I don’t entirely agree with this idea your kindness can’t help. I am a fairly sane person who is mainly dragged down by my family member’s mental health problems at the moment and I credit my husband for that. His kindness to me and my kindness to him have helped immeasurably any time we’ve been depressed.
It’s not that kindness can’t help. It’s that when depression becomes debilitating, kindness is a double-edged sword. It lightens your load and lets you know the person cares about you — yay! It reinforces your self image as incapable of doing for yourself and a burden on those you love — boo!
The message is not “don’t be kind!” It’s “realize that what constitutes kindness is not always what you might think (and does not involve giving your depressed loved one a total pass on things they are capable of doing, just because they’re hard),” “you can’t fix somebody else’s depression,” and “you have a right to decide how much you are willing to give, and to draw limits where you have to, because you count too — and because in the end destroying yourself and your love for the other person by enslaving yourself to their depression isn’t doing anyone any favors.” (To synopsize).
I was on the other side of #429.
And my wife finally got tired of it all, and told me that if things didn’t change, well, things were going to change whether I wanted them to or not.
And I got pretty mad about that. I looked at it like the fellow who leaves his wife when she gets cancer. I mean, ok, no one can *make* you stay with someone if you don’t want to, but leaving under those circumstance kind of makes you a jerk, right?
But, it also turned out to be the kick in the ass that I needed. I started seeing a therapist. (I had been terribly skeptical about therapy, but really, what’s the worst that could happen at that point?) I started seeing a psychiatrist again, instead of just getting anti-depressants from my GP. I started exercising. I started eating better. I started doing stuff around the house.
It’s certainly not all peaches and cream, mind you. I’m still relatively depressive, and I’m not getting nearly as *much* done around the house as I’d like to be. I still tend to procrastinate things in front of the internet. (He says, reading Captain Awkward at work. Oops.)
But things are better. And still improving.
Maybe your wife needs new meds, #429. Maybe she needs a different therapist. Maybe she needs a kick in the ass. (Not literally, of course.) I dunno. I worry about how applicable my story is, generally. Maybe it would just make things worse. Maybe that’s just my depression still talking.
Best of luck.
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