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Depression Roundtable, Part IV: Family Ties

By Kathyrn Lynard

Welcome to Part IV of Segullah’s UP CLOSE series about depression. Parts I, II, and III can be found herehere, and here. If you haven’t already read the series overview, please do so before proceeding.

This week, our discussion turns to how depression affects family relationships. We welcome Phoebe, Leah, and Esther to the table as we talk about the challenges of supporting a parent, spouse, or other family member with depression. We will talk about parenting children with depression next Sunday.

Phoebe: I’ve been waiting in the wings to share in this particular discussion.  I don’t experience the level of depression that so many of you have shared, and truly I am grateful for your openness and honesty in discussing your personal experiences.  Your discussions have given me a much better perspective on my own experience.  Please understand that when I share what I’m about to share that it is my experience only —  please don’t feel that I’m making assumptions about other people’s experiences or judging anyone else.  This is my experience with my father’s depression.  I’m still trying to work through how I feel.

My dad has always been very distant.  Growing up, it was my mom who played with us, who was involved with our lives, and who gave us affection.  My dad was “the heavy” when it came to discipline (“just wait until your dad gets home!”), but was otherwise uninvolved.  He was that traditional idea of a father who sits behind his newspaper and lets the mom run the show.  I remember as a little girl craving his attention.  I sought him out — asked him to give me book recommendations, asked him to teach me how to play chess, asked for help with my homework, and in so many ways tried to draw him out, to be interested in me and my world.  I got good grades, played in the youth symphony, and was very, very committed to the church — partly because I wanted to impress him with my faith.

I wanted him to notice me for what a “good,” smart, and talented girl I was.  I was desperate for his attention and affection.  But he never gave it.  My grades were never quite good enough, my accomplishments never quite accomplished enough, by devotion never quite strong enough.  I graduated high school at the top of my class (but wasn’t valedictorian!), got a full tuition scholarship to BYU (but not a full ride!), with a science major (but not the same as his!) and had plans to serve a mission.

At the end of the first semester of my sophomore year, I got a letter from my dad — something pretty rare.  It was the most loving, glowing letter I’d ever received from him.  He told me how much he loved me and how proud he was of me, and that he was even a little jealous of my accomplishments.  He told me that he wanted us to be closer and to have a better relationship with me.  I was elated — I drank his words in like a cactus in the desert.  I showed the letter to my best friend and roommate who knew how I felt about my dad.  She was delighted for me.

I anxiously anticipated the trip home and was so excited to see my dad — FINALLY after all these years I would gain his approval and affection!  He was so eager to sit down and talk to me, and we did.  He started telling me that God had spoken to him, and had many things for him to do.  That he was going to be called to a high calling in the church and that the Lord was constantly giving him information about what he needed to do to prepare.  It was a little weird, but I went along with it — I was just so happy to have attention from my dad.  Then things started to get worse.  He started spending incredible amounts of money — in the spirit of Christmas and in preparation for this high and holy calling that he was given.  He cleaned out our savings account, buying gifts for us and for himself.  The things God was telling him became stranger and stranger.  Finally, a perceptive home teacher told us that he thought my dad was mentally ill.  It was devastating for our family.  We had to place him in a mental institution for a time because his behavior had become so erratic.  He was still there when I went back to school.

Over the course of the next year, he was medicated and came down off of his manic episode.  He swung so low that he contemplated suicide.  He cheeked his medication because he didn’t like the way it made him feel.  My mom was a wreck, and my whole family was reeling.  Even though my father had been distant, he’d been there, and now it felt like the rug had been swept out from under us.  Most devastating for me was the knowledge that the letter my dad had sent hadn’t been written in the spirit of wanting to be close to me — to me it was “the crazy” talking, not the real dad.

This was nearly 20 years ago.  Since then, he has found a therapist, found the right medications, and has been able to climb back into a normal life.  His testimony was decimated, and I can see the physical effects of long-term stress on my mother.  He has never since had another manic episode, but has been mostly depressive.  Sadly, he’s returned to his distant place in my life.  And now, I’m angry and bitter towards him.  I hate what he’s done to our family and especially to my mom.  I know in my heart that what happened was a chemical imbalance, that he had no control over his mania, and I know that he’s ashamed of everything that happened.  I feel sorry for him and try to have charitable feelings for him on one hand, but on the other hand I feel that he uses his depression as a cloak to hide himself in so that he doesn’t have to reach out and have meaningful relationships with anyone, especially me.  I feel so much anger and bitterness towards him that I don’t know that I will ever be able to have a meaningful relationship with him.  I no longer care about what he thinks about me, the decisions I make in my life, or my accomplishments.  I truly regret this, but I just don’t trust him anymore.

Deborah: Phoebe, no matter what the culpability of the person struggling, you still have to deal with the consequences of their situation. It’s so complex. Lately I’ve been wrestling with this issue in terms of my stepfather’s struggles, different than your dad’s in terms of specifics, but similar in terms of blame being both warranted and not warranted. It’s a psychological conundrum. The atonement provides an escape — a literal scapegoat — but for me at least there’s still the problem of not particularly wanting to release that blame. There’s a part of me that needs to be acknowledged and validated and confirmed first–my hidden pain needs to become real for others. My therapist and my husband help a lot with that, as do my friends, but it’s still hard.

Anna: My husband has been depressed three times over the past twenty years. Since I’ve had more serious issues with depression than he has, I wish I could say I’ve always dealt well with his episodes. I haven’t. I find it just as difficult to live with depression as to live in it. The hardest thing for me the first two times was just that he withdrew. He seemed cold and angry, and I missed my best friend terribly. He tried various medications, but had horrible, intolerable side effects, and in the end we just waited it out, and in time it passed. I don’t like to contemplate what it would have been like if he was prone to chronic or more frequent depressions.

The current issue is another animal altogether. He has a separate medical condition that is impacting his brain function, and while multiple doctors try to figure that one out, he (and I) are dealing with something very complicated–depression, yes, also severe anxiety and crazy neurological malfunctioning. On his worse days he may only be lucid for an hour or two. He gets disoriented, confused, depersonalized. This is different than what I’ve been called upon to do as a support person before, because sometimes he literally can’t function, so I have to  supervise him, administer medications, coordinate with doctors, drive him places, etc. It’s overwhelming and frightening.

I want to share one interesting realization from this experience that seems especially relevant to this discussion–I don’t get angry with him now. When he was depressed years ago I sometimes felt resentful, as though he ought to have been able to pull himself out of it (this even though I know from personal experience that depression doesn’t work that way). I think the severity of his symptoms now just makes it so obvious that he is dealing with something he can’t rationally control. And as I watch him, what I see is tremendous emotional strength in enduring and trying to pull himself together. It makes me aware of my biases (towards him and towards myself). If I know that clinical depression is a serious medical condition in its own right (which I do) why should it take an episode linked to a separate medical condition to elicit that response in me? I think that bias is shared (often in subtle ways) by lots of people. Mental illness is seen, at least on some level, as a sign of emotional or spiritual weakness. But it is my experience that so much more strength is required by those who are clinically depressed–as well as by those who love them.

Leah: Oh, Anna. So much of what you express–having less room to deal with your own emotions because you have to carry everything and carry on and about being the cheerleader–resonates with me. My heart aches for you and for everyone who has this particular burden to bear. A good friend of mine is in similar shoes right now and I can tell from her words and from from the look in her eyes that the whole thing weighs heavy on her–physically, mentally and emotionally.

Deborah: Yeah, I’m exhausted just reading about this, Anna. My husband has chronic health issues (mild by comparison) and I find myself resenting him even though I know better. There’s  the logical, rational response and the more emotional response, like Phoebe described and they’re often at odds. Ironic that even after having him patiently help me through my worst times, I struggle to do the same for him. I can see how an increase in severity of symptoms might shake me out of that, but what a price to pay!

Phoebe: Since my relationship with a family member is with my father, not a spouse or child, I find that I don’t have to “deal” with him as one-on-one as you would with a spouse or a child.  Mostly, for me, (and I know this isn’t the best way to deal with him) is just to distance myself from him.  I know it would be better for me to reach out to him in love and understanding, and sadly, I HAVE done that, and have been ignored or rebuffed.  So, I just don’t talk to him.  I mostly talk to my mom.

This may be more to do with his particular personality and circumstance, but I sometimes feel that he uses his depression as an excuse.  All of the years that we were growing up, he was withdrawn and distant (and most likely depressed).  Now, since he’s had a manic episode and has been diagnosed he can use that to hide behind — now he has a reason not to reach out to anyone.  I know that is my perception, however.  He probably isn’t capable of it because of the depression.  But, we’re at a stalemate — he won’t reach out because of his depression, and I won’t reach back because he never responds when I do.  It sucks.

Anna: When my husband is really struggling–like right now–I feel like there is less room for me to deal with my own emotions. Somebody has to stay functional, right? I do take time to cry and yell and feel sorry for myself occasionally, but mostly I focus on being cheerful and practical. I’m sure you can hear it in the way I’m choosing words–I don’t have the space in my life to let myself get too deep and heartfelt. That works as a temporary coping method, and so far depression has not been a chronic issue for him. I don’t think I would be willing to live like this long term, though. I need to have room for myself in my life.

I’m not entirely sure what the move from crisis management mode to long term coping mode will look like, but I see us making some shifts in that direction that are helpful. He is seeing a counselor (we pay her, but the fee is reduced because she contracts with the Church. They give her free office space in exchange for her offering an inexpensive rate to people they refer. The Church offers help in various forms in most areas, BTW. I know the Church actually pays the counselor’s rate for many of her other clients. Most areas also have a community mental health agency that operates on a sliding fee scale). It takes some of the burden off me when he has another cheerleader, as well as another outlet to sort through feelings, and he seems to hear things from her better than from me. He also is attending a support group with other LDS men. They have different issues than he does, but there is a sense of cameraderie and community there beyond what develops on Sunday mornings, and again that takes pressure off me. He isn’t always well enough to go, but even limited attendance there has brought friends into his life. We have found a couple of great doctors who are willing to talk with him over the phone when needed, so there is support there also. We have asked for help from extended family, and that has made a difference. I think helping him build a team instead of letting him isolate helps both of us.

If this continues, my next step is probably looking at building more supports for me in a similar fashion. I haven’t gotten very far into that yet.

Lydia: My husband’s depression comes out as irritability and a general feeling of low-level tension.  He comes across as somewhat arrogant and not particularly friendly, though really he has a big, soft heart.  The biggest difference I noticed when he started anti-depressants was it was more relaxing to be around him.  And he got funnier, though his wit was already a strong point.  The biggest difference he’s commented on was that he no longer felt like crying for no reason every afternoon.

Both our dads also have depression, his dad’s acknowledged and treated (but not until about age 65) and my dad’s not so much.  Both our dads had difficult childhoods for different reasons.  His dad’s depression affected his career–he’s brilliant but never really settled into a clear career path.  It affected his family through his constant Eeyore-like behavior and countenance–martyr, mopey, tired all the time.  A big change with anti-depressants was his sense of humor came back.

My dad is very similar in his intelligence vs. career path and his demeanor, though he was still the one who could make me laugh til I cried as a teenager.  His came out mostly in an extreme religious rigidity that caused a fair amount of pain for many of his kids.  A couple times he got bad enough that he stayed in bed for several days.  It was always triggered by worry over his family member’s souls, even though they were high-caliber individuals with only the usual teenage struggles.  Several of his kids separated themselves from the church as adults, but, luckily, they didn’t make any destructive choices and remain among the finest humans I know.  In recent years, my dad’s heart’s been softened.  You can see it in his countenance and in the way he pours love out on his kids.  It’s truly a wonder and a miracle that only the atonement could provide.

Priscilla: I come from a maternal line of depressed women, perhaps stretching back farther than I have experienced personally. My grandmother coped with alcohol and drug abuse. My mother has been on medication — from Valium to Efexor — since I’ve been aware and has lived a very creative, productive life thus far. She is a master of masks; few people would recognize that she suffers from depression. The same is true of me; I learned well from my mother. I have mixed feelings about the hiding. As long as I can function all right, what is the point of spewing my darkness? Or so goes the line I feed myself.

My sister shares the D-gene and has played the addiction/abuse game long and hard. But we are strong women and she has been clean and sober for years now. She does pretty well as long as she stays on anti-depressants. She does not do well without them.

Abigail: Both of my parents have struggled with various degrees of depression. My father tends to be morose and withdrawn, which has made it difficult for him to have a close relationship with any of his children. I also think he has bipolar tendencies. During a particularly difficult time (when I was in my 20’s), when my parents were separated, my father was deeply depressed and I worried he was suicidal. Instead of seeking professional help–which he never would do because he doesn’t believe in counseling–he would call me and obsess over all of his failings, while I listened to him, terrified, and tried to cheer him up. It was unfair of him to put me in this position, of course, but he obviously wasn’t thinking rationally. But I resented him for it–not only was I dealing with my own grief over my parents’ separation, but I also had to deal with my father’s instability. I think my father could have benefited from counseling and medication all of these years, and it is sad that he hasn’t sought treatment. I think he believes that the moroseness is just his personality.

My mother struggles with depression and anxiety–mostly anxiety. In the last few years she has taken antidepressants on and off, and she is much more pleasant when she is taking medication. The problem is, she takes it for awhile and feels better, then thinks she doesn’t need to take medication–and she doesn’t want to be dependent on medication–so she stops. She has done this several times and it is frustrating to watch. It is easier for us children to recognize the pattern than it is for her, I think.

Because I have had my own struggles with depression, I can better recognize my parents’ struggles with it, but it’s not something we openly discuss–and to this day, my father doesn’t recognize that this is a medical issue for him.

Phoebe: Abigail, that must be so frustrating for you.  My mom would call me up after my dad had his manic episode and cry and tell me all of the horrible things that were happening.  I was only 20, and I had no idea how to handle it.  It puts you in a very weird position — all of your life your parents are supposed to be the mature, stable, wise ones, but when they come to you with their fears, anxieties, and mental instabilities, there’s a role reversal.  I totally identify with you on this one.  It’s not easy to parent one’s parents.

Abigail: So true, Phoebe!

Esther: I think my husband has struggled with depression on and off throughout our 22 years of married life, but I didn’t really recognize it until this horrific past year. He used to travel extensively so I don’t think I witnessed much of his depression over the years. I think he dealt with it in private, on the road. When he would come home cranky from a trip, I would just chalk it up to stress. When he withdrew from me or was sexually uninterested or self-absorbed, I would resent him and withdraw myself. When he was irritable with the kids or me, I would try harder to please him, but in a despairing kind of way because I knew that things would never be good enough for him. I knew something was wrong  all those years, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it—I thought it was just his personality. I think I was pretty naïve and too afraid to find out what was wrong because I wanted everything to remain status quo, to believe that it was nothing serious. I think my husband had the ability to hide his emotions from me fairly well, too, because as a man, he wasn’t going to be the “weak” emotional one.

When my husband lost his job last January, everything changed. He struggled with feelings of low self-worth after being such a strong provider for so many years. Having to face the fear of not being able to take care of his family so suddenly was a HUGE blow to my husband’s identity. Add on top of that, his revelation to me that he had been a pornography addict for all of our married life, some other serious marital issues, and an unplanned pregnancy and you’ve got a recipe for the perfect storm. He had several of what I would consider “anxiety attacks” early last year and had a lot of emotional “crashes.” I was of course, afraid for him, for us, for what lay ahead. I wondered if he’d be able to function enough to go through the grueling process of job hunting. I had a lot of anxiety in my life trying to be emotionally strong for both of us. We went in for marriage counseling for about a month until we couldn’t keep paying for COBRA.  My husband eventually found work in real estate and we had to pick up our own insurance. Of course, we had to choose a minimal plan that didn’t cover mental health care so we have not sought further medical help in this area. My husband has not been individually evaluated or diagnosed with clinical depression, but I feel that counseling at the very least would be extremely helpful for him. However, in our economic plight, he has not been open to this suggestion. It’s all I can do to get him to spend money on a pair of much needed eyeglasses.

Fortunately, his emotional crashes have become further apart and less despairing over the past year as we have worked to rebuild our marriage relationship. It’s hard to know how much of his depression in the past was related to his addiction. Did he turn to pornography because he was depressed (self-medicating) or was he depressed because he was addicted to pornography? I definitely think they were interrelated. But now his depressive episodes seem more centered around me, our relationship, our children and his work situation. I am getting better at recognizing his moods and when he’s feeling insecure. I am learning what helps and what doesn’t and he is doing a better job of letting me know what he needs from me. I still think it would be very beneficial for him to meet with a psychologist/psychiatrist, but I don’t know if this is going to happen in the near future.

Deborah: Esther, what a heartwrenching story. Your family has really been through the wringer. Depression is so often framed in a stereotypical female way (crying, guilt, etc)–it seems there’s relatively little awareness about the ways in which depression may make itself differently manifest in men.

Esther: This is really hard to admit, but one of the hardest things for me to do when my husband is depressed is to be around him. I’m a fairly optimistic person, so when he’s brooding, it’s a real downer for me. I’m filled with a lot of anxiety and guilt inside and it’s really uncomfortable. I feel guilty if I’m having a good day and he isn’t. I know he can’t just “snap out of it” on his own, so I feel like I have to be the one to take charge of his happiness. So much of his self-esteem rests on me right now and it is an extremely heavy burden. I feel like I am walking on egg shells constantly. A lot of the time I can’t joke around or be sarcastic with him because he takes everything so personally. He is always reading my moods and feeds off of them which doesn’t give me any latitude to ever be down or sad myself. I feel like I’m always living under a microscope. I keep so many emotions bottled up and under a tight wrap in order to keep him more often on a level mood. This is so emotionally exhausting for me, especially because I don’t have any family members or friends I can turn to for relief or understanding. He has so many insecurities that he’s dealing with, too and the times when I have been insensitive or snapped at him, he “crashes” or spirals downward very quickly. So I’m learning what things set him off and try my best to avoid them. Even though I know that ultimately, he is the one responsible for his own happiness and moods, I’m a pleaser, so I feel a huge responsibility to keep things on the up and up, not just for him, but for my kids. I also find it very hard to be sexually attracted to him when he so desperately needs me to be the one to initiate lovemaking. It is hard to love someone when they are emotionally unreachable, when you know you can’t say or do anything that will make things any better, when they are completely overwhelmed by sadness and when they don’t love themselves.

Euodias: This discussion is very helpful for me. It is helping me realize the tremendous strain my husband must feel.

Deborah: Amen.  I’m looking back and recognizing what an incredible strain my husband was under the last time I had a major episode. I couldn’t really see it at the time, and even if I could’ve, I probably wouldn’t have cared much. But I see it now, and I care tremendously. Hopefully next time around I can remain more open to his experience. At the very least, I can assure him again and again right now that he did so well and helped me a great deal, since feeling ineffective as a partner is one of the hardest things for him.

Just the other night I was having a mini-breakdown of sorts, and while my husband was very comforting at first, once he saw that I wouldn’t (couldn’t) calm down he really withdrew. My first reaction would be to blame him for pulling away when I needed him most, but I recognized, logically at least, that he was feeling as overwhelmed as I was, and that he was coping the best he could, just like I was. And so, when he asked, I was able to tell him what I needed without resentment, and he was able to respond, and while it was still bad it could’ve been a lot worse.

I’m looking back and recognizing what an incredible strain he was under the last time I had a major episode. I couldn’t really see it at the time, and even if I could’ve, I probably wouldn’t have cared much. But I see it now, and I care tremendously. Hopefully next time around I can remain more open to his experience. At the very least, I can assure him again and again right now that he did so well and helped me a great deal, since feeling ineffective as a partner is one of the hardest things for him.

Leah: My husband has depression, and we don’t communicate very well about it. He doesn’t ask for what he needs and when I try to ask or guess he tells me he doesn’t need anything. He doesn’t want to talk about it and I don’t want to nag him about it, so we just don’t talk. He never told our kids, but one day when it was really bad I told them. It was important to me that they not think anything was their fault. I find myself in that position sometimes–trying to protect his need for privacy, but also feeling I need to protect the kids from blaming themselves.

Sometimes it’s hard not to blame myself (thankfully, only sometimes). I know if I were the perfect wife and ran the perfect household he would be under less stress and that would be better for him. But at times I am overwhelmed by the things I have to carry by myself (not just certain responsibilities, but also my own worries and fears) and I don’t succeed in managing it very well.

I wish my husband would talk to me and trust me to be a support. A number of my friends suffer from depression or from other sorrows and serious trials. They trust me as a confidant and a support. They know I don’t judge and that their stories are safe with me. Yet my own spouse doesn’t trust me enough to tell me what’s going on with him. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t hurt. I know I can’t fix things, but it is important to be there for the people I love. It’s hard when the person I love most doesn’t want me to be there for him.

Esther: My husband expects me to be his sole support, which as we’ve discussed is exhausting and overwhelming for any one person to take on. But while he has me, there is no one I can turn to for support because I want to protect his privacy. His past addiction with pornography is embarrassing to both of us. No one in our immediate family or circle of church friends knows about it and we plan to keep it that way. Struggling with depression, for him seems almost as embarrassing. If I were struggling with depression myself, I would have my mom and sisters to turn to and maybe a few friends, but I can’t tell them about my husband’s depression or addiction because it would be like talking behind his back, plus I worry that they would look at him differently and be unforgiving. My husband doesn’t have any close friends. He also can’t turn to his parents or siblings for support. His parents are very judgmental, particularly his father who would view his depression and addiction as absolute weakness. If I could stay anonymous, I would join a support group because I’m sure there are many other people out there in the same boat as me. We, the support systems, are generally overlooked when it comes to this whole subject. Who can the support systems turn to so they can remain emotionally strong? It’s very difficult to remain balanced yourself when you have to constantly be propping someone else up.

Leah: I remember one day after a particularly difficult stretch we were talking about how bad it was and my husband agreed to get some help. I said something to indicate my support and expressed relief that it would be a good thing for all of us and he said something to the effect of “Why? It doesn’t affect any of you.” It hurt that he couldn’t see the effects of his illness on those around him who love him. Since he already struggles with a lot of guilt (one of the major signs of his depression is feelings of worthlessness–he is very hard on himself), that’s probably a good thing; or he would beat himself up even more than he already does. But that realization made me feel even more isolated.
Recently he has expressed some thoughts which indicated to me that not only does he not see how depression and anxiety affect our relationship and our family, but that he sees me as solely responsible for many of the struggles in our marriage and family. I was pretty devastated when I realized this, but I do understand why. I could no more expect him to see things–specifically me or our marriage or our family–from a more positive or brighter perspective than I would expect myself to see things more darkly. I’m a fairly optimistic and cheerful person (thank goodness–I recognize it is a gift from God and I am grateful) and that’s just as much a part of me as the perfectionism and depression is a part of my husband. I wish he could see and appreciate this about me. He believes I am as depressed and as unhappy as he is. But the truth is, although I have to deal with my share of hurt, worry and loneliness, I am making the best of my life and finding happiness and joy in it. Everyone around me can see that except my husband. Ideally, he should know me better than anyone; but he just doesn’t see it.

Euodias: Thanks for being so open and honest, everyone. I think a lot about how lonely it can be for women whose husbands struggle with addiction, because they aren’t “supposed” to tell anyone. They really do need a support system. I wish the church had a program to support the wives/husbands of those who struggle, not just the 12 step program for those who struggle themselves.

Leah: So true. Most of the women I know who suffer from depression are–to varying degrees–open about it with their spouses and at least some extended family members and friends. I find this less common with the men I know who suffer from depression, who are often very private about their conditions. It seems this can place an even greater burden on their wives–putting them in the position of being the entire support system and without any support for themselves. Women who–if they were sick or injured or struggling might have their own support system in their husbands, mothers, sisters and friends–suddenly find themselves walking a difficult path alone and with no one to talk to.

Deborah: Yes. There’s a huge difference between what I share with my friends and what my husband shares with his. This makes things tough when I’m struggling with something that involves him, because he expects me to keep the same level of privacy he maintains. I’m not talking about highly intimate details of marriage, which of course I agree are to be kept confidential. I’m talking about that grey area in which I want and need the comfort and support of friends in a particular matter, yet my husband is uncomfortable with any disclosure.

Esther: That is why my only option at this point is to take good care of myself emotionally. I think this is absolutely crucial if I am to maintain my sanity. My self-care may not look like much to anyone else, but I know what I need and for me, listening to myself is a lifeline. My self-care often involves exploring my inner passions such as artistic, writing, musical and intellectual pursuits. I find that I have to separate myself (from my spouse and his issues) for awhile to find myself again, to gain that needed perspective. I always make time for him though. When I sense that he needs me, I drop everything to be there. But while he is at work, I find little tiny ways to do my own thing so that I can have happy energy to expend when he comes home from work.

Abigail: Esther, that is a heavy load to carry–and a lonely one. I think it’s great, though, that you do the things that you need to do to take care of yourself–you absolutely must, in order to carry the load that you do. I hope you are blessed with some other avenues of support that will lighten your load. My heart goes out to you!

And our hearts go out to others who may be facing similar struggles. Please share your thoughts and experiences if you feel comfortable doing so. Likewise, we invite all readers, no matter what their personal experience may be, to join in the conversation in the comment thread.

Our final post in this series will focus on parenting children with depression. Look for it one week from today.

About Kathyrn Lynard

(Founding Editor) is the author of the memoir The Year My Son and I Were Born (Globe Pequot Press, 2009) and the editor of four published anthologies. She contributes to Mormon forums from Meridian Magazine to Sunstone on a variety of topics including gender issues, disability, mental health, sexuality, family life, and spirituality.

27 thoughts on “Depression Roundtable, Part IV: Family Ties”

  1. Esther!
    I've been through what you are/have been going through. Instead of pornography my husband has been addicted to prescription medication. We are separated right now but still trying to work it out. He says he's clean but I won't get back together with him until I see he is dedicated to a program. I don't know where you live but I am going through the Lifestar program and it is SO wonderful. Even if you're husband is clean now I would recommend you going through the program together. The program is for pornography addicts but they allowed me and my spouse to join them. My husband left the program a couple of months in because he said it wasn't for him, but I have stayed with the women. The first part of the program is for both you and your spouse, then the next 2 parts of the program you meet with the women weekly. It is such a support, you are given tools to work with, they speak with you regarding your spouses addiction and how you can make yourself a healthy person and make you feel like you can deal with this. My husband does suffer from manic depression, but I know he is a lot healthier (and happier) when he is not in his "addiction" cycle. I don't know what happened when your husband grew up and what kind of upbringing your spouse had, but I know my father in law was abusive to my husband growing up and very strict, couple that with depression and I am married to a man who doesn't know how to deal with emotion and gravitates to things that numbs him. I would highly recommend you look into a program that involves both you and your spouse, even if he is clean, you don't have to live in fear of setting him off or making him upset, he is responsible for his own actions or reaction.. you cannot worry about what will set him off or not! You cannot live like this, I know, it's miserable.

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  2. p.s. even though I know the Lifestar program has been a huge blessing to me, I couldn't have survived without strict observance to prayer, scripture study and getting to the temple as much as I could. Sometimes it was so discouraging and I knew that my faith was slipping and going months without any answers or not seeing any improvements with my husband was sometimes more burden than I wanted. But I have noticed a change within myself and a peace I do not want to ever let go especially when madness seems to revolving around me. With your daily self-care may I suggest writing down any "tender mercies" that you have experienced and then when times seem rough turn to those memories and hold on to your faith.

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  3. God bless all of you for continuing to care so deeply about your loved ones. I really truly hope you see blessings in your life for your devotion, if not now a glorious mansion in heaven!

    I've had depression in the past and I'd like to address an aspect of the conversation – depressed spouses asking their sole support person to keep things to themselves. It was admitted by someone in the post that their husband didn't recognize that his depression effected the whole family. This shows that when a person with depression asks you to keep it quiet they have little clue of what a strain that places on their partner. Keeping a spouses' depression secret is a good way to end up with two depressed people. Not being honest about my feelings is a huge part of my depression so if my husband ever said I couldn't talk about something so huge in our lives it would be a quick downward spiral for me.

    That said, they don't have to know that you're seeking support. Everyone needs support, especially those who are supporting someone with such great burdens. Choose your support person (people) very, very carefully though. I tried to talk to someone but they didn't help and it ended up leaving me feeling more alone than before. I did find others that were helpful (and good at keeping confidences) and I gain perspective and strength through those relationships.

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  4. Thanks to all who are participating in this discussion.

    As a mom who has distanced myself from my children because of depression, I found it very difficult to read Phoebe's story. But I appreciate her honesty. I was in denial and didn't start dealing with the root of my depression until my oldest was 15. I made some progress but even before therapy I always tried to compliment my kids on their achievements, attend their events or help them if needed. But I still find it very hard to open up to a deeper relationship and they in turn are not open with me. Years of criticism from me and perfectionism have built up barriers that I wish I could decimate. At the same time, I still feel protective of myself, fearing rejection. Or it seems that the kids can do fine without me as they are more willing to confide in my husband.

    When my oldest was serving a mission it was a relief to be able to write about some of my feelings and ask for his forgiveness. But he never responded. More and more I'm learning how he too struggles to communicate emotions and how strong his defenses are. I blame myself and sometimes wonder if he'll be able to develop deep relationships though he has many friends at college.

    He and my daughter just returned to college after being home for spring break and I'm left with the realization that once again no meaningful conversations have taken place. When a young adult seems to prefer texting and Facebook to family relationships what can I do now?

    I just hope that more time and effort will help heal my relationship with them. Reading this helped me realize that I need to keep trying and worry less about my vulnerability.

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  5. NF, thank you for commenting. I feel for you. We seem to learn so many lessons too late, and I'm sure it hurts tremendously to reach out to your children and not receive any response. But there's much cause for hope–young adulthood is a time for distancing even for parents and kids with deep connections, and so many of us only begin to come to terms with our issues from childhood as we become parents ourselves.

    Your efforts with your young adult children speak volumes, even if they're not ready to hear those messages yet. It's never too late. Blessings on you and your family.

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  6. Esther, thank you so much for sharing your story. If you simply changed the # of years married to 13 instead of 22, your story could be mine. Really. My husband even lost his job in January 2009, and this last year has been quite horrific for us as well. If you would like to email me privately, you may do so. I just wanted to express my thanks for your openness. I appreciate your courage to share your story. Thank you.

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  7. NF–

    Time and effort and also the atonement. I had always thought of the atonement in terms of being for forgiveness of my sins, but in the past few years I have been thinking more about it in terms of healing–not just my pain, but also healing my family. It's still all too big for me to wrap my head around, but I pray for the blessings of the atonement not just for me, but for my family. This brings me comfort and peace.

    I have a particularly difficult relationship with one of my kids. A friend of mine keeps reassuring me that even when that child is physically distancing himself from me, his spirit feels my love. I believe that to be true. I wish you and yours well.

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  8. Living with depression in a marriage is an incredibly difficult load to bear, and so many people on the outside can't see any of it. I found that living with my husband's depression made me doubt my own mental health at times because I worried that my feeling sad or upset or angry was a symptom, and not my own response to my own life situation, particularly since from the outside people couldn't even tell he suffered depression. Here in Australia depression is "The Black Dog" – http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/aboutus/ourlogo.cfm which is very apt in my opinion. Thank you, ladies, for sharing your experiences.

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  9. NF — I'm so grateful for your comments. This is such a wrenching situation on both sides — for the depressed parent and for the children. I'm so glad you're seeking help and are seeing progress. The best thing that I can say to you from my side is to keep trying. Your children have probably developed defense mechanisms to cope with your depression, and like me, they have probably moved you to the periphery of their lives. Keep reaching out. Be consistent. Show them that you care about them. And then wait. They may reject you at first because they may not trust you. Keep trying. It may take years, and it may be painful, but in the end it will be worth it. Leah mentioned the atonement — Christ knows your pain and suffering, and He knows your children's. He can help to heal you. Bless you.

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  10. NF and others:

    Martin Luther King once said, "The arc of the universe is long and bends toward justice." I love the image, but would modify it to say, "The arc of the universe is long and bends toward mercy."

    My father's depression led to years of estrangement with a couple of his children. Lots of anger, lots of hurt. But as he got help, and reached out to them in the best ways he knew how, those relationships began to heal

    slowly

    slowly

    slowy

    and utterly beautifully. If that's what the atonement is, count me a believer. Even if the answers we ask for in minutes or weeks take years and decades.

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  11. I too am glad to read this series. This is just my opinion.

    I found that I was doing a lot of things for the depressed people in my life, reacting in ways that were not helpful. I thought I was being loving and responsive. But, in reality, there were times that I believe I was making the situation worse. I was "picking up the slack" and not communicating. At times, I was being manipulative. I did have a lot of anger and resentment (some days I still do). I would get angry over little things, and have unrealistic expectations.

    For example, in addiction/alcoholic situations, sometimes the addict/alcoholic has no idea of their impact on others, or has a false idea. A person might transfer money to cover a bad check, sometimes without the addict/alcoholic knowing. The enabler may feel responsible or fear the bad consequences of the bounced check, or for the alcoholic/addict's decisions to not keep track of their finances and to overspend. The addict/alcoholic never even knows what might have been going on. Or they (the addict) might feel like they are the reason their loved ones are unhappy – which leads them back to their compulsion/addiction.

    When in reality, I've found that each of us has to be responsible for our own happiness. I cannot let other people be responsible for making me happy. I can find happiness no matter what the other people in my life are doing (that was a stunning revelation to me).

    Once I figured out the three c's, I didn't cause it, I didn't create it, I can't control it – it was very helpful for me personally. I stepped back and started focusing on myself and what *I* could control. I started asking for time for myself, kept up with my physical and emotional health and setting boundaries. I stopped taking excessive responsibility for the people and relationships in my life. This was not something I learned in my family growing up, so it was an important step for me.

    I believe sometimes the message in the LDS church *is* that people (sometimes women) are responsible for other people, other people's well-being and their beliefs. If I only did a little more, this person would be happy, would hear the gospel, would go to therapy or recovery, etc.

    I believe some General Authorities have clarified this message recently, but I think it needs to be re-iterated. I cannot make other people's choices for them…and if I force or manipulate other people, that will probably only make both of us miserable. That's what I have found, anyway.

    I am happy to talk more about my specific situation and specific tools/programs that have helped me personally – you can find my e-mail on my blog (which hopefully will be linked to this comment).

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  12. Esther, you might want to check out SA-Anon. It's the support group for spouses of those who are addicted to sex. It's anonymous, it's free, and it helped me so much during the worst of my husbands pornography addiction. I think the website is SAanon.org or something like that and you should be able to find contact information for the nearest group. And you can always find an al-anon meeting. The biggest help for me was being able to learn that my husbands issues were not my fault or my responsibility.

    My mom was depressed most of my childhood. Once she got on medication it was so much better. She wasn't very emotional–which I find is the same way the medication is affecting me–but she was there, able to function, and things were much better.

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  13. My wife suffers from chronic depression (among other issues), and has attempted suicide several times. The last time was nearly successful–she "coded" in the ambulance on the way to the ER, and it was over an hour before they let me into her room. Like others mentioned here, she, too often thinks I should be her only caretaker, so when she insisted I try to help her with something the nurses should have done, she exploded at me when I couldn't do it. That was as much as I could take at that point, and I left the hospital and didn't come back for hours. I finally went back because she is still what the Bible calls "the wife of my youth", my love for 22 years now.

    She's doing better now, but it seems that those few minutes she was gone had an effect on her brain functioning. She has nearly no short-term memory any more, and has lost a lot of her sense of balance. She's fallen twice the last couple of years just because she lost her balance, and has broken one arm and both legs.

    I had a flash of understanding yesterday during Sacrament meeting. It is true that the Atonement can heal all wounds, but sometimes that isn't part of God's will. It doesn't matter how righteous or worthy you are, sometimes He doesn't remove our challenges. After all, the Apostle Paul prayed to have his "thorn of flesh" removed, but he was told "No."

    Why is it that people seem to think that if we only have enough faith, the Atonement will heal any and all mental illnesses, like depression, when it is clear it won't heal every physical illness? I believe that in this life, sometimes the Atonement won't heal the illness, but will heal our spirits as we gain the strength to deal with it, or maybe the Atonement can heal the relationships that have been damaged as a result of the illness.

    Thank you for this series, and especially thank you for this segment of the series.

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  14. Exactly right, anon for this discussion–the Lord never promised the atonement would change our circumstances or take away our illnesses. But the atonement can strengthen us to endure, with peace and even happiness. I have received the blessing given to the people of Alma, that their burdens were lightened while they were still in bondage. I don't understand it, but I know it works.

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  15. So what's the difference then. . . and how does a person determine if their spouse or loved one is depressed or just being a jerk? When a dad doesn't develop a good relationship with his offspring, sometimes yelling at them, or being emotionally withdrawn, is it depression or is it that he's not making enough of an effort to overcome emotional shortcomings to become a better parent? It's been hard for me to read these posts without thinking "Is so-n-so depressed?" "Am I depressed?" When do you attribute behavior to being a normal human with very human failings and when do you determine that someone is depressed?

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  16. bth — that's a good question. The only reason my family knew the difference was because of the manic episode that signaled his bipolar disorder. I'm sure some of the other commenters on the discussion would have better answers.

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  17. Like Esther, I've been married around 20 years to a wonderful man who happens to have dealt with depression for much of this time. He had low level depression for the first decade of our marriage which made him angry at me for my failings, fearful of failing in life, and not thrilled with membership in the church. I thought he must have some depression, but he wouldn't consider counseling or medication, so I just did the best I could to try to change the things about me that bugged him (I couldn't ever really do it), rally around him when he felt fearful about his work or our financial situation, and try to be strong in my testimony without him wanting to talk about spiritual things, pray or study scriptures. There were some awful awful times in there where I wasn't sure we could make it, and I certainly did not handle things well much of the time. I was defensive about my weaknesses (which were very real), worried and sometimes angry at him, and frustrated about not having a spiritual partner.

    Then after some triggers, he had a breakdown and ended up trying to quit his job (they wouldn't take his resignation) and in bed and in crisis. The depression was so terrible that we couldn't avoid dealing with it anymore. That was the bright side of a horrible time.

    This is what we learned: the mental health system is in major need of an overhaul. It took him months to find a decent psychiatrist and counselor, months to figure out medications that would help, and we were too embarrassed to talk about it much. If he had been diagnosed with cancer, we would have had support coming out of our ears. As it was, he was horrified about what was happening and didn't want me to discuss it. Eventually it was so bad that we ended up being upfront with others about it, but it took a long time to get there.

    I also thought that the diagnosis of depression and anxiety was almost a death sentence to life as I knew it. We have a family member who has been unable to live a normal life due to her mental illness, and I thought that was the only way we'd end up. Because so few people talk openly about their depression, I didn't know so many people who I respected and admired had beaten the beast until they came forward to talk to us. Hearing from respected members of our community that had dealt with it made me feel reassured that we might have a fighting chance after all.

    For the next six years we battled the depression. There were times I honestly thought he'd take his own life. We got life insurance a couple of years ago, and I just thought, "Is there any point? I don't know if he'll make it two years (the policy requirement for paying out) without killing himself." Really. That's how bad it was. Sometimes he was so despondent he'd cry for hours and hours a day. Sometimes he was so angry he'd destroy things. Sometimes he'd spend money we didn't have (and I worried he might be bi-polar). For months and months at a time, I was only a care-giver, not a partner.

    And then at the end of 2008 he went back on the medication he'd started with (and left because of how much he hated the side effects) and we have been normal. NORMAL. I never really thought we'd be normal again. That's not to say it's perfect. He still deals with times he's extremely down and depressed, but they don't last for months.

    I love him dearly, and I think I really learned to love him through this. I loved him despite his actions. I learned to bite my tongue when I was being treated COMPLETELY unfairly. I learned to forgive, even when the other party would never be able to ask for forgiveness. I learned that it was OK for me to give 100% all the time. I learned that if I DID have to give 100% of the time, I'd likely need to find other sources of support because I'd break if I did it all alone without help. I learned that running could give me sanity. I learned that Heavenly Father doesn't answer prayers the way we want.

    It really sucks. I mean it. It's so so so so hard. I sometimes have thought that spouses of those with depression really need a support group, but we don't know where to get that help, and when we're in the middle of it, we can't leave our spouses to GET it. But even though it sucks, there are some beautiful gifts from it. I honestly can say that now. I used to wonder if I would still have married him if I had known what we'd have to endure. The answer now is yes, absolutely.

    But if anyone wants to start a support group, I'm all over it. I'd love to help anyone just starting out with this. Sometimes you just need to know that there can be a happy ending.

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  18. I appreciate the courage it takes people to share their personal stories and their insights here. Thank you.

    anon–I don't know if you were referring specifically to my comment or talking in general terms, but let me assure you I am not talking about healing as in removing the illness or the pain. I'm more of the same mind as Lydia, who said:

    "But the atonement can strengthen us to endure, with peace and even happiness."

    And that is what I meant when I spoke about praying for the atonement to heal my family.

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  19. Continued thanks for this series.

    The following sentence brought something to mind that I just read.

    I wish the church had a program to support the wives/husbands of those who struggle, not just the 12 step program for those who struggle themselves.

    On a recent post submitted to Mormon Women (a woman shared her experience overcoming a porn addiction), this comment was made:

    "Thank you so much for this article. I am a Church Service Missionary in Addiction Recovery, and lead two 12-step meetings each week. The first is for the wives of porn and sex addicts (while my husband meets with their husbands), and another night I meet with sisters who are addicted. I would encourage everyone to seek out a meeting in your own area. Go to Provident Living.org, then Social and Emotional Strength, then Addiction Recovery Program. The Atonement DOES heal, and this program certainly helps. "

    Sounds like they DO have groups in the Church's program to help the loved ones of those w/ addictions. FWIW.

    I have a friend who went through this w/ her spouse, and she says that Lifestar saved her, so that's another option…although I think the Church's program would be free. 🙂

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  20. Leah,

    I wasn't specifically responding to your comment. We have had several Church members tell us in no indirect terms that if my wife only had enough faith, she wouldn't have her illness.

    It got to the point where we had to move, since there were members in leadership positions spreading the word that my wife was "faking" and could control her symptoms. When we moved, the Stake President made me promise not to specifically identify the place where it all happened. I had made a few comments on the web, specifically complaining about the treatment my wife and I had received from these so-called "saints."

    I hope you can find the peace and the healing you are looking for. For the most part, we have found ours, but we had to move to find it.

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  21. Thank you for this series and especially this segment.

    My husband of 12 years has had mental health problems since his childhood, but they weren't acknowledged/diagnosed until about 3 or 4 years ago. As his wife, it has been difficult to balance his need for privacy and my need for support. I'm grateful to have found some wonderful people who have been kind and helpful. I agree with the other commenters who stressed the need to do things to take care of yourself and to find happiness and peace outside of your role as the caregiver. It is so important.

    His treatment has been problematic. We've yet to find any medication that seems to make a difference–he's tried 7 or 8 different kinds. Things got bad enough for him 2 years ago that he had to take a leave from his job and enter a day treatment program. But once we exhausted all of the time our insurance would pay for, he was left to figure things out for himself. I'm grateful his current counselor seems very committed to helping him get a handle on his problems. She believes his depression is secondary to his ADD and since he was never diagnosed with ADD until his 30s, it kind of mushroomed into all these other problems–depression, anxiety, OCD.

    Day to day living has been a huge challenge for me. He is so dependent on me that I often feel suffocated. He hasn't been able to keep jobs for longer than 2 years and this has added financial stress on top of everything else. It's hard to see that things will ever get better than they are now. I know that my resentment increases as the years pass. I often feel like I am raising another child rather than having a 'partner' in life. I feel like I'm reaching my limit in being able to deal with all of his problems and still keep myself healthy and maintain stability for my kids.

    I'm grateful for the discussion here as it helps me see that there are other people dealing with this too. There's nothing worse than feeling alone.

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  22. #21 Anon for this Discussion: I understand your comments. I have had people tell me that if my husband had enough faith, he could overcome his depression. I have also had close friends/family members tell me that he must be suffering from depression because he must be committing some type of sin/not living a righteous life. I am sorry you've had people say that. Those things are hurtful and not at all helpful. They stay with you and are hard to forgive and get past, especially when you just want understanding and compassion.

    #18 Anonymous for Today: Much of your story sounds just like mine. I too often feel as though I am taking care of a child rather than spending my life with a partner. I'd happily start up a blog for support, if you think it would help. Anyone who would want to participate (or would read it/thinks it would help) send me an email. I'll start thinking about it and finding some resources. I think we could do it in a way that we would remain anonymous ourselves. My email is seenatalierun [at] yahoo [dot] com.

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  23. I don't know if it will help, but I set up a blog for those of you who would be interested in sharing your stories anonymously or for commenting and reaching out for support. The web address is http://www.dropyourburden.blogspot.com. I would love to have contributors if you are willing to share. If you don't know how to blog, you can email your stories to me (address on the website) and I will post them under your chosen pen name. Anonymous is what this blog is all about. 🙂 Hope it helps someone.

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  24. Thanks, ladies! I hope it will help someone. You can spread the word in any way you'd like. I'm new to this, so I don't really know the best way to go about it. Anyone that would like to participate or contribute is welcome!!

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