We all have stories, situations and unwelcome surprises in our lives. Mine is no different. Most days I remain positive, looking forward, instead of back, using words like peace, strength and acceptance. Well, I’m not feeling it, at least not today… I feel lonely, lost and sad. Recalling my husband’s eyes when he would look at me when were young, happy and very much in love. Our relationship was something truly special, unique and all encompassing. Sometimes I truly felt like I was in a dream, and others, in a nightmare.
A few years after we were married, my husband, Dick, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and so he struggled with both depression and mania. While he tried diligently to work through the system, to get the proper care, and to make good choices, he was not always successful. Sometimes going off of his medication or taking too much, and other times he would self medicate by drinking to try and manage his symptoms. Symptoms that affected us as a couple and most critically, the safety and security of our children. The outbursts, the anger, the pain and the abuse continued, on and off, throughout our 27 year marriage. My challenge was that I loved both my husband and my children, and I tried to take care of each in their own way. Looking back, I know I failed them all.
Many people and their families struggle with mental illness, and there are no clear-cut answers as to what to do or how to manage. Mental health is an always moving target. Days full of joy and others, we just managed to get through alive, and that was enough. I gave grace and forgiveness whenever I possibly could, knowing it was his illness that took over his thoughts and emotions. This relationship was killing my spirit, my sense of self and my ability to regulate my emotions. Being in constant “fight or flight” mode had taken its toll on all of us. It was like living in a war zone, with danger possible at any moment, not knowing what might be waiting when we walked in the door. Unfortunately, my husband ultimately became a casualty of his own war with himself.
Dick took his life in August 2017. Recovery from the loss of a loved one takes time, and from a suicide loss, even longer. The complications that arise surrounding the decision of a loved one to take their own life are many, including that survivors of suicide are ten times more likely to take their own lives in the first year after such a loss. Blame, anger, resentment, stress, depression, anxiety, guilt, helplessness, and multifamily trauma added up to a diagnosis for me of C-PTSD, or Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. With multiple kinds of therapy, support from friends and family, and medication, I was able to gain stability and hope for my future. I am so proud of my children’s resilience, love and empathy in navigating the loss of their Dad. Successes since I lost my husband are always bittersweet and hard to fully embrace. Moving through grief, pain and loss unexpectedly gave me a new sense of self and purpose as I looked to build my life as a single mother. I have chosen to speak about mental health issues, to normalize these tough conversations and to advocate for change. The losses of those we love are reaching a critical point, as these losses touch us all. Mental health is health. Challenges like these may find their way to you in the future, and I want you to feel comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Don’t suffer in silence like I did.