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I Want To Help My Depressed Wife.


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I'll try to keep this as succinct as possible, although I am describing a relationship that's been going on for more than ten years and has some messy history...

My wife is 37 (I'm 35) and she's been struggling with depression since puberty. Right now the only psychoactive medication she's taking regularly is Escitalopram (Lexapro), though she also has a prescription for Clonazepam (Klonopin) to help with panic attacks which are thankfully quite rare. She's tried most of the others in the past and they didn't do anything or made things worse. She has no interest in counseling because we can't afford it and, more importantly, it's too easy for her to hide her feelings from someone she only sees once every couple of weeks. She hides them well enough from me. Maybe I'm just not intuitive or empathetic enough, but she's told me there are times when she's been crying her eyes out in the bedroom, and I've been only in the next room listening to music and never noticed.

The depression compounds and is compounded by serious physical problems. When my (not yet then) wife was 26 she went into the hospital thinking she had severe pneumonia... turns out it was congestive heart failure. The doctors don't know what caused it (though a congenital condition worsened by the stress of two pregnancies is a common theory). With years of medication her heart's gotten stronger, but it'll never be fully normal and it seems like it's in decline again. She's been obese since college and is at least 100 lbs. overweight currently. She has diabetes and asthma and is anemic; and the anemia won't go anywhere until she gets a hysterectomy, since her periods are now so heavy that she needs to wear Depends to absorb all the blood she loses.

The fact that she's overweight doesn't bother me on a visceral or emotional level; she weighed about the same when I married her almost eight years ago. But even aside from that she doesn't take care of her body. There have been times she's gone more than a week without showering, mostly just laying in bed, and she typically only brushes her teeth when she showers (she's had a lot of rotten teeth extracted over the years). She tells me that she's always hated showering -- the shower evokes feelings of claustrophobia -- and her greasy hair was one of the reasons she had so few friends in high school, which is another painful memory for her. Plus now just showering can be such a workout for her that (with her bad heart) that it gives her another reason to put it off.

So now, frankly, there are times when I simply feel disgusted by her. It's just a physical/sexual reaction -- I still love her -- but I can't very well hide anything from her and when I don't want to be close to her it just makes her feel worse. We almost never do anything together anymore (though she still does things: she can force herself to get out of the house well enough to attend her kids' choir/band concerts or to visit her sister who recently had a baby. But I'm convinced that in many ways she lives vicariously through her kids, especially her daughter, who at the age of 13 has already gotten to go to France on a school-exchange trip despite the fact that we needed to pay for it with a tax return that (in the interests of responsibility) should've been used to pay off debt that is now coming out of my paycheck in garnishments. But she wants that girl to have a magical childhood and adolescence, as if that can redeem her own past.)

It's gotten to the point where I pretty much feel like a failure in our marriage. I wouldn't characterize myself as depressed, but I know that there are times when I get so frustrated that the anger has to express itself in violence -- NEVER towards her or my step-kids, but only towards inanimate objects or towards myself. There have been times where I've left the house and sat in my car and screamed at the top of my lungs while slamming on the steering wheel and beating my chest like a deranged gorilla, because the pain gives release and the chest doesn't bruise.

I don't know what to do. I've come to this forum at her suggestion because I need to understand her better (though AFAIK she has no interest in this or any related support forum or group, online or IRL). She feels like I don't love her and honestly, there are times when I think it's only my step-kids who have kept me around, since they're great and I've been their full-time dad since they were 4 and 6 and I have enough of a sense of decency and duty not to run out on them (but my God, it's been a narrow scrape a couple of times). Sometimes I've felt that her life is a vortex threatening to devour mine.

There's so much more to say but I'm not sure what would be relevant, so now I'm going to leave it up to you to ask the questions you need to. I really do want to help my wife... well, I want to help both of us.

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Sorry you are going through this. I've been through something somewhat similar to what you describe. Sadly, I cannot offer any really specific advice, only a couple of general ideas.

There is a connection between expectations and feelings of frustration, anger and disappointment. I have nothing personal against high expectations, but in general, the higher the expectations, the greater the chances are for disappointment, frustration and anger. I guess everyone has a concept in the back of their mind of what a "good enough wife" is or a "good enough husband." Sometimes we don't reflect much on those ideas. Sometimes a lot of what we consider "good enough" is not really in the forefront of our awareness.

Generally, there are two ways to make something "good enough." 1] Change it [him, her, it, them, us] until they are "good enough" to match our concept. 2] Lower our expectations of what constitutes "good enough" to a level where we are not likely to be upset, angry and disappointed. The first way is almost impossible, especially if we are trying to change someone else. The second is very possible but not easy.

I used to be a person with very high expectations for myself, others and everything else in the world. I was constantly falling into disappointment, anger and frustration. This could go on from waking up in the morning until I fell asleep at night. If my shoelace broke, I was angry and disappointed. It never dawned on me that I had a very high expectation for the quality of shoelaces. And generally I spenta good deal of time angry and disappointed about everyone and everything in the world. It was a psychologist who suggested I try lowering my expectations rather than changing everything in my life. It seemed ridiculous at the time, but has helped me a lot to keep things from getting under my skin.

The other idea that helped me is the idea of over-simplification. In the midst of a strong emotion, we can sometimes be tempted to over-simplify pourselves or others to the point of distortion. Most people have done thousands of strong, ambitious, clever, beautiful and good things in their lives. But in the midst of strong emotion, a negative can seem to wipe out all that to the point where we can even label a person: lazy, weak, ugly, no good and so on. No human being can truthfully or fairly be "summed up" in a little one or two word label. It grossly over-simplifies the complexity and richness of a real human being. Sometimes when a negative over-simplified label comes to mind, it can help to balance it out with all the thousands of positive things about a person [ourselves or someone else].

Finally, it is helpful to keep perspective. I knew someone who mentally beat themselves up for having poor manners at the dinner table. Now I think having good manners is important and having bad manners is not very helpful. But I try to keep perspective. For example, a couple of people in the last 100 years sent tens of millions of men, women and children to die in concentration camps. I think that is something really bad. And I try to look at table manners in a large perspective that includes genocide. This helps me a lot to not get too upset over a lot of things that used to drive me up the wall.

Perhaps none of this is useful or helpful to you. We are all different. If my words of are not helpful, I apologize and I hope you would let me substitute my best wishes in their place in that case. I can only write of what has helped me. But I am not in anyone else's shoes.

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I have great sympathy for you wife (and for you) but this thread is about you and your wellbeing and thats the perspective i am going to answer it from.

I think supporting someone unconditionally when they are not doing their part to get better is usually "enabling" and not good for either party. What you need to ask yourself is why you are still in this relationship. Do you have a history of caretaking others and not having your needs met? That can particularly happen if you grew up being put in that role by a parent.

Accepting someones limitations when they are working hard at change is one thing but accepting very little when there is no effort or awareness coming from the other party is an entirely different matter.

It sounds like she is not only not planning on change but is showing little awareness of the situation. I may of course just have read the situation wrong and she may actually spend a lot of time thinking how she wants things to be different and have plans to get help in the future but just be struggling to implement them. That would be very different.

Regardless I suspect she is building walls around herself physically to protect herself emotionally in some way.

If she still refuses to get support and you don't know what to do I strongly suggest you get some counselling of your own as support in doing what is right for both of you can be very helpful.

You sound like a very caring person. You have taken care of your stepchildren and your wife and here you are on a depression support site looking for answers.

Edited by Fizzle
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Guy, you are being emotionally blackmailed by a master manipulator.

And she thinks you don't love her? My question is: what does she do to show she loves you?

This is a twisted situation where reality is inverted and you feel like you are the failure, that you don't understand her. It's the other way around. You are getting guilt tripped by someone who takes no responsibility for her own well being.

Your wife is very emotionally and physically ill, but not so ill that she can't pick-and-choose what activities she is going to do, and who she is going to see, and where money is going to be spent. That's not 'so-ill-she-can't-function'. That's so-ill-she-can-function-and-is-sucking-you-in-to-help-her-do-so-at-the-cost-of-your-sanity-while-avoiding-putting-any-effort-in-to-helping-herself.

I recommend that you seek counselling yourself, to uncover why you are in this situation, and seem to have been for a long time - and yet still feel like you are doing something wrong.

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Thanks for the replies so far. Perhaps a little more background story would help.

My wife and I met at, of all places, a swinger party. Yeah, I was into that stuff in my late college years and shortly thereafter. My wife, meanwhile, had been basically dragged there by her husband at the time because he wanted to "spice up" their relationship. Well, his plan backfired. She fell for me, but I got deployed to Iraq; while I was overseas she moved out on her own with the kids and we started corresponding.

Eventually she and I converted to Christianity and we got married at a church that we both really liked. Early in our marriage we had stuff we genuinely both liked to do together. Some of it was church-y stuff -- we had some friends we did Bible studies with -- and otherwise we often liked to play board games. But eventually things turned sour. About a year after our marriage the church got a new full time pastor who changed the dynamics and really turned us off; and in time I took a break from religion altogether.

At some point in the proceedings my wife declared that she didn't want to talk about religion with me anymore, because I would always make her feel stupid or inadequate -- I think she said, "You always act like your facts are better than my feelings." Basically I took an intellectual approach to it while she took an intuitive approach; not that either is better than the other, but I could see what she meant because I would sometimes (even without realizing it) tend to turn mere discussions into debates. Also she began to tire of playing board games with me because she said I got angry when I lost. I admit to getting frustrated sometimes, but I know that games are just games; I might've complained about bad luck or acted sulky for a little while or something, but I never shouted or accused her of cheating or threw dice or anything that I would associate with being a "sore loser."

Bottom line is, we've been drifting apart for some time now. After a couple of years of agnosticism I recently started attending a new church and I've invited my wife, but she doesn't want to get involved if it's just going to be another "phase" for me. She's told me that she'd rather be lonely than risk getting hurt again, because she can't take much more pain.

Maybe she is manipulating me, but if she is I'm quite certain she's not doing it consciously or maliciously. I know I haven't been a saint in the relationship. Sometimes I think that if we could just start doing things together more often it would help a lot, but we have very few interests in common. She likes country music and I like pretty much anything that isn't country music; she likes to read a lot, but generally romances or (strangely enough) post-apocalyptic sci-fi novels, whereas I gravitate towards fantasy. The one physical activity she does enjoy is swimming, but she doesn't like to take me to the beach because I get cold easily and tend not to stay in the water for longer than a half hour.

Anyways, thanks for taking the time to read this and any further insight or advice you may have.

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It always takes two to tango, guy. With respect to my reply, I do recognize that no one is a saint, and she probably has her own side of the story.

However, regardless of how 'crappy' you may have been, or are sometimes, you are getting emotionally blackmailed into allowing your well-being to spiral into the toilet so your wife doesn't have to put any effort into getting better.

It's pretty similar to what I've seen happen in my family growing up - the 'oh, we can't be bad people and let the addict self-destruct, despite how much his behaviour is harming everyone else. We just have to suck it up under the guise of 'family' and 'being good people'."

I'm sure you know how the story ends - addict self-destructs anyways - they almost always do - and those who went overboard in trying to help got dragged right along with him.

Your wife isn't an addict - but her mental illness and her refusal to try and get better is sucking you in the same way the addict sucked the rest of my family in. And you seem to have the same mindset my parents did with my addicted sibling ... it's their fault they couldnt' save him. They aren't trying hard enough. etc. etc.

It doesn't matter that you aren't a saint and you've played a role in this relationship. Right now, the way things are, your wife is sucking the life out of you to prop herself up. She probably doesn't realize it, that's true. But does it matter if she's conscious of it or not? How many more times do you want to beat the s**t out of yourself in your car, or want to punch a wall? For what, anyways? So she can keep not showering, brushing her teeth, getting help, telling you you don't understand and telling you you don't love her? Not much of a payoff.

Unless you've been an abusive b****tard, you don't deserve this. She doesn't deserve her illness, either, but she ain't exactly trying hard to get better, and she doesn't have the right to drag you down with her. So figure something out to preserve your sanity, so you can keep being a good step-dad, keep yourself sane .... and in the long run, letting her sort herself out is better for her anyways, rather than propping her up.

Edited by Lifeintheslowlane
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Hey NotGandalf,

I've read your posts and the replies you've had so far. I can't offer you any advice, only my story. But perhaps you'll see the similarities I see...

I joined these forums because I was seeking help with my girlfriend. I met her two amd a half years ago at work. We had so much in common: activities, food preferences, music (we like classical), social events, maturity, religion. Of course we had a few differences, but they were insignificant. And she was on Lexapro.

She was depressed since puberty but hadn't gone on meds until college. I never really noticed anything out of the ordinary about her, so I figured it shouldnt bother me that she had clinical depression and was medicated (did you know 50+% of girls 18-35 are on anti-depressants?).

We did everything together, from running races to cooking. It was great. After 7 months She told me I made her so happy she didn't even think she needed to see her counselor anymore.

She was also transitioning from Lexapro to Effexor. Effexor is a powerful drug; it's the heavy artillery of the anti-depressants. Around that time, 1 year after we started dating, she was looking for a place to move closer to work, and we decided to live together.

Now, here's my take on the events that followed.

She seemed to lose all interest in sex within one month of moving in. In months past, she blamed Lexapro for her nullified libido, and I was understanding about it (guess I "lowered my expectations"). She also became more difficult to talk to about "stuff" in general. All she really seemed to talk about were our pets (her dog and my cat).

Fast forward 1 more year (or second year together) and we were living together more as roommates than partners. Intimacy had become a thing of the past. She told me she felt "we didn't connect" anymore and we had nothing to talk about. I was becoming frustrated because my advances were being refused. Even when I just wanted to comfort her and hold her close, give her a hug, she withdrew. I felt she made it impossible to connect. When she wanted to do something, I usually found myself thinking "why would I want to, you don't want to do anything for me". My needs weren't met, which caused me to withdraw, which in turn caused her to become more withdrawn... it was a cycle. Most days she looked so exhausted and tired, with dark circles under her eyes.

Eventually though, I started picking up more of the slack. I no longer saw my best friend for our weekly workout. I told him I had to come home early to make dinner. I always found myself walking her dog, doing the laundry, the cooking. I tried to suggest things to do on weekends, but she had two replies:

1) no, I'd rather save money

2) I'm too tired

I got frustrated by her lack of empathy. I really loved her alot. When we broke up last month, I descended into a place of greater desolation and pain than I've ever known. But she didn't care anymore. I feel like I sacrificed and gave up a lot for her, but nothing mattered. Nothing. so I did what you did; I got in the car, screamed, hit the wheel and pounded my chest. And I did research. I found forums, books and articles. There's a book I'm reading now called "When Someone You Love Is Depressed" by Dr. Laura Rosen and Dr. Amador. It describes her and I so well. You owe it to yourself to find the book at a library and just skim it. It will/can help you see and understand what's going on with your wife... and with you. It's uncanny, believe me.

I guess a lot of people would tell me we weren't meant for eachother. I just... don't know. I think her depression made her difficult to connect with, difficult to love. I think her meds made her ambivalent and bored. And even though I found so much evidence of both, and even though her parents and I tried to convince her to see a therapist (remember she stopped because I made her so happy), she refused and fought with us. She lied and said there was a 5 month wait, and lied again when she told me it was $300 a sesiion. I eventually decided to see him, called, and he gave me an appointment the next week and charged $60.

She never could tell me what changed or why. I could name every emotion I felt. She couldn't. She couldn't tell me a thing all the times we discussed our predicament. And I fully recognize that both sides are to blame on a breakup. But I know I did the best I could to save us from that fate.

Edited by alex_shields
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I'm afraid I'll need to step away from this as too many of my own vulnerabilities are being touched on now.

All I will add is that I think its worthwhile thinking of the different aspects of this. 1 Your relationship, 2 her depression and 3 what is the best way to get her better 4 your wellbeing 5 her wellbeing.

It sounds like you have long standing relationship issues and that will have big significance here and which I didn't realise at first.. Significant to both how she is reacting to change and how she is managing her illness. Depression is a terrible and powerful force and takes away ones ability to function, make decisions and think. When there is an ongoing stressor going on (such as a serious illness) then it intensifies the whole thing. The areas of life that are the most challenging are those that tend to end up with the least ability to function.

I think it is probable that the best place to start would be joint relationship counselling but it seems quite possible that things have progressed too far for that. That she may be feeling too protective and vulnerable and you may be feeling too resentful.

If you want to save this relationship then I suspect you are going to have to give her plenty of emotional space, no pressure relationship wise and kind and gentle but firm insistence she gets help. You may be way past being able to do that and that would be understandable.

Edited by Fizzle
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Thanks all for the suggestions and insights. Alex, you mentioned a book, "When Someone You Love is Depressed"; I'll be sure to check that out. I know I have my own issues to work out as well, because I care too much about pleasing people; and so when my wife (or really anyone I care about) is depressed or frustrated despite my best efforts, I tend to take it as a sign of personal inadequacy or failure.

Hopefully my marriage will survive... I know it's in the ICU, but I don't think it's a terminal case yet. I've been getting a lot of positivity and support from the people at the church I've been attending too; hopefully that will filter into the rest of my life. Well, thanks again.

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