Downward Spiral

2 Feb

Letterbalm Depressed ManDear LetterBalm: My husband and I have been married for more than 35 years, but for the past 15 I’ve watched my once ebullient and vital man descend into depression, frailty and chronic physical complaints. He’s not yet 70, but he’s become dependent on me and almost housebound. He suffers from major attacks of depression and threatens suicide. He’s taking medication to treat his depression, but he won’t get out of the house to pursue any interests. He stays at home, very needy, negative and dependent on me. Frankly, I’m going crazy. He won’t travel and we go out infrequently, so many of our friends have fallen away. I try to have a life outside our home – my friends, working as a docent at the local museum, freelance graphic design work. I’m fed up. I stopped loving him long ago, but I feel obligated to stay in our marriage because I think my husband will commit suicide if I leave. He needs a full medical and psychological evaluation, but he won’t do it. How can I convince him?

–Trapped and Feeling Guilty

How debilitating the situation is for you and your husband. As you know, depression is an illness that spills over into all aspects of life, including physical sickness and isolation, which can profoundly affect those closest to you. Your instinct to get your husband to submit to a full workup is correct; he probably needs new medication because his current prescription isn’t working. He may also need physical problems evaluated. Ms. L.B. assumes you are in counseling, your grown children aren’t in a position to help, and you can’t afford a care facility to address his needs. Discuss your husband’s symptoms with his doctor and book an appointment. (If you think his doctor won’t be open to this, find a new one.) Please go online and explore organizations that can offer advice and hourly affordable caregivers who can give you a break down the road. There’s no ideal way for you to have a frank talk with your husband – he’ll get agitated and may feel betrayed no matter what you say. And, if you threaten to leave him, he may harm himself. For the time being, the best you can do is something like this:

Arnold, once and for all, sit and listen. No tears, no whining, no negativity. Your brother Robert is here with us to help today. I have stood by you for years and watched a once robust and happy man become a shadow of himself. I must try and stop this. You are going with Robert and me now to the doctor for a full physical exam and whatever must be done to adjust your medications to help you feel better about yourself and your life. We will take this one step at a time. If we make mistakes in your treatment, we will try again – you, me and doctors we can trust – until you are as well as you can be. Can you understand? I want you to think about this. Here’s your coat. We’re all going to the doctor now.

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One Response to “Downward Spiral”

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