Community Contributions: We’re in this Together

from "We're in this Together," see the note at the bottom of the post

Last week Erinire sent this discussion prompt:

I wonder how other readers’ spouses / significant others deal with their illnesses. Even the most high-functioning among us can use home as a place to fall apart, but how does the healthy one deal with the sick? And then, in the dealing, how do the ill handle being handled?

I’ve sat and thought on these questions for a while now. This is something my partner and I have needed to discuss and work on, as I think many relationships including an MI partner do. To me, there are two important insights in the way the questions are phrased: The first is how the “high-functioning” function inside the home, away from the expectations of functioning out in the world. The second is that we are indeed sometimes “handled,” though more often than not, I would hope, that handling comes out of love and care. Because of these two points, I would expect that responses to this topic could include those of us who do not live with spouses, but who reside with and within our support systems. I would also expect that the first question might be more productively answered with the help of our partners and/or supporters. As such, I would like to thank Erinire for providing me a way into a very useful conversation with my husband.

Here I go: For me in my relationship, this is a question about communication and perception. My home is the one place where I am myself, or the closest to it I can allow myself to be, and it is where I can sometimes let anxiety run my life whether immobilized on the couch or working manically. Either way, I work so hard at DOING in order to maintain whatever my “high-functioning” self is that I often don’t do a lot of what it takes to maintain a household. I asked my husband* how he deals with me: “I try not to escalate the situation. I try not to feed into your anxiety or anger.” (Yup, I can get nasty-angry.) He also said that my illness is “something you go through that affects me AND something we go through together. It’s a little bit of both, but I think more and more we are trying to go through it together.” So that’s it on the communication side. He handles me by trying to work with me, by trying to recognize my symptoms and operating in a way that keeps me level.

Then there’s the perception part of this question: Often, I hate this. I know he’s trying to help; I know he’s trying to understand. But neither seems to stop me from feeling coddled, condescended to, undermined, infantilized, or worse. And if I’m not immediately angered, I’m often immediately overcome with guilt and sadness. If I have it in me to recognize that he is trying to help, trying to love me, I feel terrible for what I perceive as making him walk on eggshells. I feel guilty knowing that he doesn’t deserve what I put him through. (This may sometimes comically spiral when I then get angry at him for making me feel that way.)

He tries to assuage my guilt, which I appreciate. (And we’re back to the communication side of things.) The truth is that he knew me ten years ago, in the thick of the crazy, and he continually tells me that (a) he knew what he was getting into by marrying me and (b) that he’s proud of what I’ve been able to do for myself and in my life since then. He doesn’t love me despite the crazy, and he doesn’t love me because of the crazy.

At the end of the day, he and I both know he won’t understand what I feel like. We also know that I won’t understand what he feels like. It’s an ongoing process, but for us the best thing we can do as a partner for the other is to admit that we just can’t understand. In everything else, we have a sort of “Us, together, against the world” mentality about partnership. We try to remember that.

*For the record, I offered my husband the opportunity to assign his own pseudonym. Sadly, while he made up several, his 12-year-old humor meant I had to veto each of them.

As I am apt to do, a note on the image accompanying this post: It’s a still image, cropped by me, from Mark Pellington’s 1999 video for Nine Inch Nails’ We’re in this Together. The video is an homage to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and the thematic connection I’m drawing there may be rather tenuous. Still, the song’s chorus features four lines once quoted on my wedding invitations: “You and me / If the world should break in two / Until the very end of me / Until the very end of you.” The song that follows (after which the album is named) contains the repeated line “I won’t let you fall apart.”

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12 comments
  1. erinire said:

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been mulling it over on my own, while my partner and I worked through our first meltdown together. I hadn’t been this fantastically depressed since I started treatment in 2009, and it was trial by fire for both of us. I’m still too enmeshed in the reality to have any perspective, but it made me think a lot about my previous marriage and what happened then. My husband and I have never really been able to talk about that time – the year and a half I spent wrestling with my illness, the week I lost my mind, or the night I finally took myself to the ER. It all just happened, like a slow avalanche, with the best intentions from both of us. Looking back, I can see how much he tried to help, how he tried to make my life bearable. But, truly, communication had ceased to be possible. I became so encapsulated in loathing that I stopped being receptive to love – I completely shut down – all the while maintaining the outward trappings of a high-functioning, driven, talented young professional. The disconnect is staggering.

    I think it must be difficult to be the partner of someone with MI. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t want to be. It’s too hard, too complicated. But somehow we find these people who are willing to put up with us, and, if we’re lucky, they’re even able help to keep us afloat.

    • said:

      Erinire…I think it would be unimaginably hard to the the partner of someone with MI. I am consistently both grateful and dumbfounded.

  2. Freed said:

    I feel incredibly lucky to have a partner who has stuck with me while I found my way back to a functioing place after my breakdown 2 years ago.I talked to her about this post last night and she attributed our success to “you are a really good communicator, and I’m really patient.” Of course it’s much more complicated than that but this comment reveals 2 really important things about how we cope 1) communication and patience flow between us as much as possible, crisis or not. I resolved to be an open book and let her see as much of my internal and behavioral process as possible. She resolved not to judge me. And 2) we keep it pretty simple. It may sound stupid but we take advantage of every opportunity to look at our situation with humor and normalcy. She’s not very reactionary and that helps a lot when moods, emotions, drugs, and diagnoses are changing rapidly.

    Freed

    • said:

      I can relate to what I think you’re trimming down to a consumable comment, save for the part where I have to admit that I’m a terrible communicator and terrible at being patient and maybe even worse at keeping things simple. What I’m saying is that I relate to the part where I know I would not have a partner if he weren’t willing and capable of being a real partner in this wild ride — and whether it’s communication or patience or keeping it simple and laughing or something else, it seems to be about committing to continually working on the thing that helps make it work. And still sometimes I can’t help but think that it has nothing to do with my commitment to that thing at all, and everything to do with some single great stroke of luck (and trickery!).

  3. Freed said:

    Shortly after I sent the last post, two memories of me and my partner from the last 2 years started nagging me.I feel like I should share them here.

    One is from early on in my recovery. I was “functioning” so well even in my reationship that she was expecting more of me than I was capable of. I finally explained (through sobs and frantic breakdown) that I was “very sick” and that if it was something like Cancer no one would expect me to function like that. Equating my illness to physical illness finally got my point across and our communication improved.

    The other memory was about a year later when my partner was feeling really out of control. She explained it to me by saying that if I DID have cancer, she would be participating with me and my doctors regarding drugs, diagnosis, prognosis, progress, etc. That really gave me a ton of insight into what it must be to be a partner to someone with MI.

  4. Backwards E, thanks for posting. I recognized the image from NIN, and I love Metropolis. (Talk about manic? I love the Maria’s melodramatic, over-the-top character, popular acting technique for the silents.) I have no experience with this post. It was… interesting… to read all your comments.

    I mean, how/when do you disclose that you have a MI? On the 2nd date, the 3rd, at the altar…?

    “”Oh, honey, I do, but… Everyone, I have an announcement to make.”

    jt

    • said:

      Made me think about the days when I dated. Honestly, the time was different with everyone, but I had a rule of thumb of sorts: I would usually ease someone into a multi-conversation conversation, starting with saying something casual or not-a-big-deal or something-I-live-with-but-still-live, the first time they’re over to see me take my meds. Not sure if that will help…In truth, you talk about it when you’re comfortable doing so and when you reach the point when it wouldn’t be fair not to tell them.

      • Jess said:

        JT, That is an interesting question of when to disclose. For me, my partner and I are/were both psychology majors in college; therefore, she knew a little about mental illness. We were actually eating pizza and really getting to know each other and she disclosed her eating disorder that happened a year prior. After her honestly, I disclosed by BP diagnosis. It turned into a really good conversation. We have discussed what would/will happen when/if I become depressed again, and how if I feel myself becoming manic (for practical reasons) she can take away my credit cards etc. But on a more emotional, and visceral level, she has offered her support. While she can’t fully understand what it’s like for me, she has said she will make me get out of bed and do something, even if it’s taking Snoopy for a walk outside. I know when in the midst of depression, I’ll just want to sleep it away, I’ll appreciate it from her because I know it comes from a caring place. She also knows how far (not) to push me.

        I have loved this thread; it is fascinating to hear from both sides. I mean we think that it’s so horrible for us since our partners may not be able to understand, but that comment regarding the partner not participating in doctor’s appts and so on, really struck me a lot.

        Thanks guys,
        Jess

  5. Jess,

    I liked this post and thread too. I loved how you and your partner disclosed over bread, cheese and toppings. What a place to diclose an eating disorder! It’s almost comical. “Would you like our cheezy bread sticks with marinara dipping sauce?” Lord.

    But you did it, and it was very positive. I should be so lucky.

    Good work.

    cheers,
    jt

    • Jess said:

      JT,

      Wow, I never thought of it like that! She had conquered her eating disorder by that point, so it never occured to me.

      I wish you well when you do find someone in your disclosure. It’s hard to offer suggestions because each person (and situation) is different. I would never assume to know what’s good for you just because something worked for me.

      Take care,
      Jess

      • Jess,

        Of course, you wouldn’t assume. We need to be respectful of others opinions and journeys on not on DF, but all the posts, Twitters, Facebook and any online media.

        I haven’t read anything on DF that doesn’t have that philosophy.

        And only support from your blog and comments. I appreciate that, you know?

        sincerely
        jt

        • Jess said:

          JT,

          And I appreciate your support and humor in your comments. Laughter is a wonderful thing :)

          Take care,
          Jess

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