When you make vows, they often involve some form of ‘in sickness and in health’. Little did I know when I stood in front of around 190 people to say them, that less than 9 years later I would experience my first acute illness. Those vows would be tested hard. You see, it was my mental health and sticking by a person who is mentally unwell can feel impossible. Why? Because the illness can take away the person you love. Sometimes you will never know how long for. With my Dad, we had to hold on for around a year, until we got him back. We had to put our trust in the medical team and pray hard.
The illness I experienced slowly started creeping in around January 2020. I was exceptionally busy with loads of exciting things on the go. I was also doing an energy course that was blowing my already intense mind that feels deeply. On top of this I felt sad. Hubs and I weren’t getting on great, mostly down to a lack of communication because the kids and work came first for us both at that point. I have read that a marriage should always come before the kids so that you have a solid foundation, but when they are young and need you (and happen to be VERY cute), this isn’t always easy.
Hubs, knowing me very well and sometimes better than I know myself, expressed his concern for my health. He noticed that my speech was a little pressured and that I really didn’t seem like myself. I reminded him of Carrie in Homeland (to date one of the best shows ever, bring back Brodie). I was sleeping less too and I have always been an 8 hour a night kind of girl. I value sleep, it’s important. He dragged me to the GP and I lost it, blaming everything on him. The GP tried to sign me off with stress but I stated that I would prefer talking therapy. Bad move, with hindsight I was too unwell for this, meaning that rather than helping, talking therapy can be very damaging.
The following week, we had a very scary (and far too short) session with a councillor. I’m told that not all councillors receive mental health training, but either way she didn’t spot that I was unwell. In fairness, every mental health professional I came across explained that I was super articulate, which made things very hard to diagnose. After the session, Hubs and I were left both confused and terrified. Her insight was extremely exaggerated (like myself at the time). With a background in acting and as a professional public speaker, go figure. I put on a great show because I was delusional and believed I was well. Was this a case of the popular buzz word ‘gaslighting’? I was unable to accept any responsibility for my feelings, putting it all on those closest to me. Despite Hubs pleading for help, some didn’t spot the fact that things were getting serious. Until we met Lynne, a very intuitive mental health nurse, who, after listening to me for 5 minutes, recognised that I was hypomanic at the very least. She was the angel that Hubs had been waiting for but I was so shocked. Surely she had it wrong? I was simply stressed. Perhaps it started as stress and with the lack of sleep developed into a mental illness. Stress, insomnia or alcohol and drug misuse can trigger a manic episode. I was doing dry January and don’t take drugs so that left me with stress and insomnia. As I was too unwell to believe Lynne at this point, I held onto the very damaging words from a ‘professional’ counselor, who made a snap judgement. This would only further the trauma for both Hubs and I. I was urged by Lynne to stop working straight away and rest but instead I had a tv crew up from London round to the house for the day. I put on my ‘entertainment’ face and brought my full energy and they bought it. What can I say, I always got top marks for drama. Behind the scenes though, I was slowly starting to unravel, like a ball of wool. I just couldn’t see it.
A couple of weeks later, I was in hospital, with very limited insight into my illness. I was absolutely traumatised, I couldn’t understand why I had been sent to what felt like a prison. Looking back, it wasn’t a prison. It was a place I was cared for and forced to rest, take medicine and sleep and let my brain heal. The day I went in, I told Hubs that I would ‘never ever forgive him for sending me there’. The reality is that nobody had sent me there. It was a necessity. I now know that the emergency crew who had escorted us assured him that unwell people say this to their nearest and dearest ALL THE TIME. I hope this gave him some comfort.
A few hours later, I couldn’t understand why he was so hurt on the phone when I called from my room or prison cell as it felt at the time. Had he not got what he wanted? Looking back and remembering him weeping on Facetime, beside my family who were his support system that afternoon, brings tears to my eyes. He was also clearly traumatised by the fact that he could no longer do anything to help his very sick wife. I needed professional care until I got better. But until I did get better, the illness would lash out and become even more paranoid. What made it even more confusing is that sometimes I would seem like my real, kind and loving self and then I would flip back into mania mode. This was very hard for loved ones to watch and looking back with a clear mind, still at times very hard for me to process the words and actions of that person. I could be extremely high and loving and then flip to low, confused and angry. Mania is a rollercoaster of an illness and something I knew very little about. It is not always part of a biopolar disorder and can come out of the blue like it did for me. Everyone is unique and their experience of it will be different.
Hubs tried to remove my phone for weeks but it felt like my safe place and I was too determined to let him. I wish I had. Because when this illness takes over your mind, you have no control and know no boundaries. I am currently doing a mental health first aid course, which I wish everyone would do. It would save so many relationships and lives. If you challenge, reject or ignore a person who is unwell, the illness can say things that you can never take back. Professionals will say to listen judgement free and let it wash over you, but that is easier said than done. It takes experience, training and practice. There is still an awful lot of taboo sadly. I have been a mental health researcher for 6 years but there is nothing like going through an illness yourself or seeing a loved one go through it to really get it. Not everyone is in a place that they can understand, ignore, forgive and forget. But when we judge a person who is mentally unwell, we are judging an illness and not a person.
I remember Hubs bringing me in a ‘get well soon’ card. I was confused because I really believed that I was fine. Also, why was he being so nice to me despite what I was saying? He brought me gifts every day and somehow we managed to keep those hospital visits and our trips out a positive experience for the kids, who simply believed that Mummy was very tired and needed some rest. I guess this was true. My mind and brain were very tired and a little broken. I always made them paintings or coloured pictures, which slowed down my racing mind and I shared my very many gifts with them. They loved this and were always excited to see what Mummy had brought them. Hopefully this made up for the fact that they won’t meet santa this year. I don’t think a mask is a good look on him.
I feel so fortunate that I had an incredible support system and a crazy amount of prayer. Within a month and a half of my first accurate diagnoses from Lynne, I slowly started to heal and get my insight back. I remember watching family in tears as the illness started to lift and the real me slowly but surely returned back to planet earth. This was when the penny dropped for me that I may have actually been seriously unwell. The ward did say ‘acute’ above it. I was officially discharged from hospital the day that lockdown started. I couldn’t have been happier to get back to my family, privacy and home comforts. But first, we had to sort out a deposit I had put on a property in the throws of mania.
I went from telling Hubs (and anyone who would listen) that I was leaving him and getting my own place (the illness), to thanking him for being there every single step of the way with a stranger, having faith that he would get his wife back (me). On reflection, the illness made it practically impossible for him to stick around, 9 years married and of course we had been tested but this was a whole new level. They say that hitting rock bottom is when you really understand what it means to love. It will make or break you. It turns out the man I married has superpowers of empathy, patience, compassion and understanding. He wasn’t just there through the illness, but he has been there every single step of the recovery. The recovery from a mental illness is the hard part because that is when you have insight and it can hit you like a tone of bricks when you start to process all that happened. The communication issues and our differences that pained me in January seemed SO insignificant
Lynne has played a huge part in my recovery too and just yesterday she discharged me from nurse care officially, the day before our wedding anniversary. Things are looking up and the mojo is slowly and surely coming back.
As I wrote last year in the 7 year itch to 8 year rash, marriage is a fight. Sometimes it feels so hard, with the pressures of life, sometimes too hard. Little things can build such as our differences and the constant juggle of raising kids, work and the highs and lows of life. It can be stressful. Whilst I know that nothing is personal, the horrendous illness that we experienced together, made it very hard not to take personally. Looking back, that person in my body is a stranger I never want to meet again. It has been a huge year for personal growth.
A friend once gave me some great advice:
Love is an action word, not an emotion word. Love through your actions, long enough to sort out your emotions. One thing is for sure, actions definitely speak louder than words (unless a person is mentally unwell and then I would take both with a pinch of salt when needed).
Mental illness sadly ends so many friendships and relationships. It could so easily have ended our marriage. 9 years married today and my husband isn’t just a fighter, he’s a champion.