Supporting a Spouse Through Depression Part 1

By Brad Tuft

A few weeks ago I received an email that totally made my day.  It was from my friends the Tufts offering to write a guest post about supporting a spouse through depression because they thought it was an important topic and that their story could help others struggling with the same thing.  I was filled with gratitude at this email because I’d been wanting to discuss this topic, but gosh what a tough one to ask someone to write.  Depression is SO prevalent and such an important topic for marriages, I knew it needed to be addressed.  I deeply thank Brad for opening up, writing their story and sharing what he has learned from their experiences.  Brad is so candid and real in his story and advice, we can all learn from them.

Part One describes their story and Part Two will be their advice.     -Celeste

Depression is a tragic, sometimes heart-rending experience that is often misunderstood by those who either have not felt it or had someone close to them affected by it. In the hope that this post may be of some worth to those who face it, I share here a little of what I learned from personal experience about supporting my dear wife during a two year struggle with depression. When speaking of depression I am not referring to a bad hair day, a hard time with work or with kids, or even truly significant disappointments or sorrows that are part of life. I am referring to what is medically referred to as major depressive disorder. Before you read any further, I first need to make a few disclaimers:

1. Depression is real. Major depressive disorder can significantly impair someone’s ability to function and is expressed in different ways depending on the person and their life history. It is much more than feeling sad and just needing to be grateful or to think of good things to cheer you up. It is often expressed in feelings of worthlessness and in consistently negative feelings about anything and everything. If you suspect that you or your spouse might be going through depression, don’t hesitate to seek out competent professional help. You can also learn more about it here, here, here, and here.

2. I am not a medical doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor. None of what is said in this article should be remotely considered as professional help. I am, however, the husband of a spouse who has experienced severe bouts of depression so I offer what little I can based on my own experience.

3. Every life is different. While we all have much in common with each other, there are also many ways in which we significantly differ. If anything in this article is helpful – great! If not – that’s fine too. If you have something to add, feel free to do so in the comments section, or even better, maybe you can have Celeste conscript you into writing another article on relationships and depression.

Our Story

To give some context for what I’ll share about supporting a spouse during depression, I present here a small part of ‘our story.’ I will not go into exhaustive detail but hope to provide enough specifics to be relatable.

On December 28th of 2007 I married the woman of my dreams. From our very first date we got along so well that it seemed like there weren’t enough hours in the day to talk, to laugh, and to enjoy each other’s company. The promise of our happy future together seemed brighter than ever on our wedding day, and while I was not so naïve as to assume there wouldn’t be difficulties to face, I never imagined how intensely and deeply our lives – and our relationship – were about to be tested.

Prior to getting married, we discussed how soon we would try for children. Not long after our wedding, and after much more prayer and discussion, we felt that it was right for us to start. The incredible responsibility of raising children was not lost on us, but we felt confident in the love that we had in our relationship and in the desire we both had to train up a life to the best of our ability despite what challenges could come. To our surprise and great happiness, we found out not long after we were married that Eve –my wife– would be having a baby. The beginnings of this terrible thing called depression would soon follow.

Within just a few days of our happy news that Eve was pregnant, she began to feel extremely sick. Eve felt like she had a terrible flu all day long, could keep very little food down, felt extremely dizzy just to be on her feet, and had no relief from her debilitating symptoms no matter what we tried or what the doctors recommended. Every family member, friend, and friend-of-a-friend offered what they could that helped them through so-called ‘morning sickness’. Nothing helped. I was in the middle of the most challenging and demanding season of my college career which required long days on campus, and many hours of work and study even when I was home. Because of Eve’s unexpected and severe sickness during pregnancy, she had to quit her job which further complicated our financial situation. Our bright and happy future that we had envisioned for ourselves suddenly seemed like our college-student, basement apartment – small, dark, and oppressive.

We did the best we could to face our challenging circumstances. Eve stayed in bed most of the day and listened to music to try to take her mind off of the nausea and dizziness that were her constant reality. I was trying to keep my head above water in my difficult engineering classes while worrying about my wife. Looking back now, though I confess I didn’t understand it at the time, it’s easy to see why my wife’s experience would lead to depression. She was effectively isolated most of the day, had chronic and debilitating physical symptoms, we lived in a small and poorly-lit apartment, and her body was going through significant chemical changes due to pregnancy.

Soon my wife started acting differently. It’s hard to describe, but the analogy that comes to mind is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – minus the homicidal maniac part of Mr. Hyde of course. Sometimes she would be her normal, wonderful self, though still very sick and dizzy, and other times she would be lost in negative emotions and thoughts. Again, I didn’t understand it at the time, but it is very different from just being sad or frustrated with life’s difficulties. It’s like Eve would be overcome with a wave of negative feeling and everything about life or her day or even about what we were talking about could be spun in a negative and dark way. It was not uncommon for me to come home to her weeping uncontrollably and to learn she may have been doing so for hours.

The depression would get much, much worse before any real relief would come. After 7 months of a terribly hard pregnancy, our baby boy, whom we already loved and for whom we had already gone through so much both emotionally and physically, was stillborn on August 24th of 2008. Our world was turned upside down. Leaving the hospital maternity ward empty-handed was the hardest thing my wife and I have ever done together. We were supposed to have a baby. We were supposed to be like our other friends who were changing diapers and staying up late at night with a crying baby. Instead we went home without our boy to an empty crib and an unused rocking chair. Despite the intense sadness and grieving we were going through at the time, Eve actually became her normal self again for a few months as her sickness went away at the end of her pregnancy and her hormones regulated. We still mourned and wept for our son, but Eve went through it, at least initially, without truly being depressed. At the time, I thought we had come through that dark and painful chapter in our lives and that things would start to look up.

In November of 2008, just a few months after losing our baby, Eve started acting unlike herself again. She became withdrawn, upset easily, consumed in negative thoughts, and very weepy. It was different than her just mourning or having hard days. I recognized the signs immediately and talked her into going to see a doctor to get help. She was given a medication to treat depression. Anti-depressants can take up to six weeks to have their full effect, and if the medication is not a good match for the person, it can actually make them even more depressed. This particular medication seemed to work for Eve, but unfortunately she had some terrible side-effects from it, one of which was a debilitating, sick feeling. Eve spent many hours of each day in bed feeling like she had the flu. It was like she was pregnant all over again. We decided to have her go off of that medication. We then cycled through a couple more, including the ‘ramp up’ time and ‘taper down’ time it takes to try them, until we finally found one that worked well for her without having terrible side-effects. It took us over a year to get the right medication and dosage. During that year, Eve would become especially depressed around her period, further pointing to the role that her body’s hormones played in how she felt emotionally.

Thankfully, we were able to work through that immensely difficult time together and come out the stronger for it. We are happier and more in love than ever.  Life still has its challenges, but we face them together and Eve is able to do so feeling like her normal self rather than feeling swallowed up in depression. For the sake of brevity, I have left out many details but I hope there were enough specifics to give some idea of how the depression came on as well as some of the journey involved in facing it.

So, as a loving husband or wife, what do you do if you feel like your spouse is being swallowed up by depression? What do you do if they weep for hours of the day, or when they lock you out of the room, or storm out of the house and don’t tell you where they have gone? What do you do if the slightest word or phrase said in just the wrong way sets them off in a negative spiral? What do you do when your best friend and confidant screams uncontrollably into a pillow or expresses feelings that they are worthless and that you’d be better off without them? Every life is different and what works for some may not work for others. I certainly learned plenty of things that I SHOULDN’T do when my wife felt that way. However, I give a few major themes here that, at least for us, seemed to improve the situation and our relationship most as we battled with depression.

Finish reading Brad’s advice with Part 2 of Supporting a Spouse Through Depression. . .

6 thoughts on “Supporting a Spouse Through Depression Part 1

  1. I love to see there are couples fighting through these kinds of challenges rather than giving up on marriage when it’s hard. THANK YOU FOR YOUR EXAMPLE to all the young couples out there facing hard times. Fight it together and love each other.

    1. Thank you for your sweet comment. Yes, love cannot be strong unless it is tried and stretched and tested.

  2. Wonderful story! So sorry for the challenges you went through, but glad you were able to fight through them. My husband Mike and I are working to do the same.

  3. Hello! I am the spouse that struggles with depression. It is extremely difficult to try and cope with the overwhelming feelings that seem to come out of nowhere. Sometimes the feelings creep in gradually and I’m not even aware of it until it’s gotten to a certain level. It’s just as difficult and painful to watch my spouse struggle and hurt as well. My husband has thankfully been involved in education, support groups, and counseling to help better support me and to have support for himself. It’s important to remember that it’s not only the person with depression that is affected. It’s the entire family unit. I’m grateful for this article because it helps remind me to cherish the good days and especially the wonderful man that I am married to.

    1. Hey Jessica, I’m husband to a wife who suffers with depression. I was wondering how your husband supported you? I’ve tried to be there for my wife, suggested therapy and have taken on most of the daily activities of running a household with a college student and a 4th grader at home. I’m constantly told I don’t understand what she is going through and everything I do is wrong. Unfortunately, my older daughter has been diagnosed with depression as well. I see the beginnings of the same things in her.

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