Season 2 Ep. 7 of The #staymarried Podcast: Your Baggage Doesn’t Have to Wreck Your Marriage

Season 2 Episode 7 of The #staymarried Podcast: Your Baggage Doesn't Have to Wreck Your MarriageAt the age of eighteen I was diagnosed with Dysthymia. I can’t stand the labels of things, but I also value that they help make murky ideas a little bit more clear. Dysthymia is a mild form of depression, mostly manageable without medication. It is very real, but not necessarily incapacitating. The trouble with this kind of depression is that, because I am used to being just a little less joyful than the average person, a true season of deeper depression can sneak up on me pretty easily.

Dysthymia has also made me more susceptible to severe postpartum depression (PPD). I didn’t know that when we decided to start having kids, so rather than being snuck up on by a depressive season, I was tackled by a huge linebacker of darkness and self-loathing after the birth of my first daughter. I was deep under the weight of it and we really weren’t sure if I would make it out or if our marriage would still be intact if and when I did.

In today’s episode of The #staymarried Podcast Tony and I answer two questions back-to-back. Both are pretty heavy. One listener asked about navigating PPD, and another asked about coping with and helping their partner cope with past trauma and abuse. Because these issues have been intertwined in my life and then in our marriage, we’re talking about it all. Below I will also link to older posts where Tony and I have also written about some of these experiences, in case reading is more your thing or you’d just like more detail and resources after you listen.

Here’s Season 2, Episode 7 of The #staymarried Podcast

Continue reading “Season 2 Ep. 7 of The #staymarried Podcast: Your Baggage Doesn’t Have to Wreck Your Marriage”

“My goal is to not die…” – Postpartum Depression and Our Marriage

"My Goal is To Not Die" Postpartum Depression and Our Marriage - #staymarriedI’ve been in a slump. I can tell because most mornings when I wake up, I already want to go back to bed. I spend a lot of my thought life trying to figure out how I might be able to get out of my next social engagement. I practically count my own words because talking out loud and trying to express myself can be excruciating. I want to be alone. I want everything to be quiet.

If this is your first time to #staymarried, welcome to our bright and shiny corner of the internet! Oh, wait… that bright and shiny corner might be elsewhere today. Our mission is to offer hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married. But, sometimes, in order to get to hope, we need to tell our own stories of pain and apathy and how we work through it. Right now, I am working my way through it.

At eighteen I was diagnosed with Dysthymia. I can’t stand the labels of things, but I also value that they help make murky ideas a little bit more clear. Dysthymia is a mild form of depression, mostly manageable without medication. It is very real, but not necessarily incapacitating. The trouble with this kind of depression is that, because I am used to being just a little less joyful than the average person who does not deal with it, a true season of deeper depression can sneak up on me pretty easily.

Because of the Dysthymia, I have been more prone to severe postpartum depression. Now, I didn’t know that, so rather than being snuck up on by a depressive season, I was tackled by a huge linebacker of darkness and self-loathing after the birth of my first daughter. Continue reading ““My goal is to not die…” – Postpartum Depression and Our Marriage”

My Husband is Not Enough – The Five Key Friends We Need to #staymarried

As a husband, mine is more than enough. He excels as a father, a man of integrity, a talented and creative artist, and as a friend. Still, it is both painful and relieving to admit to you that he is not enough for me. I need more. What I need, he cannot provide on his own. I need my friends.

My Husband is Not Enough - 5 Key Friends We Need to #staymarried

Believe it or not, my husband is not threatened or even irritated by that last statement. He is my very favorite person in the world, and in many ways my best friend, but he is not one of my girlfriends and doesn’t actually want me to treat him as if he is. Not only that, but he values the women in my life tremendously. If I’ve been having a hard time, he will often ask me if I have talked to any of my friends about what is bothering me. He knows, maybe instinctively, how important it is for women to process with other women and to build and maintain close friendships.

It’s Science!

Sociologists confirm that most women have a greater need for friendships than even most men. In a recent UCLA study on stress and relationships, it was found that the commonly known “fight or flight” response to stress applies to men more than it does to women. When women are feeling stressed, their reactions can be much more varied, including a larger production of oxytocin in the brain. In cases of stress, oxytocin works to enhance feelings of peace and calm, and to lower blood pressure counteracting the harmful effects of stress.

Oxytocin is most known for being the “bonding” hormone. It is released during breastfeeding to help mothers and babies form healthy and necessary attachments as well as during sex which enables us to form emotional bonds Continue reading “My Husband is Not Enough – The Five Key Friends We Need to #staymarried”

The Reason I Take A Million Pictures

The Reason I Take A Million Pictures - #staymarried

I was talking with my friend Lara at a baby shower a few weeks ago. It was great to see her and catch up. “I just love all the pictures of your girls that you post,” she said. “They’re adorable!”

“Thanks! I’m sure I’m a little overkill, but I can’t help myself. I take a million pictures because I just can’t believe how good my life is.”

“Yeah? What do you mean? Did you have a rough childhood? Was something bad before?”

I was stunned by her questions. This conversation quickly went from small talk to something heartfelt and real, and I wasn’t really prepared. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Lara is both hilarious and insightful, fun and wise. She has always moved gracefully from the silly stories of life to the heartbreaking realities of pain. Everyone should have a friend like her. Still, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer her.

“You know, I think it would take at least a two-hour counseling session to really get into it. Let’s just say: there’s no reason my life should be so good, and I don’t want to forget it.”

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever taken a look around and been in awe of all that you have?

because when you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing - #staymarried

I cracked the screen on my phone a few days ago. I can’t even talk about it. It. Is. The. WORST! I keep wanting to take pictures of what I see because that’s the habit I’m in, and I just can’t. I miss documenting so much that I went back to look at the pictures I’ve posted recently and felt nostalgic for the moments I have been able to capture.

If you follow my Instagram feed, you’ll see that the pictures I post lack variety. They are always of my kids, my husband, my simple everyday life. I’m not traveling on grand adventures. I don’t cook and photograph amazing food. I’m not super crafty so you won’t see many pictures of home decorating ideas or Pinterest tutorials. My size and style are pretty average, so no “Outfit of the Day” posts or tips on where to find the best accessories. I follow feeds like those, and I’ll admit that mine is quite boring by comparison. But, that’s just it– I have chosen not to compare my life against the lives of others. As we’ve said before, “comparison is the thief of joy,” and I don’t want my joy stolen away from me.

I am in awe of all of this goodness because I know how my own life began. (You can catch a glimpse of my baggage in this post.) The long and short of it is that I was raised by a single mother with limited resources. I was sexually abused by a relative for a significant portion of my childhood. I went on to make terrible decisions with my sexuality and substance abuse during my teens and college years. I made the kinds of decisions good parents warn their kids about because the consequences follow you far into adulthood. I haven’t exactly escaped those consequences myself. No, I’d say I’ve been rescued from most of them.

Statistically speaking, I should not be a happily married woman, a mother of three, living an average life in the suburbs. A lot of women come through a childhood like mine and head straight for abusive relationships. It’s common for women like me to find themselves trading sex for money, addicted to drugs as a means of coping with a harsh reality, depressed and lonely. By the grace of God, that is not my story.

My story, instead, is wonderfully bland. I wake up to a baby crying to be fed each morning. I fret over whether or not it’s worth the trouble to get three littles out the door for a few things at the grocery store. I’m always behind on the laundry, and unless someone else makes it, dinner is never ready when my kind, funny, and crazy-talented husband comes home from work.

The only real trace of the effects of my not-so-ideal childhood is that I do battle depression. In fact, it was just about a year ago that I suffered one of the worst breakdowns I’ve ever had. During that time, I could see the beauty of my family, but I saw it as if I was looking through a window at something I couldn’t really have. I thought my part in this life was completely worthless and even a burden to those around me. Anger and sadness consumed me and it only seemed to be getting worse day by day. Tony, seeing how drastically things had changed, bravely called and made a doctor’s appointment for me. When our family doctor asked me if I felt suicidal, I struggled to answer.

“It’s not that I’m making plans or think I would actually kill myself, but I think of death all the time,” I told him. “It’s as if I’m sure I’m going to get in a terrible car accident every time I drive my car or that I might come down with a terminal illness and die very quickly.”

“And how do those thoughts make you feel? Are you afraid to die?”

“Not at all. I think it would be a relief.”

I heard the words come out of my mouth, and though my husband looked shocked and the doctor’s eyes filled with compassion, the words did not sound strange to me. I left the appointment with a prescription for an anti-depressant. That tiny pill that I now take daily, along with sessions with a wonderful counselor have changed my life.

Now, I no longer see my life as if from the outside, but I feel fully immersed in the wonder of it. I am drowning in joy and laughter. I wish I could have said this when Lara asked. I wish I’d had the words. Taking pictures and videos seem the most appropriate response to the glory of it all. After living so much of my life swaying between darkness and a numbing fog, this is my way of doing all I can to make these memories last as long as possible.

I want to live a life worthy of this blessed ordinariness. I want to be the most present mother possible. I want to be the selfless, kind, and generous wife my husband deserves. Don’t get me wrong, our life is not without toddler tantrums and sleepless nights. Still, I document in pictures the same simple life over and over again because I am so grateful for it and so looking forward to a future with the people in my home because Tony and I have chosen to break through the darkness and #staymarried.

 

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Michelle

 

 

How to Find a Great Therapist

How to Find a Great Therapist - a #staymarried blog for couples“Have you thought about counseling?”

I knew I was struggling with depression, but I also thought I could push past it on my own. I would go back and forth from rage to silence over things that would normally be manageable, every-day responsibilities, like dirty dishes. I had begun to shut myself away from most of the people I knew. Aside from my husband, I had one friend who constantly and gently inserted herself into my life. When she asked me if I’d thought about counseling, at first I was embarrassed. I must be really bad if she’s asking. At the same time, I knew she cared about me and about my family. I also knew that she herself had seen the benefits of counseling over the years in her own life. She wasn’t telling me that anything was inherently wrong with me. She was simply encouraging me to get the help I needed.

It was clear that I needed outside help and I dreaded it. I’d been in counseling before when I was in college, and while I still carried with me some of the tools I’d learned, my memory of the process of divulging my deepest heartaches was incredibly painful. After months of patient nudging, as Tony shared about in his post Living with My Partner’s Baggage, I finally began the process of searching for a counselor, deciding on one, and attending therapy sessions.

I am working through the pain of my past and learning to be healthier, not just for my own sake but for my marriage and my children. Now that I’ve found my counselor, I can’t believe I waited so long to begin my therapeutic relationship. With each session, though the process can still be painful, I leave encouraged and full of hope.

Whether you, like me, need individual therapy or you believe that your marriage might benefit from couples counseling like Carl and Katie, beginning the process can be daunting. I have been so fortunate in my search that I thought it would be great for you to hear from my own therapist about how to know whether therapy might be the right next step for you and how to go about finding a great counselor. I’m pleased to introduce you to Mary Beth Woll. Mary Beth is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been working with Meier Clinics in Bothell, Washington since 2005. Here she is to share her steps to finding a great therapist.

How to Find a Great Therapist

Mary Beth Woll, MA, L.M.H.C.“Wait a second! Find a therapist?!? Do I need therapy? Do we really need it as a couple? With a little willpower, we could handle this on our own, right?”

The truth is, everybody needs counsel, at one time or another, from loved ones, trusted family and friends, pastors, mentors, and professionals. Taking this important step could save a person’s life or marriage and potentially change the course of many generations to come!

Before beginning the search for a therapist, it is good to clearly define the need.

♦ What are my symptoms?

♦ Is there an immediate threat to someone’s safety?

♦ Is there a desire to include spirituality in therapy?

♦ Will it be individual, marriage, or family therapy?

♦ Is there a need for a specialist in treating such cases as Bipolar Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and others?

♦ How will I pay for it? Can I use my insurance? (Currently, children are covered under their parent’s insurance until age 26, even if married.) Do they offer a sliding scale?

♦ Would a support group or peer counseling provide what I need or do I need a professional who specializes in my situation?

With all these questions, is it any wonder that many people never make it to the therapist’s door? There are good answers to all these questions, but even before answering them, there are often other roadblocks that need to be addressed, like how does one even know when it’s time to see a professional?

How can I determine if I need therapy?

Consider when a person catches a cold. If they are sensible, they will drink more fluids and get more rest. If the cold persists, they may take vitamins or over-the-counter cold remedies. If the cold develops into bronchitis or pneumonia, it’s time to see a doctor! In such cases, it would be unwise and potentially life-threatening, to continue to self-treat or self-medicate.

In the same way, it is important to recognize when emotional, behavioral, or soul needs are too much for one’s personal support system. That’s when it’s time to stop “white-knuckling it” and get professional help!

As a Christian, shouldn’t I just rely on my church and my faith instead of a counselor?

Sometimes a person’s faith background or the religious tradition they were brought up with can be a roadblock towards counseling. Many have been taught that if their faith is strong enough, they need not rely on outside counseling. Some wonder, “Is it even O.K. for a Christian to go to therapy? If I were a “better Christian,” I wouldn’t need therapy, right? Shouldn’t I just read my Bible and pray more?”  This kind of thinking can prolong a person’s pain and unnecessarily add to the shame they may already be experiencing. Especially if someone is dealing with past trauma or abuse, some kind of addiction, or any number of other mental health challenges, a trained counselor can be an incredible tool and ally. In these cases, telling them, “You don’t need counseling. Just become a better, stronger Christian,” or “Just read the Bible and pray more,” can condemn them to more years of symptoms, hiding, and unhealthy coping strategies instead of being helpful. In a loving community of faith, we really should be encouraging each other to seek out the help we need, and receiving help from a trained counselor is a wonderful and healthy avenue.

What about medication?

Sometimes, there is a very real and legitimate need for medication in treatment for depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, among others. This must not be minimized, any more than one would advise a diabetic not to take their insulin! Often people struggle with the idea of starting on medication, thinking that it makes them seem weak or even “crazy.” The reality is that the brain is an organ like any other part of the body, which can become sick. In some cases, the brain is formed a little different, from birth, and needs medical support.

Many Christians, and particularly those who have overcome drug addiction, struggle with medication issues, thinking that a “better Christian” would not need an antidepressant or mood stabilizer. This misconception can keep many people away from much-needed treatment. Of course, it is true that God still heals, but apparently, He also chooses to use medicine, and does not condemn us for it. Jesus confirmed this when He said in Matthew 9:12, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” Praying for the sick is a vital ministry of the church, but it is just as dangerous for the church to advise against medicine as it would be for pastors and church members to line up and write out prescriptions for each other on Sunday mornings! This calls for a mental health professional.

Although therapists do not prescribe medicine, they can diagnose and refer for proper medical treatment, which is most effective in conjunction with therapy.

Is my past affecting my current life and relationships?

Some people experience childhood sexual abuse or other trauma that is terrifying or impossible for a child to understand. Memories of such horror don’t go away. They are so threatening that the mind protects the person by locking these memories away in the subconscious for years while they carry on with the business of growing up. Later, these memories can present as unexplained behavioral symptoms or big blank blocks of time in their childhood memories. When these symptoms begin to emerge in adult years, the person may need someone who can help them articulate and resolve what was previously unspeakable.

When they are ready to face the pain of the past, though friends and family can play a part in the healing process, it is not safe or appropriate to talk to just anyone. It is important that they seek out someone who is trained and skilled in such work, otherwise it is possible for the unequipped helper to inflict more damage in the process.

How can counseling help my marriage and other relationships?

How to Find a Great Therapist - a #staymarried blog for couplesIn addition to depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic symptoms, relationships or marriages may become so conflicted or distant that a third party’s perspective and input is needed. Such situations can be overwhelming to a couple’s support system of friends and family. Once again, professional help is in order. Seeking counseling, in such cases, is actually the responsible thing to do in order to continue to function well in the family and on the job.

What type of therapist is best for me?

Some of the confusion in finding a great therapist can be found in the titles alone.

Psychiatrists will usually be identified as “Dr.” with “MD” following their name. These medical doctors specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental or psychiatric illnesses. They are trained in counseling, but typically use the client’s report of symptoms to prescribe appropriate medications and refer clients to therapists for counseling. While it is true that family practice doctors prescribe the overwhelming proportion of antidepressants in the United States, I prefer to recommend a psychiatrist when medication is needed, because, as specialists, they can often catch a subtle need that can make a big difference in prescribing the right medication.

Psychologists (PhD or PsyD) have a doctoral degree in Psychology. They are specialists in various methods of therapy, as well as psychological testing. Psychologists do not prescribe medications but can refer to a psychiatrist, if necessary.

Licensed Mental Health Counselors (MA, LMHC) have a Master’s Degree in Psychology, plus 3,000 hours of post-master’s experience in order to be licensed. They are therapists who can diagnose and treat a wide range of problems including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, sexual abuse, ADD/ADHD, grief, suicidal impulses, addiction and substance abuse, stress management, self-esteem issues, emotional health and family, parenting and marital issues. In addition to individuals, they can treat couples and families. They do not prescribe but can refer to a psychiatrist.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, (MS, LMFT) are therapists with a Master’s Degree in Psychology and post-master’s experience (similar to the Licensed Mental Health Counselor) but with more specialized training in issues regarding marriage and family. They can, also, treat all the issues listed above.

Licensed Social Workers (MSW, LICSW) also have a Master’s Degree in Social Work and post-master’s experience. They specialize in providing services to help their clients’ psychological and social functioning. Social workers can also treat the above therapy issues. In addition, they are specially trained to provide counseling and resources to help a person better function in their environment and relationships.

Pastoral Counselors (Rev., M Div, Pastor) are usually licensed or ordained ministers who also have training in counseling. Their emphasis tends to focus on biblical principles, spiritual formation and direction, and improving relationships. It is important to note that, depending on how or where the Pastor was ordained, they may not have been required to have any training in counseling at all. It is dangerous to assume that just because someone is a Pastor, they are equipped to counsel you in areas of mental health.

How can I determine I’ve found the right therapist for me?

In an effort to answer some of these concerns, I will share how I found my own therapist. Yes, therapists need therapists, too! We all have injuries in life. The better healed I am, the better therapist I will be. Experiencing the process also gives me empathy for my clients who are undergoing this process.

Here are the things that were important to me as I looked for a therapist:

Covered – She was listed on my insurance information.

Competence – She went to a respected university and has a good work history.

Conviction – There are certain moral principles which are non-negotiable for me. I didn’t want to wrestle with these issues during therapy, but needed someone who shared this baseline with me so that they would be better able to advise me. Since my faith informs my decisions, choosing a therapist who was also a Christian was THE most important aspect for me.

Compassion – I found that she is a very caring individual.This is also critical for me. If I felt that the therapist didn’t really care, I would go elsewhere.

Connection – She and I “hit it off.” This makes therapy so much more pleasant.

Consistency – She is dependable and reliable. I know what to expect when I go to therapy.

Convenience – Her office is within about a half hour commute. I was willing to travel this distance for a great therapist.

Finding a great therapist has been a huge benefit in my own life. Hopefully, these thoughts will also help you navigate the maze of finding a therapist who is a good fit for you. As a counselor, I know that I have the opportunity to change lives, daily! Sometimes, like braces, it is slow and incremental. Other times, like heart surgery, it is critical and immediate. Still for others it is like physical therapy – just plain hard work, long-term, and endurance-building.

It takes courage to begin the counseling process. Often, we will experience resistance from within ourselves and from others. This is normal and to be expected. But the rewards are well worth the risk as these life changes can be deep, permanent, and enriching not only for you, but for your loved ones and your marriage. And even one changed life can change the course of events for generations yet to come!

~ Mary Beth Woll, MA, L.M.H.C.
Clinical Therapist for Meier Clinics
http://www.meierclinics.com/Woll

We want to thank Mary Beth for her insight. Once you determine your symptoms and need for a therapist, I’d encourage you to come up with a list of your own, like Mary Beth did, of the important characteristics a therapist should have to be a good match for you. I’ve had friends share with me that they needed their therapist to be more direct and less compassionate, or that they planned to pay with cash so insurance wasn’t a consideration. Whatever you decide is important to you, use this as a checklist to sort through your options. Maybe even consider your first visit as more of an interview and less of a problem solving session. Once you meet them in person, ask yourself, “Is this counselor right for me? Can I see myself coming consistently and being honest with this person?” It is as much in the interest of the counselor to make sure you are well suited for each other as it is in yours, so don’t feel badly if you decide they aren’t a fit.

We’ve gathered some resources for you to look through as you begin your search. Click here to check out a few different lists and databases of licensed and recommended counselors in your area. When your life or your marriage hits a rough spot, which usually is a matter of “when” and not “if,” having a great therapist by your side can be just the thing you need to navigate through it and encourage you not to throw in the towel, but instead, to #staymarried.

Lost in the Fog: Guest Post by Carmen Meeks

Last week, in “If Mama Ain’t Happy,” we discussed how our moods affect everyone around us. I touched briefly on my own experience with depression, and this week we want to explore that a little bit further. According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. suffer from depression. This means that, even if you are not personally struggling through it, there is a great chance that someone you care very much about is suffering. They may even be suffering in silence because of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues like depression, bipolar, and anxiety.

This has always been a blog about marriage, not mental health, so you may wonder why we are diving into these rough waters. The simple truth is that we always want to be open about things that affect marriages, and people who suffer from depression have a higher likelihood of getting divorced than people who don’t, especially when the depression is untreated. We know, however, that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

When I began to think about the devastating connection between depression and broken marriages, and my own risk for divorce, my mind went to a couple I know who has been married thirty years longer than Tony and I. This couple is full of fun and wisdom, they are generous, and living life with a purpose. They have also battled depression and are beating the odds and staying married.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Carmen Meeks and allow her to share her own story today.

 

Lost in the Fog

When Michelle asked me if I would be willing to write about my experience with depression, I immediately said yes. If I can offer a few words of hope to someone who is currently feeling hopeless, I want to do so. I am living proof that there is hope and healing available for those who struggle with the debilitating disease that is depression.

My season of depression came on slowly. It crept over me like a Seattle fog.  Slowly, steadily, almost imperceptibly. I really had no idea what was happening to me until I was in the thick of it and couldn’t see my way out. At the time, I didn’t know the symptoms of depression, I just felt them: fuzzy thinking, irritability, fatigue, extreme sadness, hopelessness. Physically, I felt heavy– like I was sinking. Mentally, I felt clouded– like I had lost the capacity to make a decision.  Emotionally, I felt nothing– I was flat-lined.

Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

Unfortunately, my husband became the victim of my depression. I blamed him for how I was feeling. Wasn’t he supposed to make me happy? My two dysfunctional coping mechanisms were anger and withdrawal. Attack and retreat. I can’t imagine how frustrating this must have been for him, but somehow he stuck with me. And I can’t imagine how hard this must have been on my two children. There was a period of time during their young adult years when their mom was physically present, but emotionally absent.

I came face-to-face with my illness when I was driving down a wet road on a rainy day and saw a car swerve toward me. I had already experienced times when my heartbeat would accelerate over small events, but this time it skyrocketed in reaction to the perceived danger. It was beating so fast that I could literally hear it in my ears and feel my mind shutting down. The other car corrected their trajectory and no collision occurred, but I was already a mess. I pulled over to the side of the road and burst into tears. I was afraid to try to drive home. I knew something was wrong with me, but had no idea what it was or what to do about it.

A few days later, my husband and I got into our car to head to a friend’s home for dinner. That’s when I exploded. I told him I was unhappy with our life and our marriage and something had to change. It was ugly and messy, but it was also the first step toward healing. Rather than running for the hills, my husband helped us locate a competent Christian counselor. We went there together.

My healing did not happen overnight. It did not happen in weeks. It did not happen in months. I walked out of my depression, one day at a time, over a period of two years. Though our budget was tight, we paid for professional therapy month after month. I tried several different medications until I found one that worked for me. We stayed connected with close friends who encouraged us in our journey. I not only needed physical and emotional help, we needed to reinvent our marriage— and we did. We listened to our counselor and changed bad patterns in our relationship.  It was hard, but it was good.

Almost twenty years have passed since I found myself crying on the side of the road. I still live with a tendency toward depression and always will. My dad struggled with it, as did his dad. But now I know how to recognize when the fog is creeping in and how to take action. I am vigilant and self-aware. I no longer expect my husband to be responsible for my happiness. I know how to take responsibility for my own feelings. I’m not perfect, but I am better.

The symptoms of depression are available at our fingertips. Simply Google “depression” and you will access a wealth of information. But knowing the symptoms is not enough. If you are lost in the fog, you probably need help to take your first steps toward healing.

Here are some of those steps:

Tell a wise, trusted, action-oriented friend.

In the midst of my fog, I had neither the wisdom, nor the desire, nor the capacity to take action to help myself. I thank God that my husband took my hand and joined me on my journey toward healing.

Find a wise, competent psychiatrist.

For me, it was also important that this psychiatrist was Christ-centered. I needed holistic healing– body, soul and spirit. That included a full medical workup and medication for the treatment of depression. I also needed the grace and wisdom and practical advice found in the Bible to give me hope as well as practical life skills that I continue to implement in my relationships today.

Be patient with the process, and never stop growing.

You won’t conquer your problems overnight. I am still a work in progress, but I am much more self-aware and able to own my issues rather than blame others for my struggles. I know my moods, my physical weaknesses, and my points of vulnerability. I know where to go for help. I know what makes me happy:  spending time with my family, a long walk on the beach, quiet time at home, a hike in the woods, sharing a good meal with great friends, traveling to discover new places on this amazing planet.

Most importantly, ask Jesus to help you.

I put my faith in Jesus as a teenager. I still remember the weight I felt lifted from my heart when I asked him to forgive my sins and lead my life. Later, as a twenty-something, I stood in front of my pastor and promised to love my husband “for better or for worse.” The worst time of my life was my season of depression. Even though I cried out to Jesus during this struggle, he did not heal me instantly. But he did heal me eventually– with help from skilled professionals and therapeutic medicines and with the support of my husband. I see God’s handprint in all of these details.

This psalm is a reflection of my journey.  I pray it is an encouragement to you.

Psalm 40 - Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

Carmen and her husband Mike have been married for 36 years. They pastor EastLake Church in Chula Vista, California, where everyone is welcome regardless of their stories, questions, doubts, or struggles. They have two grown children, Heather and Ryan, as well as 7 grandchildren. Mike and Carmen, along with Tony and I, have committed to living transparently, especially when it comes to the issue of depression, so that others might find the hope and healing they need to conquer this otherwise silent destroyer of lives and marriages. The odds may be against us, but there is hope for each and every one of us, no matter what we face, to #staymarried.

Lost in the Fog - a #staymarried blog about depression. Guest post by Carmen Meeks

P.S. We’ve shared about our experience with depression in Tony’s post, Living with My Partner’s Baggage. As we mentioned before, even if you are not personally struggling with depression, there is a 1 in 10 chance that someone you know is. Please consider sharing this post and help us fight the stigma and silent suffering of this crippling disease by bringing it out into the open for discussion.

If you’re new here, welcome! You may want to check out my first post to get a little background as well as our about page. Thanks for reading and sharing!
~ Michelle

Photo Credit: Seattle | Fog in the Morning by Stephanie Williams Photography

Living With My Partner’s Baggage

We all bring something into our relationships… “Baggage” is the popular term for it. My baggage includes a couple of past relationships, one sexual and one very long-term (10 years)… as well as lust, pride, and financial struggles. But these shy in comparison to what my wife has endured in her lifetime, as she shared last week here on the blog. It’s not a competition of ‘who has the most hurt and dirt in their past,’ so I’m not trying to compare myself to her, but the fact is, I was not subject to molestation and rape from ages 4 to 10 and don’t think I can ever fathom what a dark place that is for a child. Michelle has asked me to write a follow-up to last week’s post to share what it’s like from a partner’s perspective– being in a relationship with someone who has dealt with sexual abuse. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to share my insight, perhaps because I don’t feel I have any. But because she asked, I will try.

Living With My Partner's Baggage - Coping with Depression in Marriage - a #staymarried blog

Here’s how it goes…
I have heard Michelle’s story many times, and each time I hear it, it sounds almost exactly like the first time she told me. Very disconnected. Very factual and stale. Not emotional like you’d expect from someone who’s been deeply wounded – never a tear, or tremble, or pause in her voice. She never uses the word “rape,” and even though that’s what it was, she seems to speak of the unspeakable as though she’s talking about a mediocre restaurant she visited. Honestly, it’s a little disjointed to hear it delivered this way (like Ben Stein giving a eulogy) but I think I get it. Not only is she trying to spare the feelings and pity of the listener, but if she were going to allow herself to internally or mentally relive those moments every time she shared her past, she might never stop carrying that baggage.

In contrast to popular opinion, my wife is actually an introvert. She is very private and really only shares details of her life and feelings to very close friends. So when I heard that she was going to share her story with the world, I was so proud of her, because I knew it was way outside of her comfort zone. The video in her “Baggage Handling” post was shot in 2009 when we lived in Wisconsin, and it was intended to be used for the (at the time) small church of about 500 people we helped plant. We saw then how being open and transparent could be helpful to others who’d had similar experiences. It seems that while so many are affected, there is still a huge tendency for people to feel alone. It’s a colossal understatement to say that I’m a big fan of Michelle Peterson.

But back to the effect it has on our marriage. For me, her baggage helps me remember that God is good. I know, I know. You all just thought, “oh geez, Mr. Christian just pulled out the cliché one-liner I was expecting”… but before you roll your eyes and stop reading, hear me out: The results of studies concerning adults who were sexually abused as children have shown that the odds are against Michelle, and she should be in a self-destructive situation– in an abusive relationship, addicted, selling her body, living with cripplingly low self-esteem, or admitted to a mental hospital– but she has overcome and spat in the face of those studies. I cannot look at the scientifically observed results of an abused childhood, put them next to who I know my wife to be, and find the contrast anything less than a miracle.

To put it differently, it has been no more than a small thorn in our sides. Her past has surfaced for me to experience a small number of times. This doesn’t mean that it’s all lollipops and kittens, though. One specific example of how her past has had an effect on our marriage is Michelle’s experience with depression.

Depression at Home

It is extremely common for victims of childhood abuse to suffer from depression and even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There is no time when this has been more apparent than after the birth of each of our girls. After Claire was born, Michelle seemed fine for a couple weeks, but then she began to appear distant or lost in thought. Then she turned irritable, bitter, pessimistic, and communication was like pulling teeth, most of the time ending up in tears. Talking about it together (when we’re not in the depths of living in it), she’s revealed to me some pretty dark thoughts she struggles with. Out of shame we never sought professional help, but this season eventually faded and life became easier again.

After learning that we were going to have another baby, I gave little thought of how we would handle postpartum. I think I just thought “it takes going through it once to know how to handle it the next time” and assumed that Michelle would be watchful of symptoms, and it would be better this time. I was wrong. After Nora was born, it was worse than before. She was completely non-communicative, simple things that were easy for her to navigate before now caused her to be stressed and overwhelmed. Again, I hoped in silence that it would just go away, but after a month I was doubtful. I ended up calling a hotline to find out what I could do for my wife and they were helpful, up until they told me that Michelle would have to call them directly so that she could receive assistance. I was torn. I wanted help, but I feared in my wife’s hyper defensive state that she might feel betrayed that I made the phone call in the first place.

Our youngest was four or five months old when Michelle seemed to come alive again. We could talk and even joke and I thought we’d come through the worst of it. Then, just a few months ago, she seemed to break down once more. Michelle not only felt the emotional struggle like before, but it was physically debilitating this time. I was nervous to go to work, fearing that parenting our girls was too much for her. Once I came home from work a little early only to find her sobbing in the bathroom. She was trying to put makeup on and could not stop crying. I asked her what had happened, and she told me plainly that she had no reason to cry except that she just felt hopeless and worthless. It was brutal to watch my sweet wife feel so awful. She wanted to shake it off, but these horrible feelings were just not going away. I kept telling her how much I loved her and how much she meant to our family, but it seemed that any attempt I made at encouraging her was futile.

Soon common household responsibilities seemed like impossible tasks. There were Fridays when I’d get home from work and I would only hear our bedroom door shut as I walked through the front door and knew she was retiring to sleep, leaving Dad to “figure it out” for the remainder of the weekend. It was a dark time, one of the hardest I can remember. This time, however, I called and made an appointment with our primary care doctor. I was still nervous, but when I told Michelle, she seemed relieved. Michelle has been on antidepressant medication now for a couple of months, and that has made a huge difference. We have talked and know that the next step is to seek counseling. That may seem like a simple phone call to most people, but after living with this for some time now, I realize what a hurdle that is for my wife. Still, she is determined to be healthy. I think that’s the difference of being a victim and a survivor.

I don’t even think Michelle really realizes she is a victim of sexual abuse. Take any horrible situation, and the victim is the innocent person hurt by the situation, helpless and waiting for the hero to come and rescue them. Sometimes the hero doesn’t come. But a survivor is what a victim becomes when they endure, outlast, or take matters into their own hands to find a way out of a bad situation… not for justice or to make fair or right, but for survival. Michelle is a survivor – strong and courageous.

How We Deal

So there you sit, reading my inadequate words to describe how I live with my amazing wife who brings past abuse into life with me. This isn’t a post to give you the 5-happy-hops-to-living-with-abuse, and I’m sorry if that’s what you’re hoping for. We do know that seeing a physician and starting medication has been a game-changer. Michelle is no longer plagued by the hopeless and worthless feelings she struggled through so heavily. She is alive to us and not distant the way she was and we are so thankful. As for me as her husband, I realize I have responsibility to her and to our family to continue to work through this. If you are a partner trying to cope with your spouse’s baggage, all I can offer is what I think works for us…

Coping with Depression in Marriage - a #staymarried blog

I’m sure some of this comes as a shock. I think most people read Michelle’s words and think about how encouraging she is. Some may even think we’ve overcome a lot of hurdles and are now sitting happily on the other side, ready to bestow all our learnings to everyone else who’s hurting. Nope. We’re in it too. You might be tripping over that boundaries hurdle right now, but we’re hitting that one over and over and are always stumbling over the comparison trap. We have decided not to let baggage or depression or anything else we may face tear us apart. We definitely don’t have this marriage thing in the bag, but we want to keep at it and #staymarried.

 

If you related with this post or think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. You can use the social media buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and Michelle’s first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!
~Tony

Portrait Credit: Lindsay Kaye Photography