Black dog

A letter to my husband*

November is Movember. The Movember Foundation is a global movement designed to bring attention to men’s health, including prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health.

Movember invites men to grow moustaches during November to spark conversation and raise funds for men’s health programs.
The Vue Post

Love

“I love you. I always will. I fell in love with you the night we met. Deeply and irreversibly.

It is a pure love that sustains. It is the air I breath, the food I eat, the water I drink, my shining moon, my warming sun, my quenching rain, my cooling breeze … my everything.

I never imagined love could be like this. It is powerful and mysterious like the universe around us. And just like the universe, it still expands and grows every single day.

Most people who look at us see a happy couple in love. They can’t see the shadow. Only those nearest and dearest to us know that we live with a giant black dog. To be precise, you suffer from it. I just live with it, through you.

I never had reason to pause and give mental health consideration until I met you. Even then, during our first few years, neither of us realised there was an issue. Although there were signs. The 2am walks to ease your stress. The sleeping pills so you can finally go to sleep. Having to walk away from otherwise great jobs, because the stress got the better of you.

But, no one was really talking much about ‘mental health’ at the time, there was little public awareness, and we just put it all down to a bad run.

I believe what got us through those times was our love. It gave us strength, and purpose. Everything else, career and money, was secondary, because we knew we already had the most important thing in life — each other.

Then, very much by chance, we found the perfect specialist for you and with the right diagnosis and combination of medications you were stabilised. Over the past few years you have worked very hard to rebuild your life. You went back to study so you can start a new career, hopefully less stressful and more emotionally fulfilling than your previous one. You started working again, very bravely, starting at the bottom of a new profession, but one that you enjoy, makes you happy and does not cause you much stress.

We are struggling financially, and that’s perhaps putting it mildly, but the primary focus is your happiness and wellbeing. At least, despite all the setbacks, we managed to hold on to our home and, with a few strategic adjustment to our lifestyle and spending, nothing really meaningful had changed. Admittedly, we had to say goodbye to our loved long weekends in the Hunter Valley, European holidays in July and flashy dinners out. Oh, how much I loved those! But, I still have you, happy healthy and full of life again, and at the end of the day that’s all that really matters.

Society often measures us by our career and earnings. I measure you only by the happiness, love and laughter you bring to my life. And there is plenty of that.

Black dogOur black dog is not as big as he used to be, but he will always be with us, kept at bay by the good people at Pfizer. While your medication is great as it helps you function, it has its downside. You sleep a lot, and forget a lot of things … all the time.

The sleeping I don’t mind. I pet your hair sitting next to you on the couch, and read and write. Being near you is all I need, and you sleeping more than usual does not alter that.

The forgetfulness is another thing. Mostly I find this endearing, but sometimes it infuriates me and I lose my temper a little. I’m sorry for that. I always hate myself after I get angry with you for ‘having to repeat myself’. I know you can’t help it, I know it’s caused by a combination of your condition and your medication. But, it’s tough to live with a black dog.

We heard stories of couples falling apart after a diagnosis of mental illness in a partner. I can understand how overwhelming it can get, and why some people walk away. I cannot, and would not, judge because I walked way more than a mile in their shoes.

I leave judgment to society; society is pretty good at that.

That’s why we don’t talk too much about this subject outside our closest circle of friends, who by the way have been amazing support throughout this journey.

Many people still judge mental illness harshly, although attitudes are changing … slowly. There is a lot more attention being paid to mental health issues, the subject is a lot more out in the open, and there are some amazing new and innovative support initiatives out there.

But, make no mistake, the stigma attached to mental illness is still significant and workplace participation is difficult for sufferers. In 2015 the consensus is still to think twice before you mention mental health issues to your boss.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t have my life any other way.

Why?!

Because I love you. I always will. I fell in love with you the night we met. Deeply and irreversibly.

It is a pure love that sustains. It is the air I breath, the food I eat, the water I drink, my shining moon, my warming sun, my quenching rain, my cooling breeze … my everything …”

I am sharing this letter in the hope that it may help others who are struggling to accept their partner’s mental illness, and its consequences on them as a couple, to look beyond it and remember why they fell in love in the first place and how irrelevant everything else is compared to that amazing love and companionship they share.


* The author of this piece, and the author’s partner, have been carefully de-identified to ensure their privacy.

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