I was going through the ‘On This Day’ section on my Facebook profile the other day (one of the few things I actually seem to enjoy about it at the moment) when I saw mention of an interview my old band did. Cool, I thought, I wonder what the interviewer is up to now so I checked out her profile and found out she’d been writing a blog. I clicked the link and read the first one it brought up.
The first piece was about the relationship between herself and her husband as he’d been diagnosed with depression (you can read it here). It was a great read as she talked quite frankly how hard it had been on the pair of them to try and deal with the illness and what it brings.
I dropped Jill a message to say I’d read her blog and sent my best wishes for the pair of them. I also asked if she’d be okay with answering a few questions which she was happy to do. So with thanks to Jill and her honesty here’s the result of our chat.
Would you like to give us a few words about yourself?
So, not sure what you want to know…but I’m 33, married for 5 years with a 8 year old step son. I work full time in Senior management and am obsessed with running and keeping fit, spending most of my free time running or working with a trainer to improve my running!
It’s your husband who’s dealing with issues around his mental health. How did things start manifesting?
Yes, my husband has only recently received a formal diagnosis of depression and to be honest I’m not really sure how and when it all began. We argued more and more and he always seemed hollow… not sad but just very disinterested in life. I just assumed it was our relationship changing and as someone who’s pretty selfish, with absolutely no experience in depression I had no idea what was going on. My husband has no idea what triggered it and hadn’t even realised himself that things were changing. Suddenly he started to depend solely on me. He followed me into every room I went to, became insanely paranoid about everything, was suddenly argumentative and never joined in conversations. There was no light in his eyes anymore.
We buried our head in the sand for a very long time. I assumed it was just who he was now but then realised I couldn’t cope. I tried to talk to him over and over but always went about it the wrong way. It hit a head when he was forced to admit he had lost a lot of our money through an addiction. This led to him seeking medical advice and it went from there.
How did you find things after you both started opening up? Did you find those first conversations with each other hard?
To be honest the opening up is still very much an ongoing process. I’ve always been open about my feelings but have slowly begun to realise that I’m not doing that in the correct way.
My husband doesn’t open up very well. I’m very over powering so it’s tough. We’re both making a conscious effort to understand the other person.
Do you find you’ve had to make many compromises with each other?
We’ve made a lot of compromises. My husband is learning to respect my need for space and not take my actions personally and I’m learning a lot about how to be patient and understanding. I’m learning that listening is often enough and that I can’t fix him. It’s not about fixing him. It’s about understanding him and allowing him to not be ashamed of how he feels.
Have you both gone through any kind of therapy together or singularly?
We’ve had no therapy as a couple but we don’t rule it out in future. My husband has weekly counselling through his GP and completes workbooks about his feelings. At his lowest point he has used the Samaritans and the charity MIND.
How does it feel to live with someone who suffers? What goes on in your head?
We take each day as it comes and I try not to think of it as living with someone with depression. He’s my husband and it’s just part of him. That being said, sometimes it’s like a ticking time bomb as his mood can change very quickly. In my head, I suppose I just worry. I want to fix things but this illness isn’t logical and I have to realise it’s beyond my control sometimes. I worry about every little action I do and whether it will send him back over.
How’s your husband coping at the moment? How do you approach a bad day?
He’s coping well at the moment. He’s making an effort to talk more and understand his feelings and now he is receiving help and support he feels a lot less lonely. He’s seeing his friends again and on the bad days he makes an effort to try and tell me how he is feeling. We tend to try and do something on a bad day. He’ll force himself to go walking with me just to try and take his mind off it. His workbooks through counselling help as he can then write it down as he feels it.
Is there something that you’re taken from this that you’ve learned and been able to apply to your own life?
I’m not sure if I’ve taken anything from it as such but it’s definitely taught me to listen more and not dismiss other people’s feelings. My life is so busy I often expect people to come along for the ride and didn’t stop to see that he wasn’t coping.
How do you try to cope with things? What do you do to try and process what’s happening when you know it’s not directed at you specifically?
I run and I train. That’s been my coping mechanism for a long time. I’m raising money for MIND at the moment by running 2 marathons, 2 road half marathons and 2 trail half marathons and an obstacle course this year. It gives me focus and time to think about my feelings so I can deal with my husband’s when we’re at home. My gym is like a family so I can escape there when I need to.
I try and remind myself it’s not directed at me but sometimes he can be extremely personal and hurtful to try and stop himself hurting and that’s tough. That’s when I run or talk to my parents.
What would you say to anyone who has a partner that’s dealing with mental illness?
To anyone with a partner dealing with mental illness… don’t feel guilty for wanting to get away sometimes. It’s ok for you to have feelings too and you should try and talk to someone about them. But also remember that mental illness is just that, an illness. Your partner wants it to stop as much as you do. Be patient and just be there for them but make sure you make time for you.
Any closing words Jill?
To be honest, there’s no right answer as every individual is different and I can only go by my very recent experience. It took me a long time for us both to come to terms with it but the main thing I have taken from this is not to be ashamed. So many people are struggling with mental health and yet the stigma of it means so little people talk about it. It’s important not to feel alone. We all deserve to be heard.
Again I’d like to really thank Jill for her time and for answering questions as honestly as she could. You can find her blog at Running And Raising blog. If you’d like to donate to Jill’s fundraising (she’s raising money for MIND by running two marathons and a half marathon Total Warrior obstacle course) you can do so here.
***UPDATE*** Jill completed the Edinburgh marathon in May. The next event, a 12K Total Warrior Obstacle Course, will be happening soon.