It is my honour to share in this post a moving and very practical testimony about depression by Paula Wiseman.
For Worse, Then Better: My Battle
Genuine love prompts action, and it was love for my husband and my children that initiated one of the most unnerving and rewarding experience of my life – seeking treatment for depression. Doing the hard work of uncovering and dealing with the triggers and manifestations of the disease has resulted not just in a journey toward healing, but in a deepening of my relationships with those closest to me.
The first step, the “easier said than done” step, was admitting there was an issue. I knew I lived with recurring episodes, but I was sure that, in time, I could reason the depression away. It was simply a matter of finding the right book or article with all the answers.
The answers came in a most unexpected way. I attended a Women of Faith conference and listened to Sheila Walsh talk openly about her battle with depression. I took away one important fact- treatment works.
That said, it was not necessarily cut and dried. It was a process of seeing a doctor, taking medication, changing medication, changing doctors, and adding a therapist. Had it not been for my family and that desire to be well for their sakes as much as my own, I would not have hung in there. Now I have first-hand knowledge that treatment does work.
Treatment started long before I reached the doctor’s office, though. It started with finally trusting my husband enough to be honest with him. I stopped saying, “I’m fine,” and admitted I was struggling.
When my husband and I first married, he knew very little about depression. He knew that there was something going on with me, but he did not know what questions to ask and I did not love him or trust him enough to volunteer anything. For ten years, we lived with this uneasy arrangement of denial, frustration and misunderstanding.
Once I saw a doctor and we began to deal with depression, we could see how it was affecting me and how it insinuated itself in our marriage. Depression is an isolating, alienating condition. It warps perception and judgment but the sufferer is rarely aware of it. When I thought I was being self-reliant, I was in fact pushing my husband away. What I called inner strength was nothing more than self-deception.
As we unmasked depression, I became more open, and more willing to risk trusting my husband. He once remarked that, from his perspective, depression had gotten worse in the last few years. I assured him it was the opposite. The episodes were shorter, and much less intense, and I was able to function through them to an increasing extent. What had changed was that I felt safe and secure enough to let him see it, and to see me at my worst.
Some people have a fear of rejection. I was less afraid and more resigned to rejection. Sooner or later, I was sure it would come, regardless of the relationship. It was just a matter of time. My husband showed me otherwise. He is a wonderful, understanding, longsuffering man. I always knew that. What I did not understand, what I still need a reminder of periodically, is that he loves me unconditionally. I had always felt unworthy of him, because I was “defective” and he was not. He was perfect, while I was a pretender.
I still think he is perfect, and he smiles when I say that, but we both know that things have leveled between us. I know that the love I give him is precious because of how much he values me as a person. The love I receive is no longer such a desperate need, and I can simply soak it in. There is no fear that he will figure me out, that the truth about me will be too much, and that he will abandon me.
Because my husband loved me, even after he knew my battles, I was willing to take that same chance with others. I risked being vulnerable and open with a few of my close friends, and was rewarded with some deep, very secure relationships.
Another benefit is being on the “giving” end of the relationship. Depression is intensely self-centered, and it taxes all those relationship bonds. I was in constant crisis, in need of a listening ear, perpetually irritated that no one understood what I was going through. Then after the crisis passed, I felt guilty for always having some difficulty I needed to unload, and ashamed that I could not cope when it seemed everyone else could.
I found out the truth is, none of us is perfect, and we all need a little support from time to time. My friends did not resent helping me out any more than I felt put upon when they called. We all learned to appreciate each other for our strengths as well as our weaknesses.
The ironic thing is that my friendships and my marriage are stronger after I have owned up to my depression. No one could have convinced me that would have happened before I sought treatment.
Getting to this point required a huge step in learning how to communicate. Open, honest communication is necessary in any relationship and it is critical in a marriage. Simple, yes. Easy, no. It took quite a bit of ‘unlearning’ on my part. I was used to overanalyzing and second-guessing everything my husband said, and the answers I gave him were vague and veiled, never lies, but worlds away from the truth.
I discovered that straightforward requests reap tremendous benefits. ‘Can I sort this out for a couple of days by myself before we talk about it?’ takes the pressure off me, and keeps his imagination from getting out of hand. Strange as it sounds, during a depression episode, deciding what to cook for dinner is a particularly paralyzing decision. Since I disclosed that, my husband is careful to suggest something or opt for eating out.
We found one statement that revolutionized our talks. ‘I hear the words you are saying, and I think this is what you mean, but this is how it comes across.’ It was a non-threatening way to show him how I process things. I knew he was trying to help and told him so, but I did not pretend when it was not.
We have also accepted the exasperating fact that words can have a completely different impact when I am depressed than they would otherwise. He has asked reasonable questions, looking for information. ‘Did you wash the whites?’ During an episode that became an indictment. I had not lived up to expectations. I was a failure. I cannot explain why I think that way, but I must admit that I do occasionally.
When I let my husband in on that, he became an ally and my chief encourager. He is quick to notice what I am able to get done during an episode, and he wordlessly covers what I do not. I depend on his judgment, and I trust him to tell me when things are slipping. I put just as much stock in it when he tells me how things have improved.
The most gratifying thing is how willing he has been to do the hard work that living with depression has required. All the work I have done trying to understand the disease, to reorder my thought processes and my reactions to situations, has been met by equally hard work on his part. By taking on this challenge, we have each communicated to the other, ‘you are worth it’, in a way neither of us grasped before.
© Paula Wiseman and Sage Words, 2009.