My Supposed-to-be Anniversary

Today is July 1st. On this day in 2006, just over a month after I graduated from high school, I married my boyfriend of a year and a half, Andrew. I moved to Nebraska to live with him and start our life together. I was 18 years old, and he was 19. We both had full-time jobs, and we had a cute little one bedroom apartment in the heart of a gorgeous historic neighborhood in the capital city of Lincoln. Life was pretty okay. We were so young, and so naive, but we were happy. And that’s what mattered.

Deeper, though. Deeper than what was on Facebook, and deeper than what we would let our families know, was that we had struggles like any other couple. Ours tended to center mostly around things that most newlyweds worry about — money, how to split family time, and just the newness of living with another human being. But our speed bumps were magnified, it seemed, by the fact that each little hiccup was seen through the screen of depression. I didn’t know how to handle it, honestly. The man I married was a fun, hilarious guy most of the time! He joked along with everyone and made up ridiculous lyrics to popular songs that were playing on the radio (a skill of his that truly was well-honed and always spot on). But there were these moments…these dark, confusing moments where he wouldn’t be himself. And I just wouldn’t know where my husband went. He was always there physically, of course, but it wasn’t him. Years later, he would go on to tell me that these dark periods were somewhat of an out-of-body experience for him. That his inner monologue would say, “Why are you saying these hurtful things to your wife? You love her!” But the scathing words that would come out of his mouth would never reflect what he would later say were his innermost feelings.

(In case you’re needing a visual right now, this is the point where I am sitting here typing, and I absolutely lose it. The rest of this is very stream-of-consciousness, so stay with me here.)

Life kind of went on like this for the next 8.75 years, with periods of absolute despair, but also periods of absolute joy. Our terrible times were terrible, and our good times are how I hope to remember Andrew. I saw this man, who I truly loved, fight this battle with depression every single day. I watched him go through something so impossibly difficult that I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

10505620_10201870026341894_1624179415532834458_n Selfishly, it was difficult to be married to Andrew because I couldn’t fix it. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get inside his brain and make him suddenly be cured of depression. It didn’t stop me from trying, of course. I tried to be the wife Andrew needed — the wife that I thought would fix him. I would try so hard to make him better, in any way possible. I’d try to keep things even keeled and under control. He would have an episode before a family event, and I’d cover for his absence. Blame the weather, or say the babies weren’t cooperating, or that he wasn’t feeling well.

I know that some people are probably thinking, “Who does this girl think she is? Her husband is the one who is dealing with difficult things! He’s struggling with mental illness, and here she is crying about how hard it was to be married to him.” That’s fine, honestly. You see, those things used to be what molded my decision-making. “What will they say about this? Will people think less of me if I do XYZ?” I have been serving a belief that I need to live up to the standards of other people; that my job was to keep other people happy and sacrifice my own happiness in order to do so. Because of this, I’ve lived in the shadows of depression for a very, very long time.

Here is my truth: I did not live in a way that I would consider to be authentic when I was married to Andrew. I lived in a way that made it my entire goal to keep him happy. To keep a lid on his depression. To keep him from killing himself. Clearly, it is impossible to control others’ thoughts. Even if I was the most perfect, supportive wife, I could not impact or sway my husband’s actions. I recognize that it wasn’t fair to Andrew; that I was being inauthentic in order to try to keep him in a good place.

Eventually, after years and years of the daily struggle of trying to keep Andrew in a good place, I had emotionally shut down. I had slowly fallen out of romantic love with Andrew. The dark periods of his depression seemed to cycle every three months or so, and each time, they’d linger longer and longer. We tried therapy, but it didn’t go well at all and ended with Andrew leaving the sessions early, leaving me crying on the therapist’s couch. My heart was, and is, absolutely shattered for this man. Depression had made him into someone who had the light taken from his eyes. I know that this wasn’t him. This cold, hurtful person was just the actions of a man who was seeing the world through a screen of self-doubt and unworthiness.

The Monday before Andrew died, I told him I wanted to divorce.

I’ll give people a second to jump to conclusions and blame me for his suicide. Don’t worry, folks. I deal with enough of that self-imposed guilt, however valid or invalid it may be, and I’m working through it with my therapist continuously. I hope to one day not feel responsible for Andrew’s death. Some days I can confidently say that I am not responsible — that people get divorced all the time, and they don’t all take their own life. I didn’t hand Andrew a death sentence the day I told him how I felt. The way that he internalized my decision was out of my control. But other days, I just can’t pull myself out of the cycle of guilt. Small steps.

Not that I owe it to anyone, but here’s why I came to the conclusion to separate: I was unhappy. I had tried and tried to help him cope the best way that I knew how, and it had absolutely worn me thin. I wasn’t able to keep doing it. I couldn’t carry the weight of it anymore. I couldn’t keep trying to make sure he stayed healthy, while he, up until two weeks prior to his death, refused to get help. I had been what I thought I needed me to be for so long, that I didn’t know who I was anymore. Confused yet? Me, too.

My greatest gift that I’ve received through this whole traumatic event is this: I can be real, and it doesn’t matter if people don’t like it or need it or want it. I do not get my value from others’ opinions of me. I can live in a way I can be proud of. I am proud of myself, and I don’t need other people to be proud of me in order to validate that feeling. I cannot determine if people are happy or not, regardless of how I act.

So today. My would-be anniversary doesn’t seem so much like a would-be anniversary. If Andrew were still here, it wouldn’t have been a day of celebration. It would have still been sad, but only because of the loss of a marriage. Now it’s sad because this great person who lived deep down under the thick, scaly layers of depression, is gone. I am overwhelmingly sad at times because this person that I cared for so immensely lost his battle with mental illness. I’m not sad over the loss of my husband, because I lost my husband years and years ago to this awful, insidious illness. He was still in there, though. Deep down inside of him was the Andrew I married. That’s who I am sad for.

Comments

  1. Wow. Golly. Although I have more than a passing familiarity with depression, I can’t imagine how that must have been for you. My heart goes out to you, and good on you for getting your life on track again! Love, love.

  2. ((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((ASHLEY)))))))))))))))))))))))))))) I too, live with someone with severe depression. He takes his meds, sees a psych, and has been hospitalized 15 times. He has had ECT, many, many times, and all it’s done is ruin his memory. I can’t say I know how YOU feel (even after reading your story), but I know how I feel. Email me if you need to talk.

  3. Christina says:

    I am so proud of how brave you are. Telling this story really give insight to people who deal with mental illness and those who do not.

  4. I wish I could shoulder some of this pain for you. You were just a teenager. You are still so unbelievably young to have lived this life. Wishing you a clear head and an unburdened heart.

  5. It isn’t you’re fault that he committed suicide. As you said, many people get divorced and don’t commit suicide. You tried to work through it but you can’t live life miserable.

  6. Kathy Davis says:

    I am the one who suffers from depression in our family. Right now I am in a happy place. Thanks for your story. I know it is not easy living with someone who suffers from depression.

  7. Christy says:

    Hugs to you

  8. I am so so beyond sorry for your loss. I cannot even imagine what you are going through or the suffering you experienced up to this point. I can understand some of the struggles you faced as I watch my dad dealing with the same situation with his wife. She has moments of being fun, giving and caring and we love those times! But more often than not, she refuses to attend any family party, stays in her room in bed when we come to visit, and she doesn’t respond to phone calls or text messages hardly ever. I know how guilty you feel, and I would feel the same, but please know that nothing you did caused this. You can only try and direct someone to help so many times, and if they agent willing, there is nothing you can do. I know you are an amazig wife. You’d have to be to stand by him for so long while you yourself are torn apart watching the man you love deterierate mentally. You are a strong, amazing woman and I have always enjoyed following your posts and I hope you are able to get through this in your own time and pull through even stronger. You are not alone in this. ((hugs)) ❤

  9. I am right were you were years ago. My husband is suffering from depression and turned to drug use to try and deal with it. I wake up each day trying to help him figure out why he feels the way he does and not knowing if it will be a happy day or a dark day. Today, was a dark day. He’s getting the help he needs finally and started on some medication but it’s still a daily fight. I get glimpses of the happy guy I married but you just never know when he’ll be back again.

    Reading your post helped me not feel so alone and know that others have and are unfortunately been through the same pain or worse. You are so strong and give me hope that one way or another I’ll get through this.

  10. It is most certainly not your fault. I was in your shoes when I was a teenager, dating a man who suffered from depression (although I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time) for a little over five years. That was almost 20 years ago and the horror of that time of my life still flashes up from time to time. It is sad that people suffer from depression. It really is but that does not negate the fact that you deserve to be happy and deserve to be in a happy relationship. My boyfriend tried to kill himself, would always say he was going to kill himself or me or his grandparents that he lived with…one little look from me that he didn’t think was right and the night was over and the two weeks after. I walked on eggshells trying to keep him happy, read every book I could to try and help him, anything just so he would be happy. I eventually broke up with him in the computer lab at school but it was sort of an out of body experience for me. I was going to therapy but I was terrified of breaking up with him. He had started stalking my every move and showed up, I was distracted trying to get my paper for school done and just sort of told him that it was over before I even realized what I did. I think because I was so oddly calm and I don’t think I looked at him, more than to just glance over, he just walked out. Never was I so overjoyed and terrified at the same time. He kept stalking me and harassed me for a while, I was afraid to be home without my parents but eventually he moved on. Like you, I had lost myself in the effort to attempt to keep him going. Bottom line is this, we can’t control how other people feel. We can only control our actions and emotions. It is sad that people suffer but that doesn’t mean you weren’t suffering too and you shouldn’t have to suffer or feel guilty for wanting to be happy. Many blessings and wishes for peace for you on your journey.

  11. Sending you love and healing thoughts… hoping that you can find your authentic self and hold on tight! I am so grateful that you have the strength to share your story so others can know that they are not alone.

  12. Danielle says:

    I love your honesty. I too have lived and loved a man with mental health issues and totally understand the part about trying the be someone for them all the while losing yourself in the process. It is very isolating. Xo

  13. Carrieb says:

    You know I love you so much. This blog post is so amazing and you are crazing amazing for entrusting these facts to your public.
    You are in charge of your happiness. We all are. You did everything you could to steer your family’s happiness but the gusts of depression are so strong. Poor, sweet Andrew. Thank goodness for strong, recovering Ashley. He left his hopelessness in the right person’s hands, fortunately and unfortunately.

  14. Your words remind me so much of my own life,married at 18,3 children by the age of 21 and a husband who I loved,but gradually wore me down.I too asked for a divorce( though,we both knew this was the only way) after 24 years.Everything seemed fine and we were sorting things out,when so unexpectedly he tried to take his life( fortunately he didn’t succeed) my family was devastated by his actions and to this day,even though we have both rebuilt our lives,our family unit is broken beyond mending.On a positive note,I am married to a wonderful man,who laughs with me,gives me my independence and the marriage that I always hoped I would have as a little girl. Unless you have lived with depression,no one really understands.Stay strong,take one day at a time and I hope the future holds much happiness for you when the time is ready for you to embrace it
    Lynn

  15. Thank you so very much for writing this article…

  16. I’m kind of on the opposite end of this. I suffer from depression, as well as anxiety and delusional disorder. I know that it’s probably very hard for my husband to be married to me on my darker days, and if I had more of those than I do of good days, I certainly would not blame him if he had to leave me for his own well being. Fortunately I have something that works for me, and it makes our life so much better. I am so sorry for your loss.

  17. Shannon says:

    So sorry for your losses. Yes losses because each time the depression worsened you lost another piece of your husband and each time his depression worsened you lost another piece of yourself. And though you found yourself on the other side, it is a new you. Wiser from the experience and able to find your truth. But sadly the innocence that we all value and try to hold on to is lost also.

  18. At eighteen years old, I married a man that had an explosive temper. As young women, we work so hard to make things right in our marriage. We take more than we should and we make so many excuses on why this happened or why this didn’t happen. I was married 12.5 years. I left feeling helpless and hopeless because somewhere in those twelve years I lost my identity because of trying to change to help him. The sad thing is, after a failed marriage,I never got back to being that eighteen year old girl that trusted the world and everyone in it. While reading your story, my heart ached. It ached for what was and what is. I am so sorry for your loss. Time is the only healer, although little children play a key role. There was nothing like little arms wrapped tightly around my neck telling me how much they love me. I will pray for you, your family and his family. Nothing you could have done could have made things right. I pray for you to have a peaceful heart and I pray for comfort.

  19. Leslie S. says:

    As someone who has dealt with and has been in treatment for depression for over 15 years, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt… his death was NOT your fault. When depression hits full-swing, there is nothing anyone can say or do to help us out of the pit we put ourselves in. It’s weird but there is almost a familiar comfort in the bleakness one feels during an episode; we come to expect the feeling and almost welcome it. We sink down into it over the big things and over the little things in life. It’s almost like the ocean; the tide has to ebb sometime. The only only thing anyone can do is try to stay afloat or get out of the water.I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for you (and still is, in many respects). I know I’m not easy to put up with.. I’m certain I’ve given my loved ones a LOT to try and deal with over the years. And yes, some of them have put distance between myself and them (intentionally and otherwise) but it was on me to decide how to react to those losses. I hope that, in time, you can look back and smile about the happy times with him and know in your heart that you are abscond of any imagined guilt. You deserve happiness and should never be faulted for trying to find it. I’m sorry he wasn’t able to find a way out from under the depression so he could join you on that journey.

    • Alena Belleque says:

      I cried when I read this comment. I feel the same way. My husband and I both suffer from depression and PTSD, and it’s a battle, individually and as a couple. I shared on your previous post that I almost lost him to suicide two years ago. In the aftermath, I had to decide how I was going to handle it, as someone who also struggles with depression and the insanity that it brings. It was HARD. I should probably write about it myself, but not here on your post. I agree with Leslie — you deserve happiness and should never be faulted for trying to find it.

  20. robin canfield says:

    God bless you thanks for sharing your heart,it helps more than you will ever know. There is hope and love out there be real and be you ,thanks again.

  21. atexasgirlblogs says:

    OH wow thank you for sharing this as so many people either suffer from depression or someone they know has it and they do not know how to handle it. As I read this I was like wow you are so strong and no, it was not your fault. As I am sure he was a great many whom you loved. So I am sorry for your loss.

  22. I too live with a man suffering from severe depression and many times feel very alone in this struggle. Most family members are unaware, and the ones that are have no idea what to do with this information. Weird thing is this was the first post I have ever read from you and I feel a bond already. I like you do everything in my power to “make him happy” but truth be told, I have become a mother in this effort and not a wife. Sad thing is this is a role that unfortunately will never change. I too long for a life that is fulfilling and secure. I look at other couples and find myself wishing my life was different. It is a daily struggle for me and I can only imagine how hard it is for him. Thank you for having the courage to share your story. There needs to be more support for not only our mentally ill population, but for the suffering family members that live this nightmare day in and day out. Much love to you!

  23. I am so sorry for everything that you have gone through. I did the same thing that you did with your husband with my boyfriend for seven years. It has been a year and half since I found the strength to tell him I didn’t love him any more and that I needed out. I can tell you that I have feared for him ever since I left. I get times where I want to know that he is ok, but know it would be bad for me to contact him.

    I’m glad that you have found yourself again and that you have realized that you don’t have to please people with your opinions. That is one of the hardest things for me to still get a grip on. I am working on it. I wish you the best. Know that you aren’t the only one battling these things.

  24. Thank you for your post. You are giving me courage to get real with myself and those around me.
    My husband is a depressed man who sees life through a filer of anger and made up lies and I just…… don’t…… get it. We have everything we could ever need or want material wise and a very happy beautiful smart 4yr old son. I run around trying to make everything perfect including myself. I try to anticipate what might set him off so I can head it off at the pass before it sends him into his “I hate my life” place. I am so tired of the stress it puts on me. I wear a fake smile while thinking that if I try hard enough he will see he has nothing to be unhappy about and follow me down a path of happiness and contentment. I admit I do spend a lot of time worrying what others would think if they knew the turmoil and unhappiness going on behind what appears to be a perfect life. Trying to help him see life differently while also managing others perception of him has become such a heavy burden. It doesn’t matter what kind of happy picture I paint for him he still sees it in the same dim light of discontent. I don’t know where to start or what being real really looks like…because I have done this other for so long…. but I’m gong to try my hardest to figure it out. I’m sorry if I sound like a terrible and unsympathetic person. I’m really really not but like I wrote at the beginning you are giving me courage to get real. Thank you for your raw honesty.

  25. I am so sorry for your loss. You can not control what others think or feel. I have walked in your shoes. Your husband was sick. Mental illness is a disease people don’t understand because it can’t be seen To others that person is fine. What’s so sad is they blame everyone else for the way they feel and refuse help. After 29 years my husband divorced me thinking I was the problem. It’s been over 12 years now and he is the saddest person I know. It makes me sad because I can see what his life could be ifonly he would get help.

  26. Renee B. says:

    Ashley, know that you absolutely did the right thing in leaving your husband. You did it for yourself and for your kids (which I believe you have.) I am married to a man with bipolar episodes, who refuses to admit he has a mental health issue, and marital therapy did not help. The children are hurting. They don’t understand why their dad is the way he is. They don’t understand why I stay. I’ve forfeited any chance I have for romantic happiness. The children don’t understand why I would forfeit a chance for happiness, as much as they don’t understand why I would leave. Can you see the dilemma? Children do not deserve to be in my situation – or a situation like you had.

    My heart breaks for Andrew, you and your families. I know that you tried very hard to help Andrew, but as broken as he was, he was the only one who could have found a way out of the hell he was in.