Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On the other side of the fence

I have a long family history of depression. My grandparents on both sides suffered with serious cases of depression and one from each side were severe alcoholics. My parents suffered the same crippling depression as well as alcoholism and drug addiction. Aunts, uncles, cousins -all have some level of depression. My sisters have dealt with it as well, on top of anxiety disorders and eating disorders. Every single person in my family, including myself, have dealt with it one way or another.

My first experiences with depression were the years that I lived in absolute hell in an abusive home when I was a pre-teen. It resulted with me running away twice my freshman year of high school, where my mom called the police to drag me back home, and then two suicide attempts after that. I eventually moved out when I was 15 to live with cousins I'd never met before.

After I graduated high school, got married and lived with my husband, my depression seemed to disappear. I had cut-off my mom to never speak to her again and helped my sisters through early escapes of their own. My depression was situational rather than a chemical imbalance (unlike so many other people in my family), so if life was "normal" then I felt "normal". While life certainly had it's ups and downs, I was depression-free until I became a mom.

After my first pregnancy, I had a pretty bad case of (untreated) post-partum depression. The combination of post-pregnancy hormones and disrespectful in-laws lead me into months of pain. Pain that I hadn't felt since those early teen years; anxiety and deep sadness that is almost unexplainable. It felt as though my heart was literally breaking to pieces inside my chest and every cell in my body dripped aching tears. After my second pregnancy, the post-partum depression was less, but still fragile in complicated family interactions. I was able to manage it, over come post-traumatic stress disorder and have since become depression-free once again.

I felt like my many years of personal experience with depression made me an expert in some kind of way. Years of therapy, a few (unsuccessful) trials with medications, and a lot of introspective writing were all my weapons. It was a monster I fought and won. Which is why is was so shocked and caught off guard when my husband began battling his own fight with depression and I felt like a failure, completely unsure of how to help him.

His depression is the general type that most of us deal with. One day sitting on the couch he told me how he felt. He should be the happiest person in the world; he has a great job that pays more than the bills, a happy home and marriage - everything he could ever want. But he had an unexplainable sadness. I had no idea what to do other than hug him, listen and assure him that it would be alright. There were always reasons behind my bouts with depression and thus, there was always a way to "fix" it. I frantically searched my mind for ways to fix the problem and after realizing there was nothing to fix, I felt lost.

I didn't like being on the other side of the fence. It was actually easier for me to be dealing with depression than somebody else. I knew I was a strong person and could win the battle, but watching someone go through their own fight was unnerving. I love him more than any other person on the face of the Earth, which makes this voyeuristic position almost unbearable. At this point, I realized how lonely depression was on all sides, not just for the depressed.

He is overcoming that darkness that haunted me for years. With some tools of his own, he's not just sitting there suffering. But it is so incredibly uncomfortable for me to sit by and watch from the other side of the fence feeling helpless. Knowing that it's not a battle I can fight for him, grabbing a sword to get a few stabs in myself, all I can do is sit and listen. I don't feel like it's enough. I'd rather be the one fighting the fight.


Elisabeth said...

It never ceases to amaze me that people you casually meet seem so together and "normal" on the outside and then you learn what they feel on the inside is quite different. It also never ceases to amaze me how much we all have in common... Thanks for sharing your story!

one girl creative said...

I can completely empathize with what you're going through and how you feel, except I am the one who is in your husband's shoes. Just continue to be there for him and be his shoulder to cry on or an ear for his thoughts.

I couldn't have made it through my depression without the guidance and support of my husband.


Em said...

Just when I feel all alone in the world, a blog-posting comes to my rescue. I've been sitting here on my couch all day today feeling completely hopeless, tired, anxious, angry... And then I read your post, Kristin. Thank you so much for opening your heart up like that. I don't understand why so many of us are plagued with depression, but it sure is comforting to know that we all have one another.