@hubbydepressed is mum to three kids, runs her own business and has an amazing husband who also happens to have depression and anxiety. She writes to help her cope and help others who, in secret, are supporting a loved one with a long term mental illness. You can read more at hubbydepressed.wordpress.com. You can also follow her on Twitter, where she's @hubbydepressed. We have kept her identity private, as per her wishes.
Just like no one grows up expecting or planning to have a mental health condition, no one grows up planning to be the carer to someone with a mental health condition.
When I met my hub I was 17, he was 21 and we both worked as newspaper sub-editors. He designed the front page and the lead sports page, and all the other high profile stuff. I did the pages in the bowels of the paper that no one really reads in between attending university classes. I wasn’t a big fan of his to start with, in fact I was dating someone else in the newsroom, but after drinks, he ended up walking me home and we kissed outside my parent’s apartment. The rest is history. Twenty years, three kids and two grandparents living in a granny annex at the bottom of the garden later, we are still together.
I love my husband deeply and am constantly amazed by his tenacity and commitment to our family. There are days, weeks and sometimes months where his depression and anxiety mean he can barely get out of bed, that taking the bins out feels too much and the medication he is on makes him feel like a zombie. I know he’s had moments where he has felt that we would all be better off without him. On those days, I know his love for us and sense of duty is all that gets him through. I know during those times the last thing he wants to do is respond to a tantruming three-year-old who has the wrong colour bowl, deal with a father-in-law with dementia or break up a war between a feuding 8 and 10-year-old. I am so proud of him, that he remains driven and focused by our family and the kind of husband and dad he wants to be.
While I am seen, and classified, as a ‘carer’ to my husband, I don’t see myself that way. Ours is not a relationship of hierarchy or dependence, it is a mutual endeavour and I get just as much out as I put in. I’d encourage all ‘carers’ to think about why they do what they do, and what they get out of their particular set of arrangements. We aren’t knights in shining armour saving damsels in distress! If my husband wasn’t at home I wouldn’t be able to have the career that I do, nor would we have been able to give my elderly parents a home at the bottom of the garden. I care for my husband, I don’t ‘care’ for him. Most of the time the label ‘carer’ is irrelevant and I don’t use it. In fact, it is only really in the last year or so that I’ve come to accept it at all.
But this isn’t just a love-fest where I tell you how fantastic my husband is, and how we have a great and rock-solid relationship. The reality is, having a partner with a long-term mental health condition is shit and I wish he didn’t have depression and anxiety. There’s so much I still don’t get, and I often say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing, exacerbating issues and making things worse.
My husband won’t tell people about his condition, which means as his partner I am often isolated, feel alone and have to make up excuses when he doesn’t arrive at a family gathering or event with friends. Sometimes I get cross when I have to come home at the end of a long day at work and have to cook, clean, help with homework and put the kids to bed, because I get tired too!
My hub’s depression and anxiety feel like a big cloud, a dark secret and something he is ashamed of. I know it is a medical condition, and there should be no shame involved, but that’s just me and I know he is in a totally different place.
The biggest advice I have for other carers out there is that it is a tough journey and you need to move forward on the basis of unconditional love. We have grown closer through the years, but I know for others that it can really tear a relationship apart. Know that you are not alone and seek support in whatever way you can. For me, twitter and my blog have been a real lifeline enabling me to connect with other people in similar situations, and get things off my chest. Over the years, I’ve moved on from trying to fix my husband and make it better to an acceptance of his condition. Through trial and error, we’ve come to identify the practical things we both need to do when he has a major episode. Simple things like making time to be alone together, checking in on him whilst I’m at work, giving him quiet space alone by taking the kids out and taking deep breaths when I am about to explode all help. Another thing that helps is reflecting that the condition is cyclical, it has highs and lows; and when he is in a deep depression it helps me to remember that every time before he has come out the other side and he will again.
We don’t have all the answers, and life is anything but easy, but we are committed to each other and we are getting there.