Bill’s Depression and Me, part 1

Over the last 17 years, my most FAQ has been, how did Bill’s severe depression affect me?
This week and next I’m sharing my experience as Bill’s wife walking with him.

The Downhill Slide

We were both blind-sided … or perhaps it is more accurate to say, we were unaware of our reality.

It was the summer of 1999 and our Navigator National Staff Conference in Florida just ended. Bill had directed it. He loves the challenge of pulling off big events; he was in his element. And not surprisingly he was (we were) tired, exhausted really.

With the conference in our rear-view mirror, we headed north with our pop-up camper to the Outer Banks of NC for a week on the beach. It was good.

Before we left the camp-ground I remember calling from the pay phone to set up a visit to the U of Tennessee to visit the Navigator ministry. Our son was staff there and we had a few extra days before needing to be back in Colorado.

Something else was beginning. Bill’s sleep was becoming disrupted; in many cases the first symptom of depression.

What about me?

I was going with the flow. I regret that I was not in tune enough with our reality to see the yellow flags. There were many. I wish I had listened to the questions floating through my mind, the first yellow flag. As much as I wanted to visit our son, I remember wondering if that was really a good idea. A week on the beach hadn’t cure our tiredness.

Something is Not Right

The next yellow flag was Bill’s lack of desire for his job.

Soon after returning to Colorado, he left for a staff meeting. He pushed through without considering why he really didn’t want to be there. In the middle of the night he experienced a panic attack, the first. Another yellow flag.

Was he just overly tired? Later in September we were gifted with a week in the Colorado mountains. The Aspens were at their height. Again, it was good … but not the solution to what we were experiencing.

Another meeting called for his participation. I accompanied him. Although he participated in the work portion, He (and I) opted out of all the social pieces; another yellow flag and a classic symptom of depression.

What about me?

Awareness was dawning. This was more than over-tiredness. I was beginning to realize we needed to question our normals. I was sticking close to Bill at his request. My schedule bowed to his.

My new role – Bill’s Advocate

Bill was still keeping his planned fall activities although each trip became a decision. And I started always traveling with him.

One of our favorite trips each year is to the Missions Conference of our home church in Peoria, IL. Not only are we honored to represent that church, but we have many friends from our years there. We went. But something broke, a line was crossed. Bill experienced a major panic attack.

This was the pivot point. We were scared. He called our doctor in Colorado. Concern was high.

What about me?

Ignorant flexibility. I didn’t encourage Bill to participate in the conference or meet our various friends for meals. I went by myself and didn’t try to hide our reality. I needed the support of our friends. My concern for my husband trumped my role as a missionary.


When we returned from Illinois, Bill was officially diagnosed with Clinical Depression, a genetic disposition that runs in him family. It was deep and dark. He lost all interest in his normal activities: his hobbies, reading, TV, travel, sex. As he says, he couldn’t even read his favorite Louis L’amour cowboy books.

He experienced a reduced appetite. He ignored the phone. If someone came to the door, he hid in our bedroom.

There was anxiety. Some days he felt like he was having a heart attack; other days he was sure he had a brain tumor.

And his refrain became, I can’t. Decisions were beyond him.

Medication was prescribed. It took several months to get the right meds and the right dosages.

He was officially on sick leave from The Navigators.

What about me?

I increasingly became the family decision maker. I asked our sons to not come home for Thanksgiving.
I became Bill’s protector, but not his fixer. I could never understand his reality. I stood on the fringe and prayed and did what he could not do.
I was so very thankful for our friend, Alan Andrews, the US President of The Navigators who called me every day to check on Bill. I needed a trusted confidant.

Then Came December

It was the first Sunday in Advent. We had not been to church in two months. Bill felt ready to return. Me too!

It was a wonderful Sunday — for me. Bill couldn’t wait to leave. Our well-meaning friends so glad to see him back made him feel claustrophobic. He had to get out.

What about me?

This was crushing. For the first time, I was discouraged. When would this end? Was this our new normal?

Come back next week for Our Continuing Saga
as we come to the tipping point.
I’ve titled it, The Up-hill Journey

A Reminder: Everyone who comments will be receiving a gift via snail-mail and be placed in a drawing for one of my favorite books.






42 thoughts on “Bill’s Depression and Me, part 1

  1. Vic Woodward says:

    Sue, I so appreciate you sharing the story from your experience. I read about Bill’s experience with depression in Lay It Down…so scary. I’ve experienced a “drabness” in this life, but nothing like what Bill described in the book. Thanks again for letting me see it from the wife alongside. Beautiful!


    • says:

      Hi Michelene … If I can pray for you specifically, let me know. This is a journey where we so need each other. sue

  2. Rebecca Price says:

    I am going to send this to a friend who is currently walking this journey. As scary as it is to be the one in the depression (I have so been there) it has to be equally exhausting on so many levels to be the spouse. You become the one to make all the decisions all while wondering why they can’t just “snap out of it”. I would think it would be very easy to fall into a depression yourself. Thank you for becoming your husband’s advocate and for praying for him when he couldn’t. I am so glad you had a support system. I feel like my mom did not have an adequate support system in her journey with my dad. It just struck me how isolating it must be for the spouse involved. How do you not become weary being the sole decision maker and the sole “functioner”? Thank you so much for your vulnerability and transparency. I am sure God will use your story to encourage others. Looking forward to part 2!!

    • says:

      Hi Becky,

      Thank you for passing this on. I trust it helps your friend as well.

      I think the reason I didn’t become weary was a couple of things. I was willing to be vulnerable and to say I need help. And thankfully I received great support. My close friends did not question what we were experiencing but pulled close and loved well. We were blessed.

      love, sue

      • Rebecca Price says:

        So thankful that you had an amazing support system. It’s hard when you get burned (ask for help and not get it but get a lecture instead about not trusting God enough) to be vulnerable again. Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help because you don’t even know what you need, let alone tell someone else how they can help. Thanks again for sharing your journey. It gives me hope.

        • says:

          It is so hurtful when others don’t trust.

          And I get that … sometimes you don’t know what you need … I’m not sure I knew I needed Alan to call everyday … but what a gift. Even on some days when he spoke some hard things, like “Sue, please tell Bill he is officially on sick leave.” I knew that would be hard for Bill to hear, and it was.

          love, sue

  3. Anna Rau says:

    Oh thank you Sue, for sharing the answer to this question with people over these years, and with us in this blog- with me. I really needed to read this today and am eager for reading your conclusion too.

  4. Rachel says:

    Thank you, Sue for sharing This! I’m very grateful for your openness and thankful to think of how God has used this to encourage others. Miss you!

  5. Deb says:

    Hi friend! I so appreciate you taking the time to share on this. You and Bill have been such an encouragement to Jim and I as we walked through our journey with clinical depression a few years after you. I can never thank you enough for the advice you blessed me with! I am so thankful for you! And yes, I’m eagerly looking forward to your next post too!!!

  6. Heather says:

    I’m eager to read more, Sue! Thank you for trusting God and being willing to be open and vulnerable with sharing your story.

  7. Leigh Ann Trebesh says:

    Sue, I so enjoyed meeting you this summer and have read several of your blog posts since then. I’m so sorry to read of your moms passing. Thank you for sharing part 1 of this story, I’m looking forward to reading more.

    • says:

      Thank you Leigh Ann. I too enjoyed meeting you last summer. Will you be at the NCC in November. If I remember correctly you weren’t sure. Would love to visit with you again.

  8. Beth Smith says:

    Thank you Sue, I have depression in my family. My dad was a victim of it. I too have struggled with it, I am on medication & doing well. I appreciated Rebecca’s sharing of getting lectures about not trusting God I as well experienced that from people. When you were in Calif at the Anderson’s home it was so helpful to talk to Bill & you after he shared. I love your blogs & sharing❤️

    • says:

      Thank you Beth. I appreciate your prayers. Bill too is still on meds … after being off for a while. The doctor thought he’d need to stay on them till he is 99. Not sure what happens when he turns 100.

      Isn’t it amazing how we minister to each other when we’re willing to share our hards. I’ll pass your words on to Becky.

  9. Jackie O'Brien says:

    Loved the way you chose to share a difficult time. I senced your transparency is giving others the words and courage to expose dark times in their own life. May God expand your influene to help others for HIS glory. Sending love your way. Jackie

    • says:

      And love you back, my friend. That’s my heart, that God will expand his influence through Echoes of Grace. We need a phone call!

  10. Jess says:

    Thank you Sue. I know the journey you two have been on will help countless others. We have issues on our plate right now that are requiring support and encouragement. When you are the one in the community who people are looking to to “have it all together” it feels hard to be honest and vulnerable. I’m so glad you had support – especially from fellow staff.

    • says:

      You know, letting others know we are human ministers deeply.

      I’d love to pray specifically for you if you’d like to share.

      And I’d love to meet you one of these days!

  11. Karla Ely says:

    I’ve been wishing for years that someone would write a book to encourage and give help to spouses of someone who struggles with depression. Any chance, Sue, that your blog will be the beginnings of that helpful book?!

    • says:

      Oh Karla, you make me smile!

      No plans for a book … at least at this point. But thank you for your encouragement!

  12. Rae Brower says:

    If this was the end of the story, I’d be so discouraged for you and Bill… But once again we see God’s grace (after the fact). He took a very painful experience and helped you experience Him in a way you never could have without this experience and then has used it to glorify His name and help so many see the truth. He is a good God even in the hard stuff.

  13. Jo Smith says:

    Sue, thank you for telling of your experience in an honest and vulnerable way! Thank you for answering this question many of us have wondered about. How difficult and lonely it must have been, even though it sounds as though you had some wonderful support. God certainly carried you and supplied what you needed day by day. It must have been very discouraging, though, to not see an end in sight.

    • says:

      Yes, the support of friends was a BIG key to living those days … but in December, that was hard … I wondered.

  14. April J. says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your heart. Life is a journey and journeys often have messy moments. Thank you for sharing even some of the messy moments of your journey. Hugs dear friend!

    • says:

      Thank you April. You know what I’m learning? The messy moments are often the ones that minister most deeply.

  15. sandra marthaler says:

    Well written, especially the “what about me” parts — yes, I hear depression can really affect those around us. Although I have never experienced depression, I have seen it in others and it can be scary! Thanks for your insights on the subject Sue!

    • says:

      Thanks for stopping by Sandy. And you are welcome. May God protect you from personally experiencing it.

      God uses different things for each of us. You have survived a BIG one and your story ministers to others too, I’m sure.

  16. Diane Spuler says:

    Hi Sue,
    God has truly gifted you with writing, and He is using you in such a wonderful way to help others and to bring glory to Himself! Thank you for sharing openly from your perspective about the journey on which God has and is taking you. It brought back memories for me when Terry was struggling with constant migraine headaches. The meds the doctor put him on caused him to lose interest in nearly everything, and kind of to be “out of it” for two years. I can relate to having to be the decision maker and experiencing some isolation. Thankfully, by God’s grace, another doctor helped wean him off those drugs and put him on a different medication. In time I got my dear husband back, for which I am so grateful. Yes, how blessed we are to know that Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and He’s with us through those hard valleys!
    My prayers have been with you also through the challenges and homegoing of your precious mother. This week marks the one year anniversary of my sweet mom’s homegoing at age 99. I’m so glad she’s with her Savior, but I still miss her a lot. I will continue to keep you in my prayers, dear friend!
    Love you!

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