Dealing with mental illness in a relationship is hard work and can get utterly exhausting after a period of time. To see someone you love go through pain and darkness is difficult to witness.
If you have a spouse with mental illness, know that you are not alone and you can reach out for help. Things may not be looking up right now but there is light at the end of the tunnel. You just need to have faith.
Living With A Spouse With Mental Illness
Aaron and I tied the knot in the summer of 1980. We had a happy life with everything going well for us. He was running a business while I was managing the house. Aaron’s earnings were decent, and we led a comfortable life.
Our happy world soon expanded to include a daughter and two sons. Aaron made it a point to take us out for movies and picnics every weekend. He got along well with my parents and we visited them often.
My in-laws lived close by and we used to meet them thrice a week for more. I felt like the luckiest person in the world. A loving husband and three beautiful children – what else could I ask for!
Now, seven years later, destiny dealt us a cruel hand, and my husband displayed worrying signs of poor mental health. This is the story of how I found out my husband suffers from a mental illness, and how I am dealing with it.
He locked himself in his room
It was all very sudden. One day, Aaron returned home early and locked himself in his room. I was perplexed and shocked by his behavior. I kept knocking at the door but he would not open it. My children flocked around me as they sensed the tension in my voice.
I ran out of the house for help. The neighbors were not home so I called my in-laws. I hoped desperately that it was all a bad dream, but this was a fairytale turned nightmare for real. My in-laws came and talked him into opening the door after great persuasion. But Aaron was not willing to talk to anyone.
I could not believe what I was witnessing. In mere hours, Aaron was a completely changed person, a change which left me devastated.
Aaroninsisted there was nothing wrong with him. He was unwilling to disclose anything to me or to his parents. We were all shocked by his behavior. My in-laws suspected foul play at work and the neighbors suspected something ‘paranormal’.
I was clueless as to what was happening to my world. People suggested that we take the help of a psychiatrist and some even said we should get help from some priest. We tried to get help but in vain. I had never dealt with a mental illness in a relationship before, and I was at a loss.
Aaron would not talk to anybody. My home that was always filled with his laughter was screaming with the sharpness of his silence. The house felt empty even with our family of 5 living in it.
I could feel life slipping away from me. Our children were too young to understand much but they could sense the unease, and that made them comply with everything that I asked them to do. My daughter, who is the eldest, would sit with me when I cried and clasp my hand in an effort to pacify me.
Our lives fell apart
Aaron stopped going to work. He would sit in a corner of the house all day long and spend his time looking out of the window. If I asked him anything, he would either nod his head or respond with a quotation from one of the saints.
I would ask if he had any problems with his business but he would just avoid my question. The sudden change in his behavior remains a mystery for us to date. I didn’t want to say it out loud to anyone, but I finally admitted to myself, “I think my husband is mentally ill.”
It was some months later that I realized we were running low on finances. My mother and my father-in-law asked me if I would like to work and that set me thinking. I’m a graduate and the only job I could think of was teaching young children.
I had to manage the house and my three children, so the best option for me was to take tuitions at home while also taking care of my family.
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I started taking home tuitions
It wasn’t easy to convince my neighbors to send their kids to my home school, but I was not willing to lose hope, because I did not have any other choice. I spoke to my neighbors and friends again, and soon got my first student, a four-year-old boy who had to take admission into nursery school.
The boy’s grandfather had decided to send him to me only out of courtesy. I knew this was my chance to prove my ability and I was determined to make it work. I started teaching him alphabets, colors, poems and all that I could think of.
The boy was a fast learner and his parents were happy with his performance. He became my lucky mascot. His behavior impressed others and I got two more children for my school in a couple of months and my business picked up.
My own children would join my class and listen to me as I taught my students, who gradually grew further in number. I was glad my little business idea was taking off.
Aaron was still his non-communicative self, but would smile at me whenever I passed by. I would become hopeful seeing him smile, but his attitude was not as sensitive as it used to be.
One day, my son fell very ill and had to be hospitalized. My father-in-law and I were running to and from the hospital and I had to stop my classes for three days, but Aaron did not react at all.
When I informed him about our son, he looked at me with an empty gaze and recited a quote that had no relevance to the situation at hand. His odd behavior left me frustrated, but then he would smile at times, making me forgive his cold attitude.
Why do you stay with him?
It was very difficult for me. My friends and neighbors often questioned why I continued living with a spouse with mental illness, and so obviously suffering alone. I always had the same response for them: “He gave me seven years of happiness and three loving children.”
There must have been something very critical that changed him so drastically. I don’t mind managing the house as long as he is around and it is not in our culture to walk away from a relationship. Would he have dumped me if I had gone through a similar life-changing experience? I don’t think so.
I want to be there with him through every phase of life. You never know, the way he changed mysteriously all of a sudden, one day he might just change again, in an instant, for the better again.
We have had a very beautiful and loving relationship and I cannot give it up when my husband needs me the most. This is an illness and I have to be there for him, both in his good and bad times.”
I was hopeful, but my hopes did not see much light. My children joined me in my home-based tuition business as soon as they reached middle school. They were managing their own studies and also helping me out diligently.
Life had taught them much more than I could have. They turned out to be very responsible children who knew that their mother needed help. They would return from school, complete their homework and come straight to help me at the terrace where my home school ran.
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My home school became a huge success
The four of us were putting in two hundred per cent to the classes and this resulted in a huge number of students joining our home school. The number grew so high that we had to start three shifts in the day to accommodate all the students.
We worked from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. I would take the first shift while my children were at school and then they would help me in the next two shifts after they returned.
Over the years, Aaron has started talking to me, but it is limited to his asking me if I need tea. He makes tea for me in the evening and at times he tells me to rest while he makes dinner for us. It makes me happy to see his concern and care for me.
The children are grown up now. My daughter is married and settled abroad. My elder son is working with an advertisement firm and my younger son is helping me with my school. I have hired two teachers who manage the shifts.
My school has made a name for itself, and I am known in and around my neighborhood for running a successful business while my husband is mentally unstable. Aaron is still in his own world of quotations and prayers with intermittent concern which he shows by cooking dinner or making tea for me.
I am still hopeful that one day Aaron will recover from his state and be his old self again. I didn’t know how difficult it is to deal with mental illnesses in relationships, and am learning how to be happy and keep other happy every single day.
Be there for them and let them know you’re not leaving when things get hard. They are going through something difficult, and need you to back them up every step of the way.
Yes. Mental illnesses are caused by some triggers like a traumatic experience especially if it is prolonged. It can be genetic, or can also be caused by a physical injury.