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  • ericaanne

The Top 5 Things I Learned by Supporting My Husband Through Mental Illness

Updated: May 27, 2022

I'm going to pause sharing our story for a minute. From what you've read up until this point I'm sure you recognize that I felt frustrated and lonely while Nick was suffering. If I'm being truthful, there are no amount of descriptive words that I can use to accurately describe what it felt like during this time. I re-read my old blog posts and think to myself, "but it felt so much worse than that".


I also want to share some of the positives that came from our story, because with every soul-wrenching, heart-breaking, distress-inducing situation, there is always something that can be learned.


Here are the top 5 things I learned from supporting Nick through his OCD, suicidal ideations, and eventual recovery.


1. The importance of vulnerability and asking for help.


I've had a complex relationship with vulnerability. When I was 21, I got the word "strength" tattooed on my ribs. At this time in my life I equated being "strong" with "never needing help from other people". Ironically enough, I wanted other people to rely on me. I needed to be needed. It was codependency at its finest. This irrational approach to life lead me to take on the weight of everyone else's burdens while I kept my mouth shut about my own. This pattern followed me until I was 25, when Nick started suffering with OCD. Once I started to read Brené Brown's work on vulnerability, I started to realize my relationship with vulnerability was backwards. Vulnerability is a characteristic of strength. It's being able to put yourself in a vulnerable position and being willing to face any scrutiny. Once I started being vulnerable with my close friends and family, things were still heavy, but the load was slightly less.


Writing this blog is the most vulnerable thing I've ever done. Just the other day, someone commented on my Instagram post saying "you're exploiting your husband, just like Jada". I deleted it immediately without thinking about it. Honestly, I should have left it there. It's comments like that that are the reason nobody is talking about this and I could have pointed that out. If I'm going to start this conversation, I need to continue to show up, be vulnerable, and face the scrutiny that comes with it.


[For the record, Nick proof reads everything and has given me full permission to be as honest as I want. He has never once changed any of my blog posts. We both recognize that we're not helping anyone if we aren't completely honest, even if it paints us in a bad light.]


2. Patience.


I thought I was patient before this happened.


LOL.


This journey was a long and difficult one. It made me realize what are actual problems and what are not. When you have a grasp on true problems vs. perceived problems, you appreciate a lot more in life. I would see people getting impatient in a fast-food line and think "they have no idea how lucky they are to be standing in this line, with easy access to food and the financial ability to pay for this food, with their biggest problem being that the fast-food line isn't fast enough". It's a perceived problem, not a true problem.


3. I can do hard things.


I can show up and face challenging situations and difficult conversations and come out the other side.


Today, Nick and I run a business together. I've been asked several times "how in the world can you run a business with your spouse?" Truthfully, running our business together has been one of the easiest things we've done to-date. We both recognize that if we can get through what we've been through, we can get through anything. I don't mean that in the context of our relationship. I mean that in the context of each of us, individually. If I can get through supporting him, I can get through anything. If he can get through his mental illness, he can get through anything. Our marriage, our business relationship, or even the dissolution of those things (if it ever came to that), are included in the "anything".


4. The importance of unconditional self/other/life acceptance.


This one is longer and came later in the process. I started learning these things after Nick started learning it. These principles were essential in his recovery, as well as my own coping. I'll break each of them down for you.


Unconditional self-acceptance: accepting myself in any context, even if I show up as my ugliest self. Let's say I screamed at Nick and used some colourful words in the process. I don't have to agree with my actions, meaning I know I could have approached the circumstance more productively. However, I can accept myself for being human, losing my cool, and being imperfect in that situation. I can apologize and try again next time. The importance of accepting yourself unconditionally is because it helps prevent you from shaming yourself. Shame doesn't help resolve anything, so accepting yourself in all forms is essential.


Unconditional other acceptance: accepting others in any context, even if they show up as their ugliest self. Let's say Nick screamed at me and used some colourful words in the process. I don't have to agree with his actions, meaning I know he could have approached the circumstance more productively. However, I can accept him for being human, losing his cool, and being imperfect in that situation. He can apologize and try again next time.


[Note: acceptance and agreement are not the same. Let's say one of us continued the behaviour of screaming at the other and no progress was made with changing it. We can accept the other for who they are, but we don't have to stay in the situation/marriage if we prefer a different path]


Unconditional life acceptance: accepting my life in any context, even if it's not the life I had imagined. When we started our business, we were completely broke. In the first year of business, we worked 8 jobs between the two of us to keep our bills paid. It wasn't ideal and definitely not a circumstance I wanted to be in, but it was our reality and I could accept it as we worked to build the business. Alternatively, let's say I did end up divorcing Nick. It's not what I had imagined for my life; most people don't marry someone with the intent of divorcing them. But, I could still accept my life for what it was and continue on a different path.


5. Understanding irrational beliefs (and how they affected our suffering).


We all have irrational beliefs. Let me give you some key words to look for when you're trying to identify them:

  • "should" (or "should not")

  • "must" (or "must not")

  • "deserve" (or "not deserve")

  • "always"

  • "never"

"You should be able to handle this"

"I should be able to handle this"

"I don't deserve this"

"You don't deserve this"

"I deserve better"

"This should always happen..."

"This should never happen..."


Any of these sound familiar? Probably.


Why are these irrational? Because nobody writes the universal law that this should/shouldn't happen. Nobody writes a universal law stating what you do and don't deserve. A lot of our suffering stems from thoughts like these.


So, if these are irrational, what is rational?


Preferences are rational. Saying things like "I would prefer for things to be different, but I can accept that they aren't," is a rational statement.


I would catch myself saying things like "I don't deserve this," all the time. It created a lot of additional mental struggle. Once I started to realize that nobody deserves anything, including myself, acceptance was easier to come to terms with.

 

There was a lot to learn from our situation - a lot more than what's on this list. My point is that even in some of the worst situations in life, like war and untimely death, you can find lessons and meaning in the struggle. If you don't believe me, read "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. If a man imprisoned at Auschwitz can find meaning in life, we can all find meaning in our own situations.


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