Dealing with a Husband’s Depression: excerpted from the novel, Seeing in the Dark: Arielle’s Story
My husband’s third period of depression, and what was to be his last began when I was least prepared. My lighting plans submitted for the hotel project in New York had been approved and development would move forward swiftly. Stuart’s previous depression after the collapse of his tennis center was the classic one, total withdrawal, his normal energies and capacities overwhelmed and lifeless. The blame he heaped upon himself was uppermost in that defeat and unshakable. For although he could blame his partner, Harris Kreiser, for his perfidy and failings, he himself was responsible for Harris Kreiser having brought him into the partnership.
This depression, whether a culmination of all that had gone before or a genetic condition realized exponentially to its full potential, I couldn’t know. I began to realize, however, that my husband had sought me out as antidote almost from the start of our relationship. I had noticed then his pessimism, cynicism and joyless confrontation with life, except for those infrequent highs when his creative juices were released to flow into the renovation of his tennis center. I became temporary relief for that inexplicable angst that lay so heavily upon him, a shade lifting to let in light even when I snapped back at him—but snapped as a window shade does, requiring simple adjustment to set right.
I provided fortitude for him in this way by not bending from the weight of his anger, receiving it with a masochistic conundrum of my own, almost setting him up to offend me with his dissatisfactions, his accusations that this or that or the other was my fault. Set him up by my persistence in defending myself, my claim to my own authority to be right. His dissatisfactions which he threw at me, I caught and tossed back with rebuffs into the living room or kitchen or bedroom or the car interior—those standard venues of our discontent—and he was rid of them for awhile and we could go on. I had become at once the target and the bulwark against his barrage of self-destruction, for that, I concluded it must be. Surely, a ready-made barbequed chicken didn’t deserve to be swiped off the dinner table because his wife had no time to roast one. I understood that some discontent with his lot stood at the root of his lashing out, but understanding is not of itself toleration. His insulting words inevitably descended on us both to inflict hurt and cause reaction in different ways.
Like any object in abrasion’s path I was wearing down. My sharp defenses so ready to counter his remarks were no longer there, and in smoothing out, I became far less help for the placement of his angst. The fact is, I had begun to accept this new iteration of my husband. Under normal circumstances, our vituperative back and forth had been a kind of game which he’d unwittingly designed to fit the character of his personality, a match I played with him in the role of my own character. But as he changed I did as well, and for certain, the game was game no longer.
Of course I urged him to see a therapist. Only when I threatened to leave him did he do so. And then I found new therapists each time he claimed the previous was a charlatan. I found myself re¬lieved every time he walked into the house, or if I was at work, to find him on my return sitting in the den reading a paper and waiting for something so ordinary as dinner. If I found him in tennis shirt and tee shirt, I was ecstatic for it meant he had accepted an invitation to make up a fourth, his regular games having been for some time a thing of the past.
The ordinary, in fact, began to become the extraordinary. I longed to see threads of these behaviors, filaments that I could weave together in my mind’s eye to make him appear to chuckle in the movie theater, become agitated over political commentary, enthusiastic over who would win the world series. So fearful was I of the dark moods descending, I would stop at the video store on my way home to rent a full feature cassette, not trusting the TV to stave off the mood, each half hour demanding another choice and an invitation into the abyss.
I did not like going out to dinner with him alone, because the anger that could not satisfy itself with me was easy prey for his children whose teen-aged misbehaviors were ripe for tackling. I abhorred being trapped into hearing his denigration of them and my own useless, whining defense of their actions, merely adding fuel to the fire. In dealing with our daughter and son, like many parents, we had different approaches: his critical with a view towards being instructive, mine compassionate with a view towards seeking improvement. Stuart and I had long confronted our polarities. If I prescribed long ago in jest that a knee-jerk liberal should not get involved with a right-wing republican, it didn’t feel so funny now. Stuart coming from the right and my swinging from the left was hitting both our kids smack in the middle.
We did, very sporadi¬cally, see friends and in these engagements Stuart was affable though quiet. Our friends, however, were a boisterous and opinionated lot, noisy enough, and neither of us had to do much more than listen and linger. Alone at home, more and longer, Stuart would stare at the ceiling; he would mumble odd recollections, looking up from a book, walking into the kitchen or the den, sitting up in bed.
But this was all in the beginning of this long and final period of his depression. Before silence. Before, with no more energy for words, he struggled out from the smothering blanket of this terrible disease and found a better place, a place perhaps he yearned for all along.
I fell in love with him as a man in control, a strong man, an athlete and a successful business man used to winning. And I loved him all along the road to losing. But my love wasn’t enough. He needed to do that part himself.