On our way home one day, my husband said something in response to my pointing out how grumpy he was being.
“Look, I haven’t been on my meds for a while,” he started. “And I’m already feeling angry. You’ve been dealing with this for how many years now, and you’ve been doing just fine. How many other women could handle this?”
He was referring to how long I’ve been with him, married to his mental illness. I think he meant it as a compliment, but I didn’t take it as one.
My husband suffers from depression. Not just the kind where you haven’t got any energy, you aren’t interested in doing your favorite things, or you are a recluse. His depression also comes with anger, lashing out, apathy, and shutting down. And yes, I have been living with it for years. And yes, it’s exhausting.
Women face an increased pressure not to appear emotional or weak, because the stereotype that follows us is emotional weakness. Even if we are dying on the inside, we have to work to make sure it doesn’t show. If we do, we run the risk of being labeled, not taken seriously, or easily dismissed.
This need to appear strong has crippled me. My husband’s emotional wellbeing and needs always overshadow my own. And when he tells me I’m strong for handling all of the psychological strain of being married to a man with unmanaged depression, it only weighs on me more. It reminds me that in our marriage, my feelings and my emotions come second to his. Very ironic when you consider the emotional stereotype is attached to women, and not men.
I suffer from anxiety. When I was younger, it used to get so bad that I would have to excuse myself from social gatherings, leave movie theaters, and even walk out of class. But I learned to manage it out of necessity when I was continually handled by family members, friends and doctors, and my symptoms passed off as self-induced teenage psychosis. Getting married, I thought I’d be able to have someone I could be vulnerable with, someone who would help shoulder the burden I faced as a person living with anxiety. However, all I got was a closeted “basket-case” of a man.
This led to me being responsible for 90% of the physical and mental load of running a home and family. My anxiety, while it gave me palpations and a need to run away from any social situation, also ended up turning me into a neurotic perfectionist. The house had to be clean. The bills had to be paid. The cat had to be pet. The child had to be entertained. While my husband sat scrolling through his phone, or sleeping for hours on weekends, or ignoring life, I feverishly worked to maintain everything around us. This has been going on for years.
When he was finally ready to see a doctor about his symptoms and began medication, his attitude changed. But the behaviors that he had become comfortable in did not. And any day he misses his meds or he forgets to get a refill and we end up having to wait weeks for him to get an appointment, I find myself back in the trenches. The glares for asking him to bathe a child. The stinky dishes piled in the sink for days. Sometimes I leave them on purpose just to see if he’ll do them. I have a mental conversations with myself anytime I’m going to ask for something, to remind myself not to ask. If I point it out, he becomes defensive.
He’s allowed to be emotional. Not me. If ever I get upset, or annoyed, irritated, or overwhelmed, I’m being emotional. I’m being unreasonable. I’m being a nag or a bitch. It’s so hard being married to mental illness. Knowing that some days are wonderful, and he remembers to love me, but then knowing tomorrow will probably be terrible. Knowing that sometimes he’ll kiss me on the cheek, but ignore that something needs to be taken care of. Knowing that every morning I have to wake up, get the kids up, and get him up so we’re not late for school and work.
Being a woman and being forced to be superwoman while hiding my own mental challenges because they take a back seat to my husband’s is exhausting. I don’t know how much more I can handle. Or how much I should have to handle. Why are we, as women, as wives, as mothers, forced into domestic shackles even in this day and age? I have a full-time job outside of the home, and yet I am still responsible for virtually every household- and child-related task. This isn’t only because my husband suffers from depression; he also suffers from male privilege. This privilege is what lets him go out alone and know I am there to watch the kids. It’s what absolves him from housework, remembering doctor’s visits, if we have enough milk, if the bills got paid, if the cats got fed. It’s what entitles him to be able to experience his depression, even medicated, while ignoring that I also have mental health issues I’m dealing with.
I wish I could shut down, stay in bed all day, and pretend no one else exists, like he does. But I can’t. Because I’m anxiety married to depression.