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My husband feels apathy toward pretty much everything right now. He is withdrawn and hasn't thrown himself into his work in months. He is still clinging to a project that he lost several months ago, saying that that project would have given him new purpose. He numbs himself regularly with alcohol and has started smoking cigarettes at night before bedtime even though I have shown him the studies that demonstrate that alcohol actually makes it harder to get a good night's sleep. Don't even get me started on the cigarettes! I don't know how much longer my FIL will live and how much longer my husband will have to manage his father's affairs. I don't know what to do or what to say to help my husband.

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I like your idea, alot!

How old is FIL? Does he have any cognitive impairments.

"Honey, I think we need to learn some techniques for getting your dad out of his depression about your mom. Like, what the right thing to say is. Do you think that going to one of those sessions WITH your dad might be a good idea for you and me, or maybe just you? I really feel at a loss to know how to react with him".
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My husband does not tell me everything his dad dumps on him. Actually, my husband keeps most of it inside and it's making him sad. It is my husband's demeanor when getting home from visiting with his dad that makes it evident to me that his dad dumped on him.

My FIL absolutely has a poor sense of boundaries! He enmeshed himself with his wife to the point that he cannot function and has no purpose now that she's dead. I think my husband just doesn't know how to approach his dad because of his dad's fragile state.

Now I just need to figure out how to lovingly suggest to my husband about going with his dad to his dad's psych appointments. My husband has medical POA but does not like to get involved medically unless absolutely necessary. And, as I see it, this is absolutely necessary because my husband's mental health is on the line. And my husband and his father have to make progress together so that my FIL stops dumping on my husband and my husband gets a new set of tools for dealing with his dad. Any suggestions?
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ok, good to hear.

I'm glad his dad is seeing someone every week. Grief plus an enmeshed identity sounds like quite a therapy challenge and a lot of work for his dad. I wish him the best in this journey.

ah, pre-therapy or post-therapy, therapy via dumping on a family member either what is going to be said or was said in therapy which is breaking a boundary and as you have seen not healthy and it ends up coming to you. I think this may be due to his dad having a poor sense of his own boundaries which is understandable. Repeating everything to you that his dad said to him likely deepens his own depression for it gets his mind back on his dad and his dad's problems.

You have very good idea about him going to one of his dad's therapy sessions.

For him to go to one of his dad's sessions would require his dad to request such and tell his therapist that he is ok with it. The therapist may want his dad to tell him what is this joint meeting about. It should work out. If he has medical POA for his dad, then he should be able to talk with the therapist about this. If he doesn't, then he can at least inform the therapist about this and just informing without discussing does not break hippa laws.
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Thank you for your responses. It is unlikely that my husband is enmeshed with his dad. My husband was much, much closer to his mother.

I believe you are correct, cmagnum, that my husband is experiencing situational depression. My FIL sees both a psychiatrist and a psychologist every week, and I'm baffled because he still dumps his depression all over my husband!

It just occurred to me to suggest to my husband that he go with his dad to one of each of these sessions so that he can let his dad know that dumping on him is burdening him and, by extension, me.
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So, as far as actionable; does he have a pcp? Are those visits Covered!

If DH is not in the groove he formerly inhabited, if he is more irritable and/or less energetic, less focused, more lethargic, over or under eating, less active, he might want the pcp to screen for depression, and perhaps prescribe a short course of an ssri or series. See how that works. It might be enough to get him over the hump.
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It is so sad hearing what happens to enmeshed spouses once the one they were enmeshed with dies. Their whole sense of identity dies as well.

Barb will likely do this, but I want to distinguish between situational depression and clinical depression.

The first kind is caused by a situation life extreme grief or anticipatory grief. Meds are used for short term support while the person can talk with a therapist or a very good pastor.

The second kind is cause by a lack of brain chemicals in the brain. Those with clinical depression and those with bipolar have a brain disease that require meds to function for one's whole life.

As far as money goes, many therapists will charge on the basis of a sliding scale of one's ability to pay. You have to ask if they do this when you call for an appointment.

Here is a very random question. Would it be possible that your husband is emotionally enmeshed with his dad?
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"We can't make another person happy and their not being unhappy is no reason for our being unhappy as well." I agree that it's no reason for my husband to be unhappy but alas, it's making him unhappy. My FIL was a great father, good provider, nice person to be around. And now, well, he's just a shell of his former self. My FIL was completely enmeshed with his deceased wife and he cannot find joy in anything. We try but it's been pretty futile so far.

Barb - I'm glad to hear that you are a mental health professional. Then I know that you know that Type 1 Diabetes is a disease. Isn't depression a symptom and the cause of depression remains unknown? Before we go stampeding toward something that crosses the blood-brain barrier, how about a book??

We don't have a lot of money to spend. My husband and I like to live a simple life - simple in comparison to 90% of the population. We have a good life just not a lot of cash. And that itself is a stressor because money is very much a consideration in being able to afford seeing a talk therapist.

I very much want to be the "what do you need we'll figure it out" wife. So, I really need some actionable suggestions.
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I would like to expand the depression discussion to include his dad. It sounds like he has situational depression given the loss of his wife and how dependent he was upon her. Maybe if he felt better, then his son would feel better since the two seem to go hand in hand. We can't make another person happy and their not being unhappy is no reason for our being unhappy as well.
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Yes, your husband needs a better set of tools.

Almost by definition, one's spouse can't provide them. It really takes someone with no stake in the game to observe (evenly hovering objective attention) and guide.
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Yup; and as such, I would never assume that I had the skills to help anyone in my family get out of a patch of clinical depression.

Depression is a conundrum to everyone; there is much about brain science that is still mysterious even to the folks who are expert in the field.

I'm no expert about depression.

I've experienced myself. I've observed it in loved ones and in colleagues and folks that I work with professionally.

What I can tell you is that what works is a combination of meds and talk therapy (even Consumer Reports will tell you that).

I encourage you to encourage your husband to seek medical treatment, starting with talking to his PCP about what is going on in his life.

A supportive spouse is a wonderful thing to have when you are experiencing depression. I've been both in a situation where my (first) spouse was telling me that "what I needed to do" in order to overcome my depression. And I've been in a situation in which my (second) spouse said "tell me what you need; we'll figure this out".

I can tell you that the second approach was infinitely better.

NYDIL, I wish you and your DH all good things!!!
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No, Barb, I am not a mental health professional. Are you?
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BB - you wrote on another thread: "...That's the sort of thing that virtually any mental health professional should be able to help you with, i.e., getting what you need/want in a nonconfrontational way. Think of it this way. You need a better set of tools to address thus situation."

That's exactly what I want for my husband: a better set of tools to address the situation with his father, who is the source of my husband's depression.
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NY DIL, are you a mental health professional as well as being a spouse of someone in crisis?

I meant Type 1 diabetes, by the way.
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My husband's depression is not biological and it's not because he's making poor lifestyle choices. His depression is because his father is no longer the man he once knew, is becoming utterly dependent upon my husband, and is lost without his wife. FIL shares his depression by dumping on my husband. And my husband says he feels obligated to and responsible for his father. I've told my husband that listening to his father's complaints over and over again is not helping either of them. Is there a book anyone can recommend? Preferably a book written from a man's perspective or caregiving as a man?

I disagree, BB, that my husband's depression is akin to diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a chronic illness that, more often than not, stems from years of making poor lifestyle choices.
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I have some experience with depression; my own and my husband's.

My depression is very much a biological thing; started when I hit puberty, continued until I finally got some treatment after the birth of my second child, when I became suicidal.

If there was one person who couldn't help me at that time, it was my husband. There were any number of loving, well-intentioned people around me at that time; NO ONE could help me out of that fog.

I think most of the time, depression is what we term "over-determined" meaning that there is not a unitary cause. Hormones, brain chemistry, brain structures, early experiences and temperament all contribute.

My husband was given antidepressants post open heart surgery; they are part of the protocol at the hospital where they replaced part of his heart. His depression worsened after a time and he's now on two different meds. This regimen keeps him on a even keel.

His mom, who had similar surgery, refused these meds after her heart repair. She ended up starving herself to death. Not an outcome I would desire. My brothers in law, who dearly loved their mother told me "antidepressants only work if you WANT to be happy". It's not true.

Depression is a medical problem and it deserves a medical solution, the same way diabetes does.
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I have heard several times from people on antidepressants that their libido fizzled or disappeared altogether. I strongly believe that he and I need to figure this out together, without pills, alcohol, or cigarettes. I am trying to stay positive and encourage him in what to do rather than criticize him for what he is doing that is bad.
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I'm genuinely curious why you think that antidepressants would change him so substantially that he would no longer be the person you married.
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Pills only serve in a situation like this to bring the person some emotional stability so they are freed up to talk about their feelings with a therapist. He doesn't sound like he's going to be open to this idea.
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So, to answer your questions and in no particular order.
We are in our mid 40s and we both work.

MIL died last December after a long battle with a neurodegenerative disorder that left her wheelchair bound and on the verge of being bedbound. My husband misses his mother but his father is the one putting the emotional burden on him.

Hubs comes from a family where alcohol was always around and it was normal to have a drink every night after work. But they were never cigarette smokers. My eldest BIL is an alcoholic albeit a highly functioning one at least when it comes to his job.

Hubs comes from a culture that is very parent/elder centric. He never questioned his parents until it became clear that they were making terrible choices, putting themselves in dangerous situations, and all of it was affecting us and burdening our marriage. That's when he told them things needed to change and caregiving had to work for all of us.

Tough love is not acceptable in his culture but a normal part of mine.

Frankly, the thought of him going on antidepressants frightens me. It will change him. Were he always this way, I would never have married him. And that the way he feels is because his father cannot handle the loss of his wife makes me feel that popping a pill will not solve the problem. He needs coping skills, and he and I have very different ways of coping.
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Just re read original post. Are we dealing with bereavement/depression issues? Hubs needs to talk with someone. My guess is he'll be pretty hardheaded about the idea. Most men are. But see above: Tough Love
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New York, if I may, how old are you guys? Both still working? Hubs always been a drinker and smoker?

Cigs and booze are tough battles. I've struggled with both through the years. I was left as the last sib standing to deal with my aging, failing parents who are three states away. It really sucks and stresses me out to no end. After one trip about 2 years ago I came back with A/Fib and had to do all the cardio stuff. Still on low dose meds.

No amount of preaching or nagging is going to help with the addiction stuff. It's up to him to either control it or give it up.

I'm shooting from the hip here but I think tough love may be in order. I don't mean giving him an ultimatum ( but if things are really bad, maybe an option)  but let him know this is strongly affecting your and your marriage. Let him know you're there for him but maybe pull back a little also.

I'm not sure it's the case with you and hubs but lots of spouses seem to unconsciously inflict pain on the other in times of stress. "When momma/poppa ain't happy, no body gonna be happy" syndrome. We want our spouse to know how tough our life is and share the pain.  It can be hard to turn off this bad/vibe ray gun but you've got to at least shield yourself.
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I've been thinking about this, waiting for some enlightenment to come that I could share with you. I'm still thinking, and still waiting.
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Sounds like his doctor needs to prescribe him an anti-depressant and that he needs to see a therapist to work through these things.

Your husband is self-medicating his depression and lack of purpose with alcohol which does not really help. 
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How long ago did his mother die? Was he her caregiver?

I can understand the overwhelming feeling, to the point that it becomes paralyzing. Been there, struggled through that, slept a lot, and finally broke through, with a lot of help from my father. And still go through it sometimes - it's just TOO MUCH!

So, where to start? With little projects, with outlines, lists of what needs to be done, prioritizing, something to put the issues in context and in a frame that can be identified and managed.

I think this kind of situation is different for every one, but when Dad helped me after my sister died, just having to consider making decisions with him broke through my stagnancy.

What if you listed the projects and situations he needs to handle for his FIL, started helping him a bit, enough to get started, then asked his assistance, opinion or help in something that's easy and doesn't require a lot of thought? Not what, or how, but just 2 choices, one of which is more appealing than the other.

That way he can at least make a decision, rather than being faced with analyzing a whole problem. Or if he seems to have trouble making a decision, make it and ask if for him and ask if he concurs.

I sometimes think of animals I've seen stuck in a hole, or fallen through the ice, and struggling and struggling to get out. When rescuers come along and help, sometimes the animal gets a new burst of energy BECAUSE of the help and not struggling alone any more.

Sometimes we humans can be like that. Being alone and frightened, even if we don't admit it, can be paralyzing.

This isn't much of a suggestion, but I know that it will be on my mind and hopefully I'll think of something more helpful.
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