Rhonda: 56, guidance counselor
Bill: 58, unemployed
Married: 34 years
Kids: Eric, 26; Jeannie, 24
Debra Castaldo, PhD, Midland Park, New Jersey
Rhonda and Bill were looking forward to their empty-nest years together — until Bill had a mini-stroke and had to stop working. Now he’s depressed and distant and Rhonda’s not sure how much longer she can cope with his neglect.
Bill’s depressed. I get it. He lost his job and he’s on disability — this isn’t the way things were supposed to be. It’s been really hard for both of us. But I’m starting to feel like I’m in this alone.
I don’t think Rhonda can possibly understand what I’m going through. Nobody can. I was a firefighter for 18 years and then decided to switch careers at 40. I went back to school and got a degree in computers and worked as a systems analyst for 13 years. I was in line for a big promotion when the stroke completely changed my life. I never fully recovered from it and I started making mistakes and forgetting things at work, so I had to quit. I’m not just depressed. I’m angry. I know how lucky I am that I can walk and talk. But the brain damage is significant enough that I can’t go back to my career, or really any job. I get tired and overwhelmed when I do too much, and my mind shuts down. What on earth am I supposed to do now? What’s my purpose in life?
I know it’s selfish, but I’m angry, too. Even though it’s no one’s fault, I’m so resentful that this has happened. I just didn’t bank on having to take care of my husband at this age. Sometimes it feels like I’ve gone from his wife to his mother. I’ve desperately been trying to help him find more meaning in his life, but talking to him is like trying to talk to a brick wall. I ask him how he’s feeling and he doesn’t respond. Bill’s always been the kind of guy who holds his emotions in, but it never bothered me before. Now I wish he’d open up to me but I don’t know how to make him do that. I suggest new goals for his life, like volunteering, but he says he’s not interested. I can’t even get him off the couch to take a walk with me or go to the mall. It’s like he’s completely checked out of life and our marriage.
Rhonda always wants to help. That’s what she does — she likes to control things, fix things, but she doesn’t understand that she can’t fix this. And what good will talking about it do? I’m mad because I lost my job and there’s nothing I can do to get it back. I grew up with this image of what a husband and father is: a strong provider. That’s what I’ve been to Rhonda and our kids for our entire marriage, but I’m not that man anymore.