A Difficult Journey
Marriage. One word can evoke so many different responses. Depending on each individual’s experience one person may be thinking of love, dreams, and of a future, someone else may be thinking of a ball and chain, maybe feeling hurt, disappointment, or loneliness. I think of marriage as a beautiful journey and worthy struggle. Some days are focused more on the beauty and others are on the struggle. Good marriages do not just happen, they are created on purpose, and they take two people committed to that very purpose.
I met my husband in college. He was the last person I had ever seen myself marrying. He had blond hair and blue eyes, he was smart, a complete nerd and introverted. I had always seen myself with a dark haired outgoing man like my dad, and so this one caught me off guard. There was something about my husband that drew me to him. I think it was how he intrigued me, he was so much different then many people I had previously known. He had a quiet sincerity, a genuineness, and his care for people made an impression on me. He has always been much different than me in personality and interests. He loves science and mechanics, he loves fixing things, and learning about how machines and trinkets work. We started dating and eventually we were engaged. Marriage was coming and I could not wait. I knew marriage would be hard, we would have to work through our differences, and we would disagree. We were after all different people, but I had no idea what was coming. After we were married we went on a small humble honeymoon in the mountains. I joke looking back that our “honeymoon stage” never was. It was as if we walked down to the altar and jumped into our marriage like we were jumping into flames. Our honeymoon was hysterically awful.
The first day of our marriage, I woke up vomiting, and was nauseas the entire day driving up to the mountains. For 2 days I was sick. Eventually I was feeling more like myself again. A few more days into the week after spending most of our time together my husband told me for the first time “I need a break from you” “I need some alone time” and I was crushed. This was our honeymoon! Time to be spent together! He needed a break from me? What did that mean? We stayed in a shack of a cottage where we routinely caught mice every night. If we were lucky the mouse trap killed them instantly. If we were unlucky we heard them scratch to their death trying to get away. Towards the end of the honeymoon we were driving from our honeymoon suite shack to another small cottage where we were going to stay at for 2 days. On the way, our new “used” car got a flat tire and had its windshield cracked by a rock. I remember facetiously thinking to myself, “I hope this is not a foreshadowing of years to come.” Again little did I know.
For three months I could not sleep. I had such a difficult time adjusting to sleeping next to another person. As time went on our differences began to rub against each other. I wanted to go out. He wanted to stay in. He needed 6 hours of sleep. I needed 9. I liked the apartment clean and neat. He did not care. I like to make plans last minute. He needed time to prepare. Unbeknownst to me he was beginning to feel depressed and began self medicating through time on his computer and playing computer games. He wanted more and more time alone and I wanted time together. I had difficulties understanding my own needs let alone expressing them and he did as well. I accommodated to him and his wants and rarely stood up for myself or voiced my own desires. I stayed in, I spent time alone, I cleaned the house, and I stopped being spontaneous. I stopped being creative and I stopped doing the things I enjoyed and I began to lose myself. Hurt built on hurt. We started talking less, sharing less, being together less and less until there were very few good moments between us. We would try to talk about our hurts, but often the conversations did not end well and nothing changed. I did not feel as if he cared about what was important to me, or cared about me at all. I stopped showing him how hurt I really was, in fact I am not sure I had ever shown him the extent of my hurt even in the beginning. When he was unable to hear my hurts and respond appropriately, I began to believe he did not care or wanted to care.
My own depression began to develop. About the same time we were married most of my friends had either transferred to a new school or graduated. I was still in college and we were living off campus. I had difficulties making new friends being off campus and our church had few people our age. I did not have a social life and usually I thrive on being around other people I am close to. It gives me energy and helps me keep a positive perspective. God shows me much of his love through others, but I was becoming more and more isolated. I graduated college, but was unable to get a job. Each area of my life began to look dark. My marriage, my career, friendships, and I began to feel trapped specifically in my marriage. I did not believe in divorce, so instead I created a future filled with isolation and darkness. I did not think I could face it and so I shut down. About a year and a half into our marriage I hit an all time low. For over a month I went to class and work, but the rest of the day I slept. I ate, but had lost all enjoyment in food. I ate minimally so I would not starve, but I had no desire to eat. Sometimes I thought about not eating at all, but was not ready to starve myself. I slept all day and all night, but did not sleep at all. I cried. I stared at my ceiling wishing I could cry when I could not cry, instead I felt a pit of emptiness in my chest swallowing me up. I felt numb and I could not understand how I could hurt so much and not be feeling anything at the same time. I had just started graduate college for counseling and began to realize I needed help, but was afraid to share my struggle. How was I supposed to help others as a counselor when I was struggling so much myself? Eventually I opened up to one of my professors I had grown close to. I’ll never forget our conversation and at the end she said to me “it sounds like every area of your life is looking dark” and “you need to tell your husband”. He did not know I was in this place. He had no idea.
After the conversation with my professor I decided to tell him. It was difficult to do and honestly I did not believe having the conversation would make any difference. I had been trying to be honest and so far nothing happened. Regardless, because my professor encouraged me I had the conversation of openness with my husband. It was difficult, but I was fully honest about my experience of depression. I could tell it was difficult for him to see and hear, but he listened. I looked for help for myself and eventually we looked for help for our marriage. It was a difficult and long process, but little by little our marriage began to heal. I see that first step in having an open honest conversation as the beginning of healing our marriage. It was multiple, difficult, and tear-filled conversations afterwards, and our continued commitment towards each other, that kept the healing process moving forward. I continued to be more open, sometimes he listened, sometimes he did not listen. There were times I continued to hold my thoughts and hurts to myself instead of being open. Our negative patterns did not automatically go away and we would often find ourselves back where we started hurting each other more. Sometimes he was supportive and engaging, other times he hurt me even more by his responses. He began listening more and more and then he started to share his own hurts and frustrations in our marriage. It became my turn to listen as he was more open with me. We took our commitment to each other and did something about what we were hearing from the other person. We worked to change our unhealthy styles of relating to each other and to understand where they came from. Our first and second year of marriage was excruciatingly painful, but during the third year our marriage began to shift and we began to see the results of our work, honesty, and commitment to each other. Today we continue to struggle in our marriage, but there is hope and a foundation for our relationship on which we struggle. We both continue to experience bouts of depression, daily stress impacts our lives, we struggle with communication, and sometimes we don’t always work to see each other’s perspectives and needs. The journey is not over and growth continues.
Marriage is a difficult journey. Depression is a difficult journey. Anyone experiencing depression knows how it can impact relationships and an individual. Wherever you are in your journey, know there is hope and there is healing. Just reach out and find someone to help you along in the process. Struggling alone is isolating and gives pain power over you. When you are able to bring others in to help you, a friend, family member, or counselor, pain begins to have less power. You no longer have to carry it alone.