Robin Williams’s tragic death fortunately brings depression back into focus. I say “fortunately” because the more we talk about it, the more people we help.
In January and again in April, I shared with you my own struggles with depression. This past winter I experienced one of my worst episodes. I’m doing much better today, with the help of medication, diet and daily walks, but I owe the biggest thanks for my recovery to my husband, Dustin.
I’m a big proponent of treating depression with medication. For many of us, it’s the only way. Diet and exercise serve to augment the medication’s effects. None of us, however, can get better without the help of our closest loved ones. For me, that person is Dustin.
Today, when people ask how I got through that dark period, I tell them Dustin, naturally nurturing and a born problem-solver, was smart. I don’t know how he knew exactly what to do. I’m not even sure he knew what he was doing at the time. But when I look back on those months, I realize there were steps Dustin took that led to the dark cloud lifting — because it truly is like a dark cloud that hovers.
He took charge.
Dustin was in Washington, D.C., when he realized things were bad and that he needed to come home. He took 14 days of leave and flew home to Maine at midnight. All I remember is him coming upstairs, pulling the blankets up around my shoulders and kissing my forehead.
The next morning, I awoke to the sounds of him putting our home back in order. Things — dishes, laundry, cleaning — took a back seat when I was struggling just to get out of bed. That morning, Dustin was taking out the trash, folding laundry, emptying the dishwasher and picking up shoes and books in the living room. He also was making doctor appointments for me and figuring out our insurance.
When you feel like the world is caving in on you, it helps if someone digs in a bit with their own shovel. They can’t — and probably shouldn’t — do everything for you, but making a dent helps the light in the tunnel shine through a bit easier.
He pushed me.
When Dustin got back from taking the kids to school, however, the pampering abruptly stopped.
“Get up,” he said, throwing back the covers. “We’re going to the YMCA to exercise.”
I tried to crawl back under the sheets, but Dustin literally pulled me out of bed. Then he brought me my running shoes. “Let’s go,” he said. “And when we get back, you’re going to fold the next load of laundry.”
I must say, I wasn’t very fond of Dustin that day. Or the next one, either. The last thing I wanted to do was to go to the YMCA and exercise. And couldn’t we just continue taking clothes directly out of the laundry basket? Why fold them?
But Dustin was persistent. He kept me moving — and making progress — those first few difficult mornings. I might have screamed, “You just don’t get it,” a few times, but that didn’t matter. Dustin knew staying in bed solves nothing.
After I did 30 minutes on the treadmill, he said, without an ounce of sarcasm, “Tomorrow, try to bump up your speed above 1 mph, okay?”
Then he backed off.
I sort of wanted Dustin to go back to D.C. when he was making me get up in the morning. I felt mentally and physically ill. Depression will do that to you. After a day of doing more than I managed to do in at least a month, I couldn’t imagine making it through the evening — dinner, dishes, more laundry. So I was surprised when 7 p.m. rolled around and Dustin said, “Go to bed. Get [some] rest. I’ll wake you in the morning.”
In other words, Dustin knew when to push and when to back off.
He also didn’t bother me with any details about doctor appointments or insurance. I simply didn’t have the capacity at the time to make any sense of it. Even today, when we receive bills from that time period, he whisks them away and takes care of it. All he wanted — all he ever expected — was for me focus on getting better.
He showed me my progress.
We are not the best judge of our own progress. By the time Dustin’s 14 days of leave were over, I was on my way to feeling “normal” — whatever that is — again. It was easy for me to forget how far I had come. Suddenly, I was hard on myself for not doing more.
When I got discouraged about walking only 30 minutes instead of an hour or for ordering pizza instead of making lasagna, that’s when Dustin did perhaps the best thing of all. He put it into perspective: “If you walked faster than 1 mph, Sarah,” he said, “I think you’re doing great. And I’m proud of you.”
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.