In Their Words…Justin
We have come to learn just how much men appreciate reading/listening to the stories of other men who have dealt with depression, anxiety, and the challenges that go along with these conditions. I have reached out to the 140 men who attend our support groups and asked them if they would be willing to share a story that was important to them that relates to the struggles they have had. I have made no edits to the content of what they wrote and the words that follow are those of the man who wrote them. Today I am sharing a story by Justin, who is a guy attending one of the Face It Men’s groups.
Depression can be incredibly difficult to manage in one’s life. It can be even more difficult to navigate when it impacts more than just yourself. Whether we know it or not, our mental illness can have major effects on our family, friends and loved ones. So how do we stay focused on self-care, recovery and relapse prevention while still maintaining external relationships?
I have had Major Depressive Disorder for most of my life. I had a major relapse about 2 years ago and since then my mental health has become on the forefront for my family. It has become part of our daily conversation and norms. I consider myself very fortunate. I have an incredible wife who understands the disease. She understands how it feels and what it is like. She has been a great ally when I have been in the abyss of depression. Even though she understands and ‘gets it’, it is still something that we need to work through. We have had to change they dynamic between us to get through it.
Below are 4 things that we had to establish and maintain for us to get through this together:
1. Be Honest – I have had to be 100% completely honest with her. She knows what medications I take, the dosages, where they are, and when I take them. She knows when all my Dr appointments are. She knows when my support groups are. I keep my medications in a weekly pill case and she can tell when I haven’t taken them. She has learned how to gently remind me to take them or ask if I have. We disguise it as a generic question “have you brushed your teeth today?” Instead of outright asking if I took my meds as that can be a trigger if I am in a bad place. It is just a weird tactic we use. I also agreed that when I am in a bad spot or suffering, I would let her know. Even if I think I am going to get through it, she needs to know. A simple text that says “I am really struggling today. I am ok but just wanted to let you know.” It truly helps so she knows where I am at and she can help me sort it out if needed. I also am open to the thoughts that I am having. I have found for me that if I am struggling with suicidal thoughts, being open and talking about them lessens the impact on me and minimizes it.
2. Establish Ground Rules – We also have established ground rules as to when she needs to interject herself and take over. When we reach certain levels of depression, we are no longer capable of making appropriate decisions for ourselves. We have a number system. 1-10. 10 is the worst. If I say or my wife determines I am at a 9 or 10, I relinquish control to her and she has the right to admit me to the hospital or whatever means she feels appropriate. I know this will be tough to work through, but we needed to establish something where she takes over if I cannot be trusted or am a threat to myself. I have written a Recovery and Well-being Plan (like a WRAP plan) and have included all this information in it and have provided it to my wife as well as my therapist. We determined that we need to be prepared and be proactive.
3. Self-Care – We are all in need of self-care. We have agreed to give each other that time alone. She needs it just as much as I do. Dealing with me and walking on eggshells at times is not easy or fun. So, we always make sure that she gets her time away from the kids to do the things that bring her peace and center herself. We will also arrange time for me to be away from the kids and house to stay centered etc. She also allows me time to go to bed before her and meditate when I need to or suggest self-care activities if she notices I am a little off.
4. Date Night – We hold ourselves accountable for having monthly date nights. Sometimes it is just a quick dinner, sometimes it is an all-out date. Either way, we always schedule one every month. We use that time to connect/reconnect but also to discuss how things are going. It has become very cathartic to know she will just listen and we can have an ongoing dialogue about my recovery. It doesn’t always revolve around my depression, but it serves as a check point in our hectic lives to ensure we stay connected.
Our lives and relationship have greatly changed to manage my depression. It has taken a shift in our thinking, our actions, and our interactions to move through this together. It isn’t perfect by any means and we are learning more each day how to coexist with it. I am not the person she married 13 years ago and likewise for her. Trying to understand the new normal for each other and how we can support each other is what gets us though.
Please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or thoughts and I will pass them along to Justin.