I’m blessed. I’m blessed by all the love and support from my family, my friends, my husband and my dog. I’m not trying to make an academy award speech but I’m grateful for them because I wouldn’t be here, alive, and healthy today without each of my gems.I learned that I didn’t have to fight alone. Maybe you’re fighting for yourself or you’re standing by the one you love and want to help so dearly. Maybe sometimes what you’re doing doesn’t feel like enough but I hope you remember that your presence and patience for yourself and others is enough.
While you continue to read this, just think the one person they are most grateful for – the person you see, and no matter where you are, they will always be your home. Today I’m writing about my home, my person, and one of my bestest friends. This person’s birthday is creeping up in a few days and it’s important to illustrate our life together, and specifically his caregiver role when I’m having bad weeks or months.
Behind closed doors, my home weathers through tornados and hurricanes. It reconstructs itself later to find balance and a middle ground so that we can hug and understand each other again. I’ve described some real life examples because I want you – both my survivors and my dearest supporters – that there is no right way to approach these situations when shit gets real. There is no sense in blaming anyone for what they should have done because there is no guaranteed formula to stop panic attacks, hallucinations, etc. Figuring out strategies and skills that work for you before it happens is the only way you can possibly prevent it. It’s a process. Remember, disaster preparedness!
This home is my husband. I decided to write this because I think he’s a positive example of how to cope with the demands of a caregiver while still being my husband. That being said, don’t mistaken this blog post as a reason to praise him, or call him my angel. He is far from that when we have to decide who is going to wash the dishes or walk the dog at night. But he is a symbol of strength for loving me selflessly and unconditionally.
Now here is our real life. I hope you can take a piece of it with you if you’re feeling lost and helpless in your own relationship or friendship with someone who is stuck on a rollercoaster during a thunderstorm.
When we first started dating, I didn’t sit him down and profess, “FYI I have depression and anxiety!” Instead, I texted him one night saying I was feeling depressed and anxious, and I just wanted to talk. Without me asking, he offered to come over. I felt awkward and told him that it was too much for him to come so late at night. When he texted me back, he was already in the car on his way over. He witnessed my anxiety attack for the first time after a couple weeks of dating. He told me he researched what anxiety attacks were the next day, and asked me a number of questions about my medications. I appreciated that he was able to separate who I was and who I was in the moment of my anxiety attack. Fast forward to 2 months of dating and he suddenly became my first responder the night of my suicide attempt. My best friend sensed something was off and texted him to check up on me at home.
Now we’re married but I have put this man through so many trials and heartaches in between that time. What can I say? I’m bipolar now too! There have been countless nights of crying together when I couldn’t find my will to live. I’m sure anyone with a mental illness, or has cared for someone will a mental illness, can relate to these.
Some nights while I searched for my will to live, I clawed at his chest like a cat and tried to convince him to let me die if he really loved me; to leave the house like he was never there and just let me do my thing. I’ve said, “I’ll leave a note for the cops and say you had nothing to do with it.” He would have to watch the pain in my eyes and the tears roll down my face. He would sit there quietly and steadily respond with, “No I love you too much to let you go.”
In other moments, he would watch me pace around the apartment talking to the voices in my head and tearing the house apart when I would try to fight them off.
He’s watched me take off and leave the house because I needed a breather.
He has also searched for me in the city streets when he realized I was gone for too long in the dead of Canadian winter nights. Later he would discover my red, dry and frozen body shaking at home whenever I woke up from whatever planet I had taken off to. Annnnd… since then, we have a GPS tracker on my phone.
He has peeled knives and other sharp objects from my hands.
He has wrestled me in bed or on the floor when I’d try to move anywhere because he was so tired of watching me try to hurt myself. He would speak to me calmly and hope that I’ll finally hear his voice over the other voices.
The worst is when he has watched me scream and cry and yell because the bad voices wouldn’t leave me alone. It would pain him to watch me float in between two realities; when I sort of recognize him, then stare at him like a complete stranger. All he could do was patiently wait for it to be over. For my body and mind to wear down and fall asleep. For me to wake up from the other universe where the bad voices had taken me. For him to just have faith in me that I would fight to come back for him and for us.
When it’s finally over, there are two things we make sure we do over the next few days.
- We debrief the situation and discuss what we could have done before the panic attack started.
- He documents everything. I’ve never read it before but he keeps his own notebook and records significant anxiety attacks. He’ll write down the before-during-and after of each of them so that he can connect the dots and find patterns. We learned this system from from Melody Moezzi’s husband in her novel, Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life, which I’ll review later.
I think the first and foremost element to remember when you’re feeling lost and hopeless in your relationship or friendship is to always stand by. All you have to do is stay close, stay calm, and stay safe when you don’t know what else to do. It’s much easier said than done but doing too much can feel pushy, which can quickly escalate. I remember my ex-boyfriend would try his best to stay calm but sometimes he would do too much; my anxiety turned into anger because I felt like I was pushed into a corner and eventually my fight or flight response would kick into high gear. It can quickly become a vicious cycle if it ever becomes physical. Take it from someone who was in a relationship for almost 8 years… I watched a man and our relationship fizzle and burn out.
Being somebody’s home can feel equally nightmarish as the person experiencing the mental illness. If you’re feeling that right now, keep in mind that you both aren’t perfect and give yourself some relief by taking a break from trying to fix things. Just stand by and hold on. I really don’t know how my husband does it. He is innately a very patient and inquisitive man, which really really helps. To this day when I ask him why he stuck around for so long, he tells me, “Because I know who you really are.”
P.S. My wonderful cover photo was from our engagement shoot shot by Lisa Mark Photography