Mental Illness and the Death of a Marriage


Mental Illness

When we married the statistics were one in three marriages ended in divorce. We were different, we knew  what we had to do to keep a marriage alive: never take each other for granted, have date nights, be  honest, always choose love, etc.

We didn’t see divorce in our future, only children, grandchildren, and love, lots of love. We would be like the  Waltons, weathering the hard times, rooted by our convictions of how a family pulls together. There was a strong  bond of  love to carry us, we couldn’t think of anything so difficult we couldn’t overcome. We considered ourselves soul-mates, with nothing to separate us except death at the end of a long and happy life.

The early years of our marriage we had our children, three babies in three years. We didn’t have a lot of  money but we were so in love with each other, and our babies. Life held so many possibilities.

Caring for three young ones is an all-consuming, exhausting part of married life. We wanted to go on dates but we just didn’t get around to it. There were always valid reasons: we didn’t have the money for a babysitter, we were too tired, or it was too much work to organize a date night. When we did go out we walked the mall with our babies in tow, holding hands and window shopping. We were content just being together. We didn’t need date nights or so we thought.

When our children were between the ages of five and eight, I noticed I was becoming more irritable, quickly getting angry for no reason, and snapping at the kids. I knew I wasn’t myself, so I went to see my doctor, thinking that maybe I was becoming peri-menopausal. I thought I was a little young to start but at 38 it wasn’t impossible.

I saw my doctor, told her my symptoms and waited to hear what she had to say. I was expecting her to suggest hormone therapy when she asked me how I felt about antidepressants. That wasn’t the question I was expecting, but I was eager for a solution that would get me back to feeling like myself again. I had no idea I was starting a journey through mental illness.

As the years passed I became more depressed. As the depression deepened, I went from my family doctor’s care to a psychiatrist’s care. My psychiatrist diagnosed me with dysthymia: a low-grade, chronic depression that’s been present for all or most of my life. Also, major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Dysthymia combined with a major depressive disorder is double depression.

My psychiatrist diagnosed me after my first hospital stay in 2006. Our family had no idea how devastating and far-reaching depression would be for all of us. Depression is like a tornado leaving a path of destruction behind it.  After I entered the hospital a second time in 2008, I told my husband that he would get tired of dealing with a depressed wife. He reassured me he would always be there, but he didn’t know what he was up against.

My family watched me slowly check out of life, hiding in my bed sleeping. When I was awake I was vacant, staring out of dead eyes, I barely existed.  I became more like a child and less like a wife and mother, as a result, my husband and children became more like a parent. I retreated into myself, avoiding extended family and friends as my family watched me become hopelessly more helpless.

I contemplated suicide and the freedom it would give my family. My husband could remarry someone who would be a better wife and mother to my children. My sick mind twisted this thought, making it a possible solution to end the pain all of us were facing. As my husband once said, “If you kill yourself, you will change your children forever. They will live with this for the rest of their lives.” So, I clung to this thought during the darkest moments of my life.

My family wanted to help me recover, by trying to suggest, encourage, beg and guilt me into doing something, anything to help myself. What they didn’t understand is that recovery doesn’t work like that. All of their best efforts to help, would end up making me feel lazy and useless. This in turn would make me feel more depressed and my family less understanding.

I had the feeling that my husband expected me to get better after a few months. But, when recovery was taking longer than that, my husband became resentful. He tried to understand but I always felt that he thought I wasn’t doing more to get well. I was being lazy and self-centred without a thought about what I was putting my family through.

Our marriage was dying, we didn’t talk anymore and the atmosphere in our house was frosty. Our house was becoming a quiet, cold tomb for our dying marriage. Less than two years after my last hospitalization, my husband came home from work to tell me he was leaving.

It took three years to complete our separation agreement, and it was a difficult struggle for all of us. There were many times I thought this struggle would break us but over time we became stronger. Each child handled the death of our marriage differently but in the end they would not let it consume them. They rose up, recovered, and created lives for themselves; redefining what family means.

A couple of years ago, my youngest said, “I wish you and dad had stayed together, but I think I’m stronger for going through this.” Me too, baby, me too.






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