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.

How My ‘Sleep Divorce’ Has Kept My Marriage Strong

I don’t sleep with my husband.  

We have tried for a few years to survive in the same bed at night to no avail.  We just can’t make that part of our relationship work.  We have what now seems to be termed a “Sleep Divorce”.  In fact, aside from separate beds, we have separate bedrooms.  It works, it makes us work.
From the beginning of our living-together-relationship we have always had trouble sleeping in the same bed.  He constantly suffers from Restless Leg Syndrome and every suggestion his doctor has given him to ‘cure’ it hasn’t worked.  Nightly, I would be awoken to the whole bed shaking thinking there was an earthquake occurring because earthquakes are just so prevalent in the Northeast, USA (note sarcasm).  Nope, no earthquake, just my husband’s leg.  He must be dreaming about running a marathon again.  Ugh, sleep did not come easily those years and when I don’t sleep, my Anxiety and Depression take hold very quickly.

I am not completely innocent either.  Because of my work schedule I could stay up later.  Being years before the invention of Netflix and tablets, this usually involved binge watching Frasier and Golden Girls episodes on my portable DVD player.  Problem was, I was in the bed with my husband and tended to fall asleep during episode 2 or 3, but the sound kept him awake.  I solved the sound issue by wearing headphones but now the light kept him awake.  In addition to my DVD habit, I am told I also snore a bit and chomp in my sleep, but since I have not been given proof of that, I find that hard to believe.

So when we moved into our 4 bedroom house 8 years ago, the excitement came.  I could have my own room again!  I think I was more ecstatic then my toddler child at the time.  I looked at the remaining 2 bedrooms and declared the bigger of the two mine.  It had 2 windows and a ceiling fan.  Yes, I had my own space.  I could snore, I mean, sleep in peace.  On rare occasions, when guests visited, I would vacate my room and sadly enter my husband’s room to sleep.  Luckily, those nights were few and far between.  

I know many will not see this as normal.  Let’s rewind to more than a decade ago.  My husband (then fiancé) and I were sharing an apartment with friends.  This was right after we graduated college.  We had a queen-size bed and a whole mess of issues between his Restless Leg Syndrome and the fact that I was the one who had to wake up early.  Constantly, I vacated the bed to either sleep on the den floor or the living room floor.  Our roommates did not like this and ultimately I had to return to that bedroom I shared with my husband and sleep in the maybe 18″ wide space between the bed and the dresser.  I would argue with our roomies to just give me one space to sleep in that wouldn’t inconvenience them.  There was no give and only the following response:

“How are you two going to be married if you can’t sleep in the same bed together?!”

Ah… interesting.  This response struck me.  What does sleeping in the same bed have to do with a happy marriage?  Isn’t a marriage based on love and friendship?  Where in the marriage license is there a box that we have to check that says “Thou Shall Sleep In The Same Bed Every Night”?  Where is there a vow we are forced to take in the wedding ceremony that promises we will always sleep in the same bed together?  My husband and I didn’t quite understand this necessity.  We both grew up with parents who didn’t.  Most nights, my mother would leave their bedroom to sleep on the sofa because my father’s snoring became too loud and obnoxious.  Once us kids left the roost, my parents had their own bedrooms for awhile.  The same happened with my husband’s parents.  My in-laws still have their own rooms.  And you know what… my parents have been happily married for over 50 years!  Yes, you read that right, 50 YEARS!!!  And you know what else, my in-laws aren’t that far behind them.

My husband I have been married now almost 12 years and we have been together almost 20 years.  This ‘Sleep Divorce’ keeps us happy and sane.  We are able to sleep more solid and more continuous alone.  Because of the better sleep I get, my Anxiety is lower and my Depression is kept at away.  And you know what, my mental health is more important than the stereotype of married couples sleeping in the same bed, right?!

A message to all those men and women out there, those married or about to be, it is OKAY to not sleep in the same bed as your spouse/fiancé/significant other every night.  There is no authority that says you have to.  Remember the first season of I Love Lucy where Lucy and Ricky had separate beds.  Remember the Kings and Queens of long ago who had separate wings of their castles.  It is okay.  Both of your sleep is way more important than sharing a bed.  Getting  healthy sleep keeps you mentally and physically healthy.  If your spouse/fiancé/significant other is keeping you from having healthy sleep you can make a change in the sleeping arrangements.  ‘Sleep Divorce’ is more common than you think and is way cheaper and healthier than going through a regular Divorce (so I’m told).