The Unwelcome Guest


October 15, 2010 by D Stack

When you see a blog that has been fallow for a time the owner will often talk of “real-life” issues that have gotten in the way. So let’s talk about some real-life issues.

I’ve mentioned in the past that both my wife and I have dealt with mental health issues. I’ve had to deal with generalized anxiety which seems to have been under control for the past several years. My wife developed post-partum depression after the birth of our first child. With treatment it was driven back but it returned with our second child. It never really went fully away after that but it seemed to be under control.

The operative word in the preceding paragraph is seemed. I couldn’t tell you exactly when it kicked into higher gears, but it certainly did. It was a gradual thing. Why didn’t we notice the elephant in the room? It had always been there.

In any case it is certain over the last year or two her depression got really bad. Her energy level plummeted to next to nothing. She still was able to do a fine work in her role as a chemistry teacher, but after school she would be exhausted. Now as both the son of a elementary/middle-school teacher and the husband of a high-school one, I’m under no illusions that being a teacher is a demanding and exhausting job. But not to the point of always seeking to escape into sleep. Our house grew more and more unkempt as I found myself taking on increasingly greater portions of the housework and of parenting responsibilities. I found my own health diminishing – getting less sleep, weight increasing, and just generally stressing 0ut. My wife getting laid-off just short of tenure last May did not help, nor did an unsuccessful summer job search – while she is an attractive candidate, she is also comparatively expensive, as public school salaries are set based on degrees and experience. Cash-strapped schools can hire nearly two entry-level teachers for what she would cost (and that is just screaming to be its own blog post).

We were aware that things weren’t right. She’d been seeing her doctor about getting her medication adjusted. Finally, near the end of the summer, she confessed to her doctor that while she wasn’t interested in ending her own life, at the same time that life had no real appeal to her either. That, as it turns out, is one of the early symptoms of suicidal tendencies and of severe depression. Our general practitioner realized this and sent her to a specialist. The specialist recommended her to an intensive day program consisting of about two weeks of 6-hour days at the hospital with individualized and group therapy.

With this we needed some help with child care – this was just before the start of the school year but after summer camp ended. My wife brought in her mother and I asked my brother and his wife for some assistance. This also entailed discussing with family members the extent of her depression – either broaching the topic for the first time or explaining just how bad it had gotten.

To be honest, we were very fortunate. Our extended family was actually somewhat relieved – it seems they all sensed something was not right but they didn’t know what it was. And they all thankfully treated it as real. One thing my wife learned in group therapy sessions is there are many people suffering from mental health illnesses whose families are not understanding – either not believing in their conditions or trying to give “tough love” – “just get over it” or “it’s all in your head”. One member of my wife’s therapy group said she had battled both depression and cancer – and she’d take cancer any day. I don’t know if that’s a common view, but I think it does illustrate just how painful a disease it is.

When you suffer from depression you are not an idiot. You often know that “it’s all in your head”. But that really doesn’t make it better. Rather it makes it incredibly frustrating. I’m sure if my wife could just tough it out or “get over it” she would. When we were married she was perhaps the most energetic person I knew. She rejected idleness. She’d often wake up early in the morning to go jogging. Days off were opportunities for projects. To be brought to the point of struggling to get the energy for cooking dinner is intensely painful.

Again though, we were fortunate. Our families were supportive, helping us in the form of help around the house, cooking some heatable meals, watching the kids for us, etc. It gave us a chance to breathe while she received the intense treatment she needed.

There’s really no magic happy ending, this is real life. She’s now going to weekly therapy sessions. Overall, she is much better. I wish I could say she doesn’t have down days, she certainly does. But slowly she’s making progress to hopefully beating this and, if not beating it, at least being able to contain it. To realize that she’s entitled to be happy. We’ve been doing more activities as a whole family lately, she’s been fighting to keep her energy level up. Again, not always successfully, but at least there’s a battle going on.

So why am I writing this? Partially for myself to just express how things have been. Largely in an attempt to make people aware of just how real mental health issues are. If someone you love is suffering from a mental illness, please believe that it is very real. And if you find yourself taking on more and more responsibilities – or if you can’t keep up with yours – by all means accept any help that you have available. I’ve been told I appear to have aged years in a short amount of time.

If you are suffering from a mental illness, please get help. You deserve to be happy and to get better. I know what you’re suffering from is very real.

And I don’t want everything I’ve written to give the impression that my wife has been passive in all of this. She has taken an active role in her own treatment. She is not a helpless victim but also a participant in her recovery.

In closing, this has primarily been a political blog. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about universal health care. How I think it is needed. My wife and I are fortunate in our insurance – my employer offers awesome insurance. Her day program, which cost about six hundred dollars a day, was covered fully by our mental health insurance. Even on a single income we’re doing ok, but $6000 for two weeks of treatment would have been an extremely painful financial expenditure. And what if we were both unemployed and the treatment out of reach for us? Many of the people in the program with her were unemployed and had tapped all of their savings to get into it.

I just can’t accept a doctrine of absolute personal responsibility. There are so many people who, through no fault of their own, have far greater burdens than others. Those who care for special needs children. Those with diseases, whether mental or physical. Those whose employers have closed up shop or off-shored everything. I believe we are losing sight of the doctrine of societal responsibility. Societies have obligations to their people and people to their societies. Personal responsibility is indeed important. One of the greatest aspects in the therapy my wife has participated in has been the tools she has gained and used to assist herself in treating this. You have a role in your own recovery. But often you can’t do it alone.

During the debate about health care reform I was told, many times, we already have universal health care – anyone can go to the emergency room. With the insurance my family has available to it we were able to get the necessary treatment. A trip to the emergency room would be after  a suicide attempt.


One thought on “The Unwelcome Guest

  1. D Stack says:

    One little comment I should make – prior to posting this I of course discussed whether it would be appropriate to do so with my wife. 🙂

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