I should start by making two things clear. One- you are a wonderful, kind, supportive, loving man, and I hope to be married to you forever. I pinch myself when I think about how lucky I am to have found a husband like you. You set the bar very high in our relationship.
Two- I know you can’t possibly understand what it is to live with depression. I know that. You can learn about it, listen to me talk about it, read about it, study all you can. But you’ll never really know. You just can’t. You’ve come a long way when it comes to being sensitive and knowledgeable on the topic. (Remember when you used to say things like, “I understand, I felt depressed when I went through this or that”?) You simply can’t know because unless you experience it, you just won’t.
I could not be more thrilled about this, actually, because I wouldn’t wish these feelings on anyone, let alone the man I love most on this planet. My heart nearly bounces with joy knowing that you’ll never go through an episode like this. Yes, you will have times of pain, of grief, of heartache, of deep sadness. I can’t stop that. I wish I could, but that’s life.
However, I’m happy to know you won’t have to wake up some days and just want to die, even though you were perfectly happy the day before. You won’t sit down on the couch under the weight of a soul crushing sadness that leaks out through your tear ducts and literally not be able to rise up under the weight of it. You won’t lash out for no reason, after spending days feeling terrified of nothing at all, snapping because you can’t take that pain a minute longer.
You won’t lose days of your life without realizing the time has passed. You won’t know what it is to fall to the bottom of an emotional well and not even want to climb out because the light at the top doesn’t seem remotely worth it somehow. You won’t spend hours and days and weeks feeling worthless for no reason and wondering what the point of all of this is, anyway.
You won’t do that. You are as you should be, as I love seeing you. Full of life. Full of joy. You wake up each day ready to take it on. You’re a nonstop ball of energy, a source of light, an Accomplisher of All Things Necessary. You’re an extrovert, a dad who plays on the floor with the kids, a husband who works sixty hours a week and still finds time to travel and do half the housework.
I’m in awe of you.
I’m pretty great, too. I know that, because right now, right this minute, I’m not at the bottom of my hole. Right now I can see that I’m a great wife. I support you, I love you, I listen to you. I surprise you with parties and homemade gifts and tickets to the Rose Bowl. I make you tea and I rub your shoulders. I love your kids and I show them that. I encourage you to say yes to the things you love, to spend more time with your friends, to call your parents. I know. I’m not so bad, myself. And I know you know this. You tell me all the time.
However, I do live with depression. And that means you do, too. You married it. You vowed to love all the “Me”s, just like I promise to love all the Yous, and this requires something extra from you.
Here’s what I need you to know, to really understand. Depression (and its best friend, anxiety) touches every part of my life. Even when I seem ok, it’s there, lurking. It lives in me. You’ve watched while I’ve tried prescription medication, natural remedies, and everything on the spectrum to treat this. You know I have it “under control” in a real way. But I’m not “cured.” That’s not how this works.
Sometimes, when I need an Introvert Day, I’m definitely “peopled out.” But there is a very good chance I’m sad and I don’t know why, or that I’m completely numb and I just can’t try right now.
Sometimes, I tell you I think I’m feeling a little depressed, and really inside my heart hurts so much I can barely breathe, and my limbs feel heavy, and I just want to fall asleep and make it go away, please, please, please. But I can’t say all that, because I’m scared to put those words to it, and I don’t have the energy to express it anyway.
Sometimes, I go to bed with every intention of kicking ass from the minute I wake up in the morning, and then suddenly I can barely function, and a precious day slips through my fingers. I start to hate myself for letting that happen, then the next day is worse as I shame spiral. Suddenly a week has passed, my to-do list is untouched, and I’m completely panicked about the state of my life.
I don’t mean for these days to happen. They just do. It’s like waking up in a fog that blurs your vision, weighs you down, makes you feel miserable, sad, and numb, and speeds up time. This fog also takes away the point of everything, by the way. If I could see the point, maybe I could do something about it. But why? Who cares?
When I feel better, I wish like hell I could get those days and hours and weeks back. You see how stressed I get trying to catch up. You watch my anxiety as I stay up until 3am before a trip or a big deadline trying to finish the millions of unfinished things left on my plate. I’m sure you wonder why I procrastinate so much, why I didn’t use all my free time to get ahead.
You work all day, constantly. My work is often freelance and my schedule varies. You must think to yourself that if you had as much time as me, you would accomplish so much. Honestly? I think you would. (I also hope you would stop moving for a day now and then, for your own sake, but that’s a different discussion.)
I know you can’t understand how hard it is. I also know, mentally, you do comprehend the idea of it. I know you can see that winter and dark make it worse, or lack of exercise. I don’t know if you can really understand that I know that, too. But at the bottom of that hole, I just can’t bring myself to see the point. It doesn’t seem like it can or will ever end. I don’t care if it does. I don’t care about anything. I need you to understand.
Here is my biggest point, Dear Husband: I’m working hard to help myself and others living with depression to let go of the shame we feel about it, but that doesn’t mean I’ve succeeded. Being a person who just checks out of life completely from time to time against my will isn’t something I’m proud of. It’s something I have to learn to accept and love myself anyway.
So, I’m asking for that from you. You have the part where you love me down pat. I need you to accept this part of me, too. Fully. Which I guess starts with me being very open about what that part of me really looks and feels like.
Something that seems totally innocent to you might be a minefield. I need you to please try to understand this stuff at the deepest level, so we can avoid as many of those mines as possible. I need you to at least be open and ready to hear that certain parts of our lives aren’t going to work perfectly, and it’s my “fault.” I need acceptance of that.
Last night, we did an exercise from our marriage class. I’m loving that class, and I love doing the exercises with you. I feel closer than ever, and it’s been amazing. We were supposed to practice fair fighting and problem solving together. We had to come up with an example of something we could work on to improve as a team. Something that was bothering one of us.
You brought up how you wished the house was a little cleaner, a little more organized. We had a huge, heated discussion about it. We worked through it. All the conclusions we came to were valid and true. We came out the other side. Yes, we both wish the house were perfectly clean at all times. Yes, we both work. True, you literally have no extra minutes in your life, so it would come down to me primarily taking care of the house, a role I never accepted and you know and respect that. Yes, we might just have to accept a less than perfectly clean home sometimes because we are both busy with other things. Yes, I care less than you do about this, and yes, I’ve already made a shift out of respect to our marriage to meet you halfway. Yes, I even love about myself that I’m busy and creative and passionate and a tidy home is low on my priority list sometimes.
But that’s not the whole story. This is the extra step I need you to take, so desperately.
Please remember that I live with depression. Please remember that I wish I could be a superhuman robot who gets everything done and takes care of you perfectly. That’s not sarcastic. I wish that. Please remember that I feel shame about losing chunks of time out of my life, shame that I’m fighting but still feel. Please remember that when you wish I could do more, or be better, I remember that I’m less, and not good enough. You’ve never said these words to me, you never would. But I feel that in a deep dark place inside that’s always threatening to jump out and take me over. I know that isn’t true, but knowing doesn’t matter when the fog creeps in.
My depression is part of who I am. It’s given me gifts- empathy, understanding, the ability to stop when I need to, a real appreciation for the beauty of the world, because I can’t always see it, and some amazing strength. Any hard thing makes us better. But I’m better in my way, not in your way.
What I’m asking is if you think you might be able to find wonder for the ways I am better, strong, kind, good. If you think you can let go of some of the day-to-day failings that are inevitable for me. If you can find an extra space in your heart and mind to make room for this creature inside me that sweeps in and sticks me under his thumb sometimes. If you can please try to see how that affects every single part of my world in one way or another.
I can promise you that I am doing my very best. You know how hard I’m working to function in the healthiest way I can reach, and I’ll never stop learning. I’m always going to try to find more and more ways to get as much out of this life as I can. But it won’t come as easily for me as it does for you, not in certain ways.
Please talk to me about it more. When I’m feeling good, it’s the last thing I want to think about. When I’m feeling bad, I don’t want to burden you. Sometimes I need you to be the one to bring it up.
Thank you for all the things you do so well. For giving me a quiet and safe space when I need that. For encouraging a walk when you think it might help. For talking to me about it when I ask you to. For loving me and reminding me of that constantly. For trying so hard to understand.
You’ve said to me many times that it’s hard to remember what I go through- with my eating disorder, with this stuff, in general- because I stay positive and I don’t wallow in it. I’m asking you to remember that. It’s always there. It’s never gone. I’ve learned to live with it, but that doesn’t mean I control it.
I promise you, promise you, I’m always doing my best. Even when my best is being unable to do anything at all but breathe.