(I wrote this in Feb. 2007)
You see articles, ads, and even classes to help people who suffer with depression. I have never seen anything to help a person deal with family members who suffer from depression. In fact, I find it hard to be included in the conversations with doctors about how to even care for a family member suffering from depression. So what happens when you are the one who sometimes has to keep everything together and not lose control of life? What happens when you have to be strong for everyone else? You can handle it, you’re the stable one. I have learned that this is not always the case.
In 1983 my husband was diagnosed with clinical depression. Although it was difficult and challenging at times, I felt I dealt with this change in our lives very well. I always had a positive upbeat attitude. I was always smiling and usually cheerful. I had sympathy for his struggles. Then in 2003, our then 19 year old daughter was also diagnosed with depression. They are both on medication for life and for the most part it does its job. These medications do a good job to stabilize people, but they also have side effects and some can affect the depressed person’s relationships with others.
After 24 years of living with this disease in our family, I have learned some things. Those of us who are the “care givers” in the relationship can go through stages like in the grieving process. I list the stages in this order:
The happy, fix everything, caregiver stage
The sad stage
The angry stage
The numb, I don’t care stage, and
The realization stage
At first I tried to hide the disease from others. I was going to stay positive and be there to pull my spouse out of any depressive state. It is hard to do this sometimes when I see him standing in the room staring at his feet and not able to function. I know it will pass in a day or in a week so I just go on. I try to do even more to make life comfortable. If I do talk to friends, some don’t believe me since they have never experienced seeing my family member in this state of mind. It can get difficult to explain why he isn’t with me at an event or explain why his work isn’t getting done. There is still a stigma with depression that makes us want to hide it. I hadn’t realized yet that this disease was going to challenge me just as much.
For years I went in and out of living normal and then taking on the roll of the caregiver. It finally started taking its toll on me and I started to become sad. I was sad that I would never have a normal life with my partner, sad that I had to often deal with the problem alone with no one to talk to, and sad about the ramifications of what depression medications did to our intimate relationship. I started to cry a lot but always in privacy. I had to be strong for everyone. I was afraid of letting them see me down because of what affect it might have on them.
It didn’t take long for this sadness and crying on my part to turn to anger. I began to verbally display my anger to other people. I became very cynical toward my spouse. I even felt I was stuck in a bad relationship with no way out. The negative attitude started at home but eventually began affecting me in public. I talked to people more about the depression. Even worse, my attitude toward men in general was going downhill. It wasn’t unusual for me to bash all men. I became a very angry person. At the same time, I was able to fully function at my job and turn the anger on and off. At times I felt as if I was two different people. The crying also happened much more often.
After all the anger, I just went numb. I quit caring. I quit crying. I didn’t care what I looked like. Sometimes I was even happier withdrawn and away from the world. I had no goals and no desires for the future. Nothing was ever going to change so why bother. I was just existing and passing time.
Eventually I hit the final stage: I realized something needed to change. But where does one start? How do I change? How does someone accept that this is how life might be? Will there ever be happiness again? Not much is going to change for my daughter or husband. They will have to depend on medication for life. What can I do for me and where do I start? That is where I am right now in life.
During this whole process I have gained a lot of weight. My blood pressure is not good and my cholesterol is too high. My husband and I started seeing a therapist and that is bringing a lot of this out in the open. And guess what the therapist told me last week? I’m suffering from depression. At least I don’t need medication; I just need an attitude adjustment.
Grace February 2007
As an after thought to all this, I believe that those of us in this position don’t necessarily go through the steps in just that order and then it is done. I think we move back and forth and in and out of these stages. And most of the time we don’t see an end too it, causing even more pain. Just because you come to a realization of the problem, doesn’t mean you can move on without falling back into one of the other stages when the next issue arises that you have to deal with.