The second time my husband Carl visited me in a psychiatric hospital, he was just a tad bit fed up. I could see it on his face. It was not disappointment or shame or any of the other emotions that our family members would project onto him. He was fed up. And he was not fed up with me—he was fed up with everyone telling him he’s a doormat.
“Aren’t you tired of dealing with Alli?”
“How do you put up with it?”
“I can’t believe you’re still married to her!”
He would just shake his head and say, “I’m her husband. She’s sick right now. I’m not going to give up on her.”
When I first met Carl in 2008, I was a touch hypomanic. The nice thing about hypomania is…well, most people don’t mind it. Who would? I was a bubbly, happy ball of energy. I only required a meal or two a day and about five hours of sleep. My husband and I played music together at different venues, went on trips, laughed and enjoyed life together.
But then it happened. The doom set in. That state of mind when nothing is good.
I started sleeping 15 hours a night. I ate enormous amounts of food. I experienced no pleasure. Everything irritated me. Carl and I played our gigs less and less. I was falling away from him, and he was missing me.
This dark period lasted much longer than previous episodes and it manifested in psychosomatic illness as well. My stomach ached. I had three-day migraines. My husband never heard the end of my pain. The medication I was prescribed caused side effects, and the medication I was given for those side effects caused more side effects. When I wasn’t at work, I was lying in bed, moaning or asleep. I missed more and more work. When rumors began to circulate that I would be laid off, I attempted suicide and ended up in the ER.
When I awoke, hooked up to an IV, my husband was sitting there with me. He had brought me a piece of cake. We ate it together. He told me I was going to get better. I was at the lowest point in my entire life, and he was sitting there, giving me a treat.
“We are going to get through this,” he said. There was not a doubt in his mind.
Learning To Listen
In our society, we all-too-often abandon those who need help—even our family members. It’s difficult, I get it. I know how hard I was to deal with. But Carl stuck by me, as a living embodiment of our vows: “in sickness and in health.” I think he could teach the world a thing or two about unconditional support.
Our loved ones cannot read our minds—though it certainly felt like my husband could. He knew exactly what to say and do to give me strength when I needed it the most. But he wasn’t reading my mind. He was actively listening to mental health professionals, to himself and to me. He listened. Being mindful and present isn’t just for people in recovery. It also helps the families of persons with mental illness, too.
And yes. With medicine, therapy, mindfulness and positive support from my family, we got through it. I am well. And I know that the people around me experience harmony in our interactions because I am well. Even my cat cuddles with me more often now. My family, my coworkers, people I pass on the street—they all seem different now because I’m different. I’m healthier.
My husband is well, too. His peace has returned. Together, we process our emotions and watch for triggers. And in the end, my mental health matters not just for me, but also for this remarkable partner of mine whose strength and hope helped see us through to a life of stability.
Allison Parker is a writer and English instructor at Cape Fear Community College, NC. Her work has appeared in Poetry East, Cobalt, Fjords, the Wilmington-Star News, and the Oklahoma Review. She performs music with her husband Carl Kruger in the 910 Noise collective.