I’ve talked about my wife before. A lot. So maybe acquaint yourself before you continue. Or not. Suffice it to say her parents disowned her and she was pretty messed up about it. For a long time. It took a really long time but I convinced her to seek therapy. Eventually her therapist convinced her to see a psychiatrist, and bingo bango she ended up on anti-depressants.
I’m a huge fan of psychiatric medication. I know many people are not, and that’s fine. But I’ve seen them save lives so I’m cool with them. I’ve also seen these medications have horrible side effects so, as I tell my clients on the regular, I have a healthy respect for them. When my wife started an antidepressant it made a huge difference in our lives. She was calmer, less angry, less depressed, and morphing before my eyes back into the woman I originally fell in love with.
It took a long time for her to get to that place though. For her entire life she was told to take her problems to God and that was all she would need. When faced with the ultimatum of the end of our relationship or a psychiatric consult though she finally went to some one other than God. Because no offense but He just wasn’t cutting it. She was crying all the time, irritable, and close to suicidal at times.
The antidepressant she took really changed her outlook on life. She became more positive and hopeful and it was amazing. Enter ghosts from the past. She totally decompensated. I asked her to speak with her prescriber about what else they could do with medication because of the added stress of our current situation. Her prescriber added another antidepressant. Not an unreasonable thing to do, but in my wife’s case it totally backfired. She became this other weird person whom we now refer to as “manic-wife”. It was so gradual and I have such a high tolerance for crazy that it took us awhile to realize this was an adverse effect of medication.
When I say manic I mean- staying out until all hours of the night with people she met online, wanting to quit her job and drive across the country to California, but mostly wanting to leave me on a daily basis. Some days she seriously only stayed for the cats. This was not her. I felt like I was living with a stranger and she knew that her wires were not connecting correctly. It took me a couple months of hell before I connected the dots. This all started around the time she added the other anti-depressant. She immediately stopped it and agreed to not make any major life decisions for two months.
I cried a lot. Because even though I knew this wasn’t her, it still was her saying awful things to me. If there was ever a time I thought we wouldn’t make it, that was it. I came home from work every day expecting her to be gone. I went to work every day expecting to get a phone call from a hospital in Idaho or something telling me they had her there. And by the end of that horrible summer I just wanted to crawl into a hole and sleep for a long time.
Her psychiatrist was less than nice when we went for her follow up and I explained that our relationship literally almost ended because of her mania which was clearly induced by the addition of the second antidepressant. He spoke to us like we were wasting his time and he didn’t think it was true mania because she hadn’t gone more than 3 days without sleep. I wanted to strangle him and told her she was finding a new psychiatrist. She didn’t disagree that he was an ass but she despises change so that was another battle.
Her new psychiatrist is a gem and has never made me feel likes I am unworthy of his time or energy. (My wife loves him too). I’ve been to exactly two of her appointments ever. One post-manic episode with old psychiatrist and the intake with the new one. I try to stay out of it because it’s not my treatment, it’s hers. But when she got manic and her judgment was impaired I had to insert myself a bit.
My wife gave me permission before I wrote this. Because this is all very intimate knowledge to have about someone. But there are a lot of lessons to be learned here. My wife and I went through something totally awful separately yet so intertwined. Her experience of being manic was terrifying for her because she felt out of control of herself. My experience of her being manic was horrifying because I was literally living with a stranger, but I knew she was in there somewhere. Then when we finally realized what was happening and went to the healthcare professional responsible for her we were completely invalidated and talked down to. I don’t think he was homophobic but I do feel he was sexist. Then we saw a second doctor who was the total opposite. I am so thankful for that experience and to have him in my wife’s life. Because he’s extremely validating and though he could prescribe her something with adverse effects his reaction would never be one of skepticism or condemnation.
Through my navigation of mental health with my wife I learned what it feels like to sit on the other side. It’s not comfortable. As a woman and as a lesbian I was terrified. I was scared for my wife, my relationship, and that we weren’t being treated fairly because of our gender and our sexual orientation.
I feel like a blog post can’t do justice to the level of emotional turmoil we both experienced that Summer. We don’t talk about it much because it’s painful for us both to remember. It was also incredibly isolating. Who do you tell that your wife is manic? What friend or family member could possibly understand what the hell that even looks like? You tell some one your wife has cancer (God forbid) and I’d get casseroles and offers to take her for treatment or something. But you mention mental illness and I just couldn’t predict the responses I would get so I didn’t tell anyone. I also didn’t want any of my friends or family to judge her. But that was years ago and I’m sick of stigma. Stigma against mental health, stigma against homosexuals, stigma against women. Everything. I’m sick of it.
So that’s our story. One summer of absolute pure and utter Hell due to an adverse reaction to medication. Complicated by an asshole provider followed by a provider sent from Heaven. It took her awhile to fully reconstitute and it took our relationship awhile to fully recover. I was scarred by her unpredictability and her apathy. When she came out of the fog I remember her crying and apologizing. I know she didn’t have control of herself but at the same time I was so angry for everything she put me through. It was a bizarre and conflicting set of emotions to walk around with. It took a lot of time to heal but we did.
When we moved recently we had to pack up our house. There was a bike in the garage. It was really expensive and it was during “manic-wife” phase. She became obsessed with the fact that she didn’t have a bike. She also didn’t want a cheap bike from Wal-Mart she wanted the name brand 600$ bike from the name brand store with a warranty. It made no sense because she never even rode bikes. Like ever. And after she bought it she only rode it maybe twice. It became the symbol of manic-wife and over time it got shoved to the back of the garage covered in crap. But it was unearthed during our move. We both kind of stared at it, and she was like “I should sell it,” and then there was this awkward silence as we both remembered the pain of that Summer and then I looked at her and said, “Listen if this is all that’s left of manic-wife I’m glad. Because it could have been a lot worse.”
It’s true. It could have been a hell of a lot worse. We brought the bike with us, and then my Dad asked if he could use it at his house. We said sure and we haven’t seen it since. All traces of manic-wife are now gone. The thing about mental illness is that we both know at any time she may rear her ugly head. But for now we take one day at a time and we are thankful for every day we make it through with each other. I am some one who lives with no regrets. I don’t regret that time period and I firmly believe what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
People who meet my wife for the first time assume she’s this kind compassionate little person. Which she is. But I’m always thinking in my head you have no idea what this woman has been through. She’s a survivor of growing up in a cult, being disowned by her family, embracing her identity as a lesbian, embracing me as her wife, and a survivor of a horrendous psychiatric episode. She’s so much more than what you see on the surface and what would have broken so many people just moved her forward into the woman she is today. She’s not perfect. I mean if she leaves her shoes and dirty socks directly inside the doorway where I step on them one more time I’m going to lose my mind…but she embodies the beauty of freedom. Freedom to be her own self at a great cost.
Stop the stigma.
Love you babe.