As a man, I thought I could handle it. I thought I could get through it, but I discovered that I too was suffering during my wife’s postpartum depression.
*Another post written by my husband, Evan.*
The stress caused me to lose almost 10 lbs and gave me irritable bowel syndrome. It was the hardest thing that I have ever had to watch. Lydia was sick for over a year and even though my last post was a little comical, there was nothing comical about watching my wife struggle that way.
Just because my wife was the one going through the actual postpartum depression doesn’t mean that it didn’t affect me at all.
I remember the sleepless nights as I sat awake in our bed listening to her cry, feeling completely helpless. I remember the fear of leaving for work, never being sure of what would happen while I was away. I remember the desire to take away all of the hurt and all of the pain and deal with it myself, because that would be easier than watching my wife, my best friend, and my children’s mother suffer and hating myself for not being able to do anything.
It began shortly after our third son was born. When he was only about 5 weeks old, he was life-flighted to a children’s hospital, due to suffering a series of siezures caused by lethally high ammonia and lactate levels in his body. We were told that he may not survive. Needless to say, that was stressful. We were there for 4 days and through only what can be described as a miracle, our son was completely healed.
Once we returned home, I assumed that things would immediately improve. I mean, we had just experienced a literal MIRACLE for goodness’ sake! But, they did not.
Lydia seemed distant, sometimes even cold towards me and the kids. She would break down and cry for no reason. She swung from angry, to sobbing, to withdrawn, to anxious about everything. I know women can be hard to read, but this was like trying to read a book while the author is still typing, and he keeps deleting whole sections and starting them over. Like trying to predict the weather in Erie PA, where the mailmen wear shorts and winter coats to work, never knowing what to expect, attempting to prepare for anything.
This approach, trying to prepare for anything, becomes extremely exhausting. As the husband and primary breadwinner in our home, I had to go to work, commonly for up to 14 hours and sometimes for days at a time because I was an infantry instructor.
I was afraid to admit it to myself and even more so to Lydia, but I was often very afraid to leave the kids at home with her. I’m not saying that Lydia was a bad mom. But, even the best parents under extreme circumstances can do things they never would have done outside of that situation, and I was scared.
What if she hurts one of them? What if she can’t handle the crying and screaming? She’s already told me that she “can’t do it anymore,” and I’m still trying to figure out what that means. What if she does something to hurt herself?
These thoughts raged through my head as I was trying to focus on training Marines. Men are naturally pretty good at compartmentalizing work and home, but when stuff at home is bad enough, it will bleed over into work and people will notice. I became extremely irritable, much to the chagrin of many of the young Marines I was training.
The quality of my performance noticeably dropped. But, like a good, “humble” man, I kept all of the pain bottled up, telling no one the truth of what was going on at home. I would sit in my car on breaks, my only place of true solitude, and think, “When will this end?”
I would get angry with God for allowing my wife’s mind to be affected this way and I would get mad at Lydia for being sick. I know, smart right? Getting mad at someone struggling with depression is a lot like getting mad at someone for having cancer. NEWSFLASH: They can’t help it! So, I would then get mad at myself for getting mad at her and at God.
At the end of the day, I would return home, still struggling with my own emotions and be expected to help with not just my struggling wife but also with my kids. They also didn’t understand why mommy was upset all the time. Kids feed off of their parents’ emotions. If you are mad, they get mad. If you are nervous, they get nervous. They don’t know why, they just do.
So, here i come, after a 14 hour day, full of caffeine, screaming at Marines all day, teaching and no food, into a house with an emotional wife and 3 screaming/crying/tired kids. The resulting chaos would almost inevitably lead to more yelling, screaming and fighting while trying to get the kids to bed. Then, once the kids were asleep and mommy and daddy were finally alone, we were exhausted.
Lydia wanted to talk. I wanted a shower, sex, and sleep. Typical man, I know. On some nights, she would try to meet my need for sex, but I could tell she was really not interested and this frustrated me so much that I would end up just going to sleep. On other nights, I would try to give her the conversation she wanted. But, she could tell that all I wanted was sex and this angered her. So, again, both of us would sleep, neither of us having had our needs met.
This cycle continued for an entire year. Looking back now, I don’t know how we survived that year, except by the grace of God. That’s not to say that we did not have any good times together, because we did. But overall, this was by far the worst year of our marriage to date.
Over time, therapy, and a lot of prayer, Lydia was eventually healed of her deep depression. I pray that we never have to deal with something that severe again, but in the end, it brought us so much closer together.
People have been asking to hear what kind of emotions I dealt with during my wife’s depression, and I hope that I have described them in enough detail. Something I would like to add though, is the list of things that I wish my wife had known about during her depression; feelings, thoughts and worries that I harbored and mostly never talked about with anyone.
If I could have, I would have taken all of the pain away and dealt with it myself.
While this is a typical response from a man, to step in and rescue his damsel in distress, it is not always known to the damsel. To the damsel, her knight seems short with her and irritable just about all of the time. Well, in my case, I was. But, it wasn’t because of my wife; it was because i felt completely unable to do anything about any of it and that, to a man, is infuriating, demeaning and scary.
So, the typical response for a man in a scary situation that he cannot control is anger.
Ladies, he may not be angry with you. He may be dealing with his own perceived ineptitude at helping you.
Men, talk to your woman and tell her how much it hurts you to watch her struggling and hurting. Tell her how you would take it all if you could. If the pain was a person, they would need reconstructive surgery after the beat-down dished out to them. Tell her that you are not mad at her! She already feels bad enough for going through this; she doesn’t need you being mad at her too.
Love her and talk to her about your feelings too. This will allow her to see the situation from your perspective and it will make her feel loved knowing that her pain is what’s affecting you so much.
Sometimes, I was genuinely mad at her.
I felt betrayed, hurt, scared, and mad. Nothing I did seemed to help her and nothing I said made any difference. Now, sometimes this was her fault because she was being especially cold or short with me. But remember, she’s the one who’s sick.
Most times, I just got selfish and wanted my old perky, cute, happy-go-lucky wife back. It wasn’t easy for me to deal with all of the emotions all of the time and sometimes, I didn’t want to deal at all. I just wanted it all to be over.
Sometimes, I just needed a break. I needed to get out of the house for a bit and clear my head.
Not go to the bar and get drunk; just go shooting or hunting or to a ball game, or even just to the gym. I needed time for myself, but sometimes, this made me feel really guilty! I mean, after all, I’m supposed to be the strong one, supporting her in this difficult time. I can’t take a break!
Guess what, guys, you’re human and you need a break sometimes too.
Ladies, don’t take this the wrong way. You need to understand that this time can and will be very trying on your husband, as well as you. If he approaches you with a request for some alone time, don’t automatically assume that he is dodging his fatherly duties and just trying to hide. He may genuinely need some time to himself and you will both feel better once he has had some.
Men, this is not a “get out of jail free” card that you can use whenever you feel like it. Your wife desperately needs you home with her during this time, and you need to be there for her. But, you also need to be humble enough to admit when you need time alone.
This will help you and her because if you are less stressed, she will be less stressed.
Also, don’t forget that your wife needs alone time too, so don’t be opposed to taking the kids for a couple of hours so she can go and do something to take her mind off of just about everything. You will not regret doing this for your wife, I promise.
Sometimes, I was genuinely confused.
I had no idea what to do, no idea how to help.
Ladies, if your husband says he doesn’t know how to help, he may be telling the truth. Contrary to popular belief, we are not mind readers. We need to be enlightened as to how we can help you. Spell it out for us. Tell us what would be most helpful to you at that time and we will most likely jump at the opportunity to do something.
Men, be willing to help when she says how you can help her. It gives you the chance to be the knight in shining armor again.
Sometimes, I just needed someone to talk to.
When I said that I kept all of my feelings bottled up, that wasn’t totally true.
I called my father nearly everyday, sometimes yelling, sometimes crying, almost always upset. He would listen; I would vent. Occasionally, he would offer advice, but mostly he would just listen. He understood that I just needed a sounding board and he provided me with one. This way, I didn’t go home at night with all of my thoughts from the day pent up and take it out on the kids or Lydia.
Men, we cannot be afraid to talk to other men about our problems. It’s not weakness; it’s support and we all need it.
Seek out older, mature men who have been in a long lasting marriage.
Chances are, they have dealt with a situation very similar to yours and they will be willing to help you.
On a side note, do not talk to a woman! A married man should never seek out a woman to discuss problems at home with. You are opening yourself up to a problematic situation. (Something I will discuss in another post.)
Ladies, don’t think that just because your husband is talking to another man about how he feels or what’s going on that he is badmouthing you. Trust me, you want him to be able to vent to someone other than you. Regardless of what we say, we need to talk things out too.
In the end, Lydia suffered far more than I did, but my pain was real too. It was extremely painful to watch and even more frustrating to realize how little i could do.
I feel that if Lydia had known this while we were in the midst of that storm, things may have been better between us. I hope this helps someone out there.
Learn from our experiences so that you don’t have to deal with it the way we did. Thankfully, that year brought us closer together than ever before, and I am thankful to God for bringing us through it together and allowing us to gain all of the wisdom that He granted us through it.
Men, please understand that if your wife is going through postpartum depression, you are at greater risk for depression yourself. I took the assessment below and now realize that I definitely was dealing with depression during that time.
*This post was written by Evan, Lydia’s husband.*