A large Black Dog lives in the centre of our marriage. It was Winston Churchill who first described depression thus. For much of our two-decade marriage, my husband has suffered from depression, and I have battled to live alongside him well, and maintain my sanity and emotional well-being.
The Black Dog left him feeling bleak, trapped, hopeless, emotionally numb, and me struggling with isolation, frustration and loneliness. Torn between loving support, and angry resentment about the impact of this awful, and oh-so-common illness. Seeking to honour the marriage commitment I made before God, trusting that God is in the midst – but how to pray? What to pray? How to keep going day in day out in a marriage so different from that which I had envisioned?
There are many different breeds of Black Dog, and I speak only from our own experience. Depression robs the sufferer of the ability to engage with or enjoy much of life, depleting them of energy for much other than self-preservation. And for the person alongside – partner, family member, friend – it is devastating to see a mere shadow of a loved one. I mourned for the engaging, funny, inspiring and creative man I knew was in there somewhere, the man I had chosen to marry but who had been consumed by this Black Dog.
It is possible to move on from depression – we are there now. But what have we learned along the way that might both redeem our own experiences, and encourage others living with a Black Dog?
- Talk about it. Fear, failure, guilt, isolation, shame – often these emotions kept us pretending that things were ok, and not opening up to others. And therefore perpetuated the isolation and loneliness for us both. For men, it seems especially hard to talk about their mental health. But depression is an illness…I would now say to my husband “This is not your fault nor does it make you a failure. This is hard for us both, and I want to see you enjoy life more – please can we seek help together.” Talk about it – it is ok to not be fine. It is ok to ask for help. And most importantly you are not alone.
- Take time to understand yourself and what it is that you need, if you are living alongside someone with depression. They need your consistent understanding and support, so you need to be resourced to provide this. It is not selfish or disloyal to talk with trusted friends about how you are, or to address your own needs. It is essential for your own emotional, mental and spiritual health. Do some fun activities just for you. Exercise and get regular small breaks. Take time with God to allow Him to love and resource you.
- People are worth fighting for. Depression can make you feel that life is on hold – numb, cheated of enjoyment, wasted years. To live fearing that this is as good as it is going to get, and shut down to hopes and dreams. But ask yourself – is this the life I really want to be living? It was dealing with the Black Dog that eventually prompted us to take stock, talk about it to others and get help, learn to communicate better, grow to understand our own needs, and seek to change ourselves rather than each other. And ultimately to realise that being our best selves, together and individually, was worth fighting for.
My no-longer-depressed husband now found himself unsure of how to move forward. As a Life Coach, what could I create that would enable him to become secure and confident in a new identity of who he truly is? And so I came to write The 10 Things Challenge – a simple, practical way to change the way you see yourself and your future in 30 small steps. It is not a treatment for depression, but useful for those moving on from depression. And it is so much more than that: an ideal, simple, practical and inspiring tool for anyone who wants to gain greater self-awareness, confidence and purpose.
Depression is a devastating illness. But there can be a way through for all involved, and hope for a life that is more fulfilling.
About the Author: Catriona Futter is a Christian Life Coach and speaker who is passionate about equipping people to discover and live out their unique, God-given identity and purpose. She runs her own business Equip for Life Coaching from her home in Glasgow, Scotland, offering coaching via Skype, and blogs at http://equipforlifecoaching.com/blog/ Find out more about The 10 Things Challenge and change the way you see yourself and your own future!