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Living Hand in Hand with Mental Illness

Living hand in hand with mental illness

This is probably my most personal blog post, but it is something that needs to be discussed. You see, I live with mental illness every day, even though it isn’t my own.  This is a post about living with and loving someone who suffers.  My husband (The Hubby), has dealt with depression all his life. It wasn’t until relatively recently (in the span of his life) that he was diagnosed. Before that, he used to just describe it as he just knew something was ‘wrong’ with him (his words not mine).

We have been together for 14.5 years and married for 9.5 and those early years were really hard.  I’m not the type of person to give up but even I reached a point where I wondered if I could keep doing what I was doing.  It wasn’t a matter of me not loving him anymore, but loving someone with mental illness can be very hard. Also, at that point in our relationship, he wasn’t on any medication or seeing anyone.

Kiri & Chris 2005
Us back in the day (2005)

Somehow he must have picked up on my feeling as it ended up being the trigger to drive him to make that first appointment and get the pills and help he needed. It really was a tipping point in our lives together. That’s not to say things were perfect after he got on the medications, a couple of tweaks to the dosages were definitely needed. But wow, once we reached our new normal it was a huge difference for both of us.

I get so damn angry about the stigma that surrounds diseases like his, diseases of the mind.  People are so quick to pass judgement. I stopped counting how many times I have heard “Why are you still with him?” when people find out he suffers from mental illness.  Yet, I continue to make a point of talking about the fact that he suffers. Why? Well firstly, it is nothing for me or him to be ashamed of and secondly, it’s a subject that needs to be talked about a whole lot more! 

I can still remember the first time I was asked why I stayed with him. I just stared blankly at the person not even comprehending the question.  Were they serious? How could they ask me that?  If he had cancer nobody would have had the expectation that it would be OK to bail on him. 

I wish every day that mental illness would stop being considered a dirty word. As if those who suffer are somehow less than us ‘normal’ people. I mean come on is there even a true definition of normal? We as a couple are far from ‘normal’, here are a few of my favourite pictures of us from our wedding. That’s us, always being silly and yes my dress was red and I was into roller derby at the time, thus the roller skates in the pictures.

I wasn’t very good at roller derby, but I found some of my best friendships with those girls! Friendships that persist 11 years after I stopped skating. If you are curious about roller derby or want to check out my old team (Durham Region Roller Derby) you can click here.

But back to the topic at hand. Getting help is so very important, yet the stigma attached to admitting you need help is a huge hindrance to many people getting the help they need. Having a strong support system is also key.  Pets can be very helpful. Our old Miniature Pinscher, Hannibal, helped get him through some of his darkest days before he made that first appointment and got on the medications that ended up making such a difference.

Hannibal the Miniature Pinscher
Hannibal (or Mr. B as we usually called him)

One time we went through a rough stretch that lasted 4 days. When they happen we just try and deal with it as best we can. In this particular case, he slept for almost 48 hours waking up a bit in between and hardly talking to me at all. It’s hard to describe how the house feels like when he has an ‘episode’. Even the pets pick up on it. We are all kind of on pins and needles worrying about saying the wrong thing and making it worse. 

Honestly, it was as if I ‘lost’ him for those 4 days. Which brings me to another point, which I alluded to earlier. It is not only important for those suffering to have a good support system, but also for those that love and care for them.  It is incredibly hard to watch someone you love suffering and feel helpless to do anything to help them. So in order to be there for them, we have to remember to make sure to make time for ourselves as it takes a toll on us too.

At this point in our relationship, we are pretty much in tune with each other’s moods. But I make a point of telling him when I need a break. I will just tell him that I need some time for myself and then I will go and make time for the things that give me joy. Usually, that is heading out to the garden, or sometimes down to my basement garden. (where I grow hydroponically), the sewing room, going for a run or curling up with a book. Taking this time for myself helps me to come back and really be there for him when he needs me most.

Aerogarden Farm Plus
My basement garden

It is so important that people have early access to help but navigating the health care system can be difficult. You truly need to be an advocate for your own health and that of your loved ones. I’m sure the course of The Hubby’s life would have been very different if he had gotten help when he was young rather than after we were together. I am very passionate about this and I was lucky enough to be able to be involved with Toronto’s RBC Race for the Kids.

I have been involved since the race came to Toronto. There are races that take place all over the world and for those of you not living in the GTA here is the main link for the overall RBC Race for the Kids.  There are approximately 1.2 million young Canadians that struggle with mental health issues, such as anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, depression and addiction.  The sad reality is that only about one in five will get the specialized treatment they need.  This needs to change.

RBC Race for the Kids - Toronto 2019

The Toronto race helps raise funds for the Sunnybrook Hospital’s Family Navigation Project.  The project aims to help youth with mental illness AND their families navigate through the mental health system.  I plan to run again this year which will be my seventh year and I hope to see even more people participating than last year!  If you would like more information on the Family Navigation Project click here

Hip replacement

We recently went through a new challenge as The Hubby found out he needed a full hip replacement at 47 years old. Not only that, but there was a cancellation so he was fast-tracked. This meant that we only had 3 weeks notice! I should point out that there is a lot to prepare for mentally and logistically for this type of operation. In hindsight, it was a blessing as he was discharged from hospital just 2 days before the first case of the virus was reported at our hospital. Also, had he been scheduled for surgery in April-May as we originally thought it most likely would have been cancelled.

So now on week 4, we have come through the worst of it pretty much unscathed. I was so worried about him slipping into a depression from the lack of being able to move about freely. This is not an easy surgery and could easily send anyone into a depression. He was hurting and frustrated and I was anxiety-ridden and cried a LOT. But, as you can see he managed to keep his sense of humour which is the key to getting through a lot of things. Though I am still trying to get a nice picture of him, sigh.

The Hubby and Bacon the Frenchie

So please, talk about mental illness. Go out and have those conversations that take this from this disease from stigmatized to ‘normal’. So that hopefully, one day, when people talk about themselves or a loved one suffering from mental illness it can be met with compassion and understanding. I no longer want people to ask me why I stay with my husband when they find out he suffers from this disease.

Because that shouldn’t be the question people ask.

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