Robin Williams's tragic death fortunately brings depression back into focus. I say "fortunately" because the more we talk about it, the more people we help.
I have suffered from bouts of depression since my first son was born 14 years ago. A bad case of postpartum depression saddled me with this pet dark cloud that stays at a distance for years at a time, and then, when I least expect it, positions itself over my head like an invisible crown. Only, this isn't a crown that anyone should envy. Depression feels like a cloud raining only above you while the rest of the world is bathed in sunshine. You can see everyone else's sunshine, but the rain-cloud-crown is like a 200-pound weight making you almost immobile.
This past winter, I experienced one of my worst episodes. Thankfully, I'm doing much better today, with the help of medication, diet, and exercise, but I owe the biggest thanks for my recovery to my husband, Dustin.
I'm a big proponent of treating depression with medication. For many of us, it's the only way. None of us, however, can get better without the help of our closest loved ones. For me, that is Dustin.
I don't know how my husband knew exactly what to do. I'm not even sure he knew what he was doing at the time. But when I look back on those dark months, I realize there were steps Dustin took that led to to the dark cloud lifting.
He took charge.
Dustin, a Navy pilot, was at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., when he realized things were bad and that he needed to come home. He took 14 days of leave and flew home to Maine at midnight. All I remember is him coming upstairs, pulling the blankets up around my shoulders and kissing my forehead.
The next morning, I awoke to the sounds of him putting our home back in order. Things -- dishes, laundry, cleaning -- had taken a back seat when I was struggling just to get out of bed. That morning, Dustin was taking out the trash, folding laundry, picking up shoes and books in the living room, and emptying the dishwasher. He was also making doctor appointments for me and figuring out our insurance.
When you feel like the world is caving in on you, it helps if someone digs in a bit with their own shovel. They can't (and probably shouldn't) do everything for you, but making a dent helps the light in the tunnel shine through a bit easier.
He pushed me.
When Dustin got back from taking the kids to school, however, the pampering abruptly stopped.
"Get up," he said, throwing back the covers. "We're going to the YMCA to exercise."
I tried to crawl back under the sheets, but Dustin literally pulled me out of bed. Then he brought me my running shoes. "Let's go," he said. "And when we get back, you're going to fold the next load of laundry."
I must say, I wasn't very fond of Dustin that day. Or the next one either. The last thing I wanted was to go to the YMCA and exercise. And couldn't we just continue taking clothes directly out of the laundry basket? Why fold them?
But Dustin was persistent. He kept me moving -- and making progress -- those first difficult mornings. I might have screamed, "You just don't get it," a few times, but that didn't matter. Dustin knew: staying in bed solves nothing.
After I did 30 minutes on the treadmill, he said, without an ounce of sarcasm, "Tomorrow, try to bump up your speed above 1 mph, okay?"
Then he backed off.
I sort of wanted Dustin to go back to D.C. when he was making me get up in the morning. I felt mentally and physically ill. Depression will do that to you. After a day of doing more than I had managed to do for at least a month, I couldn't imagine making it through the evening -- dinner, dishes, more laundry -- too.So I was surprised when 7:00 p.m. rolled around and Dustin said, "Go to bed. Get rest. I'll wake you in the morning."
In other words, Dustin knew when to push and when to back off.
He also didn't bother me with any details about doctor appointments or insurance. I simply didn't have the capacity at the time to make any sense of it. Even today, when bills from that period come, he whisks them away and takes care of it. All he wanted -- all he ever expected -- was for me focus on getting better.
He showed me my progress.
We are not the best judge of our own progress. By the time Dustin's 14 days of leave were over, I was on my way to feeling "normal" (whatever that is) again. It was easy for me to forget how far I'd come. Suddenly I was hard on myself for not doing more.
When I got discouraged about walking only 30 minutes instead of an hour, or for ordering pizza instead of making lasagna, that's when Dustin did perhaps the best thing of all. He put it into perspective: "If you walked faster than 1 mph," he said, "I think you're doing great. And I'm proud of you."