There’s a sadness that gets into your bones. It climbs on your back and weighs you down, seeps into your lungs and clenches on to your every breath. It lays in the empty space where your loved one should occupy. It’s the dead air on the other side of a telephone line. It takes the song out of your voice, and the words out of your hands making it taxing and difficult to get it on paper. That is the sadness, if you’ve ever felt it you know what I mean. If you’ve never felt it than I am happy for you. It comes once you’ve gotten too comfortable, when your shoulders start to come down, and you begin to feel like you can actually breath again. This type of sadness doesn’t just creep up on you, this is the kind that hits you like a brick and leaves you reeling, trying to find your bearings. It is the caregivers sadness.
I don’t have a mental illness but I live with it.
I am the wife of mental illness. I am the mother of mental illness.
I have been silent for the last couple of weeks, so overwhelmed from the current state of events that have taken over our family. The depths of my emotions so cutting and deep its hard to put into words. I am numb. I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me. I feel beat and broken. It’s my own fault. When things are level you have your everyday ups and downs you take those good times for granted because it just becomes normal. You forget how bad it can get when your loved one is not well. We know that life with mental illness is unpredictable. One day everything seems fine only to come crashing down on you the next. There are of course the signs that you’re heading for imminent disaster, but by the time you begin to notice that something’s off often times its too late. The disease comes roaring at you like a lion. You're caught before you even had time to run. We are caught.
With mental illness, when things are good you start to get a false sense of security, you start to breathe a little easier. Hoping maybe this time everything will stay level and we can just be, but mental illness is cruel it doesn’t work like that. Eventually it comes creeping through the door. Bipolar came pounding on the door. I begged you not to answer but you let it in any way. It took you far away and in your place left the madness.
We’ve been for a long time, level, balanced navigating the course. It lingers in the background, the mental illness. It’s present in our lives but it’s certainly not the focus of it. It’s just a chronic condition that is managed with medication. Much like any chronic condition you take your required medication, regularly check yourself to make sure your on the right course, stay up to date with your doctor, live a heathy lifestyle and that’s it.
He’s done well to keep it at bay. This isn’t the kind of thing where he’s non med-compliant, in and out of hospitals trying to find the right formula. He provides for the family and holds a job. He’s a skilled worker. He knows his limitations and I’ve done my best to protect him as well as I could from the everyday stressors and burdens, especially since Ranee became ill. But it wasn’t enough.
You can only help, offer advice, provide support but you can’t control someone else’s thoughts and actions. You can’t live inside someone else’s brain to really see what’s going on in there. How it processes information, or reasons on what they feel is best for them. You can only trust that they’ll make decisions based on the well-being of everyone not just themselves. The mind can be deceptive, but a mind that’s been overrun by mental illness is a battlefield of sorts.
We’ve been through so much together, things that can test the bounds of a relationship -- loss of a parent, loss of dear friends, financial stresses, teenagers that question a faith they once clung to. We’ve ridden the storm with a sick child. We did that together. We weathered the seasons of change and the storms of our life together. Now for the moment it feels I am weathering this storm alone. I am fighting for him and he fights against me. In his delusion I am the enemy, not trusting his judgment that he’s okay. He is not okay, we are not okay.
How do you care for someone who doesn’t think they are ill? Caught up in the grip of sickness they believe they are fine, blind to how far off course they’ve become. The ones closest, bending over backwards to care for their needs take the brunt of the abuse. For the moment their world revolves around them as it rightfully should. They are sick. There’s little appreciation, or recognition. Most of the work of the caregiver goes unnoticed while the faults are layed bare.
As much as you want to place blame -- they should have stayed on the meds, they should have said something sooner, they should have….it doesn’t matter because you just have to deal with what’s in front of you. You can’t reason with someone who is not well. Your voice falls silent. Except you can’t stay quiet. It is your job to be the voice of reason. The doctors look to you. Your loved one is looking to you to be their voice. But in sickness they don’t like what they hear. In wellness there are things that you discuss, an emergency preparedness plan of sorts. They ask if you start to notice them doing this or acting this way, the red flags. Say something do something. But sometimes it’s just too late. He won’t remember half of what was said and done when the mania ultimately subsides. I will be left to sort out what the madness has done in impulsiveness. He won’t remember but I will. And love will cover that.
Read more of Kendra's story on her blog: mamatothemadness.com