I felt alone.
I felt alone during my husband’s first full blown manic episode. I felt I was screaming for help but no one heard me. His behaviour was erratic. He disappeared for an entire weekend only to come home and act like he had been gone an hour and couldn’t understand why I was so upset. No one believed me when I told them he was sick and needed help for all those months. He didn’t believe me. His family didn’t believe me. So, I began to second guess myself. Maybe it is just me?
This made me feel even more alone.
I felt alone after my husband’s first hospitalization. He was delusional, he was someone I didn’t recognize. He would ramble on about things that made no sense. He had become angry, unpredictable and paranoid. The nurses asked me why I was so anxious. Why the hell wouldn’t I be anxious! This was the man I loved, and my experience with mental health at that time consisted of my own depression, and anxiety. Not psychosis. I leaned on HIM. I couldn’t lean on him now. He couldn’t lean on me either, because his mania and paranoia made me the enemy.
The advice I got from the nurses made me feel isolated even more. When I inquired about how to approach his employer, or others, they told me to tell people he was in the hospital being assessed for medical concerns. Which, yes, he was. But this was not a part of the medical system I was familiar with. I didn’t know what questions to be asking. Or how to explain this to the children, let alone his employer. How are we to get support when we are being told to cover up the reality of the situation by the people responsible for treating him?
I felt alone when they released him too early. His father released him, signed the paperwork, and brought him home to our house. My daughter was only four, my son only fourteen. The psychiatrist didn’t equip me with any information, or what to do should the medication stop working, or he become depressed. My husband was told ” to come see me when you need too.” He came home still in the throws of mania, but not as delusional. For a long while, he continued to make decisions that hurt our family, finances and our marriage. I was lost, and anytime I challenged him on the decisions, or tried to minimize the damage done I became the bad guy. I had no idea how to handle the situation.
I felt alone after my husband’s first suicide attempt. I never seen myself as a survivor at that time. He was the survivor. He was the one battling for his life and for his mind. I was just the bystander, his supporter, not a survivor. But by this time, I felt like I was barely surviving.
I felt alone when my own family encouraged me to hide the truth. My mom was afraid of what the extended family would think. Her own brother had died from suicide about two years prior. We never talked about it. I started to feel ashamed for no reason. This was not his fault, nor mine. Neither of us asked for this.
Then I thought enough. I couldn’t suffer in silence anymore. I needed support. I went to counselling, and started yoga. But something was missing. My friends brought great comfort, but I still felt alone. They hadn’t been through the storm. They hadn’t seen their loved one suffering the way I had. They hadn’t become the brunt of verbal attacks caused by paranoia. I looked in my area for a group, but for caregivers there was next to nothing, and the one group I did find, was not feasible with my work schedule. So I took to the internet.
I wasn’t alone. In fact, I was surprised, touched and also upset by all the people who were just as frustrated with the system as me, just as hurt by the illness, and just as bewildered on how to handle the situations.
He wasn’t alone either. There were people everywhere posting their stories of mental health recovery, their stories of survival, fight, and successes and failures. We weren’t alone.
Unfortunately, he was not interested in support. He wanted to take his medication and get on with things. I needed the support though. He knew and supported me. I needed to know how to support him, how to take care of me and the kids. I needed to connect, to hear someone say ” I understand” and ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND. I felt I needed to be equipped with the information so I could help my family get through. So I joined an online support group, ran by experienced woman and men who were also care givers for their spouses who had bi-polar disorder. I talked openly with people who themselves were battling bi-polar disorder, who had achieved stability, and who were still working towards stability. The support group was through Mdjunction.com. Real people, who could say they understood AND actually understood. They had been there. I wasn’t alone, and that site gave me the support, compassion, understanding and hope that I wouldn’t have been able to find in my own city. I’m so thankful for them.
After his passing, I’ve continued to read books, articles, and blogs from spouses who are in similar situations. As noted previously, Sheila Hamilton’s book “All the Things We Never Knew” provided me with a companion earlier in my grief. I knew if she were there in person, she could understand, and I know I could look at her and say, I understand. Many times I thought, me too. Or I get that. I realized if she could survive this, and her daughter could too, I could, and my children could as well. It’s heartbreaking yes. But at least we are not alone.
I looked for and found a support group; Survivors of Suicide or SOS. I’ve only been once however, due to a lack of child care. But just being there with real people, and being able to know there are places I can go for support if needed helps in some way to ease the pain.
When Anthony was initially diagnosed, I read many books about bi-polar disorder, depression and mental illness. I was desperate to gain insight, and understanding. He either had a difficult time expressing or discussing his symptoms with me or had little insight into how the illness affected him, so I looked to others for a baseline. One of the many books that sticks out for me was written by Kay Jamison. Ms. Jamison is a psychiatrist, who also was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder; in fact, she was diagnosed with bi-polar 1 disorder, the same type of bi-polar my husband suffered with. She writes of her experiences with depression and mania in an open and honest manner in her memoire “An Unquiet Mind“. She too, struggled with suicidal ideation, and the madness during mania. I wonder if he reached out or read more himself, maybe Anthony wouldn’t have felt so alone.
If you are a care giver for someone with a mental illness, know you are not alone. If you are grieving the death of a loved one from suicide, please know, you are not alone. If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, know you are not alone. If you are considering suicide, know others have too, and others have reached out and gotten help.
Please see below some of the resources I have used below. I encourage others to comment or add to the list and hopefully, someone will find it useful. Just remember you are not alone.
The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide – David J. Miklowitz
An Unquiet Mind – Kay Jamison
All the Things We Never Knew – Shiela Hamilton
International Suicide Hotlines- www.suicide.org
Survivors of suicide –http://www.crisissupport.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/SOS_handbook.pdf