An Open Letter To My Husband About My Mental Illness
You always knew I had problems. When we were dating, you knew my history: you knew that I had a difficult childhood, marked by suicide attempts and self-mutilation. It didn't phase you. You also knew that I had generalized anxiety, but after all, we'd met in an English graduate program, where basically everyone suffers from anxiety and imposter syndrome, so it wasn't such a big deal. You decided to take the chance anyway, because, as you put it, you thought I was smart and funny and hot. I am forever grateful you thought those things, because I did not and still do not.
Once I dropped out of school, you thought we were on an even keel and that I would be better able to manage my anxiety and depression. We were terribly wrong. With our first son, I had choking panic attacks that left me breathless and terrified that I’d hurt the baby in my belly. I got some medication. Then I got pregnant with our second son, and I needed more medication.
I developed separation anxiety: every time you left me, I thought you’d die, and nothing you said could convince me otherwise. You felt powerless. You felt afraid. You felt sad for me. But I am blessed that you never felt stifled. I am so grateful you stood by me throughout my mental illness, no matter what happened to me, to us. I feel so blessed.
By the time I had our third baby, I was on a virtual pharmacopoeia of medications calibrated to keep me stable, i.e., to stop me from self-destructive behavior. I started taking Xanax. Then I began getting breakthrough anxiety. So I started taking Klonopin. Then we began to play medication merry-go-round while we figured out how to help me. You were patient. You picked them up at the pharmacy. You never complained about my doctor, about the price, about the inconvenience.
You put me to bed. You made sure I had help. You supported me.
Then my doc put me on an atypical antipsychotic which, well, didn’t go well. I tried to get off it. I went into a scary downward spiral of withdrawal that left me weeping in bed for hours. I couldn’t take care of the kids. I couldn’t take care of myself. You had to take family medical leave during the last week of school, to watch our sons while I did an outpatient treatment program and rode out the withdrawal. You got in trouble at work. I was terrified to watch our kids, because I was worried I might cry in front of them. I yelled a lot. You never rebuked me, never lost your patience, and never accused me of being as useless as I felt.
A year and a half later, I went through another withdrawal. I screamed like someone had died. I punched the wall. You held my fists down. You put me to bed. You made sure I had help, and your friend made us casseroles. I wanted to die, but still, you supported me.
During this withdrawal, I did terrible things. I told you, more than once, that I hated you. I told you I had never been happy. I begged you for a divorce so you and the boys didn’t have to put up with me anymore. I told you I wanted to kill myself just so I could spare you all the relief of dealing with me. I hurt so bad. You always folded me in your arms, even when I held myself stiff, even when I pushed you away.
You told me, every single day, that I was beautiful. You told me I deserved to be loved.
Then I developed issues with my weight, which had ballooned as a result of one of my medications. You told me, every single day, that I was beautiful. You told me I deserved to be loved. You cooked me healthy meals and encouraged me to work out, even when both of those things were wildly inconvenient for us. When I got a shin splint from running, you bought me an exercise bike. A shiny one, a new one, spare lines done up in red and white.
Sometimes my meds make me tired. You tell me to go sleep and you take care of the kids. It doesn’t matter how tired you are. We argue about it, sometimes, our comparative tiredness, and you always win. You say that yours doesn’t matter and that I need sleep more than you do. Then you cook for everyone and let me write, which you know helps keep me happy and healthy. I feel productive. You give me the space for that.
You have always gone above and beyond what I needed. You have never told me off, screamed at me, or told me to get my shit together. You know I couldn’t treat my mental health issues if I didn't get adequate treatment. You are kind. You are patient. You are everything you promised in your wedding vows. I often am not. But you know the reasons are biochemical, and you stay patient with me.
I cannot express how much I love you. I cannot express my gratitude towards you. In grad school, some girls asked me about you. I replied, “Oh, I’ll make out with him for a little while, and then I’m going to marry him," even though we weren’t even dating at that point. To this day, I don’t know where that pronouncement came from. I don’t know how I already knew. But I did.
And I am grateful for every single day. For our beautiful sons. For the life we’ve built together that has slowly risen to an upward trajectory of hope and happiness, rather than depression. The meds helped. But you were the drug that healed me.
If you struggle with depression or thoughts of self-harm, please consult a mental health expert or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.