I used to hate that work kept me away from home for a couple of nights each week, but I welcome it now. My daughters love to FaceTime and tell me everything that’s going on, but then Sarah, my wife, comes on with a brave, long-suffering sigh. “Don’t worry,” she says, “We’re fine.” And, tiptoeing around her depression, I fight the urge to snap at her.
This has been going on for nearly year, but believe me when I say I didn’t start off being as unsympathetic as I sound now. We’ve been together for nearly 15 years and, until recently, we’ve been a strong team.
The first few years of marriage were all about our business, although we loved our twice-yearly holidays and a couple of nights out a month. Turning 30 was a big milestone and we could actually see how far we’d come business-wise by our bank balance and the string of awards we’d won along the way.
When Sarah became pregnant we were thrilled, but a routine scan showed the baby had died. She was soon pregnant again – but this time it was ectopic.
We always wanted a family, so when Sarah became pregnant we were thrilled. Everything was great until the 18th week, when a routine scan showed the baby had died. Because she hadn’t had a spontaneous miscarriage, Sarah still had to through labour. Afterwards, we went away for a break and she was soon pregnant again – but this time it was ectopic. We felt our despair was never-ending.
Happily, the next pregnancy – though nerve-wracking – resulted in a perfect baby girl, and she was followed two years later by her sister. Sarah came back to work part-time when our youngest daughter was two years old, and everything seemed fine for another couple of years.
Sara is extremely good at what she does and, although we both worked hard, we felt we had the balance about right.
She lost her concentration, burst into tears during meetings, and sat staring into space at her desk.
The first sign of Sarah’s depression was total exhaustion. Our weekends had been filled with family activities, but now Sarah simply slept instead. It was the same in the evenings. At work, she lost her concentration, burst into tears during meetings, and sat staring into space at her desk. I was really worried about her and persuaded her to visit the doctor. She was diagnosed with depression and started a course of treatment which involved medication and CBT.
We were both shocked, as were our family, friends and colleagues. We like to think we’re quite enlightened about mental health issues these days, but Sarah was worried everyone would think she was weak and pathetic. It took a lot of reassurance to realise that wasn’t the case. Family and friends helped with the girls, we organised cover for Sarah at work, and the focus was all on making sure she got better.
Sarah always took the lead when it came to looking after people so she found it strange to be the vulnerable one.
We were both really touched by the kindness we were shown. Sarah’s mum and sisters were always there when we needed them and her friends did that thing where they scoop up whoever needs help and just get on with it, from doing the shopping to taking care of the school run. Sarah always took the lead when it came to looking after people so she found it strange to be the vulnerable one, but over the next six months she relaxed into it. That support certainly seemed to contribute to her recovery.
When someone’s as organised and capable as Sarah, it’s a big shock when they’re no longer there. Her illness made me realise that, despite thinking I did as much as she did, I was wrong. There was lots she did I’d taken for granted – making school lunches, organising family activities, even making breakfast in bed for me some weekends. I felt very guilty, but I was determined to make up for it and really enjoyed looking after her. She loved that, and we were so close and open with each other at that time. She told me how scared she’d been when the depression hit and talked about how she was starting to feel better.
As she improved, Sarah was weaned off her medication and began to look forward to getting back to work – she returned part-time a year after she was diagnosed. I was very conscious that she shouldn’t be under too much pressure, so we got a cleaner who would also help with things like ironing. Our family and friends also backed off a little, clearly delighted she was better. It felt like life was getting back to normal; we had a long talk about making sure she wasn’t doing more than she should and she promised she would tell me if she felt overwhelmed.
If she didn’t want me to do something, she’d go to bed after dinner, saying she was really tired. If I cancelled my plans, she’d perk up.
The next year was great. I was so grateful my wife was fine, my girls were thriving and business was good. But then Sarah started to act oddly.
If she didn’t want me to do something, such as attend the occasional football match or go out with my friends, she wouldn’t say so. Instead, she’d go to bed after dinner, saying she was really tired. If I asked if was ok, she’d sigh a bit and say, “Don’t worry about me, I can cope.” If I then cancelled my plans, she’d perk up. It took a while to realise she was doing this with everyone else, too – but not frequently enough for people to notice.
Maybe I’m being cynical, but I think she loves being fussed over now, and she knows what buttons to press. I heard her tell her sister she felt a little low – and the next day, Moyra brought round a week’s worth of dinners to pop in the freezer and took the girls away for the night so Sarah could relax.
She’s realised she only has to hint at feeling depressed to be the centre of attention. I don’t know why she finds being a victim more satisfying than enjoying life.
She never says her depression is returning, but if anyone asks how she is she goes into a kind of martyr-mode. She’ll say, “Oh, I’m fine, I can cope with the occasional bad day” – but then sigh and look worried. I want to tell her to pack it in, to enjoy what we have, but I’m scared I’ll upset her or the girls, and I don’t want her to get depressed again.
She was genuinely ill, I know that. But I feel she’s realised now that she only has to hint at feeling depressed to be the centre of attention. I don’t know why she finds being a victim more satisfying than enjoying life, and I’m starting to resent it.
But I don’t know what to do or how to deal with it – because this isn’t something people talk about.