Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – My Own Story

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This is the first instalment of the series. You can read the introductory post here.

I struggle writing about someone else’s mental illness because it’s just that, someone else’s.

Mental illness, unlike the more visible ailments (for good or bad) feels more personal and private. After all, it’s his life, not mine. But that’s just the thing. It isn’t just his life, it’s our life.

But I’m still not interested in sharing his experience (even though when we have a good story to tell, he always lets me tell it).

My husband Dane doesn’t just “get all OCD” about this or that, he actually has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  He doesn’t just “worry a lot and get sad sometimes,” he battles with anxiety and depression every single day. Yet, most people would never guess it because in some ways he’s got this mental illness thing figured out. Dane’s medicated, supported, loved, fairly open about it. Not to mention he has an excellent sense of humor.

But in other ways, it’s not that easy for him, or me. I worry about his depression getting worse (as we know it can do) and how hard that would be for him (and our family). I worry about the inevitable day he will have to change his medication. I worry about whether or not our boys will inherit Dane’s mental health like they inherited our fair skin and love of macaroni and cheese. But most days I try to focus on who is right in front of me.

You see, unlike the title of this blog series, I don’t actually live with someone else’s mental illness, I live with someone who is mentally ill.

This diagnosis is intrinsically part of the man I married. In sickness and in health, for better or for worse — these marital quips never feel as real they do in the midst of a panic attack. I’m married all of him and he’s all I’ve got. And the fact that his mental illness is all of him is the trickiest part for me.

Where does the mental illness begin and end? How can I tell if his behaviour is ‘him’ or if it’s his mental illness. If Dane had a perfectly typical or “normal” chemical make up in his brain, would he still sleep way more than me and would he still have trouble getting up everyday? Perhaps. Would he still incessantly worry about the safety of our kids? Possibly. Would he have trouble trying new food or eating in dark spaces? Maybe.

So am I allowed to be stark raving mad after the fifth attempt to get him up? Should I resent the fact we can’t just eat at any restaurant? I don’t know.  I can’t tell where it begins and ends because it is completely enmeshed in who he is.

And this is bang-your-head against the wall frustrating some days. Am I justified in my frustration? Should I blame Dane or blame his mental illness?

I don’t know, but what I have to keep asking myself is does it really matter?

I didn’t marry the mental illness, I married Dane. I don’t love OCD or depression but I love Dane. I may get frustrated or discouraged by the way he acts, but it is all part of who he is. It doesn’t matter which part of his brain is causing this behavior because I love all of him. Yes, it can be maddening at times but I would rather have the mentally ill Dane than anyone else. Talk about perspective!

There is no one else I would rather be with and I will gladly take OCD alongside generosity, faithfulness and a rather prolonged obsession with all things Sylvester Stallone. 

There are even parts of his mental illness that make my life better.  Let’s be honest, sometimes I wish his OCD caused him to clean the house more. Why can’t he obsess over dust bunnies or soap scum? But one of the things Dane’s brain causes us (read: me) to do is slow down.  And by slow down I mean do about half of what I would normally try to cram into a weekend.

And for this, I’m (mostly) grateful. I watch families go from soccer practice to a birthday party to some festival downtown and back home to host friends for dinner on a single Saturday and it exhausts me to watch.

I know that will never be my life, yet it might have been if it weren’t for Dane.  This pace of life means we can’t be doing something every night of the week. We can’t go to every interesting lecture or every church event. It’s means sometimes our son skips soccer practice or we miss someone’s birthday.

It means we have to be home with each other, trying to eat dinner slowly, reading books, playing lego and cleaning up the dust bunnies.

But when we do have friends over, who makes them feel incredibly special and cared for? Who offers them a beer before they even get their coat off? Who has inside jokes with people that make them feel known and loved? Who dubbed 2012, “The year of Jane’s vocational wholeness” because he was on a mission to see me love my work? Who? The guy I love (with the mental illness).

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  • Jules

    This is beautiful–beauty in hard spaces. Thanks for writing it.

  • Beth

    When I read about this series, I loved the idea. These stories are common, but so rarely heard and giving this platform is so necessary. What I didn’t expect is such a beautiful, thoughtful, nuanced, well written first post from you – one of the best things you’ve written, in my opinion!

  • bob paterson-watt

    So meaningful, this is. Thanks to you Jane, and to Dane, for your clarity of expression about persons who happen to live with the difficult reality of mental illness. Not mentally ill persons. Such a helpful disentangling (or entangling!) of the reality of human existence vs. labels or syndromes or diagnostics.

  • Keri-Anne

    LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. Beautifully shared Jane -thank you for allowing us the perspective and wisdom to see the soul and the heart of the person BEFORE the mental illness.

  • Jane, thank you so much for sharing this part of your life with us. Really looking forward to this series. It’s so, so important.

    • Thanks Natalie. I am glad you are joining us by reading.

  • Michael

    Thank you so much Jane. This is beautiful and so powerful.

    Nevs

  • Your blog post made its way across my screen this morning. I read it and wept as someone who walks in similar shoes. Your words so eloquently touched places in my soul that have longed to be understood. You made me feel understood. This post was a gift to me. Thank you.

  • Jane Halton

    I’m so glad you commented Charlotte. It’s so good to know we don’t walk this road alone.

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  • Jane Halton

    Thanks so much for commenting. Patience is not my strong point but I think we get better at it as time goes on.

  • Jane Halton

    Yes! It is so good to hear someone else knows the beginning/end piece. Thanks for sharing that. I helps!

  • Jane Halton

    Thanks Kara. For someone reason I missed like 5 comments – I’m so glad you read it. I love your blog too (: Go Serial!

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