Summer and I are huge fans of the Moth podcast. The Moth celebrates storytelling through real stories told live by real people. Summer and I went to a show in Asheville (Mothlight) to listen to stories and possibly tell a story. (Spoiler Alert: Neither of us got to tell a story.) The show was last February and its theme was “love hurts.” What follows is her “script,” and first blog post, for that evening. And though she didn’t get a chance to share her story she blessed me with her words. Without further ado, here’s Summer in her own words:
I met my husband when I was 16 and he was 17. We worked at a very special place called Camp Tekoa. We dated through college and high school. He brought me back to camp one weekend at my very strong suggestion and proposed to me.
We have had so many adventures in our almost 16 years together. We have lived and worked in Great Britain. While living overseas we traveled every chance possible. If you are not sure if you married the right person this is the litmus test. Move 3,000 miles away from home to a place where you do not know anyone, you drive on the wrong side of the road, and you must master an entirely different language called English (the Queen’s version). You find out very quickly how much you actually like that person. Turns out we actually did like each other. We loved each other.
Fast forward a couple of years and we return stateside here to our home state of NC. Chris is appointed at a church in Walkertown, NC. Our love story continues.
Even though we had been unsuccessful conceiving a child by traditional methods. We decide it [was] time to share our love with another human anyway. We pursued adoption. We were blessed with the opportunity to become parents to a beautiful Vietnamese baby girl named Sophie. We traveled half way around the world and 4 1/2 hours in the jungle to meet our daughter. She is perfect in every way. We love her and she brings us an immense amount joy everyday.
I had a successful career, a good husband and the perfect child. Then one day depression reared its ugly head. Not my depression, but my spouse’s (sic). He has his own story to tell so I will leave those details to him. Here is my story.
Life is swimming along and depression rears it’s ugly head. To use an illustration made popular in a Facebook post the black dog parked himself on my creative, funny, super intelligent and engaging spouse’s lap. I watched for 4 years as the black dog took my husband away. Starting with his first inpatient psychiatric stay. I watched a man whom I loved, and still do, slowly go from being vibrant, confident and successful become anxiety ridden, withdrawn and hopeless.
We went to hospitals and to doctors and to preachers. They did not help. I watched as his light went out. I was helpless to help him. He was hopeless. I lived my worst nightmare everyday. I would come home from work before bringing our daughter home just to make sure she wouldn’t walk into the house with me and find her daddy dead. I lived in fear everyday for his life. There were bright spots in those four years, but never a light at the end of the tunnel.
I love my husband. When we said those vows and the minister pronounced us married I meant them. Here we were in sickness and no longer health. It is not a sickness like cancer or as my sweet husband calls it a casserole disease. You know, an illness where everyone brings you food and wants to know how to help. Depression is the disease that makes people uncomfortable. They don’t want to talk about it. It is still enshrined with stigma.
I have seen the physical manifestations of depression. The weight loss, the disheveled appearance, the flat affect, the dark circles under his eyes after many sleepless nights, the constant illness because his immune system was so weakened. I have seen the cognitive deficits. The memory loss, the loss of attention to tasks, the inability to carry on a conversation, the inability to solve simple problems, the inability to make decisions, the loss of insight into the world around him. I have seen the side effects of drugs causing tremors so severe that he could not hold a pen, heart arrhythmia, seizure, Parkinsonism, inability to carry on conversations.
I watched a person who is easily the smartest most motivated person I know just go away in front of my eyes. I watched a once engaging man who is humorous and caring turn into a man who would not get out of bed for days, may shower if begged, and who became totally disengaged from his family, friends and work.
It is not easy to watch someone spiral out of control. It is not easy to lose the one you love. Yes, he was still alive but, he was just a shell of the man I married. His light was almost out. Once in a while I would see the pilot light still glowing. I knew we were running out of time.
The night finally came. He had a plan and a means and he was not making the contract with me to stay alive. Shit gets real, real quick when your spouse has been seriously depressed for so long. I never imagined in our early years that I would be sitting in a parsonage asking “are you going to kill yourself, tonight?” And the answer coming back at me “I can’t promise I won’t”.
As a lover, caregiver, spouse, and friend you can’t take that away, you can’t fix the problem, you can’t bring them out of the black hole. That black dog is no longer sitting on their lap it is clamping down on their jugular.
This leads to the love that knows here we go again to the hospital. This leads to the guilt you feel when you think, you just wish, they keep him more than three days.
We arrive in the ER where we are told there are no beds. This is not unusual. You hear people say the mental health system is broken. This is not a myth. This leads to a doctor coming in and assessing my spouse. My wonderful husband who has a Masters degree from Duke. The man who wrote sermons that inspired people to be the church. My spouse who during the assessment stops me to ask if the [window] blinds are bars so he can’t get out. My spouse who [had] been petting a cat we do not have. My spouse who lays out his plan for ending his life for the doctor. My heart breaks.
The doctor leaves and returns…leaves and returns. He comes in finally and says we don’t have any place for him. We are going to recommend you take him home and he start day treatment. For those of you who don’t talk mental health, that means I will take him home and be responsible for [his] staying alive. Then every morning I bring him to a program where they provide group and individual therapy, pass and manage medications and make sure during my working hours that he will remain safe. I will break it down. It is like you take your husband who is having a heart attack to the ER and the doctor saying we don’t have room for him. Take him home and perform CPR until tomorrow. I know, crazy, right?
After multiple hospitalizations. A failed mental health system. I said no. I won’t take him home you need to help us. You need to help him. He cannot fight, but I can. I left him there with strict instructions with the hospital staff to have him contact me when he was placed. Yes, another failure of the mental health system. I had to leave him in psychiatric holding and then have no contact with him. They would not call me when they found placement for him. The patient has to call. The patient is my spouse whom I have instructed to call when he is placed. He is not able to remember, follow instructions and may not even be able to recall my phone number. I waited for three days and he called anxiety ridden because he thought I had left him. I simply did not know where he was at despite multiple attempts to figure out.
Five and a half weeks while he was in the hospital. I prayed. I cried. When my daughter spent one weekend with my parents, I steamed cleaned the parsonage carpets stone-cold drunk. I held my daughter while she cried. I prayed. I cried. Did I mention I prayed? I explained to my 7 year old why she could not go see daddy. At 7 depression is just too big to get your head around. At 37 it was too big to get my head around. I told her that her daddy had lost his happy and he was at the hospital getting his happy back. They don’t allow kids in that part of the hospital. My daughter did not see her dad for five and half weeks. Finally, he was released.
During the hospitalization he underwent multiple rounds of ECT. For the first time after many prayers I could see my husband reappearing. Almost 2 years later he has maintained his recovery. He is returning to me, to our daughter, and to himself.
“A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.” (Proverbs 31:10-11 NRSV)
Wow Summer, I had no idea you and Chris had been through this. I have had my fair share of mental health battles, but not to this extent. Thank you so much for being so open and honest about your struggles. It is an inspiration to know that even though it is tough to see, there is light on the other side! My thoughts and prayers are with you, Chris and Sophie!
Real and beautiful! Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m grateful for you both!