When I met depression first hand in my husband for the first time in 2012, I did not think it was a gift. We had 2 small kids, I was pregnant with our third, money was incredibly tight, I was hustling like crazy to build my business. And then depression hit. And it hit like a Mack truck.
I hated depression. I hated that it made my husband look at himself in such an ugly manner. I hated that someone I loved so much, felt so unlovable. I hated that depression made it exceedingly difficult for my husband to get out of bed for days at a time, unable to enjoy anything. I hated that depression reduced a happy go lucky, positive man who loved family life so abundantly, to a shell of a former person who could barely smile. Along with hating depression I was angry with God, I was angry with other people who meant well but said things that felt judgmental and insensitive. They felt like salt on open wounds and I was angry that I could not do a single thing to make it go away quickly. I was terrified and felt completely alone.
But we prevailed- and as I shared in a previous post on the topic of supporting a spouse who has mental illness, I now embrace depression. It doesn't define us, it has not beaten us, and while it was incredibly difficult to get to this point, I now see it as a gift. Here are a few reasons why:
1. It has made our marriage stronger and more authentic
If you've been reading along, you know I'm on a real authenticity kick. It's really easy to put pretty things out into the world, create beautiful rooms, write great articles and count the hearts, the likes, the re-tweets etc., and feel applauded. But feeling loved, for the real you, the one behind the lens and the filters is a whole other exercise. Let me tell you, when depression is active there aint no pretty filter. It's raw, and it's gross, for both partners in the relationship. We cried many times together in sheer desperation. But we also revealed more about each other through the tears- the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful- and I truly feel as a result I know Josh's authentic self pretty transparently, and he knows mine. And that is beautiful. And while I am not arguing that it needs to take a challenging situation like depression to reveal deep parts of ourselves to our spouses, a great gift out of our experience with depression both during and after, is that we both wrung ourselves completely out and loved each other back with full force.
2. I trust in God's grace more
I have been thinking a lot lately about "hustle" and how it is celebrated so much today, almost as the recipe for success. Well let me tell you, you cannot hustle your way out of depression. Living through depression is like walking in sticky tar. It's not a fast journey in my experience and requires a lot of work to clean up after you're done. So while we were knee deep in the muck, there was a lot of relying on God's grace to pull us through. There were definitely times when I did not know He was there- but I can unequivocally say that it is with His grace that we prevailed as we have- cause grace does what hustling can't.
3. We fight less
Ok, debatably we fight less, depends on which spouse you ask. When depression was at its worst, Josh hurt my feelings a lot. He never meant to, but in the beginning when I didn't understand what happens in the brain and body during depression (ie it is often uncontrollable- not the kind of thing one can "snap out of" or will yourself to get over) I would do things or say things and not get the response I was expecting. Josh was never rude, but it was challenging to me that things I would do, that normally brought him joy like a home cooked meal or a thoughtful gift would be met with disinterest. As a result, I learned to not take things so personally. I love the expression Brené Brown uses in regards to misses in communication: "the story I am telling myself is you don't appreciate me… Or the story I am telling myself is you don't value me…" I did not have this expression back then, but I was exercising the muscle of not taking things so personally- and that has had wonderful ramifications post depression in our rear view. While I am no doormat (ask Josh and he'll tell you!) I definitely am not as quick to take small things so personally. And with 5 kids ages 6 and under, if I took everything personally I would never get out the door of our house!
4. We can help others
When I wrote this post on how to support a spouse suffering from mental illness, more than 5000 unique people from all over the world read it in one day. To date I continue to get emails from all over the world sharing personal stories of their struggles and how our story made them feel less alone. And isn't that the most powerful aspect of the Internet? It allows us to connect with people we might otherwise not have met and journey with them. My journey with my husband's depression is an open book, and I am happy to share the ride if it will help.
5. It has helped me be proactive
I am no mental health expert, but experience has shown me that everyone has various thresholds when it comes to dealing with stress or anxiety. I believe my personal threshold is pretty high- I have Achiever in my Strength Finder strengths so I often persevere through things. My husband's, and I would argue others who battle with anxiety or depression on an ongoing basis have shorter thresholds that are impacted by things like stress, people, the weather, loud environments, etc. Experiencing depression so intimately has shown me what some common triggers are for us, and I have concrete tools to help manage stress in us both. Notably, the most important tool I have to be proactive is how we schedule our time. I aim for lots of margin.
In Canada this Wednesday it's #BellLetsTalk Day, where this media outlet draws tons of attention around mental health in general. Watching some of the documentaries etc. when depression entered my life more personally in 2012 was very comforting. If you're reading this, and you or someone you love suffers from mental illness, and are struggling and cannot see the hope or any light, you are not alone. You do not suffer alone. You will get through the muck. You will arrive on the other side. You will be victorious. You have so much value. You are so incredibly loved.
Something that gave me a ton of hope that I cling to all the time is this verse from Jeremiah (29:11) "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans for your welfare and not for woe, plans for a future full of hope." May we all find a little hope this week.