by Brett Grayson
“Sawyer, stop looking at me like that.” Sawyer’s my dog. He doesn’t speak English. I wish he did. Then again, maybe he wouldn’t love me as unconditionally. His small brain makes him loyal and willing to stay in bed until noon with me.
I have those mornings sometimes, especially this time of year around the holidays. I wake up with the kids and put on an Academy Award-winning performance until they leave for school. As soon as my wife Lauren leaves to drive them though, all the adrenaline gets sapped out of me and I crawl back into bed.
At some point, I then make eye contact with Sawyer and decide I’m disappointing him. But I’m not. No matter how poor a mood you’re in, irrespective of how you look, or smell (actually, they prefer if you smell bad), dogs are there for you.
It’s that other species that live in our houses and works with us and has the nerve to say hello while we’re minding our own business walking our dogs, that’s the problem. Humans expect from us and judge us and are disappointed in us, and all of that makes revealing our vulnerabilities to them that much harder.
I waited a long time to tell each person in my life that I struggle with anxiety and depression. There were practical reasons I kept it to myself – I didn’t want to burden others; I didn’t want it to affect me professionally; I haven’t picked up my cell phone since 2012 – but ultimately it came down to this: I was embarrassed by it. And the reason for embarrassment was different for each person in my life.
My parents know I take Prozac. But the flow of information to them pretty much ends right there. I have determined that the stress it puts on them outweighs any benefit of support they can offer me. Not to mention the fear of disappointing them, the concern they view it as an indictment of their parenting, and probably most prominently, the reality that they just have archaic views on mental health.
As for friends, until earlier this year when I put my website up with the word “depression” in the header image, no one knew. To a degree, you never stop feeling like you’re in high school and want other people to like you.
Although, Lauren and her friends are slightly better about opening up to each other about their problems. They confide in each other about their issues, and how each of their husbands is dealing with some sort of neuroses or addiction. It’s actually kind of funny when we get together because clearly the wives go back and tell their husbands what they discussed with their friends. So everyone knows how screwed up everyone else is, yet no one ever brings it up when we’re together. Instead, when we go out to restaurants, we sneak our Xanax under the table and pop it into our mouths when we think no one is looking.
This time of year is particularly hard. It’s cold here in the Northeast, which facilitates staying inside and too often in bed.
It’s also a time when we get together with family, which increases anxiety. I need to be “on” far too often, even if I’m having a bad day. I need to manage the complicated family dynamic that pops up at every holiday get-together. Who gets along? Who doesn’t? Are my kids ignoring my parents and favoring my in-laws?
But I do have one saving grace: Lauren. For years while we were dating, I withheld my depression from her. My default setting was to portray myself as masculine and strong, as that was what I thought an attractive male was. Lauren now knows everything (well, almost everything. I’ll get to that in a minute). I’d like to say it’s because of the progress we’ve made to break gender stereotypes. Or even that I’ve determined she’ll love me “in sickness and in health.” In reality, it’s because you really don’t have a choice when you sleep in the same bed as someone. There’s just nowhere to hide from them (Well, technically there is if you fall asleep on the couch every night with a spoon of peanut butter in your mouth).
Sure, there are small things I still keep from her. For example, she’ll be annoyed to find out in this very sentence that I’ve been lying to her about hating the taste of Craisins, when in fact I don’t eat them because of some weird OCD reason I won’t even get into here.
And I’m not getting rid of my therapist so fast. We all need someone without a dog in the fight who we can reveal our most crazy thoughts to, and frankly, who we can complain about our spouses to. My marriage is ripe with complications like any good marriage is.
But you still need that person who isn’t peeking at the clock while you spill your guts out, and is available on weekends, and isn’t four-legged. You need someone who you can do a simultaneous eyeroll with during holiday get-togethers. You need someone who you can take your manhood or womanhood and put it aside and crumble before them. Without that person, you’re going to explode at some point.
For me, that person is my wife. Thank God I’m so handsome.
About the author:
Brett Grayson is the author of What Could Go Wrong? My Mostly Comedic Journey through Marriage, Parenting and Depression. His writing has appeared on Scary Mommy and The Good Men Project. A successful trial attorney with offices throughout the five boroughs of NYC and New Jersey, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and two children.