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Beyond Blue

Another Reader Question: one reader asked if she should leave her husband of 30 years (did I get that right?) because he is unsupportive of her depression. (Feel free to fill in the gaps of the situation on the message board, or correct my inaccurate take.)

Let me say upfront that I am probably the last person on this planet or the entire solar system (including Pluto, poor thing) that should be doling out advice. (I used to write an advice column, “Therese’s Pieces of Advice,” but it quickly became a prison ministry–all of my envelopes had cell numbers on them–so I started writing “Beyond Blue” instead, where there is no paper trial, thank God.)

So first off–I would definitely advise you to go to a professional with this question.

But here are some things I might ask myself if I were you:

1. Can you continue to grow in your recovery while married to your husband? Because that is how I understand the little phrase in the nuptial vows, “’til death do us part.” A marriage doesn’t have to be perfect to work, thank God. But it shouldn’t push you in the wrong direction, either.

2. Some relationships are clearly toxic: they worsen your depression and anxiety. Pay close attention to your symptoms (fatigue, appetite changes, sleeping problems, colds or infections)–are they related to your marriage? Or can you rely on your friends and support groups and online buddies (like people on “Beyond Blue”) to nourish you in the ways you need, while keeping your husband around as a mate and life partner? In other words, can you stay or get healthy–spiritually, emotionally, physically–with him around?

I don’t think any spouse has to totally “get” depression or any form of mental illness to be supportive. One day Eric read my journal over breakfast and was horrified. Between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m., I had identified and recorded in my notebook the distorted thoughts telling me I was ugly, stupid, lazy, a bad writer, and a deplorable mother (it was pretty good day!).

“My God!,” he said. “My only thought this morning has been about coffee.”

That’s why I printed out reams of research on the computer for him to read, ordered enough books about depression from Amazon to earn me a free coffee mug, and lugged him to many of my doctors’ appointments, so that he could hear for himself that my behavior was actually quite typical for a person with bipolar disorder.

I don’t think he’ll ever fully understand, but he loves me enough to read something or go somewhere when I ask.

I know plenty of couples that have different kinds of partnerships, where they don’t live with each other all year round, or where they have taken a few years to grow in recovery and then come back together. Many friends I know don’t rely on their husbands for support, but the partnership works because the spouse doesn’t interfere with recovery. Maybe I’m wrong (I’m so not an expert), but I think the question is: Can you be healthy beside him?

Everyone else, feel free to chip in, especially those with psychology backgrounds.

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