Disclaimer: I do not pretend to speak to anyone else’s mental illness or situation. Each individual is different and I know there are many whose disease and struggles are much more severe than mine. As I am not a mental health professional, I do not claim to draw lines in the sand regarding personal responsibility and control in mental illness. Now—that sounds the laundry list of side effects read on drug commercials as the patient skips happily through the meadow picking flowers with her dog–but in plain English I mean this. Supporters—I do not know the consumer in your life and I speak only for my own condition. Do not make any assumptions or create expectations for your family/friend based on my ramblings.
Now, please take a moment to silence all cell phones and enjoy the show.
As much as I’d like to deny it, I played a role in the marital conflict that resulted from my meltdown. Looking back as a completely objective third party, there are a few small tiny things I could have done differently (haha ok…big things I needed to change!).
Turn on loud, obnoxious neon signs or red alerts!
Have you ever seen the app for guys that sends warning messages when the lady in their life is beginning their cycle? It sends messages like “red alert” and “bring home flowers”. While humorous, I think there value in the app. How much easier is it to handle things when you are expecting them? For example, I know to expect Sidney to be in a bad mood when Virginia Tech football loses a game. Therefore, he more likely to be irritable if I ask him to say—admire some new lip gloss, than he normally would be.
Sidney is working with me to learn the signs and trace the symptoms of upcoming panic attacks and melt downs. But, it’s still my body, I still hide things from him, and much to my frustration-he can’t read my mind (as he continues to remind me)! I saw the signs of a meltdown coming and I should have pointed them out to him to prepare him for a possible incident.
The answer all guys love, more communication!
When I was spiraling into the depression during the evening, I should have communicated to Sidney what was happening. On some level I tried to, but I did not use our agreed upon “code words” to really clue him into seeing this was my mental illness. During the early stages I still realized what was going on around me and had enough control to communicate to him what was wrong. Not as concisely as I would be able to during our “debrief” (more on that later!), but more clearly than I did. Code words make us sound like mental illness geniuses, but are less than helpful if I don’t use them! (Oh BTW: our “code words” are certain words we use to describe emotions or events to distinguish “normal” from “mental illness” )
Affirmation, Affirmation, Affirmation
God said, “It is not good for man to be alone, so he created woman”. I love reminding Sidney of that verse when he wants alone time and I want attention…but it might be a bit out of context then!
In a marriage, we are meant to walk together. We are meant to ride the waves of challenges, success, struggles, joys, and even VT football losses together. God made me so Sidney wouldn’t have to be alone (pretty awesome for him!), but I left him alone. I retreated into my own mind and left him outside of the situation. In his aloneness he assumed I was mad at him, or blaming the situation on him. This misunderstanding resulted in challenges later in the night; challenges that might have been avoided if I had simply reminded him that I loved him and was not blaming him. Guess God knew what he was talking about when he said “it’s not good for man to be alone”…go figure right?!
Practically: I could have held his hand, faced toward him not away, or asked him to pray with me. I did not need to focus all my attention on him (I did need to focus on using my tools), but I could have included him more in the beginning stages.
Hindsight is 20/20?
There are all good lessons to learn, but a key question is—with my mental illness did I have the capacity to do these actions? A really hard question I struggle with during these moments is: “Where is my personal level of responsibility?” I have an illness, my brain wiring got put together by an intern—and sometimes under the right amount of pressure, instead of turning into a diamond, it combusts. Somewhere in all of that, I have to take responsibility for my actions, but at when do I pass the point of my “control”?
For me, in this conflict—I had the cognitive capacity (maybe not 100% but still enough) to make healthy choices up to the point of getting out of the car and walking into our house. Now granted, the expectations were lower than when I am healthy—for example, giving Sidney a basic explanation of the situation but not all the details I gave him in the “debrief”. Or holding his hand to prevent aloneness, but not initiating in a long intimate conversation. But at the point of entering our apartment, I needed an external influence (ex: medication, time, Sidney’s help) to re-ground me in reality and pull me out of my head. I never want to be the victim, but I do believe when I began destroying my room I had lost a significant amount of cognitive capacity and needed help.
Now with more severe diseases like schizophrenia and psychosis it might be clearer when the illness takes over. But for me and my support team, the lines are fuzzy. When am I at full capacity and therefore, full responsibility? When am I slightly in control, with lower levels of responsibilities? And at what point do I cut myself some slack and understand that the bipolar had taken over my brain? I have not been able to generalize answers to these questions; instead it seems to be very situational. But I do think they are important questions to consider and discuss with my team.