Years ago, early in my marriage, I was sitting on the edge of our bed emotionally overwhelmed. Mel walked into our bedroom.
It was dark. I was looking at the carpet. I’d been up in the night for several nights with anxiety. I was tired and overwhelmed, and anxious, and I was in one of those horrible depression spirals that happen once or twice a year, where I honestly wonder if it will ever stop.
I wonder if I will be this way forever, and if that is the case, I wonder if my life is worth living anymore.
I was in college, and that was stressful. We’d recently had a new baby, and there was no doubt that had contributed to my anxiety.
But on the whole, living with anxiety and depression feels a lot like I’m holding a tub of water over my head. It’s filled to the brim.
Sometimes I have it in balance, but most of the time, it tips one way, just slightly, and the water spills, so I tip it the other way to keep it level, and it spills out the front rather than the back. All of it goes in waves.
But in moments like that day in my bedroom, the tub had spilled out completely.
I felt out of balance, and when it gets that bad, I just shut down. I stop talking because it’s everything I can do, everything, just to keep moving. Just to get out of bed in the morning.
It takes all my mental energy to keep up even the most basic of my obligations, and talking, smiling, trying to put up a front that I am a normal version of my depressed self is just too much.
Naturally, when Mel came in, she asked me if I was okay and I didn’t say anything. I just looked up at her, my eyes bloodshot, face white, body slumped.
She asks if she did anything wrong. And to be honest, she didn’t. She didn’t do a thing wrong. Little of what I was going through in that moment had to do with her. It was simply me, trying to manage my emotions.
But I didn’t really have the strength to tell her that. I didn’t know how to explain it.
I didn’t know how I could possibly search for the words, so I didn’t say anything. I just looked at the ground again, and so she thought the worst.
She thought that I was mad at her and was giving her the silent treatment, or something. And you know what, early in a marriage, her reaction was totally normal.
I’d have probably made the same assumption if the situation were reversed. The way she reacted wasn’t out of line with those first few years when you are trying to figure each other out.
As she went to walk out the door, I mustered up the strength to grab her hand. I told her that it wasn’t her. I told her that I was simply having a difficult time managing my depression and anxiety. I told her I was shutting down and that I needed space, and that this sometimes happens.
I was lucky enough to have a wife in my life that understood.
I think this, right here, is one of the more under discussed parts of mental illness.
There are so many good days. There are so many times when I am happy and in balance, and enjoying my life. There are times when it’s difficult, but manageable. But then there are the times when I am overwhelmed. There are those few times when I just can’t, for the life of me, keep my head up.
It’s then that I shut down.
Those of you in love with someone who is living with mental illness, realize that sometimes, on the bad days, when they are emotionally overwhelmed, they aren’t quiet because of you.
Nothing you did is pushing them into this state, and chances are, the only thing you can do to help is give them time. Give them space.
Give them a moment to get that tub of water full and back in balance. It might take a few hours. It might take a few days.
Don’t ask if they are mad at you, or if you did something wrong. Ask how you can help. Give them love and support, and keep an eye on them.
And if you are living with depression, and sometimes you shut down, just like I do.
Talk to your spouse about it openly. Do it now, when you have the strength. Help them to understand. It just might save your marriage.