Growing up, I didn’t expect to have the perfect marriage but I did have an idea of what I wanted. I wanted to be a stay at home mom, my husband to have a regular 9-5, a nice little house suited for our needs and a backyard for the kids. I anticipate 4 kids or more because being Mormon means having a large family. I expected the normal trials of marriage and adulthood: finances, busy schedule with church callings, kid’s sports and extracurricular activities, friends, and family gatherings and so on. Even though this picture-perfect life isn’t what I have now, what I never, ever thought would be a trial of mine was mental illness. And the mental illness isn’t even mine, it’s my husband’s.
Ever since he was a kid he’s struggled with anxiety and depression. I don’t comprehend what it’s like to have these illnesses. I mean, I get nervous when I have a presentation but I don’t understand what it’s like to live in a constant state of fear and stress, to struggle to get out of bed in the morning after getting a few hours of restless sleep, to not have the energy to do even the most basic tasks. I don’t understand it and I don’t think I ever will.
Our first two years of marriage were fine. I didn’t see him struggle even though he probably was. The next 3 years he got increasingly sick. Eventually, he was missing a day of work every other week. I thought that he was going to get fired because there was no way he had enough sick/vacation leave to cover the amount of time he took off. He would have stomach cramps, couldn’t keep food in his system and couldn’t sleep. I hated seeing him like this but what I hated, even more, was him not doing anything about it. He didn’t like going to doctor because he couldn’t get an answer as to why he was sick.
I was getting increasingly frustrated because he was sick ALL THE TIME. I felt like I was doing all the chores and taking care of the baby and doing our church calling while working full time. I felt very alone. And I still do. Frequently the thought has crossed my mind that I was a single parent and that I would be better off on my own. I would blame my husband for my lack of interest in going to church, reading my scriptures or even saying my prayers and I felt that he was dragging me down. Marriage was supposed to be about being equally yoked and we are not. I am mentally, spiritually and physically exhausted. To be honest, I’m sick of hearing him say that he is tired or that his stomach hurts when I ask him how he’s doing. I just need to hear him saying that he’s doing okay and that he has the energy to play with our daughter or help me around the house. We’ve had many conversations about how we felt as if we both are drowning and needed the other’s help and support. We try harder again to work together as we figure out how to survive each day. I made a covenant with my husband when we got married. I will stick with him regardless of the trials we go through in this life because I promised him I would. And I know God will help me keep that promise.
I see little relief from my sisters at church or other friends and family. I hate going to church because I am so alone. No friends to lift and support me or my husband. No home teachers to give blessings of health or comfort. Few friends to pour my heart out to. Rarely is mental illness talked about because no one wants to admit they struggle with it even though it is so prevalent in our society. Frequently you see posts on Facebook and Instagram on what it’s like to have anxiety and depression and how to be patient and sympathetic or empathetic for those that struggle with mental illness but there is absolutely nothing, no support group, no awareness video, nothing for those who live with those with these illnesses. We are just expected to figure out how to love, support, encourage, and heal our spouses and children as best we can with what information is out there about their illness. I have read Elder Holland’s talk, Like a Broken Vessel, many times seeking help and understanding on what I can do for my husband.
Finally, my husband agreed to go to a mental health doctor. He had acknowledged and accepted that his illness was affecting his physical health, happiness, job performance, attendance and church attendance, his relationship with his daughter, my happiness, and sanity, and our spirituality. I was so happy that he took that step and it was a big step to acknowledge that he needed help. After going to the doctor, I think that I expected him to be better and functional right away, but no, that’s not how this works. It’s still a journey and I still need to be patient and compassionate toward him as he gets better. I have to remind myself to not be a stumbling block for him as he works towards better health.
He constantly says he doesn’t want people to treat him differently because of his illness but because he is physically sick, I have to. I’m sorry, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be treated “normal” while being incapable of fulfilling basic household responsibilities. He’s ashamed of his illness and still struggles with letting people know, especially his family. One thing that has angered me on this mental illness journey is that his parents saw him struggle as a child and teenager and did nothing to help. But when you are the source of your child’s anxiety I can understand why the child wouldn’t want to talk to you about it. As a parent myself, I don’t understand how you can see your child struggle and not do anything about it. He did tell his dad recently, who had felt spiritual promptings that something was going on with him. He received a father’s blessing and was told to serve others and he has sought out those opportunities.
I remember one day (of many) that I was angry at him. When we wake up in the morning I always ask how he is and he always responds with “Tired.” He decided to stay home and I got madder throughout the day. Typically, when he stays home no chores are done. He would rest and play video games and watch TV. Knowing that I would come home to a dirty house with a list of chores to do, dinner to make and a needy toddler (and husband) while still finding time to train for a 5K, I wasn’t happy. So, my anger grew and tears were near the surface when I came home. I was shocked to find a clean kitchen and him cleaning the bathroom. He explained that he was mad at me for not being compassionate, patient and understanding but as he was reading his scriptures that morning he read about charity and thought back to his father’s blessing and realized that he needed to serve me. There are moments that help me know that God is helping us out through this veil of tears and this was one of them.
My husband’s been on medication for 2 months now. He still isn’t 100% better but he is getting there. I honestly believe he will never be at 100% but I will help him get as healthy and functional as he can be. I will never understand what my husband goes through, but what I go through is something else entirely. I have had to give up on my dream of being a stay at home mom, of having a “normal” marriage. I have had to learn to communicate better with him what I need and learn what he is capable of giving. I have had to adjust my expectations of what he is able to do and what I can reasonably ask him to accomplish around the house. Our conversations are frequently filled with tears, love, and apologies as we try to figure out how to help each other and live with this different aspect of our lives.
I can’t do this by myself. I can’t. I have drifted away from my Father in Heaven because I am so exhausted. Reaching for Him is just one more task I have to do in my day. I am trying to do better but I fail more often than not. Mental illness doesn’t just affect those that have it. It affects all those around them. It is an invisible disease that will destroy unless you rely on Heavenly Father, family, friends and professional help. There are those that struggle more than my husband and I, and I feel for them. All our struggles are different, but the same. But we should all pull together, mentally ill and loved ones, as a family. We all need help.