One of the first changes I noticed in myself over the last year was withdrawal. As my sense of anxiety and urgency about my family’s well-being intensified, I devoted less energy to caring for my friends and extended family. I called infrequently; found it difficult to make plans with anyone; was timid about conversation with new acquaintances.
Now I see that was an early indication that my emotional resources were being depleted. After my husband took medical leave, and I spent two weeks hunkered down alone at home with the kids, crying, I have not yet gotten back to “normal”.
A couple of months into his leave, I realized I was an open faucet of caretaking energy. I’d been caring for the children and making crazy efforts to rescue my husband from his steady descent. In the process, I’d pretty well cut myself off from anyone who would pour energy into me.
In the last few months, I’ve learned that limited emotional energy is a standard-issue symptom of depression. I suspect this may be causing confusion among some of the leaders in our congregation. My husband is animated and energetic at work, and certainly on Sunday mornings. His sermons are as creative and thoughtful as ever. They can’t *see* his depression. I wonder if they feel like his medical leave was a kind of vacation.
We sure feel the energy depletion. Yesterday I woke up exhausted, ready to stay in bed. Watching my husband leave for work is a stressful time for me. We don’t commiserate about it, but I know it is hard for him to go and I wish I could protect him. And then it’s just me and the kids.
I decided we ought to go to the grocery store, so I packed away my fatigue and focused on the task. Make a list. Chat with the kids about meal ideas. Pack a bag, discuss the plan for making it through the store with all three kids. I forgot my shopping list, but remembered all the important items and had a pleasant trip with pretty well-behaved kids.
Then we got home, and I was done. I put on a cartoon for them and went to bed for twenty minutes. I could not handle another minute with them right then.
That is maddening for me. I can focus for a little while and go on with what I need to do, but the rope runs out quickly, and then I collapse. This is hard for other people to understand because no one else sees it. Even when I talk to a friend on the phone, I generally sound well because I’m focused on the conversation. But afterwards I will likely sit alone for a few minutes before I can start something else.
I don’t know what to do about this disconnect between what others see and how we feel. People are too polite to ask, and we are too polite to mope around in public. I carry this with me, and try to think of it when I see someone else behaving in a way that seems odd to me. I remind myself that I have no idea what their life is really like.