Best help for my depressed husband who can't quit his soul-crushing job?
January 6, 2015 1:20 AM   Subscribe

With no hesitation I would tell him to leave this job, but he is the primary breadwinner, and without his income our lives will fall apart almost instantly. I'm taking classes so I can get a better-paying job, but that will months and months from now.

Because of his miserable job, every week from Sunday afternoon to Friday evening, my husband falls into an intense depression. He can't bring himself to eat, smile, have a conversation, laugh, exercise, concentrate, socialize... At night he goes to bed full of dread, then he wakes up aching with anxiety, and he spends his work day feeling completely worthless, frustrated, and depressed. But every Friday evening, when the work week is done, it's like the lights have been turned back on; he can laugh and play; he eats; he is hopeful. But by Sunday afternoon the thought of returning to work is inescapable, and he shuts down again. I'm at a loss for how to help him...

He has had depression since he was a child, and he's on an SSRI, but it has pooped out (the second one to do this). He's about to switch medications and start therapy, but his psychiatrist has asked him to detox from medical marijuana for 30 days before she'll evaluate him. Between this and the kick-in period of the new meds, He likely won't feel any relief for 2-3 months.

In the meantime, I need to know what I can do to support him.

Currently I:
Give him space to just relax when he is at home
Try to avoid problem-solving ("What if you..." "Maybe we should..." "What if you look at it like...")
Try to limit conversations about work stuff
Try to make him smile or laugh
Encourage/force him to eat
Avoid forcing him into social situations
Try to make "fun" happen (by watching certain shows together, making dinners/snacks)
Handle ugly chores like talking to the landlord or insurance company
Express my love and gratitude as often as possible
Generally be empathetic and supportive, though I do break and express my frustration sometimes...

Is there anything else I can do? Any suggestions for him? Are there any behaviors I should absolutely avoid? Is this something we both have to just wait out!?
Seeing him suffer like this is just the worst.
posted by possumbrie to Human Relations (28 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
You don't say what his job is, or why it makes him miserable. Is there any potential that he might be able to find another job, or do classes or training towards finding another? Sometimes just having something to work towards can do a lot towards getting yourself out of the rut.
posted by roshy at 1:29 AM on January 6, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks, I should have added that. (And then I will cease thread-sitting)

Classes and training are out for the time being, because he's so debilitated by depression. I might be able to register for him, but going to class, participating, and doing the homework would be overwhelming. The process of putting together a resume and doing interviews overwhelms him, too, so finding another job is out. We plan on moving to a state with lower cost of living later this year, at which point I will have the higher paying job and we can find him something better.

As for why this job makes him miserable, the reasons are myriad: toxic office culture, negligent management, no upward mobility, the work doesn't suit his strengths or interests...

< /threadsitting>
posted by possumbrie at 1:42 AM on January 6, 2015

I never had depression as bad as his, but according The Depression Cure studies have shown that often Fish oil tablets actually work better than prescription meds for handling depression. And I can tell you that that certainly did end up to be true for me when I tried it.

Maybe he can take these with his current meds? You're supposed to take 2,000-3,000 mg a day of Fish Oil, but it MUST have around twice the EPA to DPA. In other words 2-3 tablets a day of something like this.

It will take about 2.5-3 weeks to start kicking in. Has got nothing to lose in trying it out.
posted by manderin at 2:38 AM on January 6, 2015 [15 favorites]

It's unclear what your work situation is, but if there's any way you can maximise the income you're bringing in to ease the stress on him, could you do that? Can he start looking for another job that is as well paid as his current one? Leaving this one doesn't have to mean instant destitution.

On preview I see that you already have plans that should lead to a better quality of living... Could you either bring those forward or emphasise to him that his current situation will soon be over?
posted by mymbleth at 2:49 AM on January 6, 2015

Is there a place he likes to be in? For me it's a big open air produce market, for my dad it's a view of mountains or a few particular sculpture parks, for one of my friends it's a library, for another it's a nicely-run game store. These are places we can go and exist in and just breathing in there will give us energy to handle the continual grind of existence. The hard part is getting to these places. If your husband has a place like this, could you take him there after work, maybe midweek? Your profile says you're in the bay area; there are lots of free places to go around there that are beautiful, that he might find revitalizing. No need for conversation or anything, really, just looking at a view or smelling nice things and listening to nice sounds.
posted by Mizu at 3:13 AM on January 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

Wow, you guys are in a really hard situation. I am sorry to hear this. I only have a few suggestions:
- Perhaps coax him into doing regular, scheduled physical activities with you in the evening--a walk, 15-30 minute yoga/meditation, an exercise class
- Along the same lines, are there any hobby groups or activities he's interested in that meet during the week, so he would have something to look forward to during the week? Dance classes, visiting any Makerspace-type thing in your area to work on a project together, trivia? Even if it was just the two of you having a planned movie night, board game night, knitting night, whatever the same day every week.
- Maybe the two of your could come up with a decompression routine for him. Like, everything is set up in the morning so he gets home, takes off his shoes, has a cup of tea, reads a book, whatever. Or get home, have tea, go for a walk. And he does that same thing every day.

I have to say, it really sounds like you're doing everything you can. At a certain point, the only person who can make it better for him is him. I say this as a person with depression who knows how difficult it can be to cope. Physical activity, calming, decompression-type routines, and regularly scheduled activities really help me separate from shitty things going on in my life and help me feel more centered and less hopeless and drifting. But they're difficult to implement and keep up on my own when I'm struggling.
posted by schroedinger at 3:19 AM on January 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

Look at grading activity - it's how a lot of therapists work.. not suggesting you become your hubby's therapist but it's a handy skill. He can't face his resume etc.. so he could aim to write up the first page within 2 weeks etc, so the 'pieces' become more manageable to him. Try not to look at the 'mountain'.. rather baby steps.

Very important also for you to self care in this.

Depression is the pits and it is just awful what the wrong job can do to someone :(
Things will/can change in time.
posted by tanktop at 3:41 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

So this is basically me, under slightly different circumstances. Perfectly happy and content when I don't have to do X the next day. Symptoms as bad as your husband's when I do have to do X the next day.

Here's what has helped me:

1. Organic blueberries. Dump frozen blueberries in a glass, add water, microwave for 30s, eat blueberries with spoon. Add more blueberries to remaining water, repeat until can't stand any more blueberries. This gets expensive, but not working is more expensive.

2. Add turmeric to everything, including drinking water.

1 and 2 are anti-inflammatories; inflammation is implicated in depression.

3. Meditate, minimum 15 min/day, ideally an hour twice per day, which typically isn't feasible
posted by zeek321 at 3:42 AM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

A big one is assuming he has the ability to change his life and take responsibility for his depression. Most likely, more you do for him he worse he feels (because he feels your lowered expectation/respect and it feeds the common shame spiral). Rather than lowering your expectations, raise them. Remember he is your partner, not your child. I hope as well that you have supports (family, therapist, friends) because the caregiving role is just as awful as the person with depression and you need a lot of support right now during this crisis (are you working, going to classes AND being a full-time caregiver? Ay-ay-ay!). I wish you both well and I hope you have a speedy recovery together.
posted by saucysault at 4:00 AM on January 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

You say your life would fall apart if he quit his job -
Sorry, but it sounds like your life is falling apart if he stays in his job.

What is more important: your husband's soul, or his pay-check.

Carpe diem. He should quit the job.
You will struggle, but you will survive.
posted by Flood at 4:01 AM on January 6, 2015 [17 favorites]

He should be actively looking for work elsewhere. He might at least be able to get away from the toxic culture & neglectful management. I had this problem for a couple of years & was surprised to find I was sought after on the job market, & got the hell out of there. I'm doing the same work more or less, but the change of setting really helped a lot.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:46 AM on January 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

First off, if it won't get him fired, he should ABSOLUTELY check out mentally of his job. Given your premise, I'm not addressing the find-a-new-job aspect.

This is, at most, a temporary situation. You have plans to move/quit later this year and have the new therapy/drugs in 2-3 months. As sucky as the situation is, without the option to quit or find another job in the near term, he can just focus on the end point and, in the mean time, bear down and last it out. He just needs to string out this line of income until your next plan takes effect. Budget time for him to take off and decompress; the flip side of the 'wait it out' plan is cumulative burnout.

Print or save him a copy of this ("Behold, the field in which I grow my fucks. Lay thine eyes upon it and thou shalt see that it is barren") so he can keep it somewhere discreet but visible (either at home or work). It's basically a bitter version of mindfulness; actual mindfulness works much better but may be beyond his capabilities at the moment.

The one shining hope he needs to focus on is that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel. Stay out of the toxic work culture as much as possible. It's amazing how a shitty work culture will strip smart, driven people of all the positive attributes that they thrive on and convince them that they're worthless. He likely has more allies than he thinks he does, because the loudly toxic people drown out or scare silent reasonable people. As someone who has (recently) been in roughly your husband's position, you sound awesome!

Remind him that it's just work and that it'll be over soon. Ask him whether [work matter] matters in the long run. Have him take some deep breaths and check out of 'work mode' - maybe work with him to figure out a transition activity, or at worst a mentally taxing activity he can use to pass the time and suck up the mental energy he's been using to ruminate about the next day to come. Anticipation of a sucky future is terrible and draining. By making these decisions and directing what energy he has, you can help him break out of analysis paralysis / decision fatigue.

Video games are a fantastic way to pass a bunch of time while avoiding the real world and real world thoughts. Sure, it's a fairly low-utility activity of itself, but the down time from thinking about suckitude is a net positive in this case. They're also VERY well-tuned to deliver positive hits of 'success' to people who are largely lacking that validation in their other work.

Feel free to MeMail me.
posted by bookdragoness at 4:52 AM on January 6, 2015 [20 favorites]

Can you put together his resume for him? Draft some cover letters? I mean, that is really what needs to happen, and if he won't do it, why can't you?
posted by J. Wilson at 5:08 AM on January 6, 2015 [14 favorites]

I would warn against him quitting his job; if he's too depressed to look for work now, he certainly won't cope with looking for work when he's unemployed and the stakes are do-or-die.

Not to mention that one should evade getting a reference from a toxic boss, and the best way to do this is to look for work while currently employed.

But, it's him that has to do these things in any case. Even if you write his resume for him and even if you draft some cover letters, you can't go to the interviews on his behalf. You can't crack open his rib cage, crawl inside his body, and resign from his job on his behalf.

If there really is no better answer than to live through the current situation, then that is what you'll both have to do. I went for three and a half years in a similar situation, while playing snakes and ladders with colossal debt which I didn't know if I would ever be able to pay off, while in possession of skills and qualifications that even my friends poured scorn on as being a dime-a-dozen, and with no access to a telephone and strict control of when I could and could not leave the office (certainly not during interviewing hours). I was extremely unhappy and cried most of the time I was awake, but stayed up late into the night working to drag my skills up to a marketable level. My crying would subside on the weekends, especially on Saturday evenings, when I could lie in bed and watch The X-Files and Captain Scarlet. That took my mind off my situation for a short time.

Eventually I did pay off the debt, and did the only thing I could do to get out of that job: quit. I had a short period of panic when I went back into the market and was told that no, I still had nothing going for me, but I eventually managed to catch a temp agency off guard and go from there. I was so fucking happy and delighted, photocopying things and tidying paperclips into little piles. I had my freedom, and was sometimes working for people who weren't openly contemptuous of me! Woohooo! Nothing has ever been the same since.
posted by tel3path at 5:35 AM on January 6, 2015 [11 favorites]

This isn't sustainable he knows it and you know it. If your husband couldn't work tomorrow, what would happen. His health is suffering and you need a new plan, because this one is hurting him terribly.

1. See if he can go out on disability for right now. Speak to his doctors about this.

2. You need to get a job if you don't have one, or a second job to fill the gap.

3. Have him do a sleep study, sleep apnea is a bitch and can contribute to depression.

Husbunny also suffers from depression and we made the decision for him to return to school for a few semesters so that he could change careers. He went from being an RN to being an Actuary and it has changed his life. He is so much happier and healthier.

This sounds like a situation that's on the edge of crisis for him. Don't put a band-aid on a bullet wound.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:42 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Disability is a good thought but what would your husband do with his time off work? If he didn't have a plan (eg, wait 4-6 weeks for new meds to kick in), he might just move his misery home.

Better in my opinion is a modified work arrangement for depression. If you could get a doctor to order work from home (or other non office environment) your husband might be able to cut out some of the toxic crap and still work. Cutting out commuting and a fixed schedule would give him more time for exercise, therapy, job hunting. Even 2-3 days a week home might be a godsend.

Your husband should visit his doctor and discuss his options for work. I had to ask for the modification but my doctor signed off immediately. The accommodation was really helpful. I had temporarily reduced duties to go with it, which rocked.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:40 AM on January 6, 2015

His job isn't his problem. His depression is. I'm sorry to say this, but he needs to get his shit together and get a resume out there. I spent 2 years like this after an ill-judged move to a new city and it was just totally wasted time. Even if he quit his job, he'd sit at home all day being miserable, and still not putting together a resume. You may need to literally force him to do it. Just sit there at home with him and do his resume with him.
posted by empath at 6:44 AM on January 6, 2015

This is really hard. I think you are doing all the right things.

This may or may not be good advice, but with respect to:

Avoid forcing him into social situations -- while I agree it's good not to force him to socialize, if you have close friends in your area, spending time with them could be good. So I would say strongly encourage some socialization, but of course don't push it too far if he just totally refuses.

I also think it would also be good for him if he had some kind of low-intensity hobby, even something as simple as a book of Sudoku puzzles, that he can work on during his downtime. When work sucks it's good to find some other domain, however small, in which to achieve a sense of accomplishment.
posted by Asparagus at 7:18 AM on January 6, 2015

Since he wakes up aching with anxiety, something like a massage once a week or so might help.
posted by egg drop at 8:03 AM on January 6, 2015

You say he can't quit his job...but is he actively looking for another one?
posted by radioamy at 8:23 AM on January 6, 2015

If you don't have children, and you (plural) can't find a way to improve the current situation, it's time to let your lives fall apart. Start figuring out the least damaging plan for him to quit (finding subletters instead of being stuck with high rent, saving money, avoiding making enemies, etc.) and put it into motion. Having this end point in sight will likely help the situation a LOT if his depression is indeed situational... nothing feels better than getting ready to leave a bad job!- and hopefully that will give him the energy to start putting the "find new work" part of the plan into effect sooner rather than later.
posted by metasarah at 8:44 AM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

Jobs as shitty as this one lock your perspective down in the miserable present, and make it hard to imagine there could be any other way of living. It's like prison. Start a passive job search for now - get the resume done between the two of you and hand it to a recruiter to shop around, and get his LinkedIn sorted. Something may come up. An actual prospect or two on the horizon might plant a few ideas, at least, and may remind him he's got value that his current employer isn't seeing.

Totally second a change of scene, even if it's temporary - plan a weekend away.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:07 AM on January 6, 2015

It sounds like you're doing a lot of the right things. I have a friend with depression and he tells me that it helps him a lot to have something (anything!) to look forward to. So maybe experiment with planning a holiday or something. Or something else that you know he really likes: a visit with a special friend, a special dinner -- whatever he would really enjoy. I don't know if that'll help, but if it does you could space out a couple of things over the next few months to get you over the hump until the medication kicks in. And yes to videogames too if he likes them: they will neutrally kill a lot of time.

I am not an expert but I don't think quitting his job right now would help. It could plunge him into a major depressive episode, which would be harder to get out of than his current problem, which sounds situational. If you weren't expecting an upturn with the new medication then I might say something different, but this sounds like a problem that you're on track to solving, and therefore you just need a bridge or short-term fix. Good luck.
posted by Susan PG at 10:25 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

(Oh and yes to the passive job search too.)
posted by Susan PG at 10:26 AM on January 6, 2015

I was forced out of a soul-killing job like your husband's about two years ago. I had been very sick and depressed from the work for a few years and I am the primary breadwinner. Like you, I saw no way out at the time. I became so depressed that it drastically impacted my performance and I was removed from the job. I took a 30% pay cut when I changed jobs and our lives did fall apart financially, very quickly. We ended up losing our home and filing bankruptcy. We lowered our standard of living and the world did not end. Today I am healthy and happy and productive in my new job.

Best thing that ever happened.

Good luck to you both.
posted by harrietthespy at 11:39 AM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

You sound like a very kind and generous person, and perhaps it's just the way you've written it...

You've told us what you're doing and asked what else you could do for him?

What is HE doing to help remedy the situation? Aside from going to the job and earning the paycheck, what actions is he taking to better the situation?

My own history (anecdotal) with depression was that I had to be an active agent in my treatment...which is to say in addition to the 'passive' things, I had to do 'active' things to change my situation which ultimately led me to feeling like I had some tiny bit of control over my fate. And that was a huge win. Meds gave me a baseline where I could cope from, but doing things like looking for another job (similar situation) and exercising and cutting off toxic relationships helped, too. Does that make sense? Meds were passive - doing things was active.

So I'm just wondering if something like that is happening here? You seem like the best support system anyone could want, but he's got to lead the way here. Perhaps he might if you did....less?

Dunno. Just a thought.
posted by Thistledown at 1:21 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Honestly I think you guys are doing well. You are making the investment in big changes that will pay off by the end of the year and you are coping with the short term hardship without fighting, drinking or resenting each other. I think you should both be proud of that and grateful to each other, lots of couples would fall apart.

Since your question focuses on helping your husband in the short term (which most replies seem to be totally ignoring) I would suggest that you talk about the future openly in front of your husband. Casually and often mention how things will be different soon, tak about how nice it will be when x is no longer a factor or y happens or you're closer to z person or place. And try to make small happy moments, go for a quiet walk together or sit on the backyard and watch the sunset. Getting outside in the fresh air and getting exercise are the two best things for me to forget about work.
posted by fshgrl at 1:26 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

First: I recall that some of the responses to this AskMe were particularly helpful when I was in a similar (though not as acute) situation:


Vitamin D
Vitamin D
Vitamin D
Vitamin D
Vitamin D

Lastly: echoing Thistledown, I think his perspective could be greatly affected by having the chance to experience some situations & challenges outside of his job. If he's insulated from The Rest Of Life, then that leaves him having only the experience of his Job. Which has nothing to offer him. Except a snowballing effect....
posted by armoir from antproof case at 7:47 PM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

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