“The Person He Always Wanted to Be”: Leslie’s Caregiver Story
January 22, 2021
Families for Depression Awareness has partnered with Corporate Member, GeneSight, to provide educational information about genetic testing and depression treatment.
Art and I have been married more than 25 years. We have a blended family – Art has a daughter from his first marriage, I have two sons and we have a daughter together. The kids are now grown up and out of the house. We have seven grandchildren who light up our life.
Sounds like a rosy picture, doesn’t it?
Yet, it’s far from picture perfect. My husband has major depressive disorder and anxiety, which has impacted our marriage, our life and our children.
Art was very unpredictable and irrational. He was extremely moody. I would come home from work and wouldn’t know what I was walking into – would he be angry? Would he be lethargic and unable to get off the couch? Would he be irritable? Would he even be there?
I was completely stressed out and walking on eggshells. When we got married, we made an agreement that we would never get divorced, but, wow, were we pushing the envelope!
Art’s History of Depression
Art started experiencing depression as a child as a result of a childhood trauma. Then, when he was a young adult, his wife and mother-in-law were killed in a car accident. His very young daughter was also in the car, but she survived.
This profound loss sunk him further into depression and he started to gamble as a way to cope. Art’s gambling was obviously not a healthy way of dealing with his mental health issues, but it did lead him to me: I was a card dealer where he gambled. After months of asking me out, I finally said yes.
While we were dating and when we got married, I saw the extreme highs and extreme lows Art experienced. His mood swings were not only painful to watch, but also affected our children and our home in countless, negative ways.
After one horrible incident, Art and I knew he needed professional help. Yet, recognizing he needed help and going to the doctor wasn’t the happy ending we were hoping for – it started 18 years of trial and error with medication.
Watching Helplessly as My Husband Tried, Failed Medications
Art went to his primary care doctor, who prescribed an antidepressant. Over the years, Art tried five different medications at different dosages and different combinations.
Every time that the doctor would prescribe a new medication, adjust the dosage, or add a medication to what Art was already taking, Art would tell me he was optimistic that it would work. I was somewhat hopeful too – maybe this would be the change that would help Art.
The medication changes seemed to help for a little bit, then they would stop working. When I noticed changes in his mood, I would encourage him to go back to the doctor, who would again adjust the dosage, add a medication or try a new one.
With each medication change, I would observe Art to see how he was doing. It was becoming increasingly obvious that Art was having trouble thinking clearly, concentrating, and remembering things. It was like he was trying to live life through a dense fog. And he was getting increasingly angry and despondent.
I researched other depression treatments and scheduled an appointment with a psychologist. I hoped by participating in talk therapy that Art could get to the root of his issues. He went to his therapy appointments, but he was still taking three different medications at the same time.
Even though he was on all these medications, his depressive symptoms were the worst I’d ever seen.
I was at my breaking point. I was spent. I was done. I told him we needed to do something different.
A Genetic Test Offers Insight
Early in 2020, Art went to his psychologist appointment. At the visit, he learned that the psychologist had just hired a psychiatric nurse practitioner. She reviewed Art’s extensive medication history and suggested that he might be a good candidate for the GeneSight® test.
The GeneSight test is a genetic test that analyze a person’s DNA to see if there might be a genetic reason that their mental health medications aren’t working as prescribed. The report can inform doctors or nurse practitioners about how someone may metabolize or respond to certain medications commonly prescribed to treat depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric conditions.
The GeneSight test was incredibly easy to take. The nurse practitioner simply rubbed a cotton swab on the inside of each of Art’s cheeks. She put the swabs in an envelope, sent them off to the GeneSight lab and got the results back in a few days.
The nurse practitioner sat down with us and explained everything. It turns out the test found that five different medications Art had tried over 18 years were all in his significant gene-drug interaction category. The nurse practitioner told us that this means that the medications were likely to require dose adjustments in order to have the desired effect, may be less likely to work, or may cause side effects.
Using the results of Art’s GeneSight test to inform her treatment plan, the nurse practitioner decided to take Art off his existing medications and try a new medication.
“Happy is Such a Small Word”
After Art started on the new medication, I began to notice a change. Over time, I could tell that he started to feel better. He was starting to be the person I knew he could be – and the person he always wanted to be.
Now, after nearly a year of Art taking medication that is actually making him feel better – not worse – I see a huge difference in how he engages with life. While before he would either be angry at everything and everyone or wouldn’t want to get off the couch, I now catch him playing with our grandkids. It is amazing to watch.
As you probably know, depression doesn’t just impact the person – it affects the whole family. Now that Art is taking a medication that is helping him, I find that our relationship is so much better. Our relationship with our kids is so much better. It is impossible to describe the benefit the GeneSight test has had on our family.
When people say you might have an out-of-pocket cost for the GeneSight test, I tell them living with Art’s depression cost us a lot more than that – and it almost cost us our marriage. It was worth every penny.
Art told me that he now feels “happy, but happy is such a small word. It’s like me telling you that I love you, but you can’t fathom the depths of my love.”