Another fight and in its wake I’m left with a deeper sadness.
I discovered he’s focused on my methods of coping – that in his mind, they’re the real sickness – and that he believes I should just push myself harder, and that he’s not even convinced I’m really experiencing the depression and anxiety I describe.
I haven’t coped with the constant stress by leaving, or by drinking, or by using drugs, or by prescription medication, or by stepping out on him. I put headphones on and listen to a lot of music (a practice that began because the sound on my laptop is crap). This last year I often sit in our bedroom which is marginally less stressful than being in the living area of the apartment. I take walks by myself (most frequently while the kids are in school or after they’ve gone to bed). I chat online with one of my sisters and a handful of close friends.
He sees all of that as me isolating myself from the family and not being available to him or our children. He claims he can tough it out when it comes to me isolating myself from him, but feels I should push myself harder for the sake of our children, that I’m not giving them as much of myself as I should be.
He doesn’t see this behavior as the response to ongoing problems that I’m attempting to cope with. He sees this behavior as the problem, as something that needs to change – I agree it needs to change, but it needs to change because my life is good enough that I no longer need to cope with it because I’m no longer constantly stressed, depressed and anxious.
I know I will burn out, perhaps spectacularly, if my methods of coping with stress are no longer available to me. I know I can’t just push myself indefinitely, and that it would be very bad for me to try – I know I already spent the years from 2003 to 2015 relentlessly pushing myself and that it wasn’t until I was hiding under the covers, crying and hoping the kids wouldn’t notice while they played video games at the end of the bed, with the exact date of the one day of 2015 on which I’d felt happy and relaxed seared into my brain, that I stopped pushing as hard and started trying to cope instead.
I know that I’m trying to stay stable so that I can be as present as I am in my children’s lives. I know that my life for the last 16 years has taken far more out of me than it has given back. I know that constant sleep deprivation means I’m not generating the happy chemicals my brain needs for proper functioning. I know that I don’t get a happy chemical rush from a lot of the things that provide them to the average person.
I know that when I felt hope after one of my earlier therapy sessions that it was startling because it had been so long I’d forgotten what it felt like. I know I can’t remember what it feels like to wake up rested, or how long it’s been since I felt that. I know I can’t remember what it feels like to be happy and joyful and excited. I know I don’t feel comfort.
And I know that despite the fact that I was telling him about my stress and what was causing it for years that he has now used terms like ‘self diagnosing’ and ‘pushing through’ and ‘do you think that’s healthy’ and ‘have you told your therapist this is how you are’ and ‘has she told you how to fix this’ because he doesn’t think that the life he pushed for and the way he lives that life are the actual problems, deep down he thinks I’m the one with the problem.
He’s trying – he pushes himself – he does things he doesn’t want to do, like go to work, and finished his degree while also working, so why can’t I push the way he pushes? The fact that I’d gone from As to Cs by the time we had three children, and that it was a less stressful time than anything since getting pregnant with our 4th, shouldn’t be an excuse. I’m just not trying hard enough.
Music has been one of the few things providing me with solace and positive feelings and now when I want to listen and use it to help me relax and reduce my stress, I’m no longer able to feel innocent enjoyment of the activity – instead I feel strained and sad. Now when I want to listen to music I think of my husband’s belief that I’m failing him and my children because I won’t push myself harder.
I eat supper with them every night. We have movie night every Monday. We have library night on Wednesdays. He and I have a game every other Saturday. I’d specifically made sure to start having a date night once a week as soon as I was feeling stronger and more energetic – and up until about a month ago, when I went numb and disconnected, we still had an active sex life. Most nights the children watch TV in our bedroom with us before they go to bed. Then I sit with him in the bedroom while he watches TV until lights’ out. If it’s content we both like, I watch with him. And then I lie beside him all night. And none of that has been enough, none of it is enough.
In his mind, the fact that I might have headphones on and be listening to music while they (or he) watch TV, or that I might chat with friends while they (or he) are watching TV means that time doesn’t count. It’s not good enough. I have to be fully focused on the show or movie with them for it to count as quality time.
He’s gone to raids in World of Warcraft, or played other games, during movie nights in the past. He’s regularly fallen asleep while watching TV with them. Until I started spending more time in our bedroom last year, after spraining my ankle, he would come home from work and shut himself away in our bedroom and watch TV and nap. But it’s okay that he’s been coming home from work and napping because he’s depressed right now. (No mention of what caused all the napping in the past.)
None of the staggering hypocrisy in what he says to me seems to register. And he feels upset that I’m not seeking or receiving comfort from him, and was worried I might instead be receiving comfort from my interaction with people online. By then we’d calmed down and were speaking to each other like two mature adults in our late 30s instead of screaming at each other.
I told him I don’t feel comfort. I don’t get comfort from anywhere, or from anyone.
He seemed sad – but also relieved.