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My husband thinks my depression is a choice, howdo I talk to him?
June 17, 2010 2:50 PM   Subscribe

I have depression and my husband is not being supportive in the way that I would like. I have tried to communicate this to him and it is not sinking in.

I have been unemployed for months and I am showing all the classic signs of depression. It's easy for me to recognize because I have suffered with it off and on since I was a teenager including being hospitalized a couple of times. So i know this is not just a bad mood. I also know what I need to do like excercise and sleep well and stuff. that is not my question. The problem is that it is an incredible struggle to DO those things. Also I have not been doing the things I need to do to find a job. Most days are spent just aimlessly surfing the internet. If we got rid of the internet i would probably sleep all day. I have seen a therapist and I have an appointment with a psychiatrist next week.

My husband is a great guy 99.9% of the time and I love him very much. But he thinks that depression is a choice and that I want to be miserable, which of course makes me absolutely furious. He says I have nothing to be depressed about because we have a great house, financially stable, good marriage etc (which is true). He is supportive of me going to the psychiatrist but he doesn't think I need medication. He tells me what to do, like go for a walk and go to networking events in my field and stuff. I already know I need ot do that. I know he thinks he is trying to help but it is just making me angry and stubborn. He gets moody a lot and he would be v. upset if I ordered him to do this or do that. I told him I just needed him to be there for me but he did not let up. Before he left for work he told me what he wanted me to do today. because of the way he was acting, I don't want to do it.

So what do I say to him?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is he willing to educate himself about depression? There are various forums and books he can use as resources.

Would you consider bringing him in on one of your therapy sessions to discuss this?
posted by moira at 2:55 PM on June 17, 2010


How would you like him to act? It seems to me that he is already doing everything right, but your perception of is is distorted due to your depression.
posted by halogen at 2:58 PM on June 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


You tell him that you're taking steps to get your depression under control and that it's not his job to tell you what to do. He might see his instructions as helpful, but as my dad is fond of pointing out, "help isn't help unless it helps." You can tell him that you appreciate the effort, but that this particular attempt at helping you isn't actually benefiting you. Can you give him concrete feedback on what exactly you'd like him to do?

As for medication: he doesn't get to decide whether or not you need it. That's a decision that you and your psychiatrist need to make.

Depression isn't a choice. You've already made huge steps toward getting better by getting professional help. Hang in there.
posted by corey flood at 3:00 PM on June 17, 2010 [15 favorites]


If you search for "depressed spouse" on Amazon you'll find several books on the topic. Maybe order one for him to read?
posted by Jacqueline at 3:03 PM on June 17, 2010


One thing that helped relatives of mine accept their own depression as a "real" medical condition rather than something they could/should just "snap out of" was putting it in the context of other medical conditions and diseases.

We would never expect someone to "get over" diabetes by strength of will or consider it wrong for a person with arthritis to need ongoing physical therapy. Maybe discussing the illness in those terms -- only focusing on diseases your husband or his family/friends have -- can help a little along with, as moira said, helping him educate himself about how the brain chemistry of depression actually works.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:06 PM on June 17, 2010 [7 favorites]


How about taking him along to a therapy appointment?
Maybe if a pro tells him that it's an illness, not an attitude problem, things will change.
posted by angrycat at 3:20 PM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was just in your position for close to a year and felt the exact same thing you are. However, the thing about it is that they CAN'T understand because they haven't been there. They can't know that it's not a choice by you just telling them. I told my wife over and over again, "you can't tell a crazy person they're crazy."

So, you need to understand this and work on it on your own. If you need help, you need to explicitly ask for it. Part of it, though, is you taking responsibility for yourself and your condition. I realized that by saying I wasn't getting support from my wife, I was partially putting my issues on her and blaming her. You need to talk to your therapist about this and if they think it's a good idea to involve him in your sessions, then, so be it.

He is not advocating for you, you need to advocate for yourself.
posted by TheBones at 3:20 PM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


How would you like him to act? It seems to me that he is already doing everything right, but your perception of is is distorted due to your depression.

Why should he be supportive of you when you're refusing to do things for him? It's a vicious, downward cycle. Somebody has to stop it first.

I Just want to point out that these are definitely the wrong answers and just show a lack of understanding of depression. Also, I agree with the others who said that helping him to learn more about depression would be the way to go.
posted by Jeeb at 3:27 PM on June 17, 2010 [18 favorites]


I have a feeling he is going to understand this best if he comes along and has a short chat with your psychiatrist. Your psychiatrist could suggest some books for him to read too. Failing that, tell your psychiatrist about the problem and neutrally inform your husband afterward, "Dr. so and so says . . ."

Meanwhile, I suggest you just explain that for you, this is a recurring illness, and that what helps you feel better is . . . . If he is good when you have, for example, colds, tell him how much you appreciate the way he listens to the information you give him about what helps you when you have a cold.

I will tell you that my husband is also a fixer, and when I feel upset or sick, it helps him to stop trying to order me to cooperate with his solutions when I explain what the professional told me, and also tell him what specific things he can do that would assist me .
posted by bearwife at 3:28 PM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


If your husband had posted the question from the other side he would probably be critised for enabling you. It is absolutely exhausing to watch a loved one struggle with depression where their needs are a gaping black hole sucking in all the relationship energy.

Your depression is not his illness to solve, YOU need to be doing the hard work of eating well, exercising and looking for work. Focusing on how he isn't doing what you want him to do (treat you with kid gloves) allows you to avoid facing the fact that you have a serious illness that only you can work on. It sucks, but if you had diabetes you wouldn't expect him to take insulin for you or modify his diet while you didn't, right?

I think in a relationship you need to believe your partner is acting out for your and your relationship's best interest. He sounds pretty supportive to me in a shitty situation.
posted by saucysault at 3:33 PM on June 17, 2010 [16 favorites]


I agree 100% with saucysault! I would have been mad as hell at them for saying that a year ago, but on the other side, it's true, advocate for yourself, you do the hard work. Depression IS a black hole. Anything he is going to do is going to get sucked down and completely forgotten, and the more he does, the more you are going to want from him, I've been that black hole and it sucks.

Also, if you drink, QUIT DRINKING, if you do drugs, QUIT DOING DRUGS! Not even a single drink, ever!
posted by TheBones at 3:37 PM on June 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've been depressed before; I understand what it's like. Still, I basically agree with saucysault. What eventually got me out of it was that I chose to see it as something I was responsible for, and something I could change. So I did. I started exercising vigorously and eating properly, and I stopped focusing on the negative. Those first steps were enormously difficult--though in retrospect, I don't think they should have been. But slowly the depression abated and I felt like myself again. Having gone through it, I don't believe depression is like a broken leg; it is something that sufferers--myself included--exacerbate by their choices. I think it is something we can pull ourselves out of, and no talk about brain chemistry is going to change my mind. I think that's a category error; in fact, I think that sort of deterministic, fatalistic thinking makes it worse, not better. So, bottom line, I think you should do what your husband tells you to do. It feels hard; I don't deny that. But it's absolutely possible, and it's how I pulled myself out of the depths of depression.
posted by smorange at 3:40 PM on June 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


"If your husband had posted the question from the other side he would probably be critised for enabling you. It is absolutely exhausing to watch a loved one struggle with depression where their needs are a gaping black hole sucking in all the relationship energy.

Your depression is not his illness to solve, YOU need to be doing the hard work of eating well, exercising and looking for work. Focusing on how he isn't doing what you want him to do (treat you with kid gloves) allows you to avoid facing the fact that you have a serious illness that only you can work on."


And are, according to the information in your question, not doing. There's more going on, of course, but at least part of what may be confusing and frustrating to your husband is that you write, "I also know what I need to do like excercise and sleep well and stuff...Most days are spent just aimlessly surfing the internet. If we got rid of the internet i would probably sleep all day," while criticizing him for suggesting that you not, y'know, do that.

As I said, I recognize that there's a lot more going on here (telling you not to get medication is a red flag, obviously), but his frustration with you has a logic to it.
posted by brozek at 3:45 PM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


saucysault, she's not asking him to solve her problems, she's wanting him to stop treating her like she's malingering. Telling someone they have nothing to be depressed about when they are depressed is pretty much the exact opposite of being a supportive partner.

OP, I'm sorry that you feel like your husband is not supportive. I think corey flood had some great advice about giving concrete feedback to your husband about your needs. And bringing him to a therapy session is also a great idea -- if he's never been to therapy himself he may have no clue what kind of work you're doing there and how it helps your mental state.
posted by palomar at 3:45 PM on June 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


He simply doesn't understand. He needs to learn more about it, but you're not the person to teach him. As backwards as it seems, you are in just about the worst position to tell him he's wrong. He needs to hear it from a third party.

He is doing his best to help given his understanding of the situation. When you say, "No, that doesn't help," he's hearing that in the context of what he already "knows," and it doesn't change his understanding.

"Hey, if you go for a walk, get some exercise, and take care of that job app stuff, you'll feel so much better!"

"I know."

"Great, so go do it."

"I can't.

"What?! You know you should, and you are physically capable of doing it. How could this be anything other than choosing not to?"

You know how it could be. He doesn't. That's the disconnect. Get him to read or listen to or watch something that explains it. Try telling him that you can't explain it very well, but you need him to understand you better, so could he please read this?
posted by whatnotever at 3:56 PM on June 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


As the spouse of someone who struggles with depression, I'd like to point out that your husband may be getting fed up with you not actually trying to help yourself. You freely admit to not exercising and job-hunting.

He loves you, but loving someone who is clearly in need but refuses to let you help (or cannot be helped, as he cannot actually help you with depression) is absolutely exhausting. He likely feels like he is pouring his all into helping you feel better and nothing is coming of it.

You have to focus on yourself and not him; if he's like me, he's just loving you too much to notice that what he is doing is counter-productive. It sounds corny, but it's completely true in my experience.


(His comments about your depression being a choice may be coming from the same place, incorrect as they may be.)
posted by InsanePenguin at 4:00 PM on June 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'd like to add that when people say you should do this and that – and you should be doign these things - I am confident that no one means you should jump out of bed tomorrow and do every single in the world you are supposed to be doing.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:05 PM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some people just don't understand that depression is a biological issue, and not one of self-determination. It's not a willpower thing; it's chemical.

That being said, surely he has things where he obviously needs to "just do it," but doesn't. Weight loss/working out is a good example. We all know that we need to just eat better and exercise more, so how come we don't?

I'm not telling you to snap back with "Why don't you just lose 20 pounds, then?" because that would be supremely bitchy. I'm just saying it's comparable, is all.
posted by ErikaB at 4:08 PM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Asker is trying to help herself, by doing what she can, which at this point means going to the doctor.

It took many years for my loved ones to come to terms with my depression, even those who suffered from it themselves. In many ways it is very personal and individual.

If your husband needs something tangible to do to support you (because his words aren't helping), perhaps you can think of what would make it easier for you to make it through the day. Seriously, when I've gotten so depressed I couldn't even get up to shower, my family telling me I stunk or needed to shower didn't help. What did help was when my mom brought a hot cloth and some water to me. Tangible action that makes things easier for you until the medical professionals can get things sorted.
posted by Danila at 4:14 PM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


You may have heard this before, if so, I apologize. You can change *you*, but not other people. This includes how people think. You say you have an appointment with a psychiatrist, good. But if your husband doesn't want to be educated about depression, there is nothing you can do about it, except take care of yourself, which is your job. No one else can take care of you, you also have to look out for #1!

I agree with saucysault.
posted by 6:1 at 4:35 PM on June 17, 2010


he thinks that depression is a choice and that I want to be miserable

Is it possible he had a friend, relative, or former girlfriend who had depression and dealt with it poorly?

I have known a couple people who seemed to get something out of their (situational, not incapacitating) depression. I'm not saying they weren't at all depressed, or that they could have or should have "snapped out of it"--but there were patterns of behavior that seemed very attention-seeking and times when they seemed to be using their depression in manipulative ways. Is it possible that your husband knew someone like this and that's his only frame of reference for depression? (Not saying that you are acting in attention-seeking or manipulative ways, just that negative experiences with friends and loved ones can really color one's future choices and interpretations.)

That wouldn't make his view of depression correct, healthy, or helpful, but it might make the problem easier to address. I also think that having him come with you to your psychiatrist could be very helpful.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:44 PM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Your husband is who he is. He's probably baffled and he doesn't get why you feel the way you do. Yet you want to squeeze support out of him and him alone. Sometimes the people who you love you won't be able to react perfectly for you in ways you need, despite their love for you.

Do you have any friends or relatives who can provide you with the support you need? It seems like your anger and fury might make him feel like he's walking on eggshells around you and that's an unpleasant and unfair way to make him feel bad just because he doesn't know what to do.
posted by anniecat at 4:56 PM on June 17, 2010


But he thinks that depression is a choice and that I want to be miserable, which of course makes me absolutely furious.

This is the problem. My wife has anxiety/panic issues, which were debilitating when they were at their worst. Her father said "it's all in your head," and my wife agreed that it was. And she said there were a lot of other things in there, too, which she couldn't change. I'm not sure if that worked for him, but it helped me.

My wife went on medication, and it was great. She didn't have to worry about being overwhelmed by unexplainable anxiety, or even if she could explain it she couldn't stop it. She was able to quit her medication and is doing well now, but she knows there is medication that can help if things turn bad.

As him if he's had "off days," the kind where everything just feels wrong. Except that tomorrow isn't better, it's more of the same. I don't have depression, but it might be a fitting analogy - something is off, and you can't change it with a vigorous walk or thinking happy thoughts. If that doesn't help, have him talk to your therapist and psychiatrist about depression in general. And if there are people you know who take medication, maybe they can explain the difference between being on and off medication. After my wife started her medication, she found out that a number of her friends were on similar things, and had similar stories.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:13 PM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I'm in a funk, or any degree of depression, being dragged on a bike ride, or told "knock it the fuck off" or even more, ahem, gentle suggestions are exactly the seed my crystalline psyche needs to get back on the right track. Perhaps he's the same way. So with that thought, he's doing exactly what would help him, exactly what he things *will* help you. Alternately, leaving you alone and *not* making the suggestions hasn't helped, so actually making the suggestions may actually help.

If you expect him to be understanding , you have to be understanding, yourself.
posted by notsnot at 5:19 PM on June 17, 2010


There are two different and seemingly contradictory arguments going on here: on one hand, depression is a medical condition that you can't just will your way out of; on the other, depression is something you have to make an effort to treat.

Both of these are true. Depression is a very real and debilitating illness, and not just self-pity. At its worst, it can completely wipe out your motivation to shower or walk down the hallway, never mind exercise or work. And the things that it keeps you from doing are the same things that can help you manage it.

To climb out of it, first you have to find something to grab on to - that's the hardest part. Sometimes it comes from within, sometimes another person has to step in to help. Therapy can be that first thing, or medication. From there, you get a little better, and you get the strength to do a little more, and you get a little better still, and so on. I've formed a lot of healthy habits and ways of thinking that help manage my depression, but I could not have jumped into any of them from an unmanaged state - it was the therapy and medication that gave me the toehold, and from there I've fought my way back up.

Anyway, about your husband. He may genuinely think that his suggestions are trying to help - in which case, explain to him that they're counterproductive, and tell him why. Maybe they sound condescending and micromanaging to you, maybe you feel like he doesn't understand you, etc. And explain to him exactly what you do need; if you said "be there for me," well, that's kind of nebulous. What can he give you that can help? Listening to you vent? Holding you? Staying calm if you're crying? Specifics can really help.

You'll also need to talk to him about what he needs from you. Taking care of a depressed partner can be incredibly draining, and he has to take care of himself, too. Maybe he needs a certain amount of alone time, or to see evidence that you're improving, or something.

The suggestion to take him to a therapy session is a good one; the above discussion might work well in the presence of your therapist. Alternately, if you have a therapist appointment in the very near future, talk about this with him/her so you have a better idea what to talk about with your husband.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:40 PM on June 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


Have you tried just telling him to stop saying that? Don't say "It bothers me when you say that" just tell him "Stop saying that." or just "I don't want to have an argument, I disagree and I don't want you to tell me that anymore. I will talk to my therapist about it."

Something along those lines.
posted by delmoi at 5:41 PM on June 17, 2010


Your depression is not his illness to solve

I thinks it's pretty clear that this is not so much a case of her wanting anyone to "solve" her illness for her.

Whatever his intentions (and I'm sure they are good and well meaning) if he believes depression is a choice and that you "have nothing to be depressed about", He definitely doesn't really understand major depressive disorder.

While what many others are saying is true, that only you can help yourself, and it is exhausting to deal with a loved one in this state, and you should definitely try to be understanding of his position, it is completely reasonable to expect him to try to learn more about this illness and ways to help you deal with it.

I agree with those that said perhaps he should accompany you to your therapist/psychiatrist. I wish I could tell you how to explain this illness to him, I cannot, but maybe your therapist could.

I have suffered from depression for most of my life and more than one relationship ended badly because of it. I think I know where you're coming from and I wish you the best.
posted by Jeeb at 5:46 PM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


But he thinks that depression is a choice

Well, he is partly right. You do have a choice in how to handle your depression, but you're not choosing to be depressed in the first place. To borrow the diabetes analogy, yeah the diabetic has to follow their diet and take their insulin, and that is their choice, but they didn't choose to be a freakin' diabetic in the first place! And sometimes diabetics don't do what they should do to be healthy...that doesn't mean they don't care or that they want to be sick. It means they have an illness that is difficult to cope with and sometimes they cope with it by not coping. Depression is no different.

That said, I don't see any villains in this situation. Depression is hard to cope with, for both the person who has it and the people close to them. You need to do what you gotta do to take care of yourself, but sometimes you fall off the wagon. That's okay, just get back up again. And the same for your husband. He needs to walk a fine line between being supportive, and being an enabler. That's not easy either. If he's willing, learning more about depression and going to the doctor with you will help him deal with it.
posted by cottonswab at 6:04 PM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


The difference between a major depressive episode and a "funk" is a little bit like the difference between getting back to Earth from the Moon and jumping the last step to get to the ground. Those who get a nasty reaction after offering advice like "oh, come on, it's easy enough, just do it!" are almost certainly confusing the two: I don't think he gets what you're going through at all.

I second the suggestion for family therapy or a support group of some kind. It might even help him to have a neutral party he feels safe complaining about you to without you being there: he clearly has a need to take charge of this situation, which isn't going to happen, and it's no doubt very frustrating. You can no more magically make him okay with this idea than he can make you go to a networking seminar.

You've already taken several major steps towards getting this under control, so good for you. I have a feeling that once your meds are working right (and good luck getting them straightened out in a timely fashion!) this issue will largely resolve itself in the short term, but he should be prepared for future episodes. If for no other reason than that "I'm going to take you to a doctor today" is a more helpful fix than "get up and do things!"
posted by SMPA at 6:14 PM on June 17, 2010


"He tells me what to do, like go for a walk and go to networking events in my field and stuff. I already know I need ot do that. I know he thinks he is trying to help but it is just making me angry and stubborn. He gets moody a lot and he would be v. upset if I ordered him to do this or do that. I told him I just needed him to be there for me but he did not let up. Before he left for work he told me what he wanted me to do today. because of the way he was acting, I don't want to do it."

on a slight tangent, your husband seems extremely controlling. perhaps considering how this could be adding to your depression.
posted by assasinatdbeauty at 6:18 PM on June 17, 2010


I would like to point you to this post on the blog Moosh in Indy. The blog is written by a woman named Casey, but that particular post is by her husband and how he deals with her depression. It might be helpful for your husband to read it.
posted by apricot at 8:25 PM on June 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm really sorry you're having a hard time, OP, and I understand where you are coming from. I can have anxiety problems and bless him, my poor husband just does not understand it. But I understand that he really can't understand what's going on with me, and that he's trying his best when he tells me to "just relax."

I think what you really need from your husband is just a little space in the form of "you're not going to do anything today because you feel awful, and that's okay" -- if too many of those days happen, you yourself are going to get tired of it and naturally start picking yourself up out of the depression, because you know that eventually you do have to start taking the right steps. Maybe just ask your husband to give you a few days where he doesn't expect anything of you, doesn't try to help, and just lets you be. Hopefully he can understand that a few days are no big deal, and you can get the pressure off.
posted by ukdanae at 12:17 AM on June 18, 2010


ukdane, depression is a disease that needs medical attention. You don't "naturally pick yourself up" from a chemical imbalance and telling someone that implies the depression is something they have caused and can cure themselves. "You know ... you do have start taking the right steps", except that depression fucks with what you know and don't know (those pesky brain chemicals again) and whether you are even worth the effort, since motivation is completely sapped away.

As the OP noted, this has been going on for months, is getting worse and they have probably had plenty of pressure-free days that actually deepened the depression. It is a lot easier to treat depression in the early stages rather than after benign neglect has led to immobilising severe depression where the only person who can work on it gives up entirely - up to and including suicide.

I don't know anyone who got past depression (and plenty of people do - OP don't give up!) that didn't agree that the tough love of the people supporting them, the hard work demanded by their therapist and the medication is what got them out of the downward spiral with the black dog.
posted by saucysault at 6:24 AM on June 18, 2010


He's never been there and may never understand it, but one thing I think you may be missing here is that your depression may be having an effect on him. He may feel like he is failing in some way if you are unhappy. While taking the appropriate steps to help yourself with your depression, perhaps you could try to do / say little things to reassure your husband that you know your life is good and you know you have a great husband, you know you have a great house, you know you are financially stable etc. Sometimes it can be as simple as telling him or saying "thanks for bringing me that glass of water, it was refreshing *kiss*"

Maybe if you show him that you KNOW you have a good life, he will be able to understand that depression causes you to FEEL and THINK in other terms. I trust that your depression has not gotten to the point where you don't KNOW such things because you are trying to help yourself and you wrote in the question that the great marriage, financial stability, etc was true.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:14 AM on June 18, 2010


So what do I say to him?
I vote you tell him to back off and tell him to worry about taking care of himself. As others have mentioned, it is not his job to tell you what to do. And what I read from your post is that when he does tell you what to do it creates a dynamic that seems to make you want to do the opposite (rebel). As you recover you will want to do these things and become motivated to do them on your own at which point you may decide ASK for his help.
posted by heatherly at 11:14 AM on June 18, 2010


My apologies if i came across as trying to tell the OP to pull his or her socks up, saucysault - I wasn't trying to imply that, I was trying to say that the OP knows what they need to do (and is doing it, is seeing a therapist next week, etc.), but the immediate need seemed to be convincing the husband to give some support in the form of space and understanding.

I don't know anyone who got past depression (and plenty of people do - OP don't give up!) that didn't agree that the tough love of the people supporting them, the hard work demanded by their therapist and the medication is what got them out of the downward spiral with the black dog.

I respectfully disagree that this is the only way to deal with depression. I am someone who reacts exactly the opposite to what you described here - if someone tried to "tough love" me in the middle of a dark period, that would make me incredibly anxious and feel even more overwhelmed. Giving me "assignments" during periods like that would be incredibly counterproductive. I heard a lot of myself in the OP's question, which is why I responded the way I did.
posted by ukdanae at 1:20 PM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


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