“I have a hard time sleeping,” discloses my client Steve. “ I get up two, three, maybe four times during the night. The next day, I’m beat.”
“Tell me more. What’s really going on when you feel this way?” I ask.
“I don’t know. I’m just exhausted. My work hours are the same. My routine is the same every night. It’s been going on for over six months. Emily and I are fighting all the time. Probably has something to do with that. The stress is getting to me.”
Steve is tired. His disrupted sleep patterns have taken a toll on his body. He’s achy and sore. His eyes have a glazed over look like he’s lost. He seems profoundly sad. Cracking a smile in therapy takes effort. I know that he and Emily have been fighting, and their marriage problems are ever present. He has been self-medicating. His usual one or two glasses of wine each evening has increased to three or four. The couple’s issues are not getting any better; neither is Steve. Steve is showing signs of being depressed. The thought of that label frightens him.
Depression creates havoc in a marriage. When one partner is depressed, the other often feels that this depression is standing in the way of fixing their problems. They may even blame their spouse for hiding behind depression, using it as an excuse for not working through their issues.
The depressed partner is indeed hindered by their condition. It pulls them deeper and deeper into isolation. They may try to stay present, exhibit a positive mood, and hear their partner, but they’re drained. To their spouse, they may appear disinterested and uncaring. However, feeling defeated, they are too spent to do anything about it.
A recent study by The University of Toronto, Flourishing after depression: Factors associated with achieving complete mental health among those with a history of depression, Psychiatry Research, 2016, reports “ Two in five adults (39%) who have experienced major depression can achieve complete mental health within one year.” In other words, they have an overall positive sense of well being and are free from suicidal thoughts and substance abuse for at least one full year.
The study further reveals, “Formerly depressed adults who had emotionally supportive and close relationships were four times more likely to report complete mental health than those without such relationships.” These results back up what therapists have believed for years. Problems get resolved faster and with greater ease if you have a supportive partner. A person can’t do it alone, trapped in their own head.
In Steve’s case, engaging Emily’s interpersonal support is critical for him to flourish. But the dilemma is that they are having marriage problems. Emily may be neither able nor willing to provide Steve with the support he needs for a full recovery to live depression free. This is where we must start.
In therapy, we are working on resolving the marriage problems and improving communication. Steve needs to get out of his head and be more connected with Emily if he is going to gain the support from her that he needs to get better within the marriage.
A goal for Steve is to establish new routines that get him out of his social isolation, overcome his physical health problems, and renew his focus, helping win the fight against depression. New routines trigger the neurotransmitters in the brain, keeping them firing so one can feel healthy again.
An hour a day of physical activity is helping Steve regain healthy sleep patterns. He’s weaning himself away from the nighttime wine ritual. He is making healthier food and beverage choices. Steve and Emily are making social plans with friends, and he has joined up with a group of guys who play handball twice a week at a park close to his office. He’s making progress.
Do you know someone with depression or have first-hand experience of it in your life? Depression is not a life sentence. There is evidence that managing this disorder, and even completely getting over it, is possible. The study cited earlier in this article, includes these encouraging words; “Those whose longest depressive episode lasted more than two years were just as likely to be in complete mental health as those who had had the disorder for only one month.”