Co-Depression, or Helping is Not Helping


Imagine, if you will, that you want to sleep. Just sleep. You’ve answered Hamlet’s question: You want not to be. You want to lie down in the bed and be unconscious. Everything you see passes through a shit-ifier so everything you see is shitty. Like a flu of the brain, there’s no shaking it off. Your only hope is that you might out-sleep it.

A toddler is whining your name. He just hit the baby, who is crying. It’s your day to watch the kids, and your spouse is at the computer, possibly being productive, possibly not. Your spouse took the kids for a while this morning, to help you out, but now is doing something else. The toddler is whining. The baby is crying. Shit.

Depression is the focus of many blogs, such as post-partum depression and depression while parenting. And that’s a good thing. I’m impressed by their ability to blog in the first place, and the community of support has helped a lot of people.

But this is not about being depressed. This is about being the one at the computer. The spouse.

I’m married to a man who manages chronic depression. He has a good doctor and knows what helps him. I’m not writing to drum up ideas for him. I’m a spouse, not a caregiver.

It took me a while to accept what I could and could not do to help. Depression makes self-care an enormous effort. It also doesn’t let in a lot of care from the outside. I can’t ignore his suffering; but I can’t resolve it either.

I tried pushing him to exercise. It was like picking up a cow and carrying it somewhere that it didn’t want to go. It can’t be done, it’s exhausting to try, and it pisses off the cow. I’ve tried taking over everything else to give him the space to deal with the depression; but that just wears me out. In fact, removing him from activities seems to work against him.

He walks past me as I type, scowling. His face relaxes into an “I’m not mad at you” look for a moment as he passes by. I’m grateful for that little bit of mind-reading. He’s been struggling with a down-swing this week, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t piss him off on top of it.

What I can do is what spouses might normally do when they care about each other. I am present for him, I support him, I encourage him to engage in the things that make him feel better, and I try to get him to share what’s going on with him so we can be more connected.

And I tend to my own priorities. I work and I blog and I help take care of the kids and home and I shower sometimes. And I love him. And I look forward to the next upswing.

(Note: When it comes to mental health, we often don’t want to talk about it. This comic reminded me of that. It’s not my depression, but it is part of my life. Yet, it’s still his condition, and I did get his permission to post this.)