A guest blog by Nicki Crompton aka The Wife
- Signs of Depression and How Easy they are to Hide
- The Truth, the Pain and the Realisation
- The Aftermath and Breakthrough
Signs of Depression and How Easy they are to Hide
This time last year Dave left work earlier than usual as he, for want of a better description, was pissed off. He’d had a bad day/week/month and needed a few days annual leave to get himself together.
The first thing he did was decide we were having a bottle of wine, which wasn’t out of the ordinary, but it was only Wednesday. We’d had an ok Christmas, we all probably had colds and bugs which puts a downer on things, but we’d have some fun. Dave seemed off though, and had done for quite a while, but he also ‘seemed’ to have a handle on it.
There were so many signs that he wasn’t at all ok, such as sitting on the end of the bed, in the dark when he should have been getting ready for work, sleeping in late (he’s an annoying ‘I’m awake now so I’m up’ kind of a person), not playing his guitar, cancelling plans with friends and a general cba attitude to most things.
I was so confident that Dave was of sound mind, so to speak, that I didn’t act on any of it (something I feel guilty about now, but I have to remind myself that I had no idea). The one sign that made me worry was when, during the summer of 2018, I found him crying in the garden one late afternoon. I have only ever seen Dave cry/sob once, when the mum of a close friend of ours died, and that was over 10 years ago.
It’s ridiculous really, Dave is a human being, with fully functioning tear ducts (men’s tear ducts aren’t like their useless nipples – they are meant to be of use), why the hell wouldn’t he cry? But other than the odd welling up over something soppy (usually to do with the kids being cute) he just didn’t.
Dave promised me he was ok, that he’d just had a bad day and was tired. Life carried on and I let it go (again, the pangs of guilt rise inside me). He was the master of disguise. He was the strong man who could deal with anything life threw at him and I was so sure he would tell me if anything was any different. I wasn’t wrong, he is, without a doubt, the strongest man I know (Sorry Thor) but he was so good at hiding the truth.
Back to that fateful day in late Jan 2019, I just knew this was more than a ‘pissed off’ moment and I decided to tell Dave that I thought he should go to the doctors and tell them how he was feeling. He agreed, and after an awful weekend of spiraling as we now know it, he made an appointment and we went together.
At this point, Dave’s anxiety levels were through the roof and he was shaking from head to toe. He wasn’t able to speak to the doctor at all, so I had to speak for him. I had no idea that something was affecting him this bad, but little did I know that this was just the tip of the iceberg.
The Doctor was sympathetic and could see Dave was unwell. He was signed off for 4 weeks, given several types of tablets, some that take 12 weeks to work and could make him feel worse!! WTF?! I was shell shocked to say the least, and if I’m honest, not quite allowing myself to believe it. Denial. I thought that Dave being Dave, he would get better in no time.
Dave didn’t want to tell anyone, as he is quite a private guy and I thought he knew best on his health and how to deal with it. BIG MISTAKE on my part there (urgh) as this allowed him to shut everyone out and also allow the dark fog of depression to consume him.
I constantly remind myself that, as humans, we learn by our mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are massive fork ups, but we have to carry on. Don’t dwell, allow the feelings to pass and forgive. I suggested counselling, which completely freaked him out and brought on an anxiety attack, as there was no way he could tell anyone.
I remember washing up afterwards, alone in the kitchen, and just crying my eyes out as I felt so overwhelmed and ill-informed about what the hell was going on. I questioned why this was happening. Had I played a part in this? Had I done or said something? I couldn’t find the answer because that simply wasn’t the case.
At the time though, this was all I could think. Dave was the more positive out of the two of us. He was so outgoing, would talk to anyone. I was the opposite! Had I brought him down somehow, changed who he was. Then I thought, what if he did start counselling and it was revealed that I was the problem? Stood at that sink, with my hands covered in bubbles and sobbing my heart out, I allowed myself to believe that this was the beginning of the end of our marriage.
I then shut myself off from those thoughts and went into some kind of demo mode. All I knew for sure was Dave needed me to look after him and the kids. I could do that, and maybe if he was going to leave me then that would score me some brownie points and show him that I truly do love him in sickness and in health as they say.
Of course, it wasn’t true that I had caused this. It was all the evil doings of depression. I was going to be there for him no matter what. Months later my Dad asked me, as many people had, how I was doing. I let this time of asking really sink in. It flawed me a bit. How was I doing? I had no idea! I was just… doing.
I was living each day, as it came, with one thought on my mind – Dave. I was, however, meditating as and when I needed to. Not regularly, which I probably should have done, but it helped. It gave me head space and a feeling of like hitting the refresh button so the page could load properly.
The Truth, the Pain and the Realisation
In a matter of days, I watched my once ‘confident enough to sing and play guitar in front of anyone and everyone’ husband become so withdrawn and anxious that he couldn’t even go out in the back garden without shaking, sweating and collapsing in a heap.
But still I followed his lead and didn’t say a word to anyone. It had been a couple of weeks and I’d been lying left right and centre to Dave’s friends and family as they were wondering why he’d suddenly dropped off the radar. “He’s been working late” I’d say, or “he’s had a nasty stomach bug” and I’d quickly change the subject to end the conversation.
It would lead me to ask myself why was he feeling like this? I still didn’t understand and Dave couldn’t explain it. Why was he spending his days just sitting and staring out the window, or sleeping all hours?
I couldn’t go on, as it felt so wrong to not speak or scream out that everything was hella forked up! I ended up breaking down at work, to my lovely, understanding colleague. I’d been telling work white lies too, saying the doctor appointments were for me, citing women’s problems as you do. She was so concerned for me, she advised me that I needed to reach out and let people know – whether Dave wanted to or not.
I convinced/begged Dave to tell his mum. He just couldn’t do it but together we managed to write out a txt that we sent. It simply stated that he hadn’t felt well for a while and had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety and signed off work. When I spoke to my mother in law, we had a little cry, but I felt so much better for having someone else who knew.
Next, we told one of Dave’s brothers and one of his best friends. We had our own get-well crew. The next couple of weeks, things seemed to plateau. Dave was still clearly very unwell, but he could only get better right? Wrong. It’s like all the joy had left him, only sadness resided (which we know we need, thanks Disney, but not in these measures).
He would watch his beloved football – which he once loved more than me and does again now because ‘they’re just so awesome babe’ – without any expression or movement. There was only nothingness.
I took an afternoon off work as Dave had a telephone consultation, with an NHS group that provided counselling. The doctor had suggested it and Dave had come round to the idea. Dave was shaking, as he usually was, and avoiding eye contact with me. About 10 mins before the call was due, he dropped that biggest bombshell ever.
My heart still sinks, like a bag of rocks in a river, when I replay the moment my husband and father of our two children told me that in the last 6 months, he had nearly committed suicide – twice. The day I found him in the garden was one. Dave and I have a very solid relationship. We’re best mates, we can tell each other anything. We’re always on the same page and can read each other’s minds. How could I have not seen or known this?
How could I call myself his partner, when I was so blind to how ill he was? I know now it’s because depression is not picky when it comes to its victims. It is an illness that has the power to take anyone down and helps its victims disguise the symptoms. It’s relentless and it allows people to think that suicide is a solution. The consultation was bullshirt, but it brought the absolute heart-breaking truth out of Dave.
Over the next few days, Dave began writing his feelings down. They can only be described as the cries of a helpless person in pain. They were excruciating to read but I was thankful that he was letting me in. I went in to work one day with a horrid feeling in my gut. I had learned to listen to these feelings because I was usually right to wonder. My lovely, understanding colleague sent me straight home and I thank all the gods, deities and universe that she did.
The third suicidal episode was looming and this time there was nothing pulling Dave’s mind back like the last two times. As hard as it is to understand how this loving, loyal man can convince himself that his family are better off without him, that was the where he was at, his rock bottom.
We went to the doctors again, who prescribed more meds, but I felt that wasn’t enough. So, I took us to A&E (where we were looked after by some amazing people) and we were faced with some awful home truths about what little professional help was out there. These lovely people wanted to help but didn’t have the resources. This was indeed rock bottom, but you HAVE to tell yourself that the only way is up, and you have to truly believe that to get better.
I’d like to add a disclaimer here. Recovering from a mental illness is like trying to draw a straight line on a piece of one ply toilet paper with a fountain pen. You must take it slowly and be prepared for it to fail and have to start all over again. With persistence, self-belief and reassurance, you can do it.
The Aftermath and the Breakthrough
I was not hiding his ‘dark and shameful secret anymore’. I couldn’t. By doing so I was letting Dave down and breaking my promise to myself to help him get better. The get-well crew came through again and, un beknown to Dave we discussed what WE thought was best for him.
I could not let Dave handle his decision making as his thoughts and judgment were in a blender on full speed. I didn’t know what was in there, but it wasn’t good. Learning from another mistake I had made, but this time I wasn’t allowing my mind to beat myself up about it.
I made a basic plan for Dave – and when I say basic, I mean it! Get up, brush teeth, drink water, meditate. The next few months saw Dave make some great improvements. The get-well crew were checking in everyday, whether it was texts, calls or face to face.
He also started counselling which, at first, completely took the wind out of him and made me doubt the sessions were beneficial! They were, they really helped Dave to understand and be kind to himself. Patience is needed to get to where you want to be.
Dave was telling more people (one lovely stranger, a delivery man, happened to strike up a conversation with Dave about music. Dave told him everything as this guy had also suffered with mental illness!), and with each person told -scary as it was – it was like a weight being lifted.
It wasn’t shameful anymore. My friends, who I had ditched over the past months, completely understood and were so amazing. It sounds weird but other people knowing our situation gave us both the freedom to move around. He built a workshop from scratch for crying out loud! Hey, it was better than throwing himself into drinking as he had before, or something that was going to harm him. They were all steps in the right direction – up!
There was no more lying and hiding from the truth – only acceptance. It felt good. Everyone was shocked but had only positive things to say. Positivity was the key! Also, if we had a pound for every time someone said “I wouldn’t have thought Dave would have depression!” We would be very rich by now.
We explained everything as best as we could to our children and we embarked on a journey of positive thinking, accepting and being kind to ourselves. Then came the blog – wow! The support was overwhelming, but in a good way.
We weren’t alone and everyone that crossed our paths after the first very pubic post were full of support and adoration. It was the best feeling and it gave me something to cling to. I’m not saying everyone should be so public, not if it doesn’t feel right, but definitely – most definitely – talk to someone if you are supporting or suffering with a mental illness.
Depression, anxiety, any mental illness is not a choice. No one wants to suffer. What I have learnt, and what I advise to anyone loving and living with someone who is suffering, is that how you educate yourself and how you support someone is a choice.
If you constantly think to yourself, I don’t want to feel like this, or, I don’t want this anymore, then you are unknowingly surrounding your thoughts with negativity. If you change that mindset to, I can feel better and I deserve to be happy, then you will be able to feel the positivity surrounding you. This is what has been working for us.