December will mark 6 years of marriage to my sweetheart, Kory. We met through a field-study to India. We both signed up to spend 4 months in the country researching and met at a pre-departure class before we left. Meeting Kory sort of felt like being a magnet. The moment he walked into the room everything changed, and it really has never been the same since. I knew within weeks of knowing him that I would marry him.
Like every dating couple, Kory and I spent endless hours talking. We talked about our families, our aspirations, our hopes, our worldviews, our jobs, our majors, our friends, our favorite movies, our favorite music, our favorite food, our parenting philosophies, our thoughts on religion. Over time, I felt like we knew everything there was to know about each other. Somewhere in the mix of it all, Kory mentioned that he struggled with depression. I hardly even remember it, to be honest, because it was such a non-issue in my mind. I don’t remember my response but I’d imagine my thoughts were somewhere along the lines of “we love each other so much, I hardly think that will ever be a problem.”
Despite seeing my fair share of loved ones struggle with mental illness, I knew very little about depression. Kory and I, obviously, went on to be married and I hardly gave his depression a passing thought. Over time, I started to notice his depression in subtle ways. Though I was well-intentioned, I really couldn’t grasp the depths of depression. It took years to find a groove. There were a lot of hurt feelings and a lot of misunderstandings on my part. It wasn’t until we had been married for 2 years, and we welcomed our first son into our lives, that I began to understand Kory’s struggle. After the birth of our son, I slipped into postpartum depression. I was totally blindsided by it, I’d lived my entire life very joyfully and optimistically, and I realized for the first time that depression wasn’t a sadness you could just snap out of.
It was a critical time for us, because while I meant well all along the way, before having our son I often found myself frustrated with Kory’s depression. It made me feel inadequate – I had this underlying belief that if I could just get it all right, Kory wouldn’t be depressed. I planned dates, made dinner, kept the house clean, and managed our lives in a way that I thought would alleviate Kory’s depression. Really, I was trying to have control over a situation that I truly had no power over. Over time I realized nothing I did helped and rather than turn to sympathy for Kory, I turned to frustration. All of that changed, though, when I experienced depression first hand. And while it only lasted the first few months of our son’s life, it was a poignant enough experience that it completely changed how I approached Kory’s depression. It really, in retrospect, was a huge turning point.
From that time on, I decided to approach Kory’s depression with nothing but love. I realized that for the first 2 years of our lives, I had tried to fit our marriage into a box of what I thought marriage should look like. The moment I realized our journey, our marriage, was ours alone and didn’t have to look like anyone else’s, I felt so much freer. We always had a deep love for each other, but our relationship deepened as I showed more love and understanding and Kory, in turn, felt more confident confiding in me with even his deepest feelings. It became a cycle, where I loved unconditionally, and Kory shared openly. We grew immensely as a couple over the next few years as we navigated mental illness and several other heavy trials. I soon came to realize that marriage is just taking turns carrying each other.
I also realized the importance of being relentless in pursuing health. When Kory didn’t have the energy or the motivation, I made countless calls to doctors and therapists. We went to homeopathic healers, integrative medicine professionals, psychiatrists, chiropractors, family doctors, hormone specialists, concussion specialists, and more. Kory is inherently frugal and had no desire to spend money on his health and it dawned on me one day that we needed to take his depression as seriously as we would take cancer. If Kory were diagnosed with cancer we would make any financial sacrifice necessary to make sure he’d have the care he needed. I knew in my heart that his depression could be just as deadly, and needed to be treated with as much caution and aggression. So we’ve attacked it aggressively. I read somewhere that there are 10 different factors that contribute to depression, and you have to have at least 3 of them to become clinically depressed. Reading through the list, Kory had 8+, and some of them were in our control, so we set to work making them non-issues. We’ve had a lot of breakthroughs along the way, and there are a lot of reasons to have hope. The brain has so much neuroplasticity, it really can change and adjust and make new pathways, but it takes active effort. Treating mental illness takes active attention, focused energy, which, I think, is why it consumes so many for so long. While for some it’s as simple as taking a pill, for many its years of focused healing, and it can be exhausting, but I know it can work. I know the appointments, and the diet changes, and the lifestyle adjustments are all worth it.
While it’s been a long road for Kory (15 years of depression) we’ve had a lot of breakthroughs in the last few years. Kory was diagnosed with MTHFR (you can look it up and read all about it) and discovered he has low testosterone as well. We’ve worked to remedy both of those problems, but it still takes work beyond that. I know that the answers are out there and that, eventually, you meet the person who can help you. Most recently, we met with a psychiatrist who told Kory he thinks OCD is at the root of his depression. “I think you’re all O and no C,” he told him, “which is why it would have gone undiagnosed for so long, you don’t have the normal red flags.” We’ve approached it from a hundred angles, and with countless doctors and it feels like we’re finally getting some traction, but it requires so much hope, which isn’t something many depressed people have in abundance, so I’ve really felt the need to carry the hope in our marriage.
That being said, there’s still a lot of fear. Because even though I can feel it, I can feel that we’ll make it, I know there are times Kory doesn’t feel the same. I know there are times when he feels like he has his back to the corner and there are no ways out. The most poignant example I’ve heard to describe depression and suicide was one Kory shared with me – he said depression feels like being in a burning building, and of course, you don’t want to jump, but it feels like the options are to jump or be consumed – so people jump. I think anyone’s worst fear is losing their loved ones, and it’s heart-wrenching to be in a position where that doesn’t feel far out of reach. I can hardly think about it without sobbing. When I see women who have lost their husbands my breath catches in my chest, because I know that could easily be me, but I can only have faith that it won’t be. The whole experience has been remarkable because I’ve learned that none of us are in control, really. We’re not in charge, but if we spend our lives trying to be, we’ll only be met with misery. You reach a point where you have to surrender to the fact that you’re not in charge, and realize that you can still have joy even if you don’t have control.
Recently I was looking back on our last 6 years of marriage, and it occurred to me that while I still have a lot of hope that Kory will be able to overcome his depression, I wouldn’t take it away from the last 6 years. Kory’s depression has taught me to love more deeply and unconditionally, to see people as they are and accept them as is. It’s taught me to enjoy every good day, even in its simplicity. It’s taught me to handle others gently because I never know the darkness they may be battling. It’s taught me to think before I speak, think before I act, because each of us, really, is more fragile than we realize. I’ve learned to accept my life and my trials and be grateful for them because they teach me in ways I couldn’t otherwise learn. I’m grateful for Kory’s depression because my children have seen, first hand, how to support others through trials, how to be a steady hand and soft shoulder. They’ve seen selflessness as Kory chooses us each and every day, as he chooses to be present with them even as he battles. I’m grateful because I have a marriage I feel so incredibly proud of. A marriage that’s a safety net for me, a marriage that is full of true laughter and joy and light, because we’ve also seen tears and hardship. We’ll continue to battle and to grow, and I know in my heart we’ll come out on top. I know because I’ve prayed and prayed and felt that steady hand reassuring me we’ll make it. I know because we’re tough, because we’re determined because our best days are truly ahead.