Ask Scary Mommy: My Husband's Depression Leaves A Huge Burden On Me, And I'm Exhausted

by Rita Templeton
Scary Mommy and Dermot Conlan/Getty

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week … what do you do when it’s getting harder and harder to deal with your spouse’s mental illness? Have your own questions? Email

Dear Scary Mommy,

I feel like I’m at my wit’s end with my depressed spouse. I feel terrible saying that because I love him and we’ve built a really great life together. When he’s good, he’s so good. He’s nearly perfect. Great dad, great husband, pitches in around the house without being asked, goes the extra mile with the kids, etc. But when he’s depressed, he works from his bed, eats in his bed, watches TV from bed, it’s like he physically can’t emerge from the bed. Meanwhile, I still have to care for our kids, handle my own full-time work, care for the house and pets, and it puts a really unfair burden on me. It’s utterly exhausting to be doing all of this work while he sits in the bedroom. I don’t understand how he can watch me running from room to room, and making lunch while on conference calls, and answering emails during bathtime, and ordering groceries and cooking meals and he just SITS THERE. I know these times are temporary, but sometimes they last for months and months with no reprieve. I know this is something he can’t just magically make better, and he does see the doctor and take meds, but this cycle that we are in is making me angry, resentful, and exhausted. I would take any advice or words of wisdom you have to offer.

There are two things that are critical to remember, above all else, in this scenario. First: You should never feel terrible or guilty for your own emotional response. You are laboring under intense strain sometimes — not only do you have to shoulder the burden of the entire household and its occupants’ needs, but you have to act as caregiver to your husband as well, and do it all without skipping a beat because somebody’s got to. Of course this is going to make you feel all kinds of stressed out. Nobody on this earth could do all that and still feel like Suzy Sunshine, so please recognize that you are human and there is absolutely nothing wrong, bad, or even abnormal with the way you are feeling. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a human person.

Second: None of this is your husband’s fault. I know you know this, but I’m sure that sometimes when he’s in the midst of a depressive episode, it’s hard to have much sympathy. It’s during those times that you must keep reminding yourself he isn’t doing any of this on purpose. It isn’t some ploy to get an extended vacation from everyday duties; it’s a debilitating illness that disrupts his entire life just as much as it disrupts yours. He wouldn’t choose it, and he can’t just “snap out of it” as much as he’d like to. In a TED talk, psychologist Dr. Guy Winch points out that we would never tell someone with a broken leg to just walk it off. The body is often held in higher regard than the mind in terms of treatment and healing, when in reality, they’re equally important. It’s just that when someone is physically injured or ill, it’s more visible — which makes it somehow easier to accept.

Not to mention the fact that on top of dealing with his own illness, your husband most likely struggles with guilt as well. He knows you’re under an unfair strain because of his depression, and I’m sure that knowledge is no picnic for him.

It sounds like he’s trying to treat his problem the best he can through medical interventions, so it isn’t like he’s just doing nothing proactive. You didn’t mention whether he’s under the care of a medical doctor or a psychologist/psychiatrist, or whether he’s in therapy sessions in addition to his medication; if not, that might be a good avenue to explore.

All you can do in those times when the burden is placed squarely on your shoulders is take care of yourself first. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. When your husband is out of commission, don’t hesitate to rely on help from friends and family who understand your situation. Find someone to take the kids for a while so you can practice some self care (and yes, sitting on the couch zoning out totally counts). Utilize a vacation or sick day here and there if you’re able, so that you don’t feel overwhelmed with responsibilities all at once. Lower your standards and let things slide a little. Find a caregiver support group and get suggestions from other people who have been there. And during the times when your husband isn’t caught in the grip of his depression, the two of you can do small things to prepare for when he is: buy a restaurant gift certificate or freeze a few meals in advance, put together a small box of cheap, fun games or books or surprises to keep your kids occupied for an hour or two, or anything else that you think might help – even if it doesn’t seem like a big measure. It will add up. Identify the parts of being “on your own” that stress you out the most, and then brainstorm ways you can alleviate at least a little bit of that stress.

It’s not only okay, but crucial to take these measures to help your own mental health when your husband is suffering. You can’t take care of anyone else if you aren’t taking care of yourself too.