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Happy(?!) New Year

We're all happy to say goodbye to 2020 but not everyone is excited about 2021, either. The holiday season is a rough time of year for many. I have to be careful when bouncing into a patient room with a "Hi! How are you?!" because so many have not had a fabulous holiday season or year. I've had people respond by telling me about losing their spouse, parent, and even a child. They've told me about job loss, financial trouble, and drastic changes to the plans they made a year ago.

I haven't had a challenging year with my health, nor have I suffered financially, other than a 4-month furlough, which was a blessing in cutting out work stress and anxiety. I do, however, know what it's like to have mental health issues in the family. This has been a hard season for my husband, Chase. I asked him if he minded if I talked about depression because it's not my story to tell. So I don't tell you from the viewpoint of someone who's suffering from depression, rather from the viewpoint of a spouse who watches her partner suffer.

It's tough. I feel codependent when I allow his happiness to dictate my happiness. My mood often depends on his mood. The chaos of the pandemic has upped Chase's stress level significantly. He's an Enneagram 1 if you know what that means. He's a rule follower and suffers great angst when others don't follow the rules or guidelines. He sees the world in black and white, where I see it in shades of gray. We've had many discussions about how we're handling the CDC's guidelines and whether we should hold others to the same standards. I won't get into what we do or don't do because each of us has to decide what's right, but it's caused a lot of "discussion" in our marriage.

Some days my husband looks pained. He struggles with everything around him. He struggles to find joy or even peace. The disorganization of the refrigerator can cause him a lot of dis-ease. His conversations with others can pain him.

I'm a fixer, a peacemaker, a helper, a pleaser. An Enneagram 2, I watch him hurt, and I immediately go into fix-it mode. What can I do to make Chase happy? I know disorganization and clutter cause him stress, so I go into cleaning mode. I clean for hours, then get my feelings hurt when it doesn't make him happy. I try to force him outside in nature; I cajole him into exercising, I feed him healthy foods, and I scold him if he drinks alcohol or stays up late on his computer. I'm sure it drives him bananas. Not only is he struggling, but now he has a wife who's trying to fix him, and he has to make sure my feelings don't get hurt. Inevitably, I wind up trying too hard, doing too much, and I get worn out and then become resentful. The stress cycle completes itself when I finally blow up at him and get angry that he won't "just snap out of it, dangit!"

We know from a 17-year marriage that this is a cycle; he gets seasonably depressed. Not every year, but there's a high likelihood. About every 3 years, he hits rock bottom. We have to call in all the reinforcements. For us, that means getting support from family, help with childcare, spending time with our therapists. That's right, we each have a therapist and a marriage therapist. It takes a village, people!

If you're struggling right now, the best thing might be to hunker down and hibernate. Or it might be to be around (virtually) the people you love. You have to decide what would feel best. These are some things that help us. He doesn't do all of them all the time, but they're tools in his mental health tool chest. Pick and choose, and for goodness' sake, don't beat yourself up if you're barely getting out of bed in the mornings:

  1. Have a support team. This could be your mom and your cat or your high school buddies. It could be a friend who's been through it, or it could be your spouse. The most important thing is to alert them you're not doing well. No shame; it's a disease flare-up like Multiple Sclerosis or any other disease. Your chemicals are all wonky right now.

  2. Call in sick to work if you need to, cancel meetings. If your body is telling you to slow down and regroup, listen to it. Let go of guilt. Your health is the most important thing right now. A year from now, you won't even remember the things you canceled.

  3. Explain to your loved ones what's going on, so they don't get upset and think you're mad at them. As humans, we're selfish by nature and like to think everything's about us. It'll be helpful if they know it's the emotional flu and not them.

  4. Try to do one baby step a day. It might be meditating. It might be walking around the block or choosing to skip the beer. Sleep is essential. Your body needs 8-9 hours to go into repair mode while you sleep. If you're only sleeping 6 hours, your body can't heal mentally, and you'll start seeing physical signs of breakdown, too.

  5. Know that this will pass. It's easy to convince ourselves this is the new us (or for me, to convince myself this is my new spouse). I've watched this enough times to know that it will pass.

  6. Therapy isn't optional; it's vital. You can google and find a therapist to fit your needs. Now we can even stay in our pj's and have a therapy visit. If you're in the pit of despair and can't see the light, you need a guide. A therapist will be your guide back towards the light.

  7. See your doctor. Sometimes other things can cause an imbalance in your body. My thyroid was getting attacked by my immune system once, and I had no idea, but low mood and fatigue can result if left untreated. Your doctor might talk to you about medicines. I'm all for integrative and alternative medicine, but sometimes you need pharmaceutical help.

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