It is easy to think, "Since they are getting help, there is nothing else I can or should do." But, there is something you can do to support them through recovery, and that is working as a team and fully participating in it.
I've found avoiding discussions about depression and anxiety can cause both my husband and me to feel disconnected and unheard. Sometimes it is hard to talk about these topics but it is necessary to open the streams of communication again. Also, it’s ok to feel sad or frustrated during this time, and it’s ok to put regular life on hold so you can spend time with those you love to support them through their recovery.
Over the past few years, as my husband has been struggling with this depression there have been so many times of silence from him that I got into the unhealthy habit of filling that space with just rabble, rabble, rabble. Verbal vomit of nothing in particular to the point where I was getting angry, resentful and frustrated with my husband because of his silence.
Anger and resentment are the furthest things from helpful emotions to have when attempting to be supportive of a depressed family member. I was then always feeling guilty for making his days harder than they already were. This unhealthy emotional cycle continued until this past week when he was up for speaking with me.
Over the past week, I’ve learned the necessity of needing to slow down and reset my priorities from mindless routine to mindful participation in my husband’s recovery. It’s only the first step, but maybe sharing this experience can help you too.
On the weekends (in a perfect world), I would usually do the budget, household chores, pay bills, and try and set aside some “me” time to do art or work on this blog.
Well, it isn’t a perfect world (it’s perfectly imperfect), and I didn’t get any of that stuff done…Well, except the groceries and this post. And, that’s OK! You need to know it is OK for chores to fall behind sometimes. At least, I surely needed to learn that it was. Doing chores is not the stuff life is made up of.
My husband’s birthday was last week. I took him out to dinner at an excellent Indian restaurant, and he was TALKING to me, and I got to LISTEN. It was glorious. Since my husband’s depression and anxiety has gotten so severe, we have rarely had in-depth discussions. Usually, it is just me filling the somewhat awkward silences or trying to encourage him to be hopeful. So, please understand, that this excitement is off-the-charts. It was incredible!
I got to hear his lovely voice and see him smile a couple of times. It was like the last few years of stress, anxiety, and severe depression never happened for him. He’s been in his second Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) for about two weeks at this point, and I was astonished and hopeful but then…
It sucked, but there were sweet moments. Moments I most likely will cherish the rest of my life.
The day started rough. My husband didn’t want to get out of bed. I could tell as soon as I tried waking him, his mind was already “down the rabbit hole” as we refer to it. He was in a dark headspace.
After waking him, he let me know he needed time to himself. I could tell he was upset and, at first, I thought it was something I had done wrong. I had to ask him to confirm it wasn’t me before I left. He did, and I left him alone.
I didn’t want to bother him with banging around in the kitchen since it is so close to our bedroom, so I decided to watch Pete’s Dragon on Netflix. About halfway through the movie, I heard my husband screaming and wailing as he cried. Just gut-wrenching, painful cries. Sounds I had never heard from him.
I could not leave him alone. I tripped while running on my way to the bedroom and banged up my knee. I was so very worried. I found him sitting on the bed in just his underwear. His feet were off the side of the bed, and his head was in his hands as he was bent over in anguish- just pure agony.
All I could do was wrap my arms around him and say, “It’s OK. I’m here. It’s OK. Ssshh.” Over and over again. He would push out an “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry” between the cries, and I’d keep repeating that he had nothing to be sorry about. He calmed himself after awhile, and we just held each other in bed for an hour or two. It’s what he said he needed.
He told me he was trying to cry to feel the emotions; that there was something in him that he was trying to get out but kept failing to find it. He didn’t know what the “one thing” was, though. He was trying to do as his doctors were telling him, to stop avoiding the feelings and to start experiencing them and to acknowledge them; so he could move on. We just kept holding each other awhile later and whispering about what may or may not be “the one” thing.
We discussed our own random theories of what it could be or what might help but we are not doctors, so we were just shooting in the dark and hoping for the best. It was more important we were together than really trying to find a solution.
The weather outside the window by the head of the bed looked lovely. The first true blue skies of spring dazzled my eyes and the sunlight peeking through the tree branches caused shadows to dance across our upturned faces.
Eventually, the mood changed and he started tickling me, and we were laughing, and it was lovely. That smile of his is gorgeous. It still takes my breath away after over 11 years together. It was another beautiful moment in time.
I started using his new MP3 player, and eventually, he became interested in it, and I slid over to his couch, and we just leaned against each other, sharing one earbud each and experiencing the music as it brought back memories.
Another precious moment. I am so very grateful.
I rediscovered the power of silence and, more importantly, of listening without judgment. Of, learning to take an active part in my husband's recovery. It’s not easy, and it will take practice.
I have a lot more to learn. Perhaps you’re open to becoming an active participant in your loved one's recovery also? It's time to shift from mindless routine to mindful participation in the recovery of our loved ones. I’d love to hear from you if you do decide to work on these skills along with me.