To my wife and my best friend,
When we first met five years ago, I never thought I would be writing this. As we stood on stage in front of all of those strangers, acting our hearts out, I never once believed we would find ourselves here. We’ve come a long way.
When we first met, I’d never been truly close to a person who suffered from long-term anxiety and severe depression. They’d been merely buzzwords thrown around too many times by people who couldn’t think of another way to describe their daily frustrations.
“I think I’m going to have a panic attack.” or “Oh my gosh, I’m so depressed” became a monotonous phrase that strangers were all too happy to proclaim when the coffee shop ran out of their favorite muffin or they were forced to stay in the library a little later than normal to finish a paper instead of going to the bars with their friends. It was a signal to others they had problems and they wanted people to recognize and sympathize with their petty difficulties.
But you were different.
I never saw this monotony in you. To the contrary, you were always so bright and full of life and energy. But then, slowly, I started to see the side of you that you were so apt to hide from me and the rest of the world for fear of being found out. The multiple days where you would stay in bed, or not shower, or the days where eating a meal seemed like too much work. The times I would catch you crying and you would try to hide it in a (poor) attempt to smooth everything over.
We have now been together five years and married for nearly two of them. The time we’ve spent together has been amazing but truly defines an “emotional roller coaster.” Writing from the perspective of a husband who always likes to consider himself truly honest and, for lack of a better term, “manly,” it seemed inconceivable for me at first that there were days I couldn’t make you feel better. That I was powerless to change how you felt.
When you reached your lowest low, it was difficult for me to not take personally your statements asking me to simply let you be and that you needed to work through it on your own. That there was nothing I could do to be a better husband or companion and help your sadness and anxiety go away and that, yes, you were crying, but it was nothing I had done. At that time, I’m sad to say, your assurances fell on deaf ears.
When you reached your lowest low, you said something to me I will never be fully equipped to handle. “The only reason I’m still alive is because I couldn’t do that to you. I couldn’t kill myself only because I know how much it would hurt you.” That’s what you said. It broke my heart. In one sweeping statement, you managed to communicate exactly how much you value me and at the same time how much value you have placed on yourself. The frustration that comes with not being able to tell your depressed wife how much you love her, how each day is brighter with her in it, and instead knowing she will simply smile and not fully believe you or not realize what you’re trying to communicate is truly one of the hardest feelings I’ve ever had to overcome. In a word, I felt helpless. Leading up to our wedding and even a few months past it, I felt absolutely immobilized. I firmly believed there was nothing I could do. I felt trapped in a cycle of trying to understand your depression, to getting frustrated when it got too bad, and finally returning to wanting nothing more but to help you feel better. A truly unenviable position for any new husband.
But today is a brighter day. It is more than a one year since that day and, after numerous phone calls and quite a few tears, you have been meeting with a psychologist who has helped you (well… helped both of us) learn to deal with your depression and anxiety in a healthy, controlled way. I have learned that there will always be days when you are down. Days when you are not quite yourself. And, while some days are a struggle, I am still trying to learn that when you are unhappy, there may not be a root cause.
I know it still scares you. While your suicidal thoughts have dissipated, I know you constantly think about a day when they might reenter our lives and the home we have made. But know that this time… this time I will be ready.
When we first met, I was a foolish college boy with a tremendous crush. I was not properly equipped to handle the effects of mental illness, nor was I ready to deal with the perceived backlash I thought could only be my fault. I was ready to give in to whatever you wanted, even if those tendencies were reckless or self-destructive.
Today, I am a man. Today I am your husband.
When we first met, I thought you were different. I was right. Because despite the internal battle you fight on a daily basis, you still manage to be truly the best wife I could have ever hoped for. Despite the challenges mental illness will no doubt bring to our future, I welcome them head on. So long as we can do it together.
Your vigilant defender,