He used to work at Lehman. Or Bear. Or maybe he’s technically still working, say at Morgan Stanley, but he’s so terrified he’s out in the coming March cuts that he can’t work. Oh, he says he’s working all the time: he’s at the office, he’s online, he’s reading everything he can get his hands on. But he’s not really accomplishing anything; he’s obsessing. And he’s not sleeping, either. Instead, he’s pacing the apartment in the middle of the night, checking the markets in Japan or running the numbers on your household expenses and his so-called bonus. He’s devouring 100-calorie packs and hiding the wrappers, but hasn’t eaten a real meal in days. And his sexual desire? Well, it seems your formerly big swinging d___ is just as limp and sagging as the economy. Except for his mood: he’s as volatile as the VIX these days.
What’s a wife to do?
Let’s be clear: none of this is easy for you. Even if you’re not a member of the bogus Dating a Banker Anonymous (see NPR’s Linda Holme’s brilliant journalistic debunking: http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2009/01/is_dating_a_banker_anonymous_f.html you’re apt to be feeling deprived and angry as well as sympatheticand concerned. If you’ve been together for any length of time, you’ve seen him moody and obsessed before, but this is different. And you married aself-confident problem solver, not a whiney loser. Trying to be supportive is not only difficult, it’s frustrating. After all, he wasn’t great at paying attention to your emotional needs in the good times, but this is unbelievable. But it’s possible your husband is depressed. Not sad, not down, not lazy (although he may be those things, too), but clinicallydepressed. And as much as it seems that he can and should just pull himself together, he may really be unable to without professional help.
How to tell if he’s clinically depressed? The symptoms:
- Changes in sleep habits: over-sleeping, inability to fall asleep or stay asleep
- Loss of appetite, or over-eating (notice the self-regulation difficulties here? (Particularly hard for the take control kind of guy he once was)
- Brain fog: confusion, difficulty making decisions
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness (not that he couldn’t have used a bit of a bit of introspection and humility, but this is a hit to his sense of self that’s not leading to behavior change)
- Thoughts of suicide, thinking he and the family would be better off with him dead
- Depressed mood, maybe accompanied by c rying jags (this from a guy who didn’t cry at his dad’s funeral. Or his baby’s birth)
- Agitation, inability to sit still
What helps and what you can do:
- Do something. Anything.
- Stay as calm and patient as possible. Then go for a run. Or yell in the shower.
- Listen. Reframe what he finds overwhelming into something smaller and doable. Help him move from worrying about the worst case scenario to thinking about what he, the two of you together, can DO to make a small difference. Break it down in small bits. Come up with a game plan, or two. Time now to move beyond Plan B to Plan C and Plan D.
- Guide him to take (small) action. It’s counter-intuitive, but when you’re depressed and feel like doing nothing, the best thing to do is anything at all. Help him break the problem into manageable bits, and start tackling them. The goal is to steer away from obsessing about ‘best’ thing to do. When the obsessing starts, help him focus on one small task that’s doable, and then cross it off the list. The feeling of accomplishment builds. Take a break, pat yourself on the back, and dive in for the next round.
- Destigmatize help-seeking. Throw out names of guys he knows who are manly and successful – and still see a shrink. Offer to go with him, to help your marriage. Whatever it takes. He needs professional help now. This isn’t something you just ‘come out of’.
- Explore options. There are things that help financial depression besides a new job and a fat 401-K. Depending on the specifics of his situation, there are lots of things to try: individual and couples psychotherapy, light therapy, behavioral approaches to tackle procrastination, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. Working up a physical sweat helps the mental sweat: hit the gym or go for a run together. Remember getting moving is really hard when you’re depressed, you may well have to take the initiative here.
- Get him to laugh. Laughter alters not only mood, but physiology. You can’t give him a sense of humor if he doesn’t already have one, but you probably do know what will get him to crack a smile, if not a belly laugh.
- Be selfish. Chances are you’re having your own problems with all this, too. Make sure you take good care of yourself. Stress has a way of spreading…more on that soon.
Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.