Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Discerning marriage while suffering from depression

I won't say I did it the right way.  Everyone has their own unique journey in life.  If you are persistent in prayer and continue to seek the truth through faith in God, you will make good decisions.  Even if you have no sign or no peace – or mental illness keeps you from feeling the consolations from prayer – God will accomplish His work in you.

Eventually, in my personal experience, I got to that place of prayer and discernment, but my over-analytical brain often confused self-doubt with “this must not be God’s will”.  And I think the depression had a huge part to play in that turmoil.

Before I got married, I struggled tremendously with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder.  While my husband-to-be and I were dating, he helped me see that I could benefit from some counseling.  With his gentle encouragement, I started seeing a counselor, but I still didn't admit that I needed "real" help.  The counselor was not a good fit, so things didn’t get much better.  And I never pursued anything further because I didn’t think that I deserved it.

Craig knew he wanted to marry me.  Because he was a devout man, his conviction meant more to me than my rollercoaster of emotions.  We got engaged and, although it was a happy time in our lives, things continued to go downhill for my mental health.  I had a stressful job, I put an expectation on myself to be inhumanly thin, and the stress of planning a big country wedding didn’t help either.

I had many doubts about whether or not to get married.  My emotions were all over the place.  Even though I looked and prayed for it, I never got that clear sign from God telling me that this was what He wanted.

Even a month before the wedding, I had a terrible depressive episode.  I was supposed to go to work but I kept driving because I didn't know what to do.  It was a hot, sticky, summer morning with no AC in my car.  I felt so lost in my soul that I thought I might as well be lost in the world too.  After many hours, I ended up in Tennessee (I live in Ohio).  I think I was headed to Florida to run away from all my problems.

Overlooking the beautiful scenery of the Smoky Mountains, I realized that I didn’t want to see this place alone.  I wanted Craig and me to see this together.  I had felt so overwhelmed before and thought I had to give up on everything.  But it wasn’t Craig and our future marriage that I wanted to give up.  I realized that my job was too stressful and the wedding planning was too stressful.  Instead of running away from Craig, I can make changes elsewhere in my life.  So I went back home.

I have to admit that I still had hesitations up until the very day.  And even now, I still am tempted to feel like I am not good enough for him.  But I do not regret my choice.

My depression got worse after we got married.  On the outside, I had so many good things in my life.  I felt like I had so many things to be grateful for, yet I still lived in a black hole.  I felt ungrateful, wretched, and shameful.  It was a very despairing thought to realize that not even being married to a wonderful man, living in a nice home, working at a great job, or being surrounded by wonderful family and friends could take away the pain of my depression.  Getting married did not solve all my problems, as I might have subconsciously thought.

Craig began to see how serious my condition was and started researching information and encouraging me to see a counselor.  However, I resisted treatment and medication.  I continued to try to pull myself up by my own bootstraps.

Finally, I had to admit that I had a problem and that I needed help.  Actually, I was so stubborn that I ended up in the hospital.  If it wasn’t for Craig I would not be here today.  In the darkest of moments, I couldn’t live for myself, but I could live for him.  I didn’t value my life, but he did.  I wanted to get better because he wanted me to get better.

Through our relationship, Craig has taught me that it is OK to ask for help.  It doesn’t mean I am weak or unworthy, it means I am a human being.  He has taught me the meaning of unconditional love.  He has stayed with me, by my side, throughout all my failures, all my pain.  I don’t know what I would have done without him.

Craig helped me realize the invisible reality of the love of God.  By his example, I was able to see that God loves me and wants what’s best for me too.  Looking back, I can see that God put Craig in my life for a reason – to help me get to Heaven.  And in turn, I will help him get to Heaven as well.

Our culture is very focused on independence.  We are taught from a young age to fend for ourselves, never to depend on anyone, and to seek out a career to support our selves financially.  But, our faith is one of dependence and trust.  Just as so, our marriages must reflect that reality here on earth.  The family is the image of the Trinitarian God.

I don’t know, maybe it might have been better for me to get help for my depression before I got married.  If I had been less stubborn, at least the path would have been less dramatic.  And maybe this is the path some people take while dealing with mental illness.

However, for me, I don’t think I would have been able to get though it on my own.  God used our marriage to show me how much I did need help.  He brought Craig and me together to let us know that we don’t have to do it on our own – we have each other and we have God.

I know it is not Craig’s job to solve all my problems.  And if I believe that, then I’ll never be happy.  But he has helped me to discover that I am allowed to depend on him and rely on his love.  And likewise, he can depend on me and my love.  So, in that sense, marrying him did help me begin to heal from depression.

So, should you get married if you’re dealing with depression?  I don’t know.  Should you get help for your depression?  Yes.

Mental illness can be debilitating.  It affects all areas of your life.  It can inhibit you from making good decisions.  Through the foggy lenses of depression and anxiety, reality is often distorted.

Considering marriage, if you are struggling with mental illness, the self-doubt and low self-worth may cause you to be attracted to scumbags or men who are not good for you.  These types of men don’t appreciate you or make you feel loved.  But deep down inside, you feel like you deserve this treatment, so you don’t get out of the relationship.

On the other hand, the depression may also cause you to doubt that you are good enough for the man you are with.  If this second scenario is the case, he is likely a really good person.  This man will take care of you, put your needs before his, and show you he loves you without getting anything in return.  He will make you feel valued beyond compare and worthy beyond your belief.

He doesn’t have to understand depression completely, but he does have to be willing to stay with you in good times and in bad, through the joys and the depression, the pleasures and the sufferings, the easy roads and the difficult roads.  This is true for any couple who is discerning marriage no matter what their crosses look like.

Another important aspect is to have open lines of communication.  It has to start when you’re dating, otherwise, it will be really difficult to create it when you’re married.  Tell him you’re struggling with mental illness.  Depression recovery needs a lot of talk time, so he must have an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on.  But, again, any good marriage needs lots of communication.

Don’t wait until you’re perfect to start living, because it will never happen.  Start living now, despite all your faults.  Through our weakness, He is made strong.  In our humility, God’s works His will.

I guess the point is, if you set yourself up for good marriage altogether, striving for holiness and oneness, then the marriage will benefit your mental health.  Like all marriages, there will be bumps on the road.  But if you are committed to staying together and helping each other, then it will be good.

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