My husband is a warm, funny, generous person. Together we discovered the most wonderful facets of couplehood, of moving through life hand in hand, looking inward at ourselves, at each other, and at the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Baruch Hashem.
Then – he withdrew. Depression of a spouse is all-pervasive, seeping into many aspects of our lives. It meant that my partner was unreachable, we had minimal interaction, he showed little interest in our joint space. Stuck in another reality and unreachable. Day in, day out.
My memories of the mikveh experience during those years epitomize for me the overall experience as the wife of a depressed husband. As I would leave for the mikveh he would say “Don’t expect anything tonight”. This, from the man who used to shower, shave, change the linens, and then greet me at the door after the mikveh. But now I was never sure what I would find when I came home. Sometimes we would have a few minutes together. Sometimes it seemed there was a reprieve from his depression. And sometimes – he was already asleep.
While preparing for the mikveh I felt alone. It was worse than parenting alone. What had previously been a sweet secret was now a painful one. I never felt it was pointless to go through all the preparation, but it hurt. Even the occasional glimmer of light highlighted the pain. I davened. I knew Hashem heard me, but I continued to suffer. Month after month, with no end in sight.
The tefillot before and after immersing were heavy with meaning for me. They described the experience of immersion and its preparations as a mitzvah to sanctify and honor Hashem, to draw closer to Hashem. That was fine. Then there is a request to be cleansed of tum’ah. Technically – that is the mikveh’s purpose. But for me the words were weighted down by the desperate need to be rid of the sad heaviness, the insidious disease of depression. To be in a functional marriage with joy and light. “וזרקתי עליכם מים טהורים וטהרתם”(I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean), I believed in the holiness and rightness of the mitzvah. So please… let the waters wash all the sadness away.. The pre-immersion prayer continues with a request for the ability to be a couple “ ויהי רצון… שתתן לי ולאישי כח ויכולת ועזר וסיוע לזיווג שלנו..(May it be… that you give me and my husband strength and ability and help and assistance for our relationship)” Strength, ability, help.. I needed all those words. The prayer said after immersing recognized the emotional process before and during immersion, with the hope of Divine salvation. It continues with a plea to be washed of all misdeeds and of sadness and agony “כך אני מתפללת אליך שתשטוף מעלי כל עברה ועוון כל עצב ויגון (Thus I pray to you to wash away from me all transgressions and sins, all sadness and grief)”. Hope for health, happiness and awareness of Hashem come next. The final plea, reminding me of what can and should be “ ויהי רצון שיהיה ביתנו בית של שלום, אהבה ואחווה וחסדך לא יסור מעמנו נצח (And may our home be a home of peace, love and brotherhood, and your grace will never depart from us).” That was all I wanted. A home of peace, not suffering.
Living with a depressed spouse affects one’s own state of mind. It brought me down, left me alone to cope in situations where a partner should be. At that time my experiences stayed inside me. Tears, anger, begging for change, were pointless against the brick wall of my husband’s silence.
Today, years later, we are back in our wonderful space together. Chasdei Hashem. We have moved on.
I needed to write, and share this, even anonymously, to bring that part of my life – our life – out of its hiding place. When I’ve read accounts from women suffering from depression I always wanted to connect, and then couldn’t, when I realized that my story was built differently. So I needed to tell my story, of a time where functioning, and not giving up, were so important. Of living in hope but also hurting. Of knowing that the mikveh experience can be powerful, sweet, but isn’t right now. Of coming home from the mikveh to my husband and depression.