This morning, Dee woke up early and jumped in to our bed.
“Can we play Daddy?” she asked, as Scott rolled over and squeezed his eyes shut tighter.
“You know what, Baby?” I cooed in her ear, “Daddy needs a little more rest. Should we go play in the living room? Or watch a show in bed?”
She gave me a disapproving look, reminded me that Daddy did better voices than I do, and eventually, after reminding herself that I am the resident cuddle-er, she capitulated to snuggle up in bed and watch Martha Speaks for a few minutes before we got up and had breakfast.
This is a common scene in our house. Playing make-believe with Daddy is her absolute favorite past time. They make a great team, and he’s a tireless companion. He’ll go to the ends of the imaginary earth for a game with that girl. Unfortunately, this morning playing with Daddy was also the straw that broke the camel’s back.
At some point while Martha the dog rattled off definitions to three syllable words, I fell asleep and the clock drifted closer and closer to the time Scott would have to leave for work. I opened my eyes just in time to hear Dee ask tentatively “Daddy, now can we play?” for what could have been the first or twelfth time — Arthur was now on TV so at least a half hour had gone by.
I heard Scott inhale sharply. “No sweetie. I…” he sat up, he stopped talking, he put his head in his hands. I didn’t even have to look in his direction to know he’d crumbled under the pressure he’d built up on top of himself before he even got out of bed. But I did. I did look over. Dee sat on her knees, next to him, a tiny concerned hand on his shoulder, while he shook his head and took a deep breath.
It’s hard, in moments like these, not to let the sadness engulf me too. I’m highly susceptible to that sort of thing. Sometimes that means thinking of an activity to distract Delilah as fast as I can so I can alleviate some of his anxiety before it washes over me. Sometimes it means taking deep breaths quietly so he can’t hear me and get more stressed out by the idea that I’m stressing out. It’s a delicate balance, two anxiety-ridden depressives building a life and raising a family together and not losing sight of why we’re doing it.
“Please Daddy? Just for a minute?” she asked him this morning, not understanding why this morning was different from most. Not understanding why on this day, as some days just are, simply getting out of bed was something of a triumph for Scott. Yesterday he was in her room building a castle with her before I even knew either one of them were awake yet. Most days, she wakes him up with two fistfuls of figurines and they create an entire kingdom on our king-sized bed before breakfast. But then there are days like today. Days where just breathing is hard for my husband, where not pulling out his entire beard hair by hair is a huge success.
This morning, with Delilah’s hand resting on his shoulder, Scott didn’t look up from his hands as he said “Sweetie, I will play with you after work, but I don’t think we can play in the mornings any more.”
I knew the voice well. The calm-but-shaky monotone that comes out when mustering words is taking all the energy he has. I’m grateful that Delilah doesn’t seem to recognize that particular tone just yet. I know that Scott is even more so. On a mornings like these the easiest way for me to keep the codependence to a minimum is to focus on making sure my little lady is entertained and distracted so Scott isn’t able to pile the pain of unraveling in front of her on top of himself too.
This morning, as Scott tried his best to put words to why mornings were hard for them to play together, Dee moved on quickly, promising on Scott’s behalf that they would play twice as much before dinner tonight, as she trotted out in to the living room, ready to start her day. Scott did not move on, as he rose and got dressed for the day, pulling his hoodie up over his head, looking at me with his deep blue eyes silently screaming “I’m sorry” “I hate myself” and “make it stop” all at once. The only thing I can do is hug him before following Dee out into the living room to get breakfast started.
Scott wasn’t the first person close to me to struggle with a serious mood disorder, but he was the first one to be honest with me about it. Having never struggled with depression or anxiety myself, I thought I could give him what he needed to get through his episodes. I thought I’d cracked the code of getting him to laugh again and coaxing him out of his episodes, and ultimately I thought if I could build him the perfect life, I could protect him from it. That I was strong enough to carry the weight for both of us when I had to.
And then five years ago I became pregnant and the big bad world of mood disorders opened its giant arms to welcome me in to its fold. And it was Scott’s turn to be the rock. I don’t know if it was his swiftly growing business or his excitement at the idea of being a father, but he was enjoying life and feeling good and when I found out I was pregnant and got laid off from my corporate job in the same week, and I’ll never forget the huge grin on his face that convinced me we would be fine any way.
We had no idea that I would be underwater for nearly two years. We had no idea we were about to enter in to a dance of mental health tango with one another, taking turns keeping our lives afloat.
* * *
I started this post because I wanted to talk through how we keep our heads above water and get through life as a married couple with a child and dueling mood disorders. I got to the point you just read to before stopping and asking Scott to read it and make sure he was comfortable with what I was sharing about him here, on the wide open internet.
He did, and said he was fine with it, that everything I said was truthful, and jokingly reminded me that “he was the guy who tweeted his suicidal thoughts” (because that happened once) so he certainly didn’t mind me calling out his struggle with depression on the internet.
And then I put the post on the back burner for a moment while I thought about how I wanted to finish it. And in that moment, everything imploded.
Dee and I went to meet Sara’s new baby and hang out with our buddies in Chicago for a few days. Although I travel often for work, I don’t often take Delilah with me. I’m well aware that Scott’s world gets a lot darker when Delilah isn’t around, so I encouraged him to make plans with friends and let a few people know we’d be away.
The night before we were to return home, my cell phone started going nuts. Friends were calling concerned, unable to reach Scott after reading his most recent Facebook update:
“I am lost. Cowering in a corner, in the dark, terrified to move. Afraid to make a sound. Afraid to exist. I hate it here. I’ve been stuck here for so long. I know I’m in my head, but I can’t escape. I am in agonizing pain, which is entirely self inflicted.”
Our friends were fearing the worst. I immediately opened Facebook and saw the above posting, and I sighed, deeply. My heart hurt. But I didn’t think Scott was going to harm himself, because I hear him talk that way all the time. (It’s worth noting that Scott isn’t exactly what you’d call an internet super user. Before he took to Facebook that evening, he hadn’t posted since the Dodgers lost in the post-season.)
I called Scott immediately, and as suspected he sounded totally fine when he answered the phone. Cheerful even. I asked him if he was alone and he said he wasn’t, his best friend had just arrived. He started apologizing almost instantly. He didn’t think anyone would see it, he said — he didn’t think anyone would really respond more than with a “stay strong” comment or two, with maybe a “man up” thrown in.
Mostly, he was surprised by the reaction because he didn’t think what he’d written was that bad. He said he wanted to get it off his chest — he said reading what I’d written above came close to describing how he felt, but wasn’t quite there, and he wanted to take a crack at articulating it himself. When he did post it, he said his immediate response was relief.
The thing is, I felt relief too. I didn’t realize how NOT above water we really were. While Scott and I talk about his depression all the time, we don’t talk about that much else. And as it turns out I had kind of gone numb to the whole thing and was just getting frustrated that we weren’t moving forward with our lives on my schedule. Perhaps it was my own self-preservation that kept me from letting the weight of his pain truly sink in, perhaps now having climbed out of the abyss myself, I’ve gotten more impatient then I realized waiting for him to join me. Either way, it took him telling everyone we know exactly how black a place his mind can be to get me to stop trying to drag him forward and just listen.
Depression and anxiety can be isolating, and despite having each other as a partner in our battles Scott and I have isolated ourselves socially more than we ever meant to. Or at least we felt that we had. The most beautiful side of Social Media is the real life side of it. The side that sent a tidal wave of love to our door, that brought our real life community out of the woodwork to remind us that we’re not isolated at all. That we are fully enveloped by people who care. The next day, as I started to take in the reactions of our friends, I began to fall apart. In the best way possible. I fell apart and realized how numb I’ve forced myself to become. I realized that what sounds run of the mill to me is alarming to even our closest friends and that I haven’t been listening closely enough. I’m listening now.
(While some are shocked that he shared his pain in such a public way, and in fact Scott himself worried that I would be angry with him for doing it; if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you probably already know that that’s something I can relate to very much. I practically do it for a living. And I can attest to the fact that it does help, so I couldn’t be more grateful that Scott chose to go public.)
That day, with his permission, I sought out professional help for Scott. (I also got a little professional help myself.) He’s started therapy and we’re optimistic that we’ve reached a real turning point towards him getting better. I can’t thank those close to us enough for reacting so massively and swiftly and waking us up to the fact that this situation was bigger than something we should or could be handling on our own.
If you or your loved ones are struggling with depression, or any other mental illness, please share what you’re going through with those around you. The love and support of your community will lift you up more than you are able to imagine through the fog of it all.