Helping a depressed spouse

As I’ve mentioned a few times on this board, I am bipolar (bipolar II to be precise). Right now I’m depressed, and I mean really depressed. Like, barely can get out of bed, can’t smile to save my life, wish I were dead, feeling totally and completely useless, my world is crap kind of depressed. I’m trying to deal with it. I know I’ll cycle through it, and I’m taking each day as it comes. I want to be better; I’m just not.

I feel so worthless, like I’m a terrible wife. I can’t keep the house clean, the laundry done, meals cooked, finances managed, write all the thank you’s for the gifts, work on the paperwork to close on our mortgage, do my thankless job at work, give him “wifely loving,” and still take care of myself. I’m a failure as a wife. He tells me I’m not, but I just can’t believe it… I can’t do any of it.

My husband and I got married about a month and a half ago. He lived with me before we got married, and he’s seen me depressed, but I must say, this is the most depressed I’ve been since we’ve been together. He’s not sure what to do. I know he feels like he’s walking on eggshells and he doesn’t know what to do to help me (and what not to do to make things worse). I want to point him in the right direction. Any advice? Are there any articles or publications he can read to give him an idea of what he can do to help? I don’t have the energy, the mental acuity, or the focus to guide him though helping me, so if there’s something I can point him to, that would help. I need to get better, and he wants me to get better… we’re just stuck on how.

Dear husband,

Welcome to the spouses of the depressed club. There’s actually quite a lot of us, and we’re friendly, approachable people.

I’d like to share with you a few things I’ve learned in living with my spouse:

  • I am not responsible/to blame for him being depressed. I’ve not done anything wrong, I’m not a failure as a spouse, I just simply happen to love someone who battles with depression throughout their lives.

  • I can’t make my spouse better, but I can do things to ease my spouse’s pain from time to time. I suspect, like me, you’ll have to work out between the two of you what does and doesn’t work. For my spouse, talking positively about the future, making plans for things we’ll do, sharing in his interests helps. You’ll find your own things that help your spouse.

  • The more I learn about depression, the more I can help. My husband has read a lot of self-help books and I’ve read them too. Again, your mileage will most definitely vary, but if your spouse is a reader, let them tell you which books they found helpful and read them yourself. Discuss the concepts/strategies discussed in the book together. But don’t be the one to say ‘Right, we’re going to do this, this and this.’ It’s up to your spouse to come up with what they want to try, your role is to support them in that.

  • My mental health is important too. Being the spouse of a depression person is incredibly draining and it’s easy to fall into feeling depressed yourself. Take time out when you need to. Do positive things for yourself, engage in your own interests. Not only are you ensuring your own mental health, but you’re also demonstrating positive ways of dealing with unhappiness to your spouse.

I wish you both the very best in your journeys together. My husband and I are stronger for all we have been through, and I wish the same outcome for you.

What you should be getting is professional help. :\

I was in the same situation last year… prone to depression/finally moved in with the significant other. Had crying spells once every few days/random feelings of worthlessness. Mr. Waxwinged finally badgered me into going to a doctor and getting some meds that helped in the past.

As a result, both of us are significantly happier.

Your significant other is likely not trained in helping people with your particular problem. Don’t saddle him with the weight, visit a general doctor for recommendation on where to go next.

I am seeing a doctor and getting professional help.

But while I’m working on getting better, my husband feels like he doesn’t know what to do to help. He wants me to get better and I’m not sure what to tell him or how he can help me. He is a man of action; he doesn’t want to just sit by while I sink… he wants to throw me a life raft and help me… but I’m not sure how.

Thank you for your suggestions, sandra_nz.

I bet your doctor’s had experience with spouses before. Maybe you could ask your doctor for help in talking to your spouse about this. Or maybe Spouse could tag along, just for one meeting only, to ask question? Not if that would make you feel pressured, of course.

Also, your doctor might know of a support group for family members of people with bipolar issues. There’s a support group for everybody, these days. Maybe your hubby would be interested in that?

I am a depressed spouse going through my own period of feeling worthless. Can’t keep up with the housework, bills, work, laundry, social obligations and such. Every part of my life sucks right now and while I can understand that it’s going to get better that doesn’t make me feel better now. I’ve cried for at least an hour a day for the last week.

The only thing I can think of that would help me that my spouse could do is to take on some household tasks so I don’t feel worthless for not being able to do them. Why does he get to work 4o hours at work and come home and have no responsibilities? He does help around the house a lot but he’s not responsible for anything. If he doesn’t do anything nothing happens, if I don’t do anything our household falls apart.

So, it sounds like you’re responsible for a lot of the daily grind of keeping a family together. He wears clothes and eats also so maybe if you had a little help with all that you wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed. Really, no one can do it all and not feel like a failure sometimes.

Everyone is different, of course, but back when my husband used to get really black depressions (thankfully few an dfar between now), something that helped both of us was to choose a single task with a clear tangible result that we could do together - say laundry or cleaning the bathroom - and work on it until it was done, pausing when necessary, but always continuing to the end. He felt a bit bucked up for having accomplished something and was slightly more able to approach the next task. Also taking walks together. jeust getting him up, dressed and moving around seemed to help push the depression chemicals back.

Not saying that would work for you, but maybe worth a try.

Sometimes my depression and anxiety is worse than at other times. My husband and I have been married for twenty-four years. He has learned to ask if there is anything that he can do for me. Sometimes he will have a suggestion: Would you like a cold cloth for your face?
Would you like a popcycle?

These sound like little things, but that really is basically all that he can do. He can’t change the body chemistry that makes me feel so down – and I can’t either. We can just wait it out. The best thing that he can give is to take care of his own emotional needs and to acknowledge that he knows that I will be okay.

Other things you or he might suggest: brushing your hair, a back rub with a nice lotion, giving you a little wash up if you haven’t had a bath or shower in a couple of days, sitting outside to get fresh air, doing some stretching exercises together or even running in place together

I even like ice cold water on my face.

Each person can think of little things to relieve some of the bad feelings for a while.

There may be groups for spouses and caregivers of people with mood disorders that can offer support. Your therapist might know.

I also battle with severe depression. I’ve been hospitalized twice, once for two months. I’ve been struggling with it again the last 5 months. I discovered a weird little thing that has been helping me immensely for the last three days.

As you know, house work seems like a monumental, impossible task. The very idea of getting up and doing a bunch of cleaning is enough to send me back to bed.

My grandma is twice my age and has many health issues yet her house is always spotless. But it dawned on me that she doesn’t psych herself up and frantically clean the entire house, she just slowly mozys along and does a little at a time.

So I’ve adopted this phrase “move like grandma”. I accepted that right now I feel like my body is broken and my mind is dead. In that state I sloooooowly shuffled over and slooooowly put a couple things away with no expectation that I’d do anything else. As soon as I felt the panic of impending failure start to overwhelm me I’d just say “move like grandma, move like grandma” and slow myself right down.

Moving like a decrepit 90 year old, I somehow cleaned everything in two days, the whole time remembering to “move like grandma”. The clean house and sense of accomplishment have made a huge difference in my mood. I’ve been applying the “move like grandma” to everything I do.

Anything that is a chore, just simple things like brushing my teeth or opening the curtains, I “move like grandma”.

Today I’m actually feeling pretty good!

Give yourself a break, don’t beat yourself up. It is what it is. You aren’t trying to be depressed. You’re just someone who is struggling right now. Many many people have struggled with depression. Is there a local mental health clinic you can go to?

Feel free to pm me if you just need to talk.

This is TOTALLY AWESOME. Because, you see, I live with my 80-something grandparents and they do tend to run circles around me when it comes to getting things done. And you’re so right, they don’t need a big pep talk to load the dishwasher. They don’t have huge anxiety attacks when it’s time to put away all the tools. They just take it one little step at a time and just keep on going.

Great idea, Floaty!

How You Can Survive When They’re Depressed: Living and Coping with Depression Fallout

Yeah it’s a kind of weird thing but by giving myself permission to move at one mile an hour, I’m actually getting things done.

Another thing with grandma, when she’s finished doing what she’s doing, or she just needs a little break, she sits down and has a cup of tea for a while. She doesn’t sit there and think “I’m such a loser! I’m such a failure! Why can’t I just get it done?”.

By “moving like grandma” I don’t get overwhelmingly tired, I just slowly plug along.

For right now, it’s working remarkably well.

I might have to try the “move like Grandma” mentality. I hope that can help alleviate my “I’m a horrible wife” thoughts that keep going through my brain.

My husband knows that I’ll have no sex drive while going through this… I make up for it when I’m manic and can’t get enough! And he’s been helping pick up the slack lately. I told him, I just need to work on me for a little while. He’s helping a lot. But it doesn’t change the feeling that I’m not doing anything, that I’m failing as a wife. I know it’s totally irrational, but I still feel like he deserves more in a wife. I feel like he bought a lemon; we’ve been married not even two months and already I’m broken…

I see my therapist next week and hopefully we can figure out something. I think I might have my husband tag along.

Don’t do the “move like grandma” during sex.

I love the Move Like Grandma thing, too! I’ve tried a few things that were supposed to be forgiving in similar ways, and maybe they can help someone else, too:

  1. Instead of making a giant to-do list, I would write just one item down on a daily task list. Something small and easy. Or if it was halfway through the day when I started, maybe even something I had already done! :slight_smile: Then I’d cross it off if already done, or go take care of it if not. Then, write down just one more thing. Just looking at only one item at a time helped a little. The problem is if you might forget what all you want/need to do because it isn’t all written! I had longer-term goals in part of my CBT workbook, then a separate spiral of daily to-do lists that got added to one step at a time. A little more writing, but it works for focusing on short-term and not forgetting long-term, and you can look back and see that your lists got longer or you’ve worked your way down the bigger term list.

  2. Break up tasks into the smallest chunks imaginable. If ‘clean the apartment’ goes into ‘bedroom,’ ‘kitchen’ etc that is a start, but it gets smaller. ‘Do the dishes’ is always one I completely loathe, but while I’m standing at the sink I’ll say to myself ‘all you have to do are the bowls,’ even if there are lots of dishes and only two bowls. Give yourself the freedom in your head to just do that and walk away.
    Somehow it always eases me into doing a little bit more. ‘Good job. Your roommate will appreciate that. Now, there are only three spoons. Try that and then you can stop. Just spoons.’ It’s not supposed to be like a gym trainer, saying ‘one more set’ when you know they’re lying. It’s more like taking the time to appreciate the little things you do, to build up confidence ever so slowly and let you see you accomplished something, so you can probably move up to something the tiniest bit harder/longer/less fun and still make it. None of this tackling the kitchen all at once while you worry about the hundred other things left and why you didn’t do it earlier and therefore everyone hates you for being sloppy and what if the apartment manager comes in or your roommate brings a friend over and and and (I have completely been there). This can be a huge help.

I completely see the relaxed pace, freedom to take breaks, and admiration of what was done instead of criticizing what wasn’t done by my own grandmother as well. Thanks for that! Serenata67 and everyone else, good luck today and if all you do is the spoons, well, that’s all you asked yourself to do and it’s better than not doing them :slight_smile:

I like this idea of giving oneself permission to more slowly. I always try to rush into tasks, and then I make mistakes.

Depends on the grandma, I suppose…

“How do you like these cookies, sugar?”

I kept reading that as “how do you like these sugar cookies” and I could not figure out what you were meaning. Now I’m lol’ing. :smiley: