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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.

27 thoughts on “The weight of the world [A very personal post]

  1. Incredible and courageous post. Thank you. I have had a similar journey with someone in my fam and it has swallowed up most of me for the last 8 months. It’s one of those awful journeys that often you feel scared and vulnerable and at times there is little immediate, obvious support. We are slowly coming out the other side too. I think your support network is crucial and being honest and upfront with people too. I never knew what real fear that sits in the pit of your soul for months was like till this, or worry, or what it felt to be helpless. Stay strong and if you need anything please holler. Even if it’s just a chat bc you have had a rough day at home. Also there is a great new book out for teenagers. I will find you the link. Best teen resource I have seen so far. Kia kaha.

    1. Hi Debs
      Thanks very much for your comment. It amazes me how important support is not just for the person going through it but their family as well.
      I look forward to seeing the link you share.

      Nathaniel

      1. i have been hooked up with Evolve youth services in Welly. It is the best. They really have offered us support, and information and lots of love (and all for free). Well worth a call. Erin is amazing and they assess first and then you are under the safe haven of their wing. I can’t recommend them enough for teens and the fam of.

          1. Yeah they are the best in Welly. You can just ring them. Try and get an appointment with Erin. They know teens. From there they refer if needed to your 6 free psychotherapy appointments. It’s really worth doing for support, for strategies and for your young person to have another adult to confide in. It changed our journey completely.

  2. Wow- very honest account of the struggles for your wife, for you, and for the family Nathaniel. I am glad you have found something that is helping for now. I hope something ‘works’ fully in the end.

    I experienced some depression at times. Eventually about the fourth time I was 30, and I realised I was going into a black pit each time I had to say goodbye to someone who was close to me. Luckily for me, a friend who was a social worker suggested I needed counseling, and she suggested a very experienced woman, who recognised immediately that I had issues with unresolved grief from the childhood deaths of both my parents. That for me was the key to unlocking the ‘puzzle’. I hope your wife finds her ‘keys’ soon too.

    1. Thanks for your comments Margaret.
      Counselling is helping my wife at the moment too. She actually only started the counselling to support our daughter. She couldn’t see the need for herself, but could for our daughter. We’re so grateful to the support around us.

      – Nathaniel

  3. Awesome post Nathaniel. Always a struggle to know how to live with depression – whether you are the sufferer or the loved ones. And just learning to live with it is the first step because it never seems to go away completely. Have you watched the big dog video? Probably. I’ll send it if you haven’t.

    1. Thanks Leigh.
      I’m not sure if I’ve seen the video or not, so please share it here. Others might find it useful too.

      -Nathaniel

  4. Can totally relate to this mate. Love that you and your whanau are supporting each other through this as it does sometimes feel like a constant battle to make it through each day. Kia kaha e hoa. Love to your whanau.

  5. What courage, what commitment & what
    an honest account of your journey with a partner who suffers from depression.
    I first started feeling overwhelming anxiety as a little girl of 3yrs. I did something to another child physically & caused grief & pain to those involved. Being a very sensitive child I never forgot that moment & the punishment of being put on a couch and the resulting silent treatment that resulted from this. I was a curious child & always busy with an exhurberinse for adventure & imagination. My depression grew “legs” when the 3 prominent people with authority in my life (all women) painted to me the picture that 1. I was the cause of their hurt 2. I wasn’t as good another grand daughter 3. a teacher with such a temper that made an example of me for various reasons before the class. Mixed messages became my world a. Loved when good b. Ostracised, silent treatment when bad.
    Through all this I became more & more aware of how lacking, how bad, and how responsible I was for others hurt, rage & anger.
    Through this I developed nightmares, fear, obsessive/compulsive thoughts & rituals.
    These thoughts overtook my whole life as I worried, obsessed and beat myself for having them. I met & married the most wonderful stable and amazing person who was to be the first person I ever shared my
    troubled innermost being with.
    I’d like to say with his help and grasping of my situation that I got better & we lived happily ever after but we didn’t. It was hell and after two post traumatic life events I woke up one morning & I wanted to end my
    life. That quick snap! It was a downward spiral and for the next 33yrs Drs battle to find medication that worked, great counselling that gave me hope & courage to fight, believe in myself & overcome. It’s been incredibly frightening, overwhelming and tiring to battle thru. But my husband faithfully worked to grasp why this ever happened & showed me I wasn’t bad, evil, and responsible for others actions & reactions. A mountain to climb – yes, valleys – yes too many, but with the help & reassurance I’m now living & loving a life I never thought I’d live to see. The gift goes on & now my heart & life is dedicated to encouraging and giving hope to others.
    Lastly forgive others and forgive yourself.

    M. Meyer

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Marilyn.
      I’m so glad your husband has been able to support you and work with you to love life again. Getting the right people around us is so important.
      Thank you also for supporting and giving hope to others.

      – Nathaniel

  6. Brilliant post. Thank you for writing and sharing it. You are not only doing your best for your family, but by writing this you contributed to the demystification of depression and the conversation this country needs to keep having. Kia kaha and kiaora.

  7. The more we share these stories, the more likely they will reach those who need them. Thank you for doing so. Sending peace and light to your beautiful family.

  8. E hoa, kia kaha koutou ko t? wh?nau. Your blog is amazing and I have always thought that being able to talk about hard stuff, and share it with others, contributes hugely to one’s ability to deal with it, whatever the “it” may be. All the best to you, your kids and your wife. You all deserve the very very best of wh?nau togetherness. Aroha nui n? De

  9. A wonderful post Nat – brave, honest you. Sharing and bearing your soul is hard to do when things are so close and deep. But the process will have released tension and you have also extended your hand out to and for others.
    We have depression bouts at home here since the earthquakes and I struggle to support my man at times….your openness and ideas have given me a boost, along with the comments by others. Thanks.

  10. You and I need to talk more about this stuff on occasion rather than the work stuff! We too have had our share of depression and anxiety in the house – I have had mild depression twice, while our beautiful and talented girl was almost eaten up with anxiety and depression over the last few years.

    As a parent not being able to fix it was really tough, and as someone who has suffered a far milder form of the same illness I understood she had to work her way through the enemy her mind had become. We sought help, and she bonded with a wonderful councellor the first time round, who also helped her through the next two severe bouts. Saying it was OK to go to the other end of the country to University was the scariest thing I ever did. It was even harder as the third round hit during her first year and she spiralled down again.

    Like you, we have had a much happier time with her over the last eight months and I am eternally grateful to our colleague who steps in as her other mother when our girl is feeling the physical distance between us. Like your lovely wife, she manages much better when she can check things off her list and is busy. Given too much time on her hands and her worst enemy lurks waiting to strike. She talks now when she knows it is stealing up on her and we work out the best way to deal with it – bless the creators of Skype, Face Time and the cell phone.

    Kia kaha to you all and know I too understand as both the sufferer and the supporter.

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