When someone you love is diagnosed with a mental illness, your commitment to the relationship is tested. After all, this is not what you originally signed up for. Questions of uncertainty often arise and if there was ever a time you wanted out of the relationship, now might seem like a good time to do it. Living with someone with a mental illness is difficult. There may be a lot of arguing, yelling, blaming, feelings of shame, frustration and anger. Sharing stories gives hope to those who feel like giving up. Dealing with one’s own mental illness or with that of a loved one can be a very lonely, isolating experience. Blogging, talking, support groups, counselling and discussion boards all open discussions about mental health. Hearing about other people’s experiences may help to eliminate the loneliness. Knowing there are other people out there that understand what it is like can provide optimism, support and renewed energy.
When my husband was diagnosed with a delusional disorder in his mid-40s, it felt like a dark cloud descended upon our household and any hope for a bright future disappeared. We were bewildered, confused and in shock. We understood very little about mental illness and had a very difficult time getting the right kind of help. We spent many months in a fog and miserable while still trying to function as a family.
One day, seemingly out of the blue my husband believed I was not who he thought I was. He lost all trust in me, believed I had been unfaithful in our marriage and shockingly, thought I was trying to kill him! To make matters worse, I was out of town. He called for an ambulance claiming he had been poisoned and this started a two year journey to find adequate psychiatric care and the right kind of medication. So why stick around for that?
Staying in the relationship was a decision I didn’t have to think twice about. There has never been an exit plan. My commitment to my husband is very strong to have stayed and see him through the illness. While the type of illness he has is not curable, it is episodic and manageable. I am not saying there haven’t been times of doubt and confusion, although these were short lived. In times of doubt, haven’t we all questioned our resolve? But at the end of the day, the positives still far exceed the negatives in our marriage.
I have remained with the one I love. Waking up next to the person I have invested my entire adult life with is immeasurable. Keeping our family together is very important to both of us. The thought of a separation and raising our three children as single parents is too sad for me to contemplate. We have been together for over 30 years and are now in our late 40s. A proud accomplishment!
Our bond is stronger now than ever. There is nothing like a mental illness to promote togetherness. In our case, working together towards a common goal of recovery has strengthened our marriage. There are times when each of us needs the other and we remember that above all else, we love each other. We are committed to remain together even though some days are tough. We make an excellent team.
Our family learned patience and tolerance beyond most others. A psychotic episode takes time to run its course and cannot be rushed. Psychiatric medications bring unwanted side effects that require patience and time to resolve. Mental illness and the associated medications can bring about personality changes. These changes can be hard to accept. It takes time to adjust to these changes. It is a long and arduous process.
We now have a greater understanding of mental illness and are much more aware of its prevalence in our society. Our children are much more aware and unlike us, will grow up with compassion, understanding and tolerance of the mentally ill. Our friends and family have benefited from learning about what happened to us. Hopefully the stigma surrounding mental illness among people we know has been reduced.
People often say that we are brave for telling our story. Telling the story does not require bravery. Living with an illness that affects your brain requires bravery. Having strangers learn about your illness and the details is courageous. Finding the motivation to keep going and not retreat to a dark place is heroic.
About Marion Gibson
Marion is the author of Unfaithful Mind, a memoir detailing her family’s journey through a significant mental health crisis. She is an advocate of mental health awareness working to break down the stigma of mental illness. She is now pursuing an education in mental health and addictions and working on her second book. Marion lives in Victoria, BC with her family. You can follow Marion at the HMC Supportive Minds blog here or on Facebook and Twitter.