Friday, March 6, 2009

Still nuts...

(This is, in a way, a follow-up to the telephone post so I'll get right to the Thin Man.)

I mentioned before that just being around me is hell on my wife (though she never complains or begrudges me a moment of it). I think, in the context of mental illness, the greatest untold tragedy is the toll it takes on the family and, specifically, spouses. I've been trying to figure out a way to explain this that doesn't sound like the normal platitudes spewed by every doctor and councilor in the field because it's a more complicated and more subtly destructive dynamic than the "oh, form a support group and share your problems" kind of approach a lot of people give it. Let me speak of spouses specifically although I think most other family connections suffer a variant on the theme.

First off, we marry people who are like ourselves. Maybe not as completely nuts but people who understand—and this means that, most of the time, they're not that far from the edge of normal themselves. Add to that the fact that dealing with a mentally ill spouse (especially like in my case where I was diagnosed after we were married and I suffered a complete collapse) is enough to drive anyone into deep depression. The result is that, de facto, I broke my wife. Imagine two rods welded together supporting a terrible strain. Together, they can bear the load but, if one of them breaks, one of two things is going to happen. Either the weld (the marriage itself) gives way or the other rod bends or breaks itself (and sometimes both). That's the best way I can find to illustrate it. That's bad, but it gets worse.

Once the certifiable non-neurotypical is under treatment, medical disability, and all the other measures designed to help that person, the spouse is very, very reluctant (often refuses, flat out) to use those same facilities for themselves. They don't think that they deserve this same care (after all, they're nowhere near as sick as their spouse), they refuse assistance (since their spouse is already there and it just doesn't seem proper), and they draw in on themselves. At least the "officially sick" person has the freedom to be sick; the spouse typically tries to simply soldier on and hold things together. And, because the spouse has to be the strong and protective member of the partnership, they tend to be regarded and treated poorly by other family members who don't understand that maybe they're not up to coming to the stupid family dinner and playing nice-nice social games for hours about nothing when they really NEED a few hours alone. And they don't really have the patience (and definitely no sympathy) to listen to somebody stand around and whine about how they didn't get that raise at work when they're trying to figure out how to pay the next electric bill. Other people, even relatives, don't know the full picture (nor really should they) and human's tend to kill there wounded rather than take care of them. Suddenly, the spouse becomes an outcast from the very people who ought to be helping them the most. It's not about support groups and therapy; it's about realizing that the spouse of a non-neurotypical is under an incredible amount of permanent stress and looking outside your narrow, self-centered world and trying to help—without understanding.

So, what's my point? Simply this: If you know a mentally ill person who is managing to do a credible impression of functioning, then go say thank you to their family and, most especially, their spouse. They are much more important than all the doctors and medications in the world.

1 comment:

Starbuck O'Shea said...


And... =more hugs=

It is very hard to feel one has a right to anything. A right to be ill, a right to be given care, anything. "Not as much as--" is a mighty powerful argument.

I am incredibly lucky to have found you both and know you. Thank you!!!

Also -- your neighborhood fan club misses you. A lot.