I promise to choose you, in good times and in bad. Till death do us part. I was in my early twenties when I pledged those words to my husband. Like many young brides, I promised these things without having experienced a lot of life. Difficult times did come: a miscarriage, health scares, layoffs, losing two parents to long illnesses, and more. But we plowed through and came out on the other side stronger, proudly wearing our scars; living proof that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It felt like there was nothing we couldn’t handle. We are bullet proof, he always says. Then, something happened that we could not just simply plow through and overcome: my husband was diagnosed with chronic depression.
Fast forward a couple of years later, with the right medical support, proper medication and education, we are not only in a good place, we are in a better place than we ever were. We have a deeper understanding of who we are and what we need — forever changed by this new truth that will always be a part of us.
My husband’s diagnosis was the hardest and greatest thing that happened to our family. Here are some ways that it has changed our family for the better:
1. We talk frequently and openly about mental illness.
We talk regularly as a family about how everyone is feeling. We explain how some brains work differently than others and how medication, nutrition, sleep and exercise can affect our moods. We talk about the chemicals in our body. We talk about drugs, hormones, anger, sadness and anxiety.
We encourage our kids to talk to us about anything that makes them feel different, free of judgement. This is a place where you can bring your complete self. You will always be loved, heard and safe.
2. We put the odds in our favor.
My father repeated this throughout my childhood: luck is a residue of design so put the odds in your favor.
We all have triggers that cause us not to be our best selves. As an introvert, I need at least an hour each day where I am alone to read, write, listen to a podcast or do something creative. This time is necessary for me to be a patient mom, a supportive partner and a pleasant human the other 23 hours of the day. My husband needs something else: a good night’s sleep, his morning medication and he feels his best when he is eating healthy, exercising regularly and getting out of the house for a daily change in scenery.
Through trial, error, observation and many conversations, we’ve learned more about what we need to be the best version of ourselves. This is what we intentionally and deliberately prioritize each day. This allows us to live like the odds are forever in our favor. Thanks Dad.
3. We accept that there will be bad days.
Living with depression means you will have good days and bad days. We expect these to happen and remember that not every day will be like this. Bad days are temporary; we acknowledge them and try not to dwell over them more than we should. We forgive quickly and completely. There will be many good days too and we never take those days for granted. We don’t pretend to be perfect or thrive to be flawless. In this family, when you are unlovable, we come together and love you harder until you are ready to love yourself again.
My husband talks about his depression journey every chance he gets. He selflessly takes any opportunity to help someone and make them feel like they are not alone. I’ve never felt the things he describes feeling. But I have lived through the heartbreak and the bad days. I’ve also seen how this has given us the tools to prepare our children, who might inherit this disease, to recognize the signs of mental illness. I’ve learned how to make choices that increase our chances at happiness. I’ve learned that perfection is not the goal. And after every storm, the sun always shines again. Bullet proof, he says. After 19 years, I can honestly say that there is no one else I would rather be taking bullets with.