I was thinking back today on what it was like living with someone with mental illness. I was trying to evaluate the clues or circumstances that lead to Ben my x-husband’s demise. I learned mental illness changes the rules and when it strikes everything in your life turns upside down.
After Ben lost his job he was devastated. He always said his job was secure as it was very difficult to be fired from the National Laboratory and he believed he would one day retire from there. Every time we went to a gathering he spoke about his job and what he did. I believe his job was not only who he was (his identity) it was also his purpose and passion in life. He also believed it gave him financial freedom.
After a job loss most people struggle for a while then get back on their feet. For Ben job loss was very dramatic and traumatic and lead to PTSD. It took away not only his livelihood but also his identity and purpose. He was already struggling with obesity, depression and anger issues so this only compounded the problem and expanded his current mental and physical states.
Ben always had anger issues and we struggled with that all through our marriage. As his job got more trying signs of depression started to emerge. He starting having a hard time with supervisors and so we moved to a lab in another state. He thought a new start was all he needed. It helped for a while but as his depression grew worse so did his ability to make rational decisions. It was at this time that he started seeing a psychiatrist for medication. He was not clear with his doctor on how the medicine was affecting him. He began to loose patches of his hair and his joints became very painful so he bought a cane to help him walk. He began to get cocky at work and was written up for disrespecting a supervisor. He also had a sexual harassment complaint filed against him. He became defiant and stubborn and eventually made some decisions that could have had catastrophic consequences for the laboratory. Due to this his job was terminated.
Things at home had gotten worse too. He had been in a car accident years earlier and he now had a fear of driving. His road rage became worrisome. I not only feared for him but for others. I would drive whenever we went out if he wanted to insist on driving I would choose to stay home. His depression became so severe he would stay in bed all day, and wouldn’t shower or shave. He would eat only when I made food. He would forget to take his medicine. He forgot how to do basic duties like clean a bathroom or peel and chop potatoes. He would just sit and watch tv and when I looked in his eyes there was a gray film that made me feel as if he was gone. To me it felt like he was lost somewhere in his mind.
Seeing him like this broke my heart but as time went on and he defied and disrespected me things changed. He became suicidal and I had to make a life changing decision. I became disheartened, angry and hurt. It was very difficult to provide for a family, cook, clean, wash, do the shopping, pay the bills and keep the yard. I became overwhelmed and angry that my partner was now more like a child requiring my constant attention, direction and care. I became angry at loosing my best friend, lover, companion and helper. The stress started to overtake me and many days I cried myself to sleep. The truth of our trauma is in my book if you want to know the rest of the story.
Mental Illness is not only difficult for the person living it but on the caretakers as well. I know how stressful it is for people who care for loved ones with a mental or physical disorder and understand how overwhelming and hard it is sometimes to find the strength to go on. I believe that it is only with deep love and support from family and friends that anyone can come through a crisis like mental illness without scars. For me it was a powerful lesson in unconditional love, forgiveness, compassion, endurance and patience.