The world is full of people who feel hopeless. While the holidays may be a favorite time of year for many people, for others, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day only compounds the pain. For many people, the cold and cloudy days of winter triggers seasonal depression. For other folks, the thought of gathering with family and friends spikes anxiety, anger, and sadness.
It seems that sucky days are a universal experience. We can’t survive on an island. Isolation is miserable, especially for someone who struggles with depression or anxiety or self-esteem issues. Finding the guts to say, “Today sucks. Can we talk?” sometimes changes everything.
I hate when I feel this way. I hate the semi-permanent knot in the back of my throat, the avoiding eye contact with co-workers and the constant urge to go home. But the feelings persist. I hate the shame that comes along with it, whispering, “What a loser. Get your shit together. What’s wrong with you?” I hate the shame that comes from years of being raised as a religious kid, the lies that tell me I’m not a real Christian or I wouldn’t have these struggles.
But then I remember the words our pastor spoke Sunday…
Mental illness is no respecter of persons. Anxiety and depression are equal opportunity employers and they do not care what kind of day or week or year you’re having. And along with mental illness comes shame. Shame whispers things like “You can’t get your own shit together, so stop writing.” It tells lies like, “You are crazy and this will never get better.”
My wife spent a week on a psych ward following the birth of our first son. She had a miserable fight with postpartum depression and sleep deprivation. One year later, nearly to the day, I landed in ICU and then a psych ward following a suicide attempt.
After living through it, here’s my take on what to do when you decide to stay married to someone with mental illness.
I know you.
I guess I should say I knew you.
It seems like a lifetime ago. Poor guy. I’m so sorry. You look so scared and so blank. So utterly confused.
Since I’ve begun sharing how I went from a being a pastor to being hospitalized in a psych ward, people often ask about my recovery. Everyone wants to know, is there a single solution? Where does the magic lie? How do they get their own lives (or their loved ones’) back? Or, as others have said, “What is the one thing that made you want to start living again?”
I was fourteen when my Aunt Missy killed herself. It was the last day of June in Alabama when a police car pulled up to our new house, which was still under construction. I remember how hot those 2×4’s were, as they baked in the sun. Per the officer’s instructions, we loaded up in the minivan and drove down the hill to the fire station where my dad worked, so Mom could call her parents. Very few people had cell phones yet, and my Momma wasn’t one of them. I’ll never forget the way she screamed, “My sister!” as she dropped the grey receiver and it swung out and slammed back against the concrete wall, there in the lobby of Fire Station #1.