Those in addiction recovery circles know that addiction is considered a family disease. Meaning, the entire family is negatively affected by an individual’s addiction. For example, the addiction might cause financial issues or lead to seemingly endless arguments. When I was in rehab, this was brought up during a family education session. My addiction absolutely affected my husband negatively, and my recovery was really our recovery.
I was recently listening to a podcast in which a set of parents were talking about how their college-age daughter was recently diagnosed as bipolar, and how this has affected their entire family. This got me thinking about how my mental illness (current diagnosis: bipolar II) affects my husbands life. This is something I obsess over when I am looking at time in a hospital, but don’t consider at less extreme times.
My mental illness is expensive. There is no doubt in my mind that financially, my husband is affected. I am currently in a program with my insurance company that gives me free copays for mental health services as long as I stay in touch with one of their counselors over the phone. When I am not in that program, I have a $30 copay (after my deductible is met) for each therapy session. I have a great psychiatrist, I have been seeing him for five years (holy cow), and he and I have a good working relationship. He sees his patients for 30 minutes or an hour, unlike most psychiatrists who see their patients for 15 minutes. He does not, however, accept insurance. Each time I see him I have to write a check for $160 or $280 depending on length of visit. As you can imagine, this adds up quickly.
My mental illness is a bad rollercoaster. There are times when my irritability is extreme and I’ll be short with those around me. Other times I’ll be so depressed that I won’t get chores done. There are times that I am so anxious, that I’m all but frozen.
My extremes can be…extreme. It has to be stressful for my husband to hear me say in a deadened monotone, “I can’t keep going. Don’t you think you would be happier without me?” Or for me to come to him sobbing, gasping for breath, and shaking in the midst of a panic attack. The times I have gone to him and calmly (or hysterically) told him that I have self-harmed must cause him pain.
My hypo-mania subjects him to my non-stop chatter and enthusiastic unrealistic new goals. He knows that after the dust settles, I will be depressed. He tries to get me to see that I’ve seemed a bit up, and I insist that I’m just happy…but not too happy.
Our life goals have had to be adjusted and changed to make room for my mental illness and the havoc it causes. A recent bad bought resulted in the decision that I need to be in a better place before a pregnancy. I now am taking lithium and cannot safely get pregnant on that medication. I don’t know how long this will delay our starting a family.
I have to admit, after writing all of the above I had to take a good few days to figure out what my point is. Putting it all in writing shows just how much damage my mental illness is causing. While I thought about this, I also paid attention to our day to day and realized that while all of this does greatly affect my husband as well as myself, it is not always a daily concern. Not a day goes by that my mental illness goes unmentioned, but bipolar is very much an episodic illness. Which means we can still have great days together. I can and do contribute to our home and family, and I also provide support to my husband when he needs it (and sometimes when he doesn’t know he does).
I think it is important to acknowledge that mental illness affects more than just the one experiencing it; but it is also important to acknowledge that the mental illness is just a part of a person, and that person can be a valuable, loved family member. There are times that my mental illness yells, and times when it is just a whisper; but whether I am well or sick, the answer to “wouldn’t you be happier without me” is always the same. “No!”