11 Marriage Tips From a Husband With a Mental Illness

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My wife spent a week on a psych ward following the birth of our first son. She had a miserable fight with postpartum depression and sleep deprivation. One year later, nearly to the day, I landed in the ICU and then a psych ward following a suicide attempt.

Shortly after, our marriage nearly fell apart. She left for two weeks, and they were the saddest and scariest days of my life. Once she came home, we started intense marriage and individual therapy, laying all our cards on the table. It was now or never. Eventually, we both decided to stay, fully aware of what that meant.

The dust has settled on that hard season, and while I’m not a professional therapist, I’ve been both the one who needed support and the one who was asked to support a struggling spouse. I’m writing only from my own experience. After living through it, here’s my take on what to do when you’re married to someone with mental illness and things are getting hard.

1. Don’t just hope for the best. Do something.

When a friend confesses their marriage is unraveling, I immediately tell them, “Counseling saved our marriage and quite possibly my life.” The vast majority of the time, that statement is met with, “He would never go for that,” or “I’ll be praying about how to best approach that subject with her.” Most folks do not like the idea of airing their dirty laundry to a complete stranger. I get it. Me too. All I can tell you is after walking through it, I am a firm believer in the safety and stability of talking with a legit professional on a consistent basis.

2. Stop trying to fix your spouse.

I am not my wife’s therapist and she isn’t mine. While we play a primary role in each other’s support systems, we are not professional helpers. On the days when Lindsey comes home and finds the fog of depression lying low on the living room couch, she has learned to just say, “I’m sorry you’re having a tough day. I’m here if you need me.” It’s not healthy for either of us personally, or for our marriage, for her to do any more than that. It isn’t her job to try and fix me or convince me that she’s going to be there for me. After all, she proves that by staying.

3. Talk about it with each other.

There is great power in being able to tell our stories, either to our partner, a counselor or a trusted friend. Being able to name our pain, our struggles and frustrations, and even our greatest hopes is a catalyst toward true change. There’s a conventional wisdom that says not to go to bed angry. I disagree. Sometimes you go to bed with a hurt heart, with the full intention of waking up and talking about it once things settle down.

4. Cry together.

Recently, I picked up my son from daycare with a dog, a Christmas surprise. Everything was great and I was his hero for the day. But as I went to bed that night, I burst into tears. Three years earlier, I missed his first birthday because of my suicide attempt. At times the guilt still gets the best of me.

Instead of trying to fix anything, Lindsey held my hand and cried with me. Her words were soothing to my soul. She said, “I rarely think about that first birthday. What I do think about are all the memories we have created in the years since. I can’t help but think that our relationship would have never become this deep if we hadn’t walked through such a living hell together.”

5. Look for opportunities to laugh together.

Life tries to get the very best of us, and sometimes, it works. Whether you are the one in ICU or the spouse sitting at the end of the hospital bed, life is full of experiences that leave us questioning our decisions. Learning to laugh together is powerful medication. Whether it’s finding a weekly show you both enjoy or laughing at your kids’ silliness, I believe laughter is an extremely powerful tool for remaining connected and finding joy in life.

6. Know your limits.

In the Christian circles where I grew up, I often heard, “Stay because marriage is a sacred bond.” Or “God hates divorce.” In other circles, it seems just the opposite: that feelings trump commitment and if you aren’t happy, you are entitled to simply walk away, no questions asked.

I can no longer accept either approach as the only option. Each marriage is unique, especially where mental illness is concerned. You have to take a serious look at your situation, self and sanity. Decide what’s best for you, your spouse and your children, if you have them. Sometimes the best way to love and honor everyone involved is to leave.
I don’t believe “When you have done all you can do, stand” is always the best advice. I have seen firsthand that separation or divorce is sometimes the next right step, and can breathe peace into a family.

7. Take care of yourself.

Marriage is stressful, no matter what. But being married to a person with mental illness can add to that stress. Take time for yourself. Sometimes it’s impossible to leave your responsibilities. In that case, find moments of quiet to enjoy something simple — a cup of tea, a few pages of a book — even within your routine. Give yourself space to breathe. It matters.

8. Love beyond the labels.

When your spouse who has a mental illness can’t explain “why” normal life feels so hard, it can be frustrating. We know their labels, we’ve read all about their symptoms. Labels are important from a medical standpoint, because they show professionals the best course of treatment. But labels in marriage are detrimental. Don’t become so stuck on them that you forget to love the person you married.

9. Be honest.

When something frustrates you, speak up. There’s nothing worse than an old sore that’s been left to fester. If something hurts your feelings, say so. Nobody wants to have to dig to find out why you’re pouting. Just follow this simple rule: tell the truth in love. It’s always the right choice.

10. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.

When you make the decision to stay, you have to make that decision for yourself. If you decide to leave, that’s your decision, too. Once you’ve made your move, you must set clear boundaries with friends and family. Your marriage — both its joys and dysfunction — is nobody’s business but your own.

11. No more comparisons.

One of my favorite quotes is, “You can’t compare your insides with everyone else’s outsides.” Nobody has the perfect marriage. Let go of what you think it’s supposed to be, and live in the relationship you actually have. Stop trying to have your friend’s marriage or mimic your parent’s relationship. Nobody has the magical romance they portray on Facebook, so shut that noise off.

If you’re married to someone in danger, or someone whose struggles make them a danger to themselves or others, here are some resources:

Postpartum Depression: 1(800) PPD-MOMS

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Of course these things only apply if you are safe in your marriage. If you are not, please seek professional help.

Follow this journey on I Am Steve Austin. Click here to sign up for his free “Manifesto for Hard Days.”

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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What Do You Think About Bernie Sanders' Mental Health Joke

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In a shot at the Republican presidential candidates, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made a joke about mental health during the Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, on Sunday night.

We are, if elected president, going to invest a lot of money into mental health,” the Vermont senator said, according to Business Insider. “And when you watch these Republican debates, you know why we need to address the mental health.”

His comment was met with applause, but on Twitter some thought the line was insensitive:

 

 

 

Others were more understanding:

 

Do you think Bernie’s joke was fair? Tell us your opinion in the comments below.

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To Presidential Candidates Who Use Mental Illnesses as Insults

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Dear presidential candidates,

I want to first off thank you for attempting to “step up to the plate” to move the country in the direction you think is best. I don’t agree with everyone’s policies, but I understand that being a presidential candidate forces you to be the target of scrutiny and face an immense amount of pressure.

During debates and other heated discussions, often your goal is to point out the flaws of opponents and make sure potential voters know who not to vote for. Often inflammatory language and insults are thrown, even without meaning to. I know we sometimes say things that we don’t mean during arguments, but there is no excuse to use mental health conditions as a way to demean or imply something negative about your rivals.

According to the National Alliance on Mental illness, we live in a country where approximately 1 in 5 adults (43.8 million Americans) and 1 in 5 13-18-year-olds will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point during their life. “Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year,” so even if you don’t care about your potential constituents who live with mental illness because it’s the right thing to do, you should care about us because it would be a fiscally responsible decision.

Also, we don’t know how many people have lost jobs as a result of stigma in the workplace or taking sick days due to mental illness symptoms. That is a legitimate fear of mine despite the fact that I have worked hard to get further along in my recovery process.

I also worry about the costs of treating my mental illness because even though my family has health insurance, mental healthcare is the highest-costing care I receive, and I am still lucky because many people have to choose between paying the bills or seeing a mental
health professional. There are probably thousands, possibly millions of people suffering from undiagnosed mental illness due to lack of mental health education and resources.

Suicide rates are increasing daily, and we can’t ignore this tragedy that continues to steal lives. About 42,773 Americans die by suicide each year, and suicide costs the country $44 billion annually. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, while homicide is 17th, and suicide is the #1 cause of death for teenage girls worldwide.

As someone who lives with mental illness, I see and hear the stigmatization on a near daily basis, most often on the internet. What I mean by mental health stigma is all the negative attitudes (including hate) and misinformation regarding mental health/illness. Sometimes I reply to comments with statistics about mental illness or explain how these words can harm people, while other times I am not emotionally equipped to take on trolls and people who are willfully and stubbornly ignorant about mental illness.

I can back away from the computer and carry on with my day because I worked hard in therapy to learn coping skills to deal with situations that can really upset me. However, when a person who could be the next leader of your country starts saying stigmatizing words, it’s hard not to get frustrated and infuriated.

Every time you describe your opponent as a “lunatic” for having views you don’t agree with or call him or her “bipolar” for frequently shifting views, you are insulting nearly 20 percent of the American population. You’re perpetuating the idea that mental illness and those who live with have them are inherently bad while negating the seriousness of these conditions have a negative impact on our daily lives — even if that is not your intention.

You remind me of all the people and media in my life that told me that only certain (dangerous) people have mental illness, not someone like me, even though people who live with mental illness are more likely to be the victim of a crime than commit one. Stigma caused me to spend years suffering in silence from experiences I couldn’t explain because I didn’t know the truth about mental illness or that there are people ready to help me take on my Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic attacks and depression.

I do not want to censor anyone, as I am proud to live in a country with free speech, but we have to realize our words have repercussions, especially words of someone with influence. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can lead to stigma and suicide. You are all educated adults, so you probably have a vast vocabulary. Maybe it’s time you start using it.

Sincerely,

A proud voter and citizen

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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23 Messages for Anyone Still Searching for a Mental Illness Diagnosis

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Getting a proper diagnosis for a mental illness can take time. And although researchers are always looking for new ways to make diagnosing easier and faster, no simple, magic test exists to declare if someone has a mental illness, and which one. For someone seeking treatment for their symptoms, this of course is frustrating, especially when you consider that it can take up to a decade for someone to reach out for help in the first place.

If you’re a person who recently sought help but hasn’t yet received a diagnosis — congratulations. Don’t get too frustrated. You’re beginning quite a journey, and the people who came before you have a few wise words to send you on your way.

Here’s what our mental health community wants to tell someone still waiting for a mental illness diagnosis:

1. “Don’t be ashamed of your symptoms. Reaching out for help is the best thing you can do for your mental health. It does get better!” — Amanda Huston

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2. “Don’t be ashamed of finding out for sure. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. You’d go to the doctor if you had symptoms of the flu and wanted to know for sure. Just find a good support system and cut out anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself or your illness. Take care of yourself.” — Deanna Yourgans

3. “Reaching out for help is really hard — but you will benefit from it! Before you see a doctor, it can be helpful to write a list. What kind of symptoms do you have? Do you have problems with your mood? Do you have sleeping problems? Do you eat well? Have you lost or gained weight? What about your concentration? Do you have physical symptoms too like headaches, stomach pains or back pains? Writing a list can help you not to forget anything important. Another thing you want to think about are questions you might have for the doctor. How sure is the diagnosis? If the doctor will prescribe you medication, what side effects can occur? Is there anything beside medication you can do to help you? It can be a great relief to finally have a proper diagnosis, because it explains a lot and it also helps you to receive proper treatment. It helped me a lot to finally have a name for the symptoms I have experienced.” — Borderline Heart

4. “If you’re worried about getting diagnosed because you don’t want to be ‘labeled,’ know there are actually some benefits to having a mental illness diagnosis. You can receive disability accommodations at school and in the workplace (depending on your illness and limitations) that would be difficult to obtain without a diagnosis. It’s easier to educate yourself and others about your illness if you have a specific diagnosis to research. I just got a letter from my doctor that allows me to have an emotional support animal because of my diagnosis.” — Melanie Faith

5. “A diagnosis is just a means to establishing a treatment plan. It does not define you. It does not change who you are. It simply helps you to get the help you need to heal.” — Danielle Gitkin Hark

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6. “Don’t give up or get discouraged at the amount of time it takes to receive a diagnosis and find what’s right for you. You will figure it out and it will be manageable.” — Amanda Keehn

7. “You’re not a freak. Being diagnosed isn’t a label to identify who you are, it’s merely an identification of something you have.” — Megan French

8. “Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t let it consume you. Get up, get out and find someone anyone to talk to about your problems. Keep talking until someone listens. There is help out there.” — Nicki Mcpherson

9. “Like any other illness, a diagnosis and proper treatment can be healing. Let yourself heal.” — Emily Waryck

10. “Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Talking about it is the first step to accepting it and accepting it will lead you to getting the help you need.” — Kalyn Laura

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11. “Don’t wait. This is not your fault.” — Jamie Bredeson-Wobbema

12. “Don’t focus so much on diagnoses. Focus on health. I think the system uses diagnoses sometimes to disempower. And society can place so much stigma in them. Focus on health, not pathology.” — Nicole Williams

13. “Don’t be ashamed. If it was a physical illness, you would treat it. Your mental health deserves treatment, too.” — Nicole Backen

14.You are the strong one for reaching out for help.” — Jason Reed

15. “You deserve answers and treatment. You are worth it.” — Chelsea Noelani Gober

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16. “You are not the first and not the last one with your symptoms. You are you. You are just fine.” — Deborah Bellinger

17. “I find the proper diagnosis isn’t the biggest thing for me, but the treatment is. If you’re experiencing symptoms, you don’t have to keep suffering. The quicker you get treatment, the quicker you will feel better. I live with depression, anxiety and PTSD, but it’s not who I am. A diagnosis will not turn you into ‘the mentally ill’ — you will be a person who lives with a mental illness.” — Marlena Davis

18. “You aren’t alone, there are a lot of people living with mental health issues, and you can have a supportive, successful and awesome life. You will learn to see good things in your symptoms and be more empathetic and caring then before.” — Aliçia Sarah Raimundo

19. “You are your best advocate. Don’t settle for ‘slightly better.’ You deserve to feel well again.” — Gen Somers

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20. “Research, research, research.” — Carl Schwichtenberg

21. “Sometimes even the strongest people need help. There’s no shame in reaching out.” — Danielle Gitkin Hark

22. “Leave the diagnosing to a psychiatrist, not the Internet. The Internet is a great resource if you’re looking for mental health professionals, more in-depth info or need to find a support group — but don’t let it be your only resource. It can be overwhelming to read through articles, and you might see stigmatizing opinions that won’t help your mental health.” — Nicole Campbell

23. “Don’t worry about the label of your diagnosis. A diagnosis is just a name and a tool to begin the creation of a healthier and stronger you.” — Rhonda Lynn Walker-Trayers

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*Answers have been edited and shortened.

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When Wait Times for Mental Health Services Are Too Long

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I don’t know about you, but over the years I’ve found waiting times for mental health services to be a bit of a nightmare.

There’s nothing worse than having to go through all the rigmarole of paying your general practitioner a visit (when you can finally get an appointment) only to have them write to your local mental health services (which is another waiting game), so you can get a letter from them (maybe a few weeks later) stating than in another ‘X’ amount of weeks your appointment (which you may not be able to attend) will finally be here. In my experience, this whole process from start to finish can take months. Not good when you’re suffering from a mental health condition.

And I’m not alone.

Recently, an increasing number of people are seeking and gaining access to treatment. But, because there aren’t enough mental health providers to meet the demand, we sometimes have to wait.

For some people, it can be a distressing not knowing where to turn or what can be done while you’re waiting, especially when you’re in this in-between space of being too well for the hospital, but not well enough to be home. And the longer someone in need of mental health services has to wait, the greater likelihood that the patient will miss the appointment. In my experience, this can make you grow frustrated and start to mistrust the system that’s supposed to help you. 

Something needs to be done. Something needs to change. We need to not only raise awareness for mental health conditions, but also for what needs change in our mental health system. I, no doubt like many others, dream of a day where mental health care is more accessible, and more people will be fulfilling their lives rather than taking them.

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13 Ways Parents With Mental Illnesses Explain It to Their Kids

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For the mothers and fathers who live with a mental illness, parenting can be that much more stressful. The National Comorbidity Survey found that around one half of mothers and one third of fathers have dealt with a mental illness at some point during parenthood. Parents are often conflicted about how to care for their child and themselves, as well as how to explain their mental illness to their children.

We asked the parents in our community who live with a mental illness how they explain their mental illnesses to their children.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “My daughter was 5 when I developed a mental illness. We explained that I am sick and had to be in the hospital. That my mind was sick. That when I took medicine and got better I could go home. We just keep it simple. She is young. But she understands the meaning of what it means to be sick. My mind is not feeling good. Why should it be so hard? A brain can be sick too, you know.”

2. I once explained to my 6-year-old that my bipolar disorder gives me racing thoughts by telling her it made me feel like I was reading a book upside down and backwards. She thought it was difficult and silly, and I agreed!”

3. I think my son has anxiety like me, so I told him Mommy sometimes worries about stuff she can’t control but I don’t let it ruin my day or control my life. I think of happy thoughts or happy times and that makes me relax. He understood. I explained my bipolar similarly stating that Mommy just has a shorter fuse than most people and that I either get sad or mad faster.”

4. “I told my daughter that Mommy is sick but her sickness is not seen with a stuffy nose or a fever but rather it tends to make Mommy sad at times where she cries a lot. It also makes Mommy panic a bit. Do not get scared; Mommy is working with a doctor and getting better.”

5. “For me with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression, I got lucky. Someone made videos on YouTube using the characters Piglet and Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh to explain as case studies for the disorders respectively. From 3 to 13, they got it in less than 10 minutes.”

6. “I tell them my brain works differently and sometimes I might feel sad, or angry, or scared, and it has nothing to do with anything they’ve done or not done. I tell them I see a doctor and take medicine to stay healthy, and that I talk to a therapist about my problems. And I tell them sometimes the medicine doesn’t work and I need to go to the hospital to get better.”

7. “I don’t sugarcoat my anxiety. My kids have seen me have attacks so they know what one looks like. I tell them my brain gets scared easier than theirs does and it sends me into a panic sometimes and then I have to take my medicine to help me. They understand.”

8. “I explain to my step-girls that the brain is a part of the body just like everything else and it can get sick. Sometimes the brain is like a computer and can be wired differently than you would expect. So sometimes, we (my husband and I) have to go to the doctor or Daddy takes medicine to help him. After we watched ‘Inside Out,’ my 11-year-old and I had a lot of conversations.”

9. I’m as honest as I can be. I tell them I love them, but being ill I sometimes don’t show it. I explained I have depression and it makes me sad. I always make sure they know it’s not their fault. I make sure they know they’re loved when I can.”

10. I’ve told them many different things. ‘Mommy’s brain works different, it doesn’t make enough of some of the chemicals that we need. So, I have to take medicine to replace the missing chemicals.’”

11. “Do you know how sometimes you feel shy or scared? Sometimes Mommy’s brain makes her feel like that when there’s no reason to. That’s why Mommy can’t do playdates all the time and she needs to stay home and relax. Mommy does her very best and you help Mommy be braver than she used to be. Everybody is different and some people are like your mommy and some people are like you or your daddy.”

12. “When she was younger, I told her the chemicals in Mommy’s brain just didn’t work right and sometimes I get really sad or upset for no reason, so I take medication. Really simplified but that’s all she needed to know. As she’s grown older, I have given her more information, and passed on some of my Dialectical Behavioral Therapy coping skills to her as well.”

13. “I first told my 4-year-old daughter that I have depression and that it’s a boo-boo in my head and my heart.”

Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences mental illness in the same way. These answers are based on individuals’ experiences.

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