The Mighty Logo

Finding My Superpower in Supporting My Husband With Mental Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor's Note

This story has been published with permission from the author’s husband.

I didn’t think much of it. “Sure, you can watch Frozen,” I said.

My kids and I were at my mom’s house for a long weekend. The past few weeks had been one roller coaster ride after another as my husband figured out new treatment and medicine for his mental illness.

I was exhausted.

I thought a movie would be a perfect opportunity for a nap.

It wasn’t long before Elsa was freezing everything in sight. I was riveted. But it wasn’t Anna I saw running after her.

It was me.

I was the character who felt helpless when the person I loved behaved in a way so contrary to the person I knew. It was rejection and hurt that held me to the screen—the pain of being close to someone who struggles with mental illness.

I remember reading when Disney’s Frozen first came out that there were parallels to mental health. But this was the last thing on my mind when I had agreed to let my kids watch it. Ironically, this weekend was meant to be a respite from our familial landscape of mental illness, not a reminder.

And yet, as I watched, I saw the superpower within Anna, and I wondered if I could find it within myself.

As the spouse of someone who struggles with mental illness, I have been the crutch that reassures, the villager who turns a deaf ear and the alarmist sucked into his altered reality. I have been all these things and more. Day-to-day, I struggle between my role as my husband’s helpmate and letting him take the lead in his health. I’m either building a brick wall to protect myself or adjusting my therapist hat.

(I am not a therapist, by the way, but I have wrongly stepped into this role on occasion. Maybe a better description than a therapist would be “mother hen.”)

Either way, I sound like a confused parrot:

“Did you take your medicine?”

“This seems like something you need to talk to someone else about.”

“Why don’t you take the dog for a walk. You haven’t exercised today?”

“That’s not something we should talk about right now.”

I don’t mean to ride the roller coaster with him, but I see beyond his fog. I remember how things were, and I have dreams for what life could be. I want so much more for him than his everyday battles with his mind.

And, if I’m honest, I want all of it to end. This is not what I imagined when I said, “I do.”

The path of his recovery should be clear: therapy, better eating, exercise, time away from stressors . . . but I know mental health is more complicated than that.

When we got married, there was no nuptial agreement about his mental health. It is not my job to monitor his behavior. It only puts more strain on our relationship. And my pendulum swings from concern to the point of apathy. But, yet, he needs my support.

There is another posture that I am reminded of as I watched Frozen. Although mental health experts might argue how Anna goes about doing it, Anna’s superpower is her love.

She chased after her sister.
She believes in her sister.

And although it is Elsa who hurts her, it is Anna’s love that eventually melts Elsa. Elsa can overcome and control her behavior because Anna loves her.

My daughter asks, “Did Elsa ‘true love’ Anna because she needed it?”

“Yes, sweetie,” I say. “She’s able to ‘true love’ her because Anna never gave up on her and loved her even in her darkest time.”

This is also my superpower.

—whether my husband’s journey to healing is long or short.

As for others who have a loved one struggling with mental health?

It can be yours, too.

Every person’s mental health journey to healing and wholeness is different. As someone who stands on the sideline and cheers, I must learn to take care of my own physical and mental health needs to support my loved one. This looks different for everyone. Suppose you are also cheering on the sidelines for someone struggling with mental health. In that case, I encourage you to learn about what your loved one is going through by reading books and informative material. Join a support group. Analyze what you need and how you can best support them so they can get the help they need. I’m cheering with you. This is how we use our superpower.

Getty image by Viacheslav Peretiatko

Originally published: April 23, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home