My husband reaches his arms towards me and my heart begins to beat faster. It seems I have to mentally prepare myself to embrace him back. But as I do, fear sneaks its way between us and engulfs me in its arms instead. I shrink back, barely touching my husband. I’m both disappointed and relieved by the small touch that passes between us.
It’s always there, Fear, forcing me to second guess what I want: Connection or isolation? Intimacy or indifference? Happiness or despair?
Once upon a time, I had no reservations about hugging my husband. Or about laughing and joking around with him. We were one and the same. After three children, though, marriage is not as simple as we thought it to be seven years ago. Small glimpses of the person I used to be appear from thin air and shock me into silence. We both notice, hope brightens his face as the color drains from mine. Fear whispers into my ear Is this what you really want?
Do I want to be happy? To laugh often and easily? To hug my husband without cringing? The answers are never the same. One day, I can say absolutely. Another day, wrinkles overtake my forehead as I rack my brain for the best answer. The right answer.
When depression came into my life three years ago, I didn’t think I would have these questions floating around in my mind. But now, as darkness turns to light, they are all I think about.
Fear has a strong grip on me, but I don’t know what I’m afraid of. I’ve lived in the darkness for so long, perhaps I am afraid of the light peeking through. The light that tells me I’m healing.
When it comes to my mental health, the light is a soft glow that guides me to self-care. It comforts me. But, it is also a bright spotlight shining down on the person I love the most. My husband. It’s blinding. The past three years, he has fallen to the wayside, lost in the darkness that surrounded me.
Everything comes back to my mental health and I can’t help but wonder what my marriage is going to look like once I’m better.
We’re practically strangers.
I am a Highly Sensitive Person; I am sensitive to touch, noise, and bright lights. Depression, even while healing from it, has intensified these sensitivities. Being in close proximity to my husband is something I want, something I miss. But, my lungs constrict and I’m certain sitting next to him will suffocate me. After taking care of three children all day, the last thing I want to do is physically touch another human. So, I hide away in private, relishing the fact that, for the first time all day, I am alone.
As I make my way to the bathroom to brush my teeth, I pass my husband watching T.V. on the couch. I trip over the guilt I carry for not being next to him. His eyes stay on the bright screen across the room. I pause, open my mouth to say something, hoping his eyes will wander towards me as I make my way back to our room, but they don’t.
I wonder how long two people can keep this up before someone breaks.
A few years ago, I would just take my book to the living room and read on the couch, legs resting on my husband’s lap as he indulged in his latest gold mining show. Physical touch, little bits of conversation, and time together would keep us feeling connected. Now, being in the same room can feel overwhelming.
When depression came into my life, it didn’t just affect me. My husband is the one who has to bear this darkness with me. I didn’t see how badly it hurt him to see me hurting. I didn’t see all the times he cried with me, our tears mixing together as I tried to explain to him what it was like inside of my head. All I noticed was the deafening silence as he walked out of the room to give me space.
Eventually, the quick check-ins stopped. The moments when his hand would reach across the center console in our car to hold mine lessened. He didn’t know how to ease the unbearable pain I felt, or how to talk to someone who refused to speak, who could only cry. I think he was exhausted from the struggle. I can’t blame him. I was exhausted myself and that is part of the reason why, when he let go, I continued in the opposite direction.
It was easier to move away from each other.
He was left out in the cold, trying to find his way through the fog. Trying to find me. Every time he got close, I would run faster and further. Fear told me lies like he doesn’t love me, he can’t help me. I believed them, I ran from the truth my husband tried to speak over me.
I don’t trust myself to be fully present or truly happy anymore. I can’t bask in the sunlight and have the warmth of the sun heal me. I’m too afraid.
We’re both afraid, I think. As we see the fog surrounding us slowly lifting, the sun breaking through. What if it happens again? What if it doesn’t get better? What if he does more than just walk away, but leaves completely? What if we never find our way back to one another?
I slowly close the door to my daughters’ room, walking on tiptoes to avoid the creaky floor right by the door. The hallway is dark and my eyes adjust to the lack of light as I make my way to my room. I leave the door ajar, knowing a child will walk through in a few hours. I turn on the light, sit on my bed, and throw the covers over me. I reach for my journals, my current books, and dive into my nightly routine. Three to four nights a week, my husband is at work. When he first went to this schedule, before the darkness consumed me, my heart broke at the thought of being alone. Now, the silence and darkness upstairs lend themselves to the ambiance of my self-care and it is the most peaceful part of my day.
This nightly routine is one I started when the darkness overtook more than just my hallway. Writing in my journal, getting lost in a book, are two of the main components in my journey towards healing. I guard these nights and hold them close. It is because of this routine I am able to do the hard work of learning who I am alongside being a wife and mother. Work I deem important for my mental health. Which is why, even on his nights home, I cannot separate myself from the words I would rather be cradled by.
I see how it is doing just as much harm as it is good. But, habits are hard to break. As much as I love this routine, I know it is hurting us. My husband and I know we need to spend time together. I’m afraid of making more time for my husband and losing time for myself. I prioritize it, not to be selfish, rather because I know it makes me a happier mom. It is not making me a happier wife, though.
Fear whispers to me that a healthy marriage and a healthy mind cannot coexist.
Guest post written by Jacey Rogel. Jacey is a wife and a stay-at-home mama to three. She finds solace from her long days at home in the kitchen, between the pages of a good book, and in the words that plant themselves in her mind throughout the day and escape through her fingertips at night. Jacey's writing has been featured on Gather the Village blog and Coffee + Crumbs. She writes about books and motherhood at jaceywrites.com.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.
P.S. If you enjoyed this essay, don’t miss our podcast episode on postpartum depression