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FIRST PERSON //

Imperiled Partners

In antidepressant ads, if there’s a family member in the frame, he or she is a helpless spectator looking on. As the author relates, the scene is all too accurate.

By Susan Woolf // Fall 2008
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When a spouse has depression

Arthur E. Giron

These days, you can scarcely watch TV without seeing an ad for an antidepressant. They all seem to be shot from the same script: dimly lit room, unkempt actor. Cue the dolorous music. If there’s a family member in the frame, he or she is a helpless spectator looking on.

The scene is all too accurate. My husband is clinically depressed, and for more than a decade, I’ve been the onlooker. If he’d had any other disease, I would have sat in the doctor’s office beside him when the diagnosis was made and treatment plans were discussed. But depression is different. It’s a lonely, anonymous battle—so much so that I can’t use my real name here for fear of violating my husband’s privacy.

My husband’s depression was first diagnosed 13 years ago. A salesperson for a tobacco company, he was the proverbial glad-hander: ready with a joke, asking after his customers’ families. But at home he was a different man. He spoke to me in grunts, if at all. His penchant for a beer after work escalated into a full-blown drinking problem. Soon I started to ask myself why I was in the marriage at all. We went to a counselor, who suspected, quite rightly, that something else was wrong and referred my husband to a psychiatrist.

I felt, as Walt Whitman wrote, “both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.” My husband came home with a prescription for Paxil, which he said would take about two weeks to “activate.” I wish his psychiatrist had bothered to prepare me for what that meant.One sunny Saturday morning, I returned from the grocery store to find my husband pacing the living room, wild-eyed, fists clenched and teeth gnashing. “Oh my God, I can’t settle down,” he said. I was terrified. The dosage was tapered back, and after a day or so, my husband returned to normal—whatever that was.

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