Hello everyone, thank you for reading this, and being here to listen to each other.
My husband has had depression for almost his entire life. He grew up in an abusive and neglectful environment, where nobody understood his health issues - he developed OCD, anorexia and depression, and had to figure out underlying digestive issues by himself (we still don't understand it, and he's still sticking to the extremely restricted FODMAP diet). He also served in the army for three years as a medic, so now has been diagnosed with PTSD in addition to the above, and is unable to work. He has made two suicide attempts, been to see multiple therapists, and tried numerous medications in the US, but was managing his mental health without any of that for a number of years now after bad experiences with medication and institutionalisation.
Now this is where it gets a bit different. I have also suffered from mild depression (I know, we're a cheerful couple) which unfortunately spiralled into an incident where I damaged the skin of my wrist after an argument with him last year. I wasn't sure if it would scar, and he mentioned researching tattoo artists that could cover it for me, so that I could heal through that in some way (in addition to seeking "real" therapy, of course).
So he found a tattoo artist for me, whom he also really liked. I explained that I couldn't afford it, but that I'd try to help him book an appointment when they were released. He misunderstood and thought we were each trying to book an appointment for ourselves, and much like concert tickets, of course one of us missed out. He gave me his appointment, and therefore his choice of tattoo, because he wanted me to have something beautiful to remind me to be kind to myself.
Now, he's really kind and selfless, but there was a LOT of arguing over that whole thing. I knew he wanted it for me more than for himself, because of course the whole reason we even found this artist was because of me and my mistake, but I knew he was sad that he missed out. So when more appointments were released, I was ecstatic when he managed to book one, and he went last month to get it done.
Unfortunately, something that was supposed to be a celebration of beauty and art in spite of all the things he has gone through, is now something that he actively hates. He's a perfectionist, and he can only see the flaws in his tattoo. It's large and on his forearm, and his first ever tattoo. I think it's absolutely beautiful, and really well rendered from the image he chose, but no matter how much I reassure him he doesn't see it. He keeps thinking people are judging him, that it's botched, that he disfigured himself etc.
This sounds fickle, I know. He isn't vain, he isn't careless, he just places a huge amount of importance on who he is and how he presents himself, how others see him, and he feels like this is a huge mistake. He had been doing better before this, and now he's overcome with sadness, anger and guilt. He's worked hard all his life and wanted one thing to come together for him, something for him instead of giving things to everyone else.
I've tried everything to encourage him, and he said there had been a few moments where he felt he could make it work, but the rest of the time he's said things like he wants to cut his arm off, have it removed, and in his worst moments he's planned his death. He thinks about death almost every day, and always has done, but this is acute now.
Is there anybody out there with depression, anxiety, PTSD or OCD tendencies who can better explain to me what would help them in a similar situation? Or someone with body dysmorphic disorder? Or just a tattoo that they regret to this degree?
He won't listen to my suggestions about going to the GP or self-referral for therapy. He feels like it's stupid to do that over a tattoo, but it's my belief that it's his underlying mental health that makes it so difficult for him to cope right now. He keeps telling me that depression doesn't exist and that there's nothing "wrong" with him - effectively that he's right to be sad when there's so much to be sad about in the world. Of course there's nothing wrong with him, but how do I help him understand his emotions constructively?
I'm really struggling to be a good partner and friend in all of this. I can spend hours talking positively and giving him different points of view, listening to his own, all for it to end in tears because I get frustrated when he shuts down. Then there'll be okay moments in the day, then a shadow passes over him, and it all starts again.
Any ideas, advice or thoughts would be really, really appreciated. Anything that I can share with him to remind him that he is who he is, and his body is his own again.
Here's a picture of the tattoo - even if you're not a tattoo person, it might help give context to his personality. It's not a rubbish drunken choice, it's a piece of Mucha's art.
Thank you for reading, and for your thoughts.