Living With Someone Who Is Mentally Ill: Interview with My Husband

I was approached by a friend of mine who offered up the suggestion on doing an interview series with family members on what their thoughts and feelings were concerning my Mental Illnesses.  I have to admit, I had been toying with this idea for a long time and at this request, felt it was the time to actually commit to the series.

Since it is May and Mental Health Awareness Month, I knew that I wanted to publish these now.  As much as we (those of us diagnosed) feel and think about when we are deep in the depths of Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, etc., what do those close to us feel?  Do they feel as hopeless? Do they feel frustrated with us? Are they so angry they are wondering why they are with us?

I interviewed my husband this past weekend (my daughter and parents interviews will follow).  This is a man who has been with me for almost 22 years, since we were teenagers.  He has witnessed 5 out of my 6 episodes of Major Depressive Disorder.  He has been through my hospitalizations, my self-loathing, my hysterical thoughts.  And he stays.  A lot of what I asked him, I knew the answers to (I mean, hey, we’ve been together for over 2 decades!), but he did shock me with a few.

I present below my interview with my loving husband, Jimmy.

The Interview

Picture it, Master Bedroom, a late Saturday afternoon in May in New England.  I greet my husband and thank him for participating.  He nods.  He is not a wordy person which is shocking by some of his answers:

S. Paige:  What were your 1st thoughts and feelings after witnessing my episode of MDD in college where I slammed doors and pushed you out?

Jimmy:  I felt I had done something wrong to make you feel, like, the way you were feeling.

S. Paige:  Were you angry? Were you upset?

Jimmy: Defeated.

S. Paige:  What made you call my parents then?

Jimmy: I don’t remember doing that.  (He did in fact call my parents and filled them in on what was going on with me.  I received a phone call from my therapist that evening and then the campus psychologist the next day.)

Episode 4: Postpartum Depression & Anxiety

S. Paige: Okay, let’s go to something more recent. What did you think and feel when you got the phone call that I was at the hospital after Sophia was born (for severe postpartum depression & anxiety)?

Jimmy: … I don’t know.  I didn’t know what to think or feel.  I didn’t feel.

S. Paige: Were you worried? Were you wondering what the heck was wrong?

Jimmy: No.  I just thought that is what happened (after childbirth).  You had a hormone crash.  You had baby blues.  I didn’t realize you weren’t sleeping well.  I didn’t realize it was a thing.

S. Paige:  Did you realize I was vomiting all the time?

Jimmy:  No, I knew you were taking Ensure.

S. Paige:  Were you and I living in the same house at that time?!  You went to therapy with me.  You went to the psychiatrist with me.  You weren’t concerned at all?

Jimmy:  I don’t recall going to the therapist.

S. Paige:  This is proving to be a really valuable interview (sarcasm)

Jimmy:  I blocked these bad memories out.

S. Paige:  How were those 12 days when I was in short-term psych (I admitted myself exactly 1 month after our daughter was born)?

Jimmy:  Non stop.  I didn’t have time for, like, myself.  I was always visiting you or taking care of Sophia or with your parents or at work.  I had no time for me.

S. Paige:  Did that strain you?

Jimmy:  I’ll never eat at a KFC ever again.

S. Paige: (perplexed) Why? What does KFC have to do with this?

Jimmy:  Because that is where I would eat from the train station on the way to the hospital.  The KFC on North Street.  And I just can’t eat at a KFC ever again because I link the two together.

S. Paige: So it is a trigger?

Jimmy:  Yes.

S. Paige:  How were you able to continue with that schedule?

Jimmy:  Because I knew it would end eventually.  There was light at the end of the tunnel.  I know you didn’t see the light, but I could.

S. Paige:  I feel guilty for that (putting him in this position).  Do you know that?

Jimmy:  It’s what I am here for.  I’m the husband.

Episode 6: My 2nd Hospitalization / A Next Time?

S. Paige:  How did you feel when I went back to the hospital?

Jimmy:  I had gotten used to it.  It’s just like a part of you.  Every decade or so, you’re going to have to spend a couple of weeks in the hospital.  I don’t know.  I’ve just accepted it.

S. Paige:  Are you okay with that?

Jimmy:  Okay-ish.  I would rather you not have to do that.  But, it is part of who you are.  That every time some major event occurs in your life and for whatever reason you can’t adjust to the change it is always a possibility that you could end up in the hospital for a week or two.

S. Paige:  Do you worry about a next time?

Jimmy:  No.

S. Paige:  Do you think there will be a next time?

Jimmy:  Probably.

S. Paige:  Do you ever fear I won’t recover?

Jimmy:  Depends on your definition of recover.  So like hopped up on mega does of anti-psychotics for your life type never recover?

S. Paige:  Yes.

Jimmy:  Yeah, that’s a concern.

S. Paige:  What would you do?

Jimmy:  I don’t know.  I don’t want to think about it.

S. Paige:  Do you fear I will take my own life?

Jimmy:  No.

S. Paige:  How are you so sure?

Jimmy:  I… don’t know.  I’m not so sure, but I am pretty sure.

Stigma

S. Paige:  How did you feel about having your wife in the psych ward?  Did that seem normal to you?  Seem weird?  Did stigma play into it?

Jimmy:  No.  Because… its… its… maybe for the people of the older generation than us.  I might not tell them directly that my wife is a ‘nut job’ and she’s spent time in the psych ward but people our generation and younger are much more accepting of medication and therapy and needing inpatient stuff but I might not be as open to the older generation.

S. Paige:  Taking the older generation into account, how do you feel when your father says…

Jimmy: (cut me off) He’s an idiot.

S. Paige:  I didn’t even get the question out.

Jimmy:  It doesn’t matter.  But he’s my father and its not like I can say anything bad to him because he’s a Catholic father and because you haven’t grown up in a Catholic family you don’t know.

S. Paige:  No, I don’t know.  But you have a wife and daughter with Mental Illness diagnoses’.

Jimmy:  I’m not going to change him so I just accept the fact that he’s and idiot and ignore him as best as I can.

Our Daughter, Sophia

S. Paige:  As a parent, do you worry that she’ll be like me?

Jimmy:  I worry she is going to be like me.

S. Paige:  Why, what’s wrong with you?

Jimmy:  I’m an antisocial, geeky, anxiety riddled ‘nutto’.

S. Paige:  You do not have a disorder.  You have moments of anxiety.  She has one already.  With teenage years and hormones do you worry she’ll follow in my footsteps?

Jimmy:  No, you’re still alive and you’re 38.  She’ll make it through.  It’s part of who you are, it is part of who she is.  I wouldn’t want to change either of you two.

S. Paige:  Do you think because of what I went through, we’re better equipped to deal with Sophia if she does fall victim to depression?  I know we have definitely done better dealing with her anxiety.

Jimmy:  I just hope we’re not biased.

S. Paige: That concerns me.

Jimmy:  I mean you’re super biased towards never going on medication.

(FYI, I am medicated and fine with it)

S. Paige:  It’s not that I’m biased, it’s just…

Jimmy:  … like it’s a sign you’re headed down that slope.

S. Paige:  Yeah.

Jimmy:  And I’m just like yeah, whatever, if it makes the slope less steep than who cares?!

Changing Me

S. Paige:  Did you ever just want to ‘slap’ the anxiety and depression out of me?

Jimmy:  No.

S. Paige:  Do you wish I didn’t have either one?

Jimmy:  Interesting question.  It’s hard to answer.  Because it’s part of you and I love you.  But would not having it make you better or different?

S. Paige:  Do you think we would have had more children if I didn’t have anxiety & depression?

Jimmy: Yes.

S. Paige:  How do you feel overall with this (pointing to self)?

Jimmy:  It’s interesting.  What’s the point of living life if it isn’t interesting?!

S. Paige:  Why do you stay?  Times I’ve said go, leave me, take Sophia.  I’m a disaster, you deserve more.

Jimmy:  I need you.

 

And lastly…

 

S. Paige:  What would you say to a husband/father who was going through this with his wife or child for the first time?

Jimmy:  Persevere, because there is light at the end of the tunnel and it isn’t an oncoming train.  It is really the end of the tunnel.  It will get better.

Reflecting On My Uncle’s Death

My uncle died last Sunday. I do not ask for your sympathies but instead offer you to bestow them to my aunt, cousins (both his children & grandchildren, and his brothers (my father and my other uncle). They are the ones who knew him well. I did not. Like his parents, my grandparents, I barely knew who he really was.

I attended his funeral service yesterday morning. I did not expect to feel much. I am not saying this to be cruel, but more to define the relationship I had with him. As I said, I didn’t know him well. All interactions I had with him were not loving but more sarcastic in nature. Then again, all of us Bergers are sarcastic beings (just ask my husband). As this is a way I express my love often, I now realize that this is probably how he expressed his admiration to his extended family and friends.

While at the service I found out things I never knew about him. He was a Yeoman in the Navy. He was the administrative assistant to none other than then naval officer and famous astronaut, Alan Shepard! He contributed to a music magazine and local TV station and in his 3rd career, he helped families navigate Social Services. I was amazed by this and admired all that he had become.

When I woke up the morning of his funeral, I did not expect to shed tears. I did not expect to feel melancholic. I did not expect my life that day to proceed much differently that most days. I drove to the synagogue, placed the black lace doily on my head and proceeded into the shul. I then found myself hugging every one of my relatives. A family reunion of sorts, one I wished was had on a more positive note. Upon each hug, I felt their tears. I felt their sadness. I felt their emptiness and absorbed it all. I sat through the service, laughing a bit here and there as my cousin’s husband spoke about him. And when it was over I said my farewells, hugged my parents and went off to work.

I thought I would be okay. I thought I would walk at lunch. I thought I would participate in the Zumba Class after work.

I was wrong.

I am an Empath and upon absorbing my mourning relatives emotions, my emotions were released. I do not mean this in a selfish tone, just more as a bit of a background into how I function. I was empty, constantly wondering why I was driving to work and not home or to the cemetery service 2 states away. I moved slowly as if I had to trudge through mud. I wanted to be alone, hide away from the world and sit with my emotions.

What were these emotions though? Was it just the feelings I had absorbed? Was it more?

Since his death a few days ago, I had thought more about mortality. In fact, I probably dwelled on it a bit too much. I logically know we are all mortal, dying from the day we are born (did I mention I am somewhat of a pessimist?!)… but when there is a death in the family, a death of someone you have known all your life, someone only a few years older than your parents, you tend to think of what is yet to come. My uncle was 8 years older than my father and roughly the same age my grandfather (his father) was when he passed away. There is a reality that my time with them is gradually decreasing.

But it isn’t just my parents mortality I am thinking about. I am thinking about my own. I will not be here forever. How will my daughter handle that? How will my husband handle that? I have come close with death a few times because of my Depression and I always say that my next episode with Major Depressive Disorder will probably kill me. Of course I am taking precautions to prevent a next episode as I will remain medicated and in therapy.

But, I cannot sit with these emotions forever. The Empath’s necessity in life is to learn to let go of the feelings and emotions before they become your own. So I took yesterday as a day to sit with them, to understand them, to embrace them (and drink with them as yesterday was a 2-glasses-of-wine day). When I went to bed, I let them go.

To my Uncle C : May you rest in peace. May you sing infinitely with Roy Orbison, Tom Petty & Elvis Presley like you used to with my father and my uncle B. May you sit and binge watch VHS movies on an old sofa in front of a tube TV. May you tell Elijah to come quickly and drink his wine at the Passover Seder before we all freeze due to our cold New England temps. May you watch over my aunt as she grieves for you and remind her you are still around. May you stay, as Bob Dylan says, forever young.