An active and aggressive side of depression, especially painful to recall, is the rage that used to blast through me at my wife and three boys. There are few things to equal the power for healing of the connection and love of your own family, and it’s a sign of the depth of isolation and emotional distortion that accompanies depression when that very connection is abused and threatened. But so it is, and, as Beyond Blue summarized a couple of months ago, research is identifying hostility, aggressive blaming and need for control as more typically male responses to the underlying changes going on in the mind and body as the illness deepens its impact over time.
The rage, the urge to break away, the impossibility of talking freely to my wife (or myself) were at their height when I had little or no awareness that these were all linked to the same illness. I knew I was subject to depression, but I thought of that problem as a name for the episodes of despair and paralysis that had been part of my life since childhood. Maybe migraines were related, I wasn’t sure of that – doctors had always treated those separately. But I was active at this time, building a new business, traveling a lot, feeling like I was getting somewhere. And yet there were these times, more and more frequent, when I knew damn well I was really out of control. Something just took over, and I struggled to stop it.
I remember driving back home one day from the airport after a week’s absence. Good things had been happening on this trip, and I was eager to talk to L. about them. I had missed her and the boys, who were about 2, 5 and 6 at the time, and couldn’t wait to hug them. But I was nervous too because these moments of return were often the hardest of all. That’s when I would fall into a rage, sometimes forcing it to smolder inside, sometimes watching it boil over in furious words and slamming anger. This one time, though, an insight came to me as I drove down the last hillside to our driveway. As I struggled to understand the rage in human terms, I suddenly realized that underlying that aggressiveness was a deep fear, the fear of losing my family. I saw so clearly in that moment that the raging abuse was more of a protective reaction – push them away before they give up on you – a crazy response, to be sure, but one based in love and need that I couldn’t admit to. I was so relieved and excited to see it that way. I felt so deeply how much I loved them and couldn’t wait to tell this to L.
But that’s not what happened. No sooner had I grabbed my bags out of the car and started across the garden walkway that led to the front door, than I could feel a tightening in my chest. I was already nervous about losing it. There across that open grassy space, the kids’ toys were strewn about, and from inside I could hear two of them screaming at each other and thundering about as a tumbling fight ran from room to room. The noise cut deeply into me, as if their clatter and yells were knife-blows at my body. L. was trying to yell over them to cut it out! The tension became unbearable. Each tossed toy or sweat shirt on the lawn glowed in my eyes as a piece of me I had to put back into place. The rage was building and drove out any thought of a cheerful entrance.
As I walked through the door, instead of seeing each boy and L. as who they were, I could only feel my own shame spilling out in every direction – the mess inside me took the shape of that house and everything in it. I had to grab it all and restore the scene of order I was suddenly composing in my mind. I was driven to make it, and me, whole again and furious that no one else seemed to care! I wouldn’t stop until I had put everything back where I desperately needed it to be. There was no room then for surprising, unruly people, no room for anything unexpected. I obsessed on everything that struck me as out of place or broken or ugly, and nothing looked right! I was seized with a rage at once that sped me about picking up, straightening, pushing, shoving, slamming.
“What the hell’s going on!” I roared at L. “Can’t you HANDLE this!” She turned in shock from the cooking she was doing at the stove and just stared at me. “What are you talking about?”
But I didn’t stop to explain. I marched in fury on B and S who were locked in their wrestling and even laughing as they knocked over chairs and banged against a wall, tilting a framed picture on impact. I yanked them roughly apart, almost hurling them to opposite sides of the room. Between them on the floor I found a long rubber strip they had been playing with.
I knew exactly where that had come from because I had so painstakingly fitted it back into a metal runner that held it on the floor of the station wagon, not once but many, many times. It was a part of the car that just wouldn’t stay put and it symbolized all the mess and irresponsible destruction of this house – the mess I had become. “Who took this out of the car?” I raged. B look at S who was about to say something in his defense when I swung it hard against the side of his leg. He immediately burst into tears, and L. was at his side to help and hold him. She looked at me in speechless anger, the words trying to form in her mouth for a minute before she could finally hiss them out. “You can’t do that! You are OUT OF CONTROL!”
I stood there for a second still possessed of that rage but increasingly uncomfortable, knowing damn well this was crazy, this was not what I wanted, but I couldn’t stop. “They’re breaking everything! Why does everything have to get broken!” I practically ran out the door, that strip of rubber in my hand, and went right to the station wagon, pulled open the back, crawled in and set about trying to jam it back into that damned metal strip. IT JUST WOULDN’T FIT RIGHT! I willed all the rage still flowing through me into my finger tips to squeeze the endless three feet of that hard, resisting rubber strip back into its enclosing metal slot so the stupid thing could do what it was supposed to do and protect the finish of the cargo area floor. How many times had it popped out, and each time it tore at me that something I owned, that was a part of me, was wrong, completely wrong! I wound up pounding that strip with all my might and gave up when I could see it would stay put, but only for a time, of course, until a box was shoved over it, forcing it loose again. The whole thing was futile!
I sat in the back of that car feeling like a complete fool, my life a mess, everything wrong, ashamed that I had hurt my dear son and practically in tears at the thought of how happily I had hoped this homecoming would be. I was calmer then. I walked back to the house to see if I could repair the damage I had caused. Perhaps I could replay the scene, I thought, and get it right this time! Perhaps I could be the loving father and husband, glad to be home again, laughing at the playful tumbling of the kids, the special projects they had made out of the living room furniture, curious to see what they were up to, open and at ease with whatever might happen next. Maybe, someday.
I went through years doing this sort of thing and can hardly understand how we stayed together as a family. Fortunately, there were more good, or at least OK, times than miserable ones like this. Having a partner or parent lost in fits of depression-fed rage has got to be a terrifying thing. It was terrifying enough to be that partner, that parent, never sure when I’d lose it next. When the person you originally fell in love with gets back in balance, how can you be sure that the improvement will last?
How have you managed to cope with a partner in this state, or something like it? How do you go about rebuilding the basic trust of the relationship?
My partner was exactly like that every lettle thing out of place in the house would make him so angry. the normal happy moments progressively became shorter..and now he is not talking to me anymore eithe gets syper angry with me a treatening me to live the house (that is also on my name) or he doesn’t talk at all and stare in a catatonic state. He doesn’t think he has a problem end thinks it os all my fault. why is he scare of talking to me in a normal way?
i don’t know what to do?
amm great story but whats the answer, im you so what do i do? the big red STOP sign doesnt work for me anymore
I am a woman who is in exactly those shoes. I am the ‘angry’ partner. I rage all the time. So its related to depression. Now what? I don’t want to be on an antidepressant forever. What do I do? Where do I get help?
Im fairly sure my husband is going thru what you are talking about above and he knows he is depressed and he knows he has anger but wont seek help because he doesnt like feeling like there is something wrong with him. Afraid of being treated like a patient i think. When things are good everything is fine but it seems the little things we should be able to talk out get thrown way out of proportion. And also he doesnt want to talk it out and thats usually because it just makes him more angry.
I was wondering being someone from the other side if there is any advise you can give me so i can help my husband and I overcome this.
There is no lack of love on either sides i think but my husband has a hard time expressing or letting go and forgiving. I feel like right now i am doing all these for the both of us but i still have feelings and i fear that if I cant find a way to help him that i wont be able to keep it up for the long road.
I want to be supportive but he can often make it very difficult when his deffens is so high.
Was your wife ablevto help you or was it only after you decided to get help?
My eyes swelled with tears while reading this narrative. Your words touched my heart for the reason that I have uncontrollable anger that I overtly act upon and impose on my wife. The anger has not at any time manifested into a physical altercation or a cruel verbal attack. However, I snap complaints, speak sharply, become irrational, unreasonable, arbitrary, judgmental, acrimonious and show malcontent. Subsequently, once the storm naturally quells I then return back to reality to consequently witness the trail of destruction I created. I experience the anguish of shame and excruciating feeling of remorsefulness. I attempt to make amends by purchasing gifts of atonement. I act out by being overly agreeable, overly kind, overly courteous and overly loving. I am desperate for my wife to forgive me and block out the memory of my behavior. I make promises that I would never inflict my anger onto her ever again. I am truly sincere with my unequivocal assurance. I believe wholeheartedly I will consciously control the anger. Then without provocation it happens again. The incessant cycle. I absolutely hate it. I had no idea this type of anger is a byproduct of depression. I had no idea others had similar experiences. Thank you for sharing your story with all its vulnerability. I am humbled by the courage and bravery you show regarding a topic I never considered to disclose. I strive to change and have not given up hope. You have encouraged me at the “right” moment and again I express to you THANK YOU.
I feel the same way as several of the people above. So what do I do?
John, I came across your blog as I isolate myself from my family as I so often do nowadays. What you have written above is basically me. I take a little bit of comfort knowing I am not unique in my struggle. I am truly at a loss at how to overcome this dark place I find myself. I find it harder and harder to control my feelings. The guilt I feel after I rage (verbal abuse) on my wife and kids is massive. I hate who I am and what I have become. I know what I do hurts my family and might trigger mental illness on my kids someday yet I still do it. For whatever reason, I am hell bent on self destructing.
Steven, I feel your pain. 6 days before you posted this, the woman I had convinced myself I would grow old with left me a letter on the bedside telling me not to be home when she returned.
By this point tension and unhappiness was rife in the family home, my depression (Me) having made her feel unappreciated, unloved, unsexy and, I suspect, worthless, at the same time having made life miserable for he two kids and probably to a lesser extent my own Son. I justified every bit of anger, miserable retort, episode of irritablility or isolation (which included no sex for 14 months of a 22 month relationship), by blaming EVERYONE else. Her Son, with a behavioural condition, her teenage Son, for being a teenager, her for not recognising my depression and its many facets, for not being a supermodel pornstar (?!), my own Son for not being more ‘perfect’ than he already is. But never once did I consider I was depressed, that I had allowed it to seep back into my life, that I had failed to treat it and learn to contol it, that I had allowed it to destroy all of our lives and ALL of our happiness.
So, at this point, with my pent up rage and contempt for everyone I loved, her letter felt like a release. No more pandering to over attention seeking, ‘rude’ children, no more misjudgement, feeling bad for being miserable and unhappy or guilty for never wanting to leave the house, or feeling (knowing) that I wasn’t pulling my weight around the house. Freedom. Or so I thought, logically.
But we both know, there is nothing logical about depression. It hid itself from me, masqeurading as discontent with other people and their flaws, while making me think I was infallible as I pushed them all as far away from me as it is possible to get.
I had quit my job thinking it was leading me to depression, 6 months after meeting her. I thought naïvely, that the lack of that particular trigger meant I’d headed it off, to start my own ‘business’, not even realising the eventual burden that would be placed on this beautiful, kindly woman. Never realising My own self loathing, lack of confidence and pain was setting us on a path to destruction. And, only realising after she was in the arms of someone else, that depression had taken my life away, and ultimately, I have no recourse.
I stopped talking or she stopped talking (world class stonewaller!), it hardly matters anymore. The core issue was that WE stopped talking. It became too hard, or we were scared of hurting each other, certainly in my case I was too scared to reveal my inner demons to her, that if she knew how black I am on the inside, she wouldn’t love me or want me in her life….you see the irony in that? It happened anyway, and in hindsight, if I had found the strength and reason, she might have at least tried to understand, I might have understood how depressed I was and been able to do something in time. Supposition maybe, but not entirely unfounded it could be argued.
Now she’s with someone else after a matter of weeks and I have almost no legitimate line of communication and my life is in pieces.
So, after this novel, my advice and thoughts. Without talking, communicating, sharing, we can’t be anything but, alone. With it, there’s always a chance.
I am sorry for your pain. My question is what about your wife? How is she? I’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of behavior for more years than I care to remember. It has damaged me, I think you should be investigating the damage it has caused her.
Exactly.it causes a great deal of damage to others.im currently tring to survive after my partner left 3 mths ago due to depression. My life is a total mess. I’d like to hear your story?
I see myself in what has been described. I have been married for 15 years to a loving woman who has blessed me with three children, 14, 12 and 8. I love them with all my heart, but my struggles with depression have made it difficult if not impossible to give myself over to happiness and to treat my wife and family with the love and respect they deserve. While I have always been quiet and solitary person, in recent years I have become more withdrawn, retreating into my bedroom and reading or sleeping rather than engaging with them. Most troubling is my reaction to any attempt by my wife to pressure me to become more involved or to open up. These discussions generally escalate into arguments and then ugly scenes in which I begin screaming at her, throwing things and generally acting like a menacing bully. Each time this happens, I resolve that it never will again, but I invariably react similarly the next time, and have begun to feel that I have no control over it. The rage consumes me and makes it difficult to think rationally. I have threatened to leave on many occasions, even though I don’t really want to (at least I don’t think I do). I fantasize about the better life I could have, but know deep down that this is folly life and that by leaving I would only complicate things for everyone and possibly inflict long-term harm on my kids. I am riddled with guilt and often wish I could just disappear without too much fuss so that they could get on with their lives . I sometimes fantasize about dying. I have struggled with depression for my whole life I think. It has only begun to seriously impact my life in the past 10 years as I have taken on more responsibility and a family that depends on me. I feel that I am somehow deliberately sabotaging my life and most important relationships, but seem unable to put on the brakes.
If my fiancé could write as you have written here, I believe he would agree that this describes him well. I hope you have retained your family. This will be my fiancé’s second family (with me) and after 2 years I am emotionally exhausted as a person. I cannot imagine the irreparable damage it has on a woman after 10 or 15 years. I will not be the one to find out. I have sent this article to him. I love him and will try to get help for this anger – because there’s so much more to a person and when I see him he is an incredible man. Thank you all for sharing.
My relationship with my husband did not survive. When he decided to be with another (not crazy, abusive woman) he left for good and I am still devastated…one year exactly since he gathered all his clothes and “moved on” as he put it. i am now on multiple medications trying to get a life and my health back. If only my family could have understood what was happening to me, that I wasn’t a mean tyrannical person. Your comment that behaving the way you did was born from love. I worked myself sick because my husband couldn’t seem find a job that contributed the $$ we needed to provide some financial security so we could take the best of my children. And I got angrier and angrier by the day. It’s interesting how people seem to understand that men will rage, get physical when they are angry. There are women out there who do , too. Yet I am not crazy, unfeminine. I have a brain glitch, a biochemical imbalance. If only I could have received the help I desperately needed before my family fell apart. The very thing I was trying so hard to protect. I hate this disease and I ever so much more saddened when I hear of someone whose family did survive. I am very happy for you, though, in all sincerity. i am just waiting for the time when we can all “come out of the closet” and gain compassion instead of judgement from the masses.
I’ve read this several times, it is just so gripping and revealing, thanks for sharing what has to be an extremely difficult story for others to see, that has come straight from your own pain. It’s left me speechless, and wanted to say, thanks for sharing. I think without a doubt, it’s going to help many people understand more about men and depression.