Our Story Begins:
When Depression Hits Home
I had almost completed this week’s column when a Facebook post by Head GEM Rene Syler had me switch gears. Esperanza Magazine’s article The Reinvention of Rene Syler. Rene is very up front about depression, how it affected her and the horrible things that led, ultimately, to her “reinvention.” As soon as I read it I had to chime in because I have unique insight into what happens inside a house with depression.
If you look closely at the woman at the top of this article you’ll see what some might call a devilish streak. I called it sparkle. A twinkle. When Andrea, my late-wife, smiled the centers of her eyes just dazzled. A storm-grey iris that surrounded a pupil that was never totally black, it was bright. Filled with life and adventure and amazement Andrea could stop traffic with one smile.
But one day the twinkle went away.
Not long after we moved to California Andrea suffered a breakdown. She was diagnosed with clinical depression.
In this time Andrea managed to, at least partially, alienate her sister, parents, and my family. She was working very hard on me and her children as well. We got her help, therapy, and medication, but time was the one thing that we had to contend with . . . time with someone who many days didn’t want our help.
I write this not out of bitterness but sadness. I watched the woman I’d married and had four children with pull farther and farther away from me. I was helpless. For years when I faltered she was there to hold me up. When she was here, at her worst, I tried to help but she wouldn’t lean on me. This is the damage depression does to everyone. She would cry uncontrollably one minute and when our oldest daughter would come in to console her she’d turn on a dime and snap, lashing out verbally at her. Whether good or ill, my teenage daughter spent a lot of time in her room preferring to communicate with her mom via text message. I spent my days caring for the kids, cooking, taking on more chores, trying to work and trying to help her come out of it. Many days I didn’t think it was working.
We changed medications, constantly, in the hopes of finding a combination that would help. In the height of it all she was diagnosed with a liver problem and her knees gave out. Complications from this caused her to gain weight which added to the depression. This fun-loving, beautiful, adventurous woman became a shut-in and didn’t want to leave the house.
As a husband I switched between trying to care for and walk on eggshells around Andrea not knowing what would help. I did this knowing nothing I did would be right but I tried anyway. I loved her. Giving up, however appealing, was not an option.
We waited too long to spot the signs, to see the black hole coming toward us. This certainly wasn’t her fault and none of us ever told her it was. But Andrea wasn’t the same after that. Not mean, not angry, just not the same. Hesitant, maybe. Apprehensive for sure. She obsessed about some things and worried about others. But ultimately I saw it . . . the light was coming back into her eyes. That sparkle, the glint that shined in the smallest of smiles was aflame in her pupils again. All of us were coming back into her orbit and slowly pieces of her returned.
Then in 2011 she caught a resistant strain of pneumonia and after just a few days in the hospital she was gone. Hard as that was…we got to see just a bit of that smile, that sparkle return. For us, that will have to be enough.
What about you? Do you think you could spot the signs? Depression is no small matter. Can you be strong enough to admit you need help, or get the ones you love the help they need?
Dave Manoucheri is a writer, musician and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.