The weight of the world [A very personal post]

I’ve been considering writing a post like this for some time. It’s very personal to me. It’s not specifically about education, but I believe it’s relevant for us all.

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I’m living with depression. Not mine, but it’s in my house and has been affecting my life for about the past 2 years. After noticing that my wife was struggling to get things done, and was struggling to cope around people, retreating into herself, I wondered if she had depression.

A trip to the doctor. Diagnosis: Depression.

[Read a blog post from my wife about her experience, and a related poem she has written]

Medication prescribed. Assumption correct. All good right? Uh… No.

This is not the first time for her. She had depression as a teenager (before I knew her), but I had seen her go through both ante- and post-natal depression, including at one point at the same time! So I knew a little bit about the signs, but had never seen anything like this.

She was low.

Very low.

And there seemed to be nothing I could do about it.

Why? Because I didn’t understand what was going on for her. I didn’t understand that this wasn’t a feeling for her. She didn’t just feel sad or down.  It wasn’t something she could control. I couldn’t just get her gifts or do things for her, or to help her, to make her feel better about life. She would smile and appreciate what I was doing but she was still depressed and was still spiralling down further into the pit of depression.

She tried to explain to me what she was going through. I didn’t understand. She explained in other ways and while I kind of started to understand cognitively, I have not been through it myself, I don’t really understand so cannot fully empathise with her.

I learnt to give her space. That’s what she always wanted. Space from me, space from the kids, space from the whole world. She was happiest on her own, reading on her iPad or phone.

But she wasn’t happy. She was escaping. And it wasn’t people she was escaping, although that’s how it appeared. She was escaping herself and what was going on in her head.

It took me a long time to realise that. I often felt neglected. Rejected at times. From my perspective she didn’t want me around. She didn’t want the kids around. Our teenage daughter felt the same. She knew Mum was going through depression but she couldn’t help her and often felt pushed away. This has created a stronger bond between me and my daughter while I’ve tried to support her (and our other kids) through it. A positive out of quite a negative experience. The younger kids don’t really know what’s going on but there has at times had to be some careful stepping in from me to safeguard them. Not from anything dangerous, but also from the feeling of being pushed away.

My wife loves us all incredibly. There has never been any doubt. But sometimes it was hard to see. She went to huge efforts at times to show her love to us, which unfortunately cost her at times as she was then so exhausted from the effort that she ended up very low for the next few days. She tried to hide what she was going through and just keep living her life as best she could but when she did, she dropped lower and lower.

In the meantime, my teenage daughter has also been diagnosed with mild depression and was not in a good state for a while. I now have two people to support who have been diagnosed with depression. Two people who needed to feel loved, safe and secure.

The battle with depression in our house has included:

  • Isolation and loneliness for both those with and those without depression
  • Feelings of rejection
  • Suicidal thoughts / cutting
  • Lots of tears
  • Misunderstandings
  • Difficult relationships
  • A rollercoaster of emotions

It can be frightening for all involved. There are often more questions than answers.

What can I do? How can I help? Why are they so low? Why can’t they just switch it off? Why are they trying to hide it from me when I just want to help and support them? Why can’t I help them?

It’s heartbreaking to watch loved ones suffer this way and not be able to step in to help or fix it.

The weight of the world is on those suffering with depression, but in many ways it’s also on those loved ones trying to support them.

The good news?

My wife is currently much stronger than she has been in the past 2 years. Through lots of talking, discussion and tears from both her and I, we realised, only about 4-5 months ago, that one thing that wasn’t helping her was the constant feeling of not accomplishing anything during the day. She felt like she was doing so much but she could see no results from it. Nothing was quite getting completed.

The result of our discussions? A daily tasks list and a reward scheme. It seemed a bit odd to be setting this up for an adult, but what this has meant is that she has a clear plan of what needs to be accomplished every day and she doesn’t jump from one thing to the next and not finish anything. Her reward? Time out on her own. This is the thing she needs most to then be able to interact with people again, including her own family. She gets this anyway, but she appreciates being able to bank up her rewards and take a full day out if/when she needs it. Since setting this up, she has on the whole been doing much better. She’s happier with life overall and spending more time with and around people. Her medication has been changed and the dosage reduced.

I’m not trying to say that this is a magic bullet. We have other support mechanisms in place, but having this structure has contributed to helping my wife over the past few months and is now also helping my daughter (she’s trialling it).

My wife started studying again last year and is achieving well. She still has her ups and downs and we still have difficulties that we work through as best we can when they arise. It’s been a long road and continues to be one, but there seems to be a way up and out of this pit for us.


1 in every 6 New Zealanders will experience serious depression at some stage in their life.

If you think that you or someone you know is suffering from depression, get help:

Image in the public domain.